The broken Batman – Arkham Knight on PC is merely a symptom of a bigger problem (updated)
One of the biggest game launches of the year – Batman: Arkham Knight – hit shelves today, but things are already going awry for some. PC users are reporting significant issues, with frequent audio glitches and stutters plaguing the open world adventure. Unfortunately, issues like this are far too common.
Update 6/24: The blowback was so bad that Warner Bros. Games suspended sales of the PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight until it can fix this buggy mess.
It's been less than 24 hours since Batman: Arkham Knight unlocked on Steam, but PC users are already reporting a host of issues. The game suffers from significant audio stuttering and certain segments, most notably parts of the game that require use of the batmobile, causing the frame rate to dip significantly. The title is also locked at 30 fps – something that may be tolerable on a console, but not on high-end gaming rigs with US$500+ graphics cards (though the frame rate cap can be lifted with an .ini file tweak).
There's an interesting disconnect going on here. Arkham Knight, developer Rocksteady's third game in the series, is currently sitting on an average review score of 91 on Metacritic. However, take a look at the user reviews over on Steam and you'll see a different story altogether, with the game receiving 2,065 negative reviews to just 916 positive. Why? Because most professional reviewers played the polished PlayStation 4 version of the title, rather than the buggy PC port.
Interestingly, Rocksteady didn't handle the PC port of the game, instead focusing on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 releases. The developer put out a statement today confirming that's it's working to fix the issues, but you have to ask – how did a port with such glaring issues make it through quality control at all? The game was even delayed by eight months (it was originally scheduled for an October 2014 launch), but, even with that extra time, major problems still weren't addressed.
It's certainly not the first time this has happened recently. Last year's port of Xbox One launch title Dead Rising 3 failed to take advantage of more than three CPU cores and required a pretty hefty GPU to hit anywhere close to 60 frames per second. Similarly, the PC release of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Unity suffered from numerous performance issues when it hit shelves late last year. Looking back further – ever tried playing From Software's Dark Souls on PC? You'll need to install an unofficial mod to up texture resolutions to a passable level.
Developers' ambition with PC graphics is also often reined in by a focus on console versions of a title. We often see gameplay demos running on high PC hardware at big game shows, only for developers to scale things back so they can get the game running smoothly on all platforms in time for release. We've seen this before in big titles like Watch Dogs, Dark Souls 2 and more recently, The Witcher 3. It's less of an issue than companies releasing buggy games, but it's easy to see why PC gamers feel like they're getting short changed.
To be fair, we regularly see buggy releases on console as well, and it's a particularly big issue with ports (Batman: Arkham City and Assassin's Creed 3 on Wii U spring to mind). But there's something incredibly disrespectful to one of the most loyal and passionate communities of gamers to allow a broken game to be released on PC when the console versions just aren't suffering the same issues. Especially when you consider that, in terms of raw power, both the PS4 and Xbox One are only equal, at best, to a mid-ranged gaming tower. Now that the issue is well-known, we imagine the issues will be dealt with as quickly as possible, but it's baffling that they were allowed to exist in the first place.
In the case of buggy PC launches, games usually get patched sooner or later to ensure that players (eventually) get the smooth experience they were hoping for from day one, and maybe that's simply where we are with PC gaming nowadays. With the exception of PC exclusive titles, it seems that developers are so focused on consoles that we have the choice of putting up with broken launches in the knowledge that they'll be playable down the line, or give up on seeing AAA titles like this on PC at all.
There was a bigger focus on PC gaming than usual at this year's E3, and with the rise of VR, maybe we'll see the platform return to favor down the line. In the short term, maybe hold off on pulling the trigger on the PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight until it, you know, works.