I am Batman. There isn't a single comic book enthusiast in the world that hasn't uttered those famous words at least once in their life. In our younger days, some of us may have even put on a makeshift cowl and jumped around the yard throwing cardboard batarangs at things, or maybe given our parents a heart attack attempting to zip-line from the second story window.
My childhood aside, Batman has become an iconic figure in our society and has seemingly never had more appeal, and though I am no longer saving cardboard boxes to fabricate my bat-weapons and utility belt, I still find myself just as excited as I was then whenever a new Batman game title debuts. And my toys are so much cooler now.
Arkham, We Have A Problem
Batman: Arkham Knight has had some launch issues, as is seemingly the case with many highly anticipated game titles in recent memory. Both AMD and Nvidia graphics users have been reporting massive frame stutter and underwhelming performance since the game debuted on June 23, and WB Games has addressed this in a forum post, reiterating the game's minimum system requirements, listing known issues that are being addressed, and recommending that users ignore Nvidia's GeForce Experience and AMD's Gaming Evolved app optimized settings and instead scale back their settings manually until performance improves.
Later, WB Games pulled all sales of Batman: Arkham Knight from Steam. This is extremely unusual, and indicative of serious, widespread performance issues. Something is indeed terribly broken with the current release.
All the bad press aside, I was determined to hit the streets of Arkham and see what the fuss was about. Firing up my mini-ITX gaming rig equipped with an Intel Core i7-4790K, 16 GB of DDR3-2133 MHz RAM, a speedy Samsung SSD, and a factory overclocked Nvidia GTX 970, I was doubtful that I would see any performance issues at all, even at my display's native resolution of 3840 x 2160. I figured I could turn everything down and get playable framerates. So I loaded up the in-game benchmark to see how my hardware measured up.
At 3840 x 2160, with all of the effects and texture resolutions turned down and vertical sync off, the benchmark showed I was indeed hitting playable framerates with a single GTX 970. After warming up the card a bit, my three benchmark runs had identical results of a 30 fps minimum, 52 fps maximum, and an average framerate of 36 fps.
Though I was achieving playable framerates at 4K according to the benchmark, I decided to turn down the resolution to Nvidia's GeForce Experience recommended setting of 2560 x 1440 for a more enjoyable experience. In addition, I left the Level of Detail at Nvidia's recommended setting of Normal, just to see if the extra detail wouldn't hurt at a lower resolution. The benchmark results were again identical on all three test runs, with a minimum framerate of 61 fps, maximum of 102 fps, and an average of 75 fps.
At this point, I was beginning to think that maybe the widespread reports of poor performance were exaggerated. Perhaps the issues were the result of human error, like an old display driver, or even that maybe Nvidia's recommended settings weren't as optimal as they profess to be, as WB Games suggested in its forum post.
I ran the benchmark at 1080p, with everything turned up high, to see if the Nvidia Gameworks settings were to blame for the massive performance degradation being reported. At 1920 x 1080, with all settings at their maximum, my GTX 970 seemed to have no problem with the in-game benchmark, reporting a minimum framerate of 68 fps, a maximum of 120 fps, and an average of 86 fps.
This is where I was lost: The benchmark was reporting completely playable framerates with all applicable resolutions and settings. How could so many people be upset at the game performance? I know not every gamer has the horsepower of a GTX 970, but surely, I was missing something.
It was when I started playing the actual story that performance became noticeably different. Reverting to Nvidia's recommended settings of 2560 x 1440, camera angle movements were stuttering slightly, and overall, it seemed rather choppy from what I was used to seeing from previous Batman: Arkham games. Dialing the resolution back to 1080p made little difference. After researching this anomaly, I discovered that the gameplay is capped at 30 fps, while the benchmark is not, completely invalidating the benchmark results being indicative of real performance.
Although 30 fps is what most could consider a playable frame rate, enthusiast gamers who spend lots of money on their high-performance rigs are undoubtedly disappointed, as it is not the 60 fps or higher these consumers are used to seeing. Some of these irritated elitists are already disseminating an ini file edit procedure online to alter the maximum framerate. (WB Games has recommended not doing this, of course.)
The bottom line concerning performance: Batman: Arkham Knight was designed with a 30 fps cap, we are less than a week into launch, and WB Games has indicated that its developers are working on fixes to the reported performance issues. This kind of rocky rollout is not a new or rare occurrence in the world of PC gaming. However, completely pulling a game from stores after launch due to lackluster performance is not exactly common, and not something to be celebrated in the gaming community. Maybe it just stings more because it was one of the most anticipated games of 2015 and was already pushed back considerably for what consumers presumed would be a polished final product.
Despite the ongoing issues, Batman: Arkham Knight is a mind-blowing fantasy adventure game worthy of the series. The character models and environment are extremely detailed, and the story I have played through so far is a whirlwind roller coaster ride, complete with the action, suspense, mystery, and awe-inspiring entrances and cut scenes we have come to expect from the Batman: Arkham franchise.
Batman gets a new look in the form of tri-weave flexible armor, which besides making him quicker and enabling a new multi-target fear takedown attack, just looks -- if you'll pardon the glee -- awesome. The costume itself is more beefy than previous incarnations in the Batman: Arkham series, and it looks like Batman is about to go to war.
Familiar faces are back to assist Batman, including Alfred, Nightwing, Catwoman, Robin, Commissioner Gordon and Oracle. Lucius Fox makes his first Batman: Arkham appearance and provides sweet new gadgets and upgrades throughout your adventure.
Old enemies like The Riddler, Two-Face, and the Penguin return to thwart the world's greatest detective's efforts to defeat the game's primary villains, which include the Scarecrow and a new, yet somehow familiar threat: The Arkham Knight.
The battle system has been improved from the game's predecessors, adding more attack combinations such as environment takedowns and throw counterattacks (walls and other bad guys work just fine). As the story progresses, a brief tutorial will show you how to master each new combination, gadget, and ability, making its integration into your move set feel seamless.
At certain points, Batman must team up with other fan-favorite heroes and anti-heroes, and one of the coolest new features in the game is real-time character switching during these encounters. While teamed up with the likes of Catwoman or Nightwing, you can toggle control between each character, and must usually do so to advance. Beat down your foes and use tag team combos to really lay the hurt on Gotham's not-so-finest.
The developers improved upon the game's HUD and simplified its mission tracking system, giving it a direct hotkey to select which adventure you want to follow. You have so much to do as Batman, and now it's a lot easier to keep track of it all.
Batman: Arkham Knight features the deployment of one of Batman's most iconic gadgets, the Batmobile. This allows you to traverse the landscape of Gotham City in style, and with enough firepower to take on an army (good thing too, because that's what you are up against).
Holding the right mouse button enables Battle Mode, which makes targeting and dodging enemy attacks a simple task. Disable enemy vehicles with a mounted Vulcan cannon, or take them all on with a barrage of heat seeking missiles, once you build up your combo points. A power winch can attach to nearby gates and hooks to power up generators or tear down walls, and the Batmobile can even assist you while in hand-to-hand combat with a special combo attack when nearby.
Accessing the car is easy, and you can summon it to your location at almost any time during gameplay. It even comes with a remote control, so if Batman is cornered, you will always have backup ready. It even has ejection seats!
The final title in the Batman: Arkham series pays homage to many fan-favorite story arcs from the comic books and graphic novels, including Death in the Family, The Killing Joke, and Knightfall. It is the culmination of decades of Batman mythos wrapped into one action-packed, star-studded, heart-racing finale that is worth playing, if these nasty performance issues can be worked out.
Unfortunately, WB Games has decided to suspend sales of Batman: Arkham Knight while they fix the widespread performance issues. Perhaps I am just one of the lucky few who have not encountered the same degree of reported problems, aside from having to get used to seeing only 30 fps (which some enthusiasts could be quick to judge as a glitch).
The only noticeable issues I noted were the occasional bad guy in the wall or floor, the Batmobile's wheels did not spin in the benchmark, and the audio doesn't quite match what is being displayed at the GCPD evidence lock up, which seems to be more of a lack of attention to detail than anything else. It is certainly not the polished product we were hoping for, and these performance issues put a negative spotlight on the Dark Knight's latest outing.
Hopefully, Batman: Arkham Knight will return in full glory after the developers get some time to remedy these problems. Until then, I will consider myself lucky that I can play the title without the reported issues many other consumers still seem to be dealing with.