This week saw the release of what was promising to be one of the biggest game launches of the year, the third in a series of games which has numbered amongst the most successful in recent memory, both critically and commercially. By all accounts, Rocksteady absolutely delivered on their promises – provided you’re running the game on a console. If you bought it on PC, though? On that path lies danger.
This is a story with a lot of moving parts, to the point where things are changing hour by hour in some cases. What we do know is: whilst Rocksteady created Arkham Asylum and Arkham City entirely in-house for the PC themselves (and on consoles, of course), for whatever reason they chose not to do this for the final piece of their trilogy, Arkham Knight. Instead the PC version was outsourced to Iron Galaxy Studios, a smaller Chicago-based developer that specialises in porting games from one format to another. Ipso facto this is not a gigantic problem. I’ve seen several games be ported from console to PC by port developers that delivered a top-notch experience and who knew what they were doing.
Two that come to mind are the original Mass Effect, which was port from the Xbox to PC by Demiurge, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which was ported to PC by Dutch developer Nixxes (and thank god they are also handling Deus Ex: Mankind Divided on the PC, too). Both of these were high-quality ports that actually added to their respective games on the PC rather than taking away. Mass Effect for the PC completely revamped the inventory system to better suit the system, for example, and Human Revolution had excellent PC customisation and extensive graphics options available. These were how ports should be done.
Sadly, Arkham Knight was not done in such a way. The problems with the PC version have been detailed in many places, but in summary: the framerate is worse even on superior hardware, the game is choppy seemingly at random (although problems in and around the Batmobile have been reported by many), and even today Eurogamer reported that the PC version lacks some visual fidelity that the PS4 version runs with ease – even on better hardware than is found in the PS4 itself. This is about as unacceptable as it gets.
Rocksteady’s handling of the entire situation has been unusually inept. Knowing that they developed the first two games for the PC themselves, why would they then hand the third game (arguably the most important – right BioWare?) to someone else? They also did not exactly volunteer that information anywhere ahead of time, instead disclosing it in the credits of Arkham Knight; this is something I find particularly shady. And to be clear: they knew there was a problem.
The lack of PC review copies to any gaming outlet (OSP included) was a sure-fire sign that the hatches were being battened. Maybe Rocksteady and WB weren’t fully cognizant of the scale of the problem they had on their hands, but it became apparent very swiftly after release. Underhanded move #2 was to quietly upgrade the minimum system requirements in the hopes of papering over the cracks. Damn those people who had already purchased the game based on the original requirements, right?
The fallout continues. Yesterday the PC version of the game was withdrawn from sale at all major retailers (you can’t buy it on Steam or GMG, so that’s 90% of the market right there), and just today we reported that the Steam page for Arkham Knight now states that the game is “coming…this Fall”. I can’t actually recall of another game being so poor that it was taken off the market by the publisher. It’s a clear sign of how (belatedly) serious WB are taking this issue; they know their reputation has taken a massive hit over it.
Nor is this entirely an isolated incident. A few weeks ago we had another example, with the PC release of Mortal Kombat X. Again, this was ported to the PC by a third-party developer, High Voltage Studios. The PC version at launch was literally unplayable for many people (as in: you could not play the game, period), and a later PC patch actually deleted users’ save files. Following this debacle, WB then removed High Voltage from responsibility for the PC version and instead handed over the reigns to QLOC earlier this month. So it’s not exactly been a banner couple of months for WB, and PC gamers of their titles in particular.
The takeaway from all of this should be that when developers sell game pre-orders on the backs of previous games in a series, most reasonable people are going to assume that they made this new one, too. Rocksteady’s shady behaviour over the PC version of Arkham Knight, not only passing it off to another developer but keeping that information to themselves until after release, leaves a poor taste in my mouth. That, coupled with all of the technical issues plaguing the PC version of the game, make it easy to recommend to PC gamers worth their salt to avoid Arkham Knight for the time being.
Steam now has a generous refund policy that I would absolutely recommend people use to get their money back on this, and GMG are also granting refunds to people who purchased the PC version from them. I always say that it’s important to reward good developers and publishers by buying their games and recommending them to your friends. Likewise, when someone screws up to such a galaxy-sized extent that WB did here, it’s equally important to make sure they know it. Obtain refunds if you wish, and tell your friends to avoid this game on PC until further notice.
There’s no excuse for this kind of thing by a major publisher in 2015. In time I have no doubt WB will make things right, but for now PC gamers should avoid Arkham Knight – even if that means missing out on one of the best games of the year.
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