It's unusual to see PC multi-platform titles failing to match up to their console equivalents - Xbox One and PS4 are based on PC technology, after all - but in Batman: Arkham Knight we have a rare example. Having tested the PC game on a Intel Core i7 3770K machine, with 16GB of memory and a GTX 780 Ti, a solid all-round experience should be within easy reach. In reality, performance levels are poor with this setup, and to throw salt into the wound, the PC's top tier settings miss out on visual effects found in the PlayStation 4 release.
Let's start with performance - the big bone of contention with the game at launch. Out of the box, the game is capped to 30fps - a number that hides lurches in performance we see on this machine, but compared to the unlocked frame-rate in the last two games it's a definite shortcoming. However, by navigating to Arkham Knight's config folder, it's easy enough to change this to 60 or beyond with the 'BmSystemSettings.ini' file. In our case, we choose 120 to see the state of the game's full performance profile - and it isn't pretty.
Even at low settings, holding 60fps on the 780 Ti is out of the question. With Nvidia's 353.30 driver (apparently optimised for Arkham Knight) installed, our setup suffers from hiccups and lurches to as low as 38fps as we glide across Gotham or drive in the Batmobile. Frame-times are highly variable, reaching a nadir of 410ms for a single frame as the game crosses a checkpoint. Amazingly, dropping to the worst quality textures, shadows and level of detail (while turning off anti-aliasing, v-sync and all Nvidia Gameworks features) still has us dropping to 40fps and lower while at 1080p.
With no other settings to drop down further, 1080p60 is off the table. And sadly, in-game graphics options are fairly limited too, missing any option to tweak post settings such as chromatic aberration or the grain filter. Even editing these in the .ini file doesn't change anything - meaning that those who dislike these effects are stuck with them.
The apparent cause of these drops is an ineffective streaming of textures and geometry, particularly as we race across Gotham at any real speed. Battles, cut-scenes and interior missions run above the 60fps line for the most part, but any fast travel outdoors gives us disappointing frame-rates below 50fps. Camera motion becomes very uneven in these scenes, and that makes targeting with the grappling hook considerably harder than it should be.
Looking at the game's diagnostics using MSI Afterburner's OSD, all eight threads of our CPU are engaged at between 60-70 per cent here - somewhat high bearing in mind the potency of this processor, but clearly we have enough processor power to handle the game logic. However, despite this, the GPU isn't static at the 100 per cent utilisation we should see, dipping in the troublesome Batmobile sections. Meanwhile, VRAM usage is monstrous, with a reported 2.7GB used, even on low settings.
Just as baffling is the fact PC lacks key visual effects seen on PS4 even at its top settings. Ambient occlusion is cut from the game, bokeh depth of field is noticeably dialed back, and the transparency layer used for raindrops is cut from all surfaces as well. Gotham City is stripped of a great deal of atmosphere as a result, with areas appearing lighter without SSAO in place - despite this setting clearly being enabled in the .ini file.
Likewise, rain doesn't appear on Batman or the Batmobile as it does on PS4. The reflective, dewy sheen is missing across the city, though specular and normal maps remain identical to the console release. The PC's highest settings show very little difference otherwise to Sony's console, barring a tweak to motion blur velocity settings.
Right now, the state of Arkham Knight on PC is somewhat at odds with the quality of Rocksteady's predecessors. Both of the earlier releases reserved the premiere visual experience for PC owners, with a far greater range of toggles and presets to adjust the balance of visuals and performance. As it currently stands, Arkham Knight's issues are at least acknowledged by Warner Bros, but the recently released, performance guide paints a remarkable picture of minimum hardware requirements.
Let's put it this way: it's the first time we've seen a Radeon HD 7950 3GB - a GPU far more capable than the hardware found in Xbox One or PS4 - recommended for 720p gameplay, paired with a Core i5 to boot. It's not advised to remove the 30fps cap, not even if you have a Core i7 with a GTX 980! There's also recognition of poor streaming from mechanical hard drives, with a note that an SSD will improve performance here - something we can confirm. However, that's quite a remarkable state of affairs bearing in mind that the console versions stream in from slower 5400rpm laptop drives.
With its crippled frame-rate, poor streaming, pared back feature set and bloated minimum and recommended hardware spec, Arkham Knight is bitterly disappointing and should never have been released in this sorry state. There's a massive amount of work required to get this version of the game into shape - as things stand, the experience is totally unacceptable.