Batman: Arkham Knight has been rereleased on Steam after an epic failure of a launch riddled with performance issues, which saw the game removed from stores and sent back to development hell. After months of interim patches and tweaking, did WB Games and Rocksteady fix the problems, or is the PC edition of Batman's final foray into Gotham City too little, too late?
The Short Version Of A Long And Painful Story
When Batman: Arkham Knight debuted back in June, the high hopes of Batman fans everywhere were shattered with a PC game launch suffering from some of the most widespread day-one performance issues seen in recent memory, prompting WB Games to pull the game from stores and issue many apologies, and also creating a serious rift in the company's consumer relationships.
Shortly after the game's debut (and after it was already pulled from shelves), I spent some hands-on time with the game, where I ran a few in-game benchmarks on my own gaming rig and played around to see just how bad things were. On my high-performance PC, Arkham Knight appeared to run fairly well, despite the annoying 30 fps framerate cap. I noted at the time that the game was enjoyable, if you had a good enough computer to run it, which many feel should not be the case for AAA game titles.
At the beginning of September, an interim patch was deployed, which addressed what was considered the primary issues: increasing the framerate cap, VRAM and system memory optimization, and HDD performance. I decided to dive into Gotham City once again to see if any improvements were made. At the time, it seemed that Batman: Arkham Knight was headed in the right direction, with better framerates at all tested resolutions, and significant gains at 1080p.
Now that the game has made its return to Steam, I decided to don the cowl one last time to see if Batman: Arkhan Knight has finally become the game many of us hoped it would be, or if it's too late for the hero the city deserves.
What's New? Why Should We Still Care?
One of the larger disappointments stemming from the fallout of its poor launch was the delay of Batman: Arkham Knight's DLC prequel, A Matter of Family, an expansion that enabled players to take on the role of Batgirl (aka Barbara Gordon) and throw down with the Joker before the events of the original Batman: Arkham Asylum game.
It was only a matter of time before A Matter of Family would arrive on PC, and the fan-favorite DLC adventure is now available on Steam for only $6.99. Because the original Arkham Knight missions have been out for a considerable amount of time, it's somewhat refreshing to have new content available for the PC version of the game. There's also a new Harley Quinn DLC story pack, giving players the chance to fight as the Joker's psychotic sidekick and battle to bust Poison Ivy out of prison in another prequel adventure that leads up to the events of Arkham Knight. This downloadable content is priced at a mere $1.99, and along with Batgirl's DLC, it may provide some new flair to a game many may have lost interest in.
What's In It For Me?
WB Games is making a serious effort to earn the forgiveness of disenfranchised consumers. The company is offering the entire Batman: Arkham series for customers who have already purchased or intend to purchase Batman: Arkham Knight. This treasure trove of games includes Game of the Year editions of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, along with copies of Arkham Origins and its expansion, Arkham Origins Blackgate. The company expects all of these titles to be available for download at no cost by December, so keep an eye on your Steam library if you happen to own Arkham Knight.
If that's not enough, WB Games said that as a token of appreciation for its customer's patience, anyone who owns the game will receive a free Community Challenge pack (in addition to a week's advance access to the content for PC versions only) this January.
If the complete Batman: Arkham catalog and a free challenge pack isn't enough, WB Games is participating in a cross-promotion with Team Fortress 2, in which anyone who has purchased Batman: Arkham Knight can enter a contest to create Batman: Arkham-themed cosmetic items for use in Team Fortress 2. Users can submit their Batman-inspired items or taunts (the TF2 team asked everyone not to submit weapons) to the Team Fortress 2 Workshop, with no limit to the number of entries each participant can make. However, each item submission is limited to only two contributors.
At the end of the contest on November 16, three winning entries will be chosen, and everyone who has purchased Batman: Arkham Knight up to that point will receive these unique TF2 items at no cost.
All the free swag and new content makes it seem like WB Games may be trying to buy back consumer's trust, and that's exactly what the company should be doing. These measures are what you would expect from any business desperately trying to repair a bruised reputation due to a horrifically disappointing product launch. Perhaps the combination of free games, challenge packs, readily available DLC content and a TF2 cross-promotion is enough to quell the rage of those who have felt the burn of this debacle. Perhaps some cannot be bought.
Each time a significant update landed for Batman: Arkham Knight, I took the time to examine the performance, using the same test rig and parameters for each iteration of the game. I took an extensive look at different graphics settings at 1080p, and dialed up resolutions to 1440p and 4K with lower resolutions and settings just to see how performance varied.
I tested the game using the in-game benchmark on a Z97 platform sporting an Intel Core i7-4790K, 16 GB of DDR3-2133, a 500 GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD, and an EVGA GTX 970 SC graphics card. This rig is slightly more robust than the average consumer usually invests in, but it's a decent base set of data we can use to chart the game's progress between patches. Here's a full table of our prior findings with our new results.
|Batman: Arkham Knight In-Game Benchmark||1080p, High Quality, Gameworks Enabled||1080p, Normal Quality, Gameworks Enabled||1080p, High Quality, Gameworks Disabled||1440p, Normal Quality, Gameworks Disabled||2160p (4K), Low Quality, Gameworks Disabled|
|Version||Interim Patch||After Relaunch||Interim Patch||After Relaunch||Interim Patch||After Relaunch||Interim Patch||After Relaunch||Interim Patch||After Relaunch|
The in-game benchmark after the relaunch produced some pretty harrowing results. At 1920 x 1080, using high-quality textures, shadows and level of detail settings seemed to result in a somewhat lower performance compared to our previous results. This was most apparent with high quality settings and Gameworks disabled, where minimum framerate suffered a 19 fps loss. However, the maximum and average framerate for that test only fell very slightly (to the point where you would not visually be able to see the difference).
Normal quality settings at 1080p seemed to enjoy a slight bump in performance for minimum and average framerates. This trend did not continue with higher resolutions, with 2560x1440 and 3840x2160 settings performing noticeably poorer than before on all fronts.
Can The Bat Hang?
I noted before that our benchmarks for this weren't more than reference material. Quite frankly, I was surprised to find that performance had diminished significantly according to my after-relaunch tests, especially as those previous results were a noticeable improvement to the original launch benchmarks. In-game benchmarks aren't necessarily the best tools to judge how playable a game is, so I checked out some actual gameplay to see if the lower benchmark results translated into a perceivable performance degradation while actually traversing the streets of a city crying out for a hero.
Once again, perhaps because of my PC's high-end hardware, there was no noticeable difference in how the game performed for me before at 1920x1080, and this resolution was the most enjoyable to play with high quality settings and Gameworks disabled. Framerates would drop to near-minimum benchmark levels (which would never be below 60 fps), and enabling V-sync with these settings made for much smoother and enjoyable gameplay.
At 1440p, my GTX 970 could not keep an even 60 fps with V-sync enabled when gliding above the city, and would often drop down to 30 fps. Disabling V-sync helped this, and the framerate never dipped below the benchmark minimum of 47 fps. However, when fighting on the ground, even with larger mobs, the framerate remained above 60 fps and was quite enjoyable, despite minor tearing. A monitor with a higher refresh rate would help this.
Overall, the gameplay seemed much less stuttered than it did before, with a noticeable difference when driving the Batmobile, which before seemed very jittery and sluggish. Batman: Arkham Knight still has an awesome story, amazing visuals and dynamic battles that are entertaining, intriguing and challenging enough to maybe make you come back for more, despite the sour taste the game's launch probably left in your mouth.
The Bat Lady Sings
The final verdict? Batman: Arkham Knight has been rereleased and is scoring lower in-game benchmark results than the previous patch. In addition, the latest patch notes advise Windows 10 users that 12 GB of system memory "provides a smoother gameplay experience," officially creating a new recommended memory configuration even more out of reach for average PC gamers.
Although I saw a noticeable improvement on framerate hitches and overall smoothness compared to my previous experiences, the in-game benchmark scores seemed to take a slight hit, and some players still seem to be experiencing the same kind of performance issues that plagued Batman: Arkham Knight from day one. No amount of free swag will cover up the fact that the game is still overwhelmingly disappointing for many who have already purchased or intended to buy the final chapter of the Batman: Arkham series.
WB Games still has a laundry list of fixes and issues, and it's continuing to promise some of the same things it originally did when it first removed the game from Steam. SLI and Crossfire support are still on the way, but at this point, many probably feel that it's far too little too late, and have moved on to the next AAA game title.
WB Games seriously dropped the ball with the rollout of the PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight. The minimum system requirements do not seem to warrant the visual fidelity provided, which could be a result of poor optimization, which in turn could be the result of an incredibly poor PC port. The company at least appears to be trying to make the best out of a bad situation, adding decent value to a potential purchase of the game by offering all the previous Batman: Arkham games and (temporarily) exclusive content for free.
Is the game any better than it was on day one? In many ways, yes. The new in-game benchmark scores are still better than my original tests. Major issues including VRAM and system memory usage, framerate hitching, HDD performance, general graphics compatibility and that annoying 30 fps cap were dealt with. DLC content is finally available for PC, and we can now catch up to console gamers who have already beaten the "new" adventures. This relaunch is bittersweet, and the lingering issues feel a lot like day-one problems because of how long consumers have had to wait for the basic improvements that should have been there from the get-go.
It's safe to say that if WB Games makes a Batman vs. Superman PC game, I may wait to preorder that one, despite my affinity for all things Batman.
Derek Forrest is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom’s Hardware and Tom’s IT Pro. PC gaming, graphics hardware and VR devices are among his favorite topics to cover. He is a lifelong PC enthusiast, former IT administrator and a custom PC builder with a penchant for creating music, voice acting and all things geek.