PC gamers, we should have expected this.
Despite this year being our year, with our own dedicated PC-gaming show at E3, Batman: Arkham Knight is an unkindly reminder of where we stand with game developers: Console gamers got a brilliantly crafted game while we're stuck with a standard-issue, glitch-filled port.
At least that's what nearly 8,000 and counting people on Steam are saying about this brand-new game. The torches and pitchforks became numerous enough by Wednesday night that WB Games made the nearly unprecedented decision to indefinitely suspended sales of the PC version of Arkham Knight until its problems can be resolved.
As one of the hottest games of the season, Batman: Arkham Knight had big marketing dollars behind it and a strong Metacritic score of 89 filling its sails. Every one of those critics, however, reviewed the PlayStation 4 version. No reviews of the PC port were published before the game was shipped.
With thousands of people who purchased the PC version filing complaints about texture flashing, crashing, stuttering, and terrible frame rates, Batman: Arkham Knight is what's technically called a hot stinking mess.
To find out just how bad it was, I fired up Batman: Arkham Knight on the most powerful gaming PC I had on hand: a 4-way SLI GeForce Titan X rig with a Core i7-5960X overclocked to 4.5GHz, RAIDed SSDs, and 16GB of DDR4/2666 RAM. What does $11,000 worth of fire-breathing, meat-eating metal get you? How about 30 frames per second? (insert needle-scratch sound).
And no, that's not at surround 4K or straighforward 4K resolution. WB Games decided to lock Arkham Knight down to 30 fps no matter what hardware you're running. Whether it's a GeForce GTX 960 or a four-way GeForce Titan X setup, this game will max out at 30 frames per second running on a PC.
The good news is there's a workaround, but you'll need to dig into an INI file rather than, oh, use an in-game switch.
Backup your game first, and then dig into C:\ProgramFiles(x86)\Steam\ steamapps\common\Batman Arkham Knight\BMGame\Config, and then open BmSystemSettings.ini in Notepad and look for the line that says MaxFPS=30.000000. Changing that to either 60 or 120 will allow the game to run at higher frame rates.
But then there's crashing too
On my 4-way system, I initially ran the game at 1080p to see if issues would crop up; but once I'd changed that .INI file, I decided to let it run in its full 4K glory: I was immediately greeted with the game crashing as soon as I tried to run it in benchmark mode. After that crash, it never went back to working without mucking around. Even setting the .INI file back to a maximum of 30 fps didn't help.
Through this mucking around ,I determined that the only way to get it to run was to follow WB Games' advice to dedicate one of my GPUs to PhysX to help "performance." It didn't help performance in my experience, but it at least made it so I could play the game. All of my issues, mind you, were with the recommended Nvidia 353.30 GameReady driver that technically supports SLI. More on this later.
Letting the Nvidia driver automatically select the GPU to run PhysX on would cause a crash. And in the bizarre column, depending on which GPU you ran PhysX would limit your SLI support. Run PhysX on GPU number one or two and you get no SLI support whatsoever. Run it on GPU number four and you get SLI or two GPU's only. Running it on GPU number three though, would get you tri-SLI at least, with only occasional crashes to the desktop.
One reliable way I could get the game to run on all four GPUs, at least according to the Nvidia control panel, was to runn PhysX on the CPU. But that turned off the game's Interactive Smoke and Paper Debris settings. And as controversial as GameWorks and PhysX are to gamers who run AMD video cards, the effects in Batman: Arkham Knight are beautiful.
It's only after seeing Batman: Arkham Knight with the smoke and paper effects on and off that you realize what you're missing. It's almost enough to make someone who doesn't like proprietary technology forgive the game for using those Nvidia-only features. I mean, that smoke is wondrous. Watch the video and you can see it curl as the Batmobile peels down the street.
The game's performance is another a head-scratcher. Let me remind you, I'm running the game on an 8-core Core-i7 rig with four water-cooled Titan X cards. This rig pushes Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, with its HD textures at 4K resolution, at 100 fps. It plays Tomb Raider at 4K on Ultimate at nearly 170 fps. With Batman Arkham Knight, the in-game benchmark reported a dismally low framerate in the 40s. Even crazier, I wasn't seeing any SLI scaling at all. One Titan X, two Titan X, or four didn't move the needle. All of my performance tests were in the mid- to low 40s. I tried the latest GeForce Experience optimizations and multiple reboots with nary any difference.
What's up? I spoke with Nvidia officials who said they're trying to figure out what my problem is, because they are seeing scaling internally. I'll report back once we figure it out.
What about AMD?
Remember, this is the game running on Nvidia hardware, which traditionally has a leg up in performance and stability over AMD GPUs for this franchise. Many AMD users have also reported issues running the game. Even worse, the section of WB Games' FAQ that discusses running the game on both AMD and Nvidia hardware reads like the fine print for a prescription drug that hasn't yet passed FDA trials.
The craziest part of Batman: Arkham Knight is that when it does run, it seems to run fine. In addition to running it on that Big Bertha Titan X system, I also ran it on Asus' new ROG gaming laptop, which is outfitted with a GeForce GTX 980M. It ran just fine, with frame rates on the single card in the 60 fps range. That's at 1080p resolution, mind you, but it makes it even more puzzling that the game ran so poorly on a desktop PC with a single Titan X.
Bottom line: WB Games made the right move in suspending sales.