This is a challenge for Nvidia's new top-tier RTX hardware that's very, very different from the usual benchmarks and gameplay tests - is it actually possible to run the deeply flawed PC port of Batman: Arkham Knight at 4K resolution at a smooth, locked 60fps? Three years on from its highly controversial launch, has the quality of the port improved at all? Can the latest mainstream PC technology attain the consistent performance level that has traditionally eluded this most baffling of ports? And perhaps more to the point - why return to Arkham Knight at all?
With the release of Batman: Return to Arkham bringing Rocksteady's first two Batman games to PS4 and Xbox One, we felt it might be time to take a look back and get a sense of the studio's achievements with these wonderful superhero adventures.
There's a new Batman film out this weekend and it's certainly taking a beating by critics. That's not unusual for the brooding vigilante, who holds the heavy burden of fan expectations on his armoured shoulders. Just last year the caped crusader received a thrashing when Rocksteady released the finale of its dark knight series, Batman: Arkham Knight, with a botched PC port. It was a sad state of affairs that Warner Brothers was rightfully taken to task for, yet this conversation - and some nitpicks about the new batmobile - overshadowed the fact that Rocksteady delivered Batman's finest video game adventure to date.
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.
It's been four months from the initial release of the nightmarish PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight - an outsourced port so bad that the publisher felt it had no choice but to remove the game from sale. An interim patch was pushed out for existing owners last month, but a new 2.3GB update was unveiled on Wednesday, alongside a re-release of the game. Yes, Batman Arkham Knight is available for sale once more but the question is, are the major issues surrounding the title resolved? Is it actually worthy of purchase?
Looking at the latest patch notes, it's safe to say that we went into our testing with little optimism. Warner Bros' focus is seemingly on bringing the PC version of the game up to date with the console releases in terms of DLC content. While the September interim patch listed some technical enhancements - plus the addition of a high quality texture option - there was nothing in the latest update to suggest any further enhancements to the technological nuts and bolts of the game - and that's a fundamental problem.
Looking back at our initial report on the PC version, we saw a woefully optimised release, lacking visual features found in the console versions of the game. Arkham Knight was also unable to sustain 60fps, even with the artificial frame-rate cap unlocked, and with a Core i7 and a powerful GTX 780 Ti powering the game. A week later, the visual issues were mostly resolved, and we posted our recommended settings - effectively using the Nvidia control panel to force a properly frame-paced 30fps, even though our GTX 960 and GTX 970 were left brutally under-utilised as a result.
Is it actually possible to run the current, hobbled version PC of Batman: Arkham Knight at 60fps at any resolution? Indeed, is it actually capable of matching the 30fps performance profile of the console versions without investing a small fortune in hardware? Rocksteady and PC port developer Iron Galaxy are currently working on substantially improving the lacklustre performance, and the game itself is currently withdrawn from sale. But for those of us lumbered with the existing code, what can be done to get a decent experience?
What's your favourite Batmobile? If you answered the Tumbler, the thick, bulky and brutally functional supercar/tank hybrid from Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, then I'm afraid you're just plain wrong. The Tumbler had a place within Nolan's universe, with its thudding logic dictated by the inevitable and rather joyless collision of immovable objects, but looking back through the history of Batman's garage it's an unsightly addition - a tool fit for a soldier rather than a vigilante, a guardian, a silent predator.
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.
The launch of Batman: Arkham Knight may have been blighted by the arrival of the PC train-wreck, but let's be clear - Rocksteady's console game is a slickly presented finale to the saga that should not be overlooked. Based on early impressions, the game has already proven itself in the performance stakes, and that solid frame-rate and stability is backed up by a more ambitious approach to the open world gameplay pioneered in 2011's Arkham City.
It's a sad fact that this generation's big releases are often playing catch-up on their promises post-launch - a "release now, fix later" mentality that developer Rocksteady thankfully doesn't appear to subscribe to in its excellent Batman Arkham Knight. Having played the PlayStation 4 review code extensively, we're pleased to see the game is set to launch in a very refined, polished state. As the finale to the Arkham saga, it's a superb production, but crucially it also turns in a slick, stable playing experience with solid performance on day one.
The original Arkham game was an intimate affair. One night, one location, one man standing against his nemesis in a battle that was as much about wits as it was about brute strength. It teased the world outside the walls Amadeus Arkham built, but we never got to go there. The graphic novel from which the game took its name, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison, is a thoughtful, claustrophobic comic heavy on symbolism, psychological horror, and hard to read lettering. A couple of games on, however, and Arkham Knight feels more like the popular Jeph Loeb comic arc Hush; a flashy, Michael Bay-like explosion of set-pieces, secret identities, and a lengthy all-star line-up of both allies and antagonists. Bigger doesn't always equate to better, but this kind of build-up is unavoidable where a series of this magnitude is concerned, especially since key mechanics like the combat were pretty much nailed the first time around.
When news emerged that Batman: Arkham Knight had been delayed to 2015, my gut reaction was disappointment.