This past week the most recent game in the Batman: Arkham series was finally released after several delays, with it originally being due late last year. I’m currently working on a full review of the game, but as with everything that I cover I wait until I’ve been able to complete at least the bulk of the story mode so I’m not quite ready with that just yet.
I have however been reading with a fair amount of interest the ongoing issues that the PC version is reported as having. I’ve seen many people complaining of the game straight up not working or regular crashes and given the issues that the last WB Games release, Mortal Kombat X, had within it’s first few weeks this certainly sounded well within the realms of possibility.
But after speaking with a number of my colleagues who were also playing the game, it seemed a bit less clear. Currently, there are six of us at CCL who are playing Arkham Knight on the PC (with a couple of others on consoles, but they’re not relevant here) and yet none of us were having any major problems. Sure, we’re all experiencing the general poor framerate issues that the game has and we’re on a range of different hardware specs. Four of my colleagues are on i5/i7 rigs, with GTX 970 graphics cards, another with a Phenom II 940 and HD 7950 graphics while I’m straddling the brands with an A10-7850K and GTX 960. As I’ve got the lowest end card I naturally tend to get the lowest framerates, and even though I’m generally sticking to the game’s built in 30 FPS cap I do still see dips to as low as 15 on occasion, mostly whenever the Batmobile appears. It’s been nothing game breaking yet, but a bit annoying (and partially my own fault as I’m reluctant to turn down some of the settings as I want it to be as shiny as possible while still playable) and it does of course lead to the game feeling less polished as a result. I’ve probably played the game the least with about 11 hours so far, with some of my colleagues already well over 25 hours so plenty of time all around to get a good feel for how the game runs.
The built in benchmark didn’t quite match what I was seeing ingame, though. Running at 1920 x 1080, with most settings set to normal (including the textures even though I don’t have a 3GB card as the low settings textures has some really ugly low resolution ones) and the Gameworks features turned off as they were having a little too much of an effect on performance for little visual gain I was given the following acceptable if not spectacular results:
The framerate aside however, that was the worst of our woes. None of us had a save game break or got stuck somewhere they couldn’t proceed or have the game not launch or crash regularly or anything like that. This led me to thinking that even though we were having issues that if there were massive problems with the game one of us should be experiencing them, surely? With Mortal Kombat X we all experienced some of the problems that game had, and as I mentioned in my review I was hit with the save game deleting bug so what we experienced tallied with what was being reported in the community. And yet with the game at least as far as we could tell much less broken than Mortal Kombat, Batman has now been removed from sale on Steam until the developers have managed to fix it.
Naturally, as we’re all computer enthusiasts working for a computer company by and large we’re going to have over the average computer specs, so I was thinking that perhaps most of the problems are happening on computers with lower end hardware? Sure, I’ve read some reports of people with high end i7 chips and Titan cards being unable to play the game but the Steam hardware survey shows that the highest percentage of users have computers with a significantly lower spec.
While others online have benchmarked the game against highest end hardware – and I understand there are some pretty major issues with SLI and Crossfire setups at the moment, but none of us are using one for me to have any direct performance figures for it - I decided to do the opposite and see how well the game handled on lower end systems.
Armed with my trusty test bench, with its powerhouse 2.7GHz Intel Celeron G1820 dual core processor and 4GB of 1333MHz RAM, surely I wasn’t going to be able to get the game to play at all. After all, this comes in well below the listed minimum requirements of a first generation i5 quad core and 6GB of RAM. With Batman installed and ready, on a 5400Rpm hard drive to be as consistently low end as possible, I set to work trying out the most basic graphics cards that I could.
The first card that I tried was the GT 730 from my test bench and, well, even at the lowest settings it ran at 1FPS so clearly a no go there. But Nvidia don’t market the GT cards as gaming cards, and certainly not for playing high end brand new titles.
GT 730 discarded, I got a little more serious and got my hands on some entry level gaming cards. First up was a new MSI R7 360. AMD’s new bottom spec gaming card, this has replaced the R7 250X that I was planning to use. The testing was with a pinch of salt for this one, as I had to use the latest AMD beta driver which I’m not fond of doing but it wasn’t properly recognised by the still current driver from December. With all of the settings as low as possible but the resolution set to a half way respectable 1280 x 720 I ran the ingame benchmark which gave me the following results:
It came in a lot higher than I expected, so next I went into the game to see how it actually played. With all the settings to low and in a lower resolution than I’m used to it wasn’t exactly pretty and ran at a pretty chuggy 5-15 FPS. Lowering the resolution to 640 x 480 bumped that up to the mid 20s where it became playable if a bit ugly.
Next was an Asus GTX 750, again a fairly low spec but still reasonably recent card. Again, the latest driver was installed to both keep things even and take advantage of the potential performance gains of the driver. This did a bit better in the benchmark:
In gameplay even still at 1280 x 720 it still mostly maintained a reasonable 20 FPS, again not anything to write home about but still fairly playable.
Last up, I decided to see how my old XFX HD 7770 held up. A much older card, it wasn’t a new model when I bought it two and a half years ago and I’d already spent most of the last 6 months thinking about replacing until I picked up the GTX 960 I knew it already had performance issues with current games on high settings. On the lower settings I was testing against though?
Already not holding up too well from the benchmark, ingame performance was basically terrible and barely playable even dropped to 640 x 480 it was only averaging around 10 FPS, so I’m quite glad I had already replaced it before the game came out though of course it would perform better coupled with a more powerful processor.
I’ve ended up confused more than anything else from this testing. How can my test setups, massively below the minimum system spec, have the game playable (if at the expensive of it not looking pretty) when systems several magnitudes of performance higher are reporting the game as not running? Is there some variable that I’ve somehow missed that’s causing problems for a lot of people, something that I’m doing or not doing that is different for all the over seven thousand people who have left negative reviews on Steam so far? I’ve no doubt at all that it’s a poorly optimised game and that it does require more work to increase its performance but I’ve found no evidence from my testing that it’s broken to the point that it just doesn’t work.
Rocksteady have now started to roll out patches for the game with the first addressing some minor issues that came out after I'd done my testing but the notes for this patch don't indicate any major performance changes and I didn't notice any difference on my system at home.