Games

The broken Batman – Arkham Knight on PC is merely a symptom of a bigger problem (updated)

Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Knight is suffering from a shaky launch on PC. Unfortunately, it's far too familiar a story
Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Knight is suffering from a shaky launch on PC. Unfortunately, it's far too familiar a story
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Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Knight is suffering from a shaky launch on PC. Unfortunately, it's far too familiar a story
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Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Knight is suffering from a shaky launch on PC. Unfortunately, it's far too familiar a story
Numerous AAA games have suffered buggy PC launches over the last few years
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Numerous AAA games have suffered buggy PC launches over the last few years

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.

Numerous AAA games have suffered buggy PC launches over the last few years
Numerous AAA games have suffered buggy PC launches over the last few years

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.

4 comments
FrankenPC
What I don't understand is how they could not have a QA lab with every major minimum-maximum PC spec in it. Any testing at all would uncover these insanely obvious bugs.
Deadpan
Raven Software played that game with the Silver, then Gold, then Platinum editions of Soldier of Fortune back in the early days. Each edition was merely a collection of bug fixes.
JaxCavalera
It's obvious how it happened. The game could have been released at the EXACT same time on pc as it was on console.. BUT then more people would buy it on PC as we get the mods and ability to customize things such as tweaking ini files etc. Downside to this from a game company perspective would be that this level of customization makes it difficult for the game to run well on so many versions of hardware. I believe that when the RIFT becomes more a staple accessory in the games industry, the processing power of computers and laptops will have to increase as well and there will be an industry standard benchmark which game devs can use to quickly test their games out. Most game engines enable you to code once and export out onto multiple platforms simultaneously so I just don't buy into the BS of that. Look at the recent Microsoft Build 2015, they clearly outline how you can develop your games with a single code base and then export them onto all major platforms at the click of a button. Unity has similar features and so does UE4... yet we see a BIG games company such as Bethesda release Fallout Shelter onto IOS exclusively stating it will take them MONTHS to release it for android? Really Bethesda?? it'll be months before you can click the export button? The only logically explanations are that the company produced the game using specific IPhone functionality unavailable on Android devices unlikely based on how simple the game is).. or that they developed it in a software package only capable of releasing to a single operating system... (if that's how they produce games.. they would be out of business.. who builds for one device when you could build for many and then export as needed?) no.. nope the most logical explanations are deals cut with Apple.. perhaps not monetary but other types of deals may have been established there. Similar happened to GTA 5...is still happening.. in GTA 5 We are still getting terrible mouse input stutter, memory leaks and Rockstar assured the recent patch wiped all the hackers.. but every session I joined had at least one hacker arrive at some point during a 3 hour pay session. It took them over 1 year to get the thing from console to PC and it still had bugs like crazy.. makes you wonder what kind of business decision is that? Well.. if people keep buying the games... it's a good one I suppose and considering that Rockstar are getting away with selling Shark Cards in game, making players the P2P host of all online game sessions, avoiding the repair of critical game bugs... plus they still are getting monster sales.. why would they ever stop doing these shady practices?
BZD
Bugs, poor optimizations and the like is one thing. What is much worse is that often game play is simplified in order to work on consoles with their limited controllers + gamers sitting far from the screens so they don't see the details PC gamers does due to being up close and personal with the games. The console sickness not only means many cross platform games are suffering from being shallow, it is even seen that what started as great PC games turn into cross platform series that end up being so so at best.
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