It’s hard to learn how to operate in the present-day world, rather than the version that existed several years ago. Back in 2010, a PC port of a console game could be expected to be seen an afterthought, something churned out to tick a box on the list of available platforms but not taken too seriously. It wasn’t fun for the non-console crowd but it was almost expected, and then the world changed. Years have passed and PC is much bigger than it used to be, but somehow games like Batman: Arkham Knight still keep on happening.
Arkham Knight came last week to a flood of negative reviews of its PC version. The game itself isn’t the cause, but rather how terribly it runs. Framerates are all over the place, pre-loads are corrupted, and the idiot thing is even locked to 30FPS unless you manually edit an .ini file. All this on a game running on the well-documented (albeit heavily modified) Unreal 3 engine after a partnership with nVidia to make the game look its prettiest. It’s practically the textbook definition of “Inexcusably Half-Assed PC Port”.
What’s going to happen next is a lot of finger pointing and a barrage of patches. Rocksteady have posted in their forum that they’re working on the issues with their “external PC development partner”, unhappy customers are glaring daggers at WB Interactive for completely screwing up a PC port again, and Steam is giving out refunds hand over fist. It got so bad that WB Interactive stopped selling new copies until the performance issues are resolved. It’s an ugly situation and should have been easily avoided.
Nobody expects perfection. Bugs happen, patches get issued, it’s the circle of gaming life. See a guard running into a wall endlessly? Toss a grenade his way and see how much airtime you can get out of his corpse. It’s not ideal but games are big, complicated beasts and most people are understanding of the occasional issue. The problem is when “complicated” becomes an excuse for “broken”. Assassin’s Creed: Unity? Busted. Mortal Kombat X? A patch wiped out the save progress of those who played through its poorly-optimized launch. Sim City? So awful an entirely new city-building franchise has taken the genre’s crown. Today it’s Batman: Arkham Knight’s turn, and there will probably be another high-profile game performing equally as badly coming along relatively soon.
None of these games’ poor performance were a mystery. Each of the publishers have a fully-functioning QA department whose advice they chose to ignore. The bugs aren’t undiscovered mysteries hiding in the code only to be found when several thousand players get their hands on it, but documented issues that would have cost money to repair before launch day. The problems were written off and the displeased fans viewed as the price of doing business. There’s a small problem with that particular point of view, though.
Batman: Arkham Knight is fully returnable through Steam. There’s a very useful “100% get your money back, no questions asked if less than two hours on the clock” refund available to any customer who asks. Warner Bros. have treated the PC version of an afterthought so why give them money if it doesn’t work on your system? If it does, as in the case of our reviewer, then go have a great time with it. Arkham Knight isn’t busted on every PC it runs on, because some users have the magic combination of equipment and drivers to make the game look as good as promised, and when it goes on sale again the average user should be able to get the same experience. The problem is that the future-patched version is the one that should have been released, rather than this buggy mass of unfinished code that’s almost a Batman game. It’s 2015 and PC is one of the three major gaming platforms, and now the primary marketplace for buying games is fully returnable. It’s about time publishers start realizing what the consequences of this are.