Warner Brothers has released a new patch for the beleaguered PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight, correcting a whole host of minor bugs, laying out the groundwork for yet more DLC support, but most tantalising of all, promising 'improved VRAM management to reduce frame-rate hitches'. Could we finally be getting a comprehensive solution to the game's severe streaming issues?
Based on fresh tests with the new update, there are marginal improvements to the title, but the underlying issues remain much the same. There are a couple of fundamental problems we have with the PC version of the game - first and foremost, Arkham Knight's performance issues when paired with graphics cards with 2GB of onboard graphics memory. The game's built-in VRAM allocation meter strongly recommends that you drop down to low quality textures in order to eliminate hitching and stuttering on 2GB cards - a state of affairs that just isn't good enough.
On a Radeon card, there are few alternatives here, but with Nvidia hardware, 2GB does seem to go further. In combination with a 30fps cap, you can raise quality levels to console-equivalent levels and still enjoy fairly consistent gameplay - though it does require dropping to normal-level textures and shadow quality.
The game's in-built 30fps cap isn't particularly impressive, but using either the Nvidia control panel's half-rate adaptive v-sync, or alternatively Nvidia Inspector's 30fps lock (with triple-buffering also engaged) both get the job done. In our experiments, the latter option seemed to produce slightly smoother gameplay in Batmobile stress-testing, and you get the benefit of no screen-tear. The game does actually support adaptive v-sync from its options menu, but its performance in combination with its own 30fps cap isn't as robust as the GPU control panel's half-rate adaptive option.
Looking back at our previous tests, it seems that the improved VRAM management may have blunted some of stutter on 2GB cards as the game drops below 30fps - but the fact remains that Arkham Knight on PC clearly still requires a fundamental review of VRAM management, as opposed to small, iterative improvements - which brings us onto our second major issue with the game.
Even with a third patch promising performance enhancements, we're still unable to run Arkham Knight at a locked 1080p60. We re-tested GTX 970 performance, this time paired with a Core i7 6700K and 16GB of 2666MHz DDR4. Stutter is still fairly common, even though GPU utilisation lay between 75 to 85 per cent. The drop in performance does seem to be down to VRAM streaming issues, as dropping from high quality textures to normal sees a small but tangible improvement. The issue we have is that we should not be seeing any particular problem here, because according to the game's VRAM allocation meter, 4GB is more than enough memory to run the title maxed at 1080p.
In conclusion, some improvements are better than none, and the game shouldn't be considered a write-off - the quality of Rocksteady's core work still shines through, provided you have capable enough components. The problem we have is that PC gaming is based on the concept of shaping the gameplay experience to your own tastes, based in part on your hardware choices - but with recent news that the developer has given up on SLI and Crossfire support, what's clear is that the ability to customise the Arkham Knight on PC for the best experience is far more limited than it should be.