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Batman: Return to Arkham patch 1.02 - there's good news and bad news

Standard PS4 versions are in good shape but PS4 Pro support remains an afterthought.

There's good news and bad news with Batman: Return to Arkham's latest 1.02 update. On the one hand, it's clear that there's been a big push towards optimising the product into the kind of game it should have been at launch, meaning that owners of standard PS4 hardware now get a solid game overall with just minor issues. On the other, the vaunted PlayStation 4 Pro support (officially flagged in the patch notes) is basically an affront to everything the system stands for - to the point where some believe it's actually a step back from the original Pro 'features' the game shipped with.

There are two titles in Return to Arkham, of course, each with their own set of issues, but let's talk first about the more problematic of the pair - Arkham City. When we first looked at the game running on base PS4 hardware, the wildly fluctuating, unlocked frame-rate generally saw performance in the 30-40fps ballpark, but the title could hit 20fps and below in particular stress points. The prognosis here is good. A perfectly frame-paced 30fps is now in place, and the majority of the sub-30fps drops are now gone. In essence, the title now offers up performance similar to the last-gen console releases, but enjoys all of the visual changes brought by the move to Unreal Engine 4. We've traded raw frame-rate here for consistency - and the improvement is marked.

The push for optimisation hasn't impacted dynamic resolution: we ran several fresh pixel counts on the game at peak stress points, and with patch 1.02 installed, the standard PS4's resolution comes in at lowest 1344x1080, but typically rests at 1920x1080 as usual. A dynamic resolution system is still used then, and where it does drop, image quality is identical to the last patch in matching scenes.

Every optimisation carried out by the developer rolls over into the Pro version of the game - but that does include the 30fps cap. In version 1.01, the unlocked frame-rate allowed the Pro version to operate 10-15 frames per second faster on average with anything up to a 20fps uptick in best case scenarios, with some glorious sections where Arkham City ran close to a locked 60fps. From our perspective, we prefer consistency over the wildly careening frame-rates we saw previously, but many users are unhappy that a Pro mode open to them has now been arbitrarily removed.

Tom presents a look at Batman: Return to Arkham's performance profile on both base and Pro hardware. It's fair to say that the standard PS4 is the biggest beneficiary of this update.Watch on YouTube

There's also plenty of evidence to suggest that support for the new console remains a simple case of the developer activating the Pro flag and not implementing any additional support whatsoever. With the 30fps cap in place, there's a surfeit of GPU power left untapped - and developer Virtuos has made no effort to improvement resolution whatsoever. We revisited the pixel-counts in GPU-heavy scenes and found that it is a complete match for the base PS4 version meaning - yes - a minimum 1344x1080. In turn, this suggests that the dynamic scaling in Return to Arkham isn't dynamic at all - it can't be reacting to GPU load because the Pro graphics core isn't being stretched here at all.

On top of that, Sony's technical guidelines to developers say that all Pro titles must be 1080p resolution or higher - while the rule doesn't specify horizontal pixel count, we feel pretty sure that the platform holder is ruling out sub-native resolutions. In which case, Arkham City shouldn't have made it out to users in this state. The overall impression is one of developer apathy here: to put this into perspective, if every third party adopted the same approach to PS4 Pro as this title does, there would literally be no point in the console existing.

As things stand, with the 30fps cap in place, the only advantage Pro owners get is a better lock on the target frame-rate. At the very least, removing the 'dynamic' resolution scaling is a must, while some attempt at a higher resolution 4K output mode would be welcome. There's talk in the patch notes of Pro 'enhanced visuals' but we've yet to actually see any - everything we've seen so far is a match for the base PS4 game.

Our initial look at Batman: Return to Arkham's 'stealth' PS4 Pro support. Baseline frame-rates are way up, but patch 1.02's 30fps cap has irked many.Watch on YouTube

Of course, there are two titles in this package. A test of the Arkham Asylum remaster, which was already capped at 30fps prior to the patch, shows benefits with update 1.02. This release had frame-pacing issues while charging through hallways, but now it's completely ironed out at 30fps. Even the streaming stutters are gone - and moving between rooms is now hitch-free. Effects are also added with update 1.02, like new dynamic shadows in the first battle, for example. The net result: Batman casts shade behind him in certain areas, where these spots were previously barren. However, this addition applies equally to both PS4 and PS4 Pro.

Patch 1.02 is a mixed bag then. The standard PS4 is all the better for the straight 30fps cap in Arkham City, and both consoles benefit from the improved frame-pacing and extra shadows in Arkham Asylum. But by forcing PS4 Pro owners down the same path with the 30fps ceiling, with no boost in visual settings or resolution of its own, the only advantage left is avoiding the 25fps drops we get on standard hardware.

At a locked 30fps, PS4 Pro offers the smoothest way to experience Arkham City on console, but we have to ask: is this enough to satisfy those who bought the machine, and the promise that came with it? Is the bar of acceptable quality for Pro upgrades really this low? With image quality matched between the two platforms - causing Pro to display at sub-native 1080p - there's nothing to celebrate visually on the stronger hardware. And with the frame-rate lead reduced to a small margin too, it's fair to say the Pro's power is left largely untapped.

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