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Batman: Arkham Knight, Adding to a (Troubling) PC Gaming Trend

Batman: Arkham Knight's PC port is frankly atrocious, but it, sadly, isn't the first of its kind. In fact, it is one of many games in a quite historic trend in the PC gaming industry.

There’s a number of games releasing this year that I most definitely want to play: Just Cause 3Xenoblade Chronicles X, and the recently released Splatoon. But there’s one game, released just a few days ago, that I’ve wanted to play for a long, long time now, more than any of those. That game was Batman: Arkham Knight, the conclusion to the epic Batman Arkham saga. Sadly though, this latest edition to the Batman: Arkham series is a continuation of its legacy of having issue(s) on PC at launch, even one-upping Arkham Origins. This continues a trend in PC Game development that has been going on for some time now, and it’s high time consumers finally realized this (and did something to combat it).

Every game in the series has had problems on PC at launch, but few series have had issues throughout like Batman: ArkhamArkham Asylum had bugs where some players couldn’t grapple to certain locations at times when it was required to progress in the game. Arkham City had a ton of performance issues on launch, to the point that some people with the highest-end graphics cards of the time couldn’t run the game. 

Arkham Origins was notorious for its problems on PC, mainly due to the fact that the game wasn’t developed by the usual studio, Rocksteady. Instead, Warner Brothers Montreal made the PC port. The game had performance issues, reports emerged of the game crashing at seemingly unpredictable points, memory leaking issues. The game had a point where some users (including myself) ended up stuck in an area and couldn’t leave, no matter what you tried. Name an issue, and Arkham Origins probably had it. None of them, even Arkham Origins, compare to the epic shitstorm that was the launch of Batman: Arkham Knight, though, a game that was so buggy on launch (and still is at time of writing, a month after release) that many people decided to take advantage of Valve’s new refund policy and return the game. But Arkham Knight and its fellow additions to the series are not the first, nor the last, PC ports to have problems. In fact, they are just the latest in a trend that has been going on for years now…And something must change.

The infamous ledge that Batman couldn’t pull himself up onto, leaving the player trapped in Arkham Origins.

I was one of the unfortunate fools who decided, quite literally within half an hour of the game’s launch, to pre-order the game to get the pre-order exclusives of two skins and a story pack featuring Harley Quinn. As the clock hit 2am, my copy had finally finished downloading. Excitement and anticipation filled my very being, and what was the first thing I was greeted with? The game ‘flashing’ repeatedly which, with a bit more investigation, turned out to be the the program forcing itself between windowed borderless and fullscreen modes every half second or so. From what I can conclude, fullscreen mode flat-out doesn’t work with my rig. The game realises this and, to solve it, puts itself in windowed borderless mode. Then, for some reason, it decides to go back into fullscreen mode…which repeats the cycle every half a second or so.

To say I was pissed is an understatement. This is one of the primary issues of a mountain’s worth of them. After looking through (and raging on) the game’s Steam forums, I noticed two things. One: the amount of people going nuts about issues they were having, whether it be the game locking itself at 30 FPSperformance issues on graphics cards that quite clearly shouldn’t be having said issues, and, in rare cases, the same windowing problems as I did. Two: This seems to be an issue that primarily affects laptop and very few desktop graphics cards, making the game quite literally unplayable for anyone who decides to game on a laptop instead of a desktop. Yes, a game released in 2015 can’t properly run on a laptop. Well done guys, well done. 

The Void of Doom...Literally.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to issues with Arkham Knight. As I mentioned, the game is hard-locked to 30 FPS, something which many PC gamers, including myself, find unacceptable in this day and age when we should (and quite clearly can) run games like this far higher than a mere 30 FPS. Some of us can even run it to more than three times that, at 120 FPS. The game is also running insanely bad for some people who quite clearly should be able to run it; people with Titans, SLI’ed GTX 980s, graphics cards that should be perfectly capable of running a game like Arkham Knight on low settings at well over 120 FPS and, yet, cannot.

This trend of unacceptable PC ports has been going around in the PC games development industry for nearly a decade, dating at least to 2008 when Grand Theft Auto IV was ported to PC and was released in afrankly horrid state. Thankfully, this seems to be an experience that Rockstar North has learnt from (Grand Theft Auto V’s port to PC was very well done). GTA IV was plagued with similar issues to Arkham Knight on launch (some of which still persist today, 7 years after release), with many PC gamers who should have been able to run the game just fine on high graphics settings forced to downgrade to lower settings due to poor optimization on Rockstar North’s part. The game also had many texture errors, which usually led to texture flat-out failing to load leaving black spaces behind or even crashing the game in some cases.

To this day, many people have issues getting the game to run at all due to still-unknown reasons. For some people, running the game as an administrator works, for others running in compatibility mode for Windows 7 or even Windows XP works. It’s basically a roulette of people trying different solutions, rolling the wheel with all but one of the squares being “The game crashed. Oh well…” and hoping that they land on that one square that says “Congratulations, the game you paid £40/$60 for will now work!”

Yea...Grand Theft Auto IV had quite the texture issues at launch.

Another, more recent, example of this kind of bad porting (though to a much lesser degree) is Dragon Age: Inquisition. The game isn’t a bad port…on desktop. There was, and still is, an issue for mobile graphics card users that is almost identical to the issues currently plaguing by those exact same gamers playing Arkham Knight. That’s right, for 90% of mobile gamers, in fullscreen mode, Dragon Age: Inquisition flickers between fullscreen and a windowed mode in a resolution somewhere in between 720 and 1080p if you have a 1920×1080 monitor. Yes, this is yet another case of fullscreen mode flat-out not working for users of mobile graphics cards. Guess what? This issue was never resolved. 

When EA finally responded, after having the issue being reported to them on a regular basis (through a full petition and a 44-page forum post), they blamed nVidia and basically just passed the buck. When nVidia were questioned about this, they said that there was absolutely nothing wrong on their end and the problem was never solved. This issue can be fixed in the same way that it can in Arkham Knight (by forcing the game into windowed mode) but that comes with some hefty performance hits, sometimes to the point where one can’t play the game. Thanks EA/Bioware/nVidia! Because of one of you, I literally can’t play that game due to the bad performance.

Arkham KnightGrand Theft Auto IV and Dragon Age: Inquisition are not alone in their issues at adapting to PC. The state that many PC versions have come out in in recent years is simply unacceptable. Games likeWWE 2K15Prototype 2State of DecayFallout 3Dead Island… The list goes on. Valve’s blatant ignorance of the crappy ports that get on the Steam store over the last decade has also been a primary contributor to this. Sure, Steam’s recent changes to its refund policies is definitely a step in the right direction and should make a big impact on developers who make these kinds of lazy ports. However, we need to be able to fight back as a consumer against practices like this. Something as simple as if a developer is known to constantly release bad PC ports, they get a tag(s) on their Steam developer page or the pages of any games they’ve made…Something like that would deter some people from the ‘pre-order’ culture that we seem to live in nowadays.

Pre-order now to get...clothes.

The ‘pre-order’ culture, for the uninitiated, is one of the many problems consumer-side that are aiding the development of bad PC ports like the ones mentioned. Many games nowadays offer extra content if consumers commit to pre-ordering the game and, whilst that may seem great at first, what many don’t seem to realise is that what pre-ordering also does is give the developer their money before reviews are even released, so if the game is bad, the consumer is screwed. They’re stuck with a bad game, and the developer gets to run away with the cash without the consumer being able do a thing about it. This ‘pre-order’ culture that has developed over the last few years cannot be fixed or stopped quickly, but it can be slowed down.

If you are going to take something away from this article, take this: Stop pre-ordering video games. In a large percentage of cases, all it does is let developers continue to profit from these unacceptable PC ports and screws over the consumer. If you must pre-order a game however, take advantage of Valve’s new refund system and return the game immediately if you’re dissatisfied with it.

May I welcome you to the 'Pre-order Culture'.

If we start to fight against anti-consumer practices like this by using Valve’s refund system, then maybe we can start getting results like how Rocksteady (at the time of writing) has taken down all PC sales of Arkham Knight until they can iron out the issues. One can only assume, but I have a very large feeling that has to do with the amount of refunds that they’ve received over the last few days which is an amazing first step in getting rid of these practices.

Published Jul. 11th 2015

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