PC Port Fail, But Here's Our Take
Arkham Knight has received enough hate that Batman would probably hang up his cape if he read /r/PCGaming.
Unfortunately, the in-game benchmark doesn't accurately reflect gameplay after all -- at least not all the gameplay. Performance slipped heavily once Batman fired up his Batmobile in our Fraps testing.
We believe the in-game benchmark reflects how the game should perform once it's fixed, but due to poor optimization there are parts of the game that take a serious amount of rendering power to deliver barely playable performance.
As advertised, Batman: Arkham Knight is extremely demanding on VRAM. If enough VRAM is available, the game will use around 4.2GB/s at just 1080p, 5GB at 1440p and a little over 6GB at 4K. This is what we believe is causing so many performance issues for those running lower-end hardware. The averages appear playable but the demand for more VRAM than low-end GPUs have is causing extreme stuttering.
Arkham Knight's biggest issue may not be how demanding/poorly optimized the game is in certain areas, but rather its lack of tweakable options and thus poor hardware scaling. The heavy use of GameWorks is another big problem and it seems any game Nvidia touches at the moment ends up running like garbage.
The interactive smoke/fog and paper debris absolutely murders performance on Nvidia GPUs -- even the most high-end models. Gamers have uploaded videos to YouTube using graphics cards such as the GTX 970 with these PhysX based features enabled showing poor performance and simply put, these features should not be enabled on a single-GPU setup.
The enhanced rain and light shafts reduced performance by 20% when using both the R9 390X and GTX 980 while disabling all GameWorks features allowed the GTX 770 and R9 280X to deliver perfectly playable performance at 1440p even in our custom Fraps benchmark.
Interestingly, when testing with Fraps, playing at 1080p and 1440p delivered virtually the same results which wasn't the case when using the built-in benchmark. With that being the case, we aren't shocked to hear that folks running at 1080p aren't receiving the expected performance.
We must emphasize again that you should be using the latest display drivers, especially for an AMD card. The Catalyst 15.6 beta driver really helps with performance whereas the previous version makes for unplayable results when trying to drive the Batmobile.
Using the built-in benchmark we began testing at 1080p where the R9 290 struck us as being the best value option for high-end performance. It can be had for around $250 and gamers can expect R9 390X- and GTX 980-like performance at 1080p.
The old HD 7970 and GTX 680 performed reasonable well at this resolution, though sadly the new R9 380 ran into trouble and I don't think we can blame the 2GB memory buffer since the GTX 680 and GTX 770 didn't suffer from the same massive drop in minimum frame rate.
To make sure, we ran the R9 380 and R9 285 tests more than half a dozen times. The lower-end AMD GPUs with just 2GB of VRAM had lower-than-expected minimum frame rates at 1080p, whereas the Nvidia GPUs such as the GTX 660 Ti and GTX 760 didn't suffer as much.
Those wanting to play at 1440p will require at least a GTX 780 from Nvidia or the R9 290 from AMD. Again the R9 290 appeared to be the sweet spot in terms of price vs. performance, though this time the R9 390 provided a healthier minimum frame rate.
Despite AMD warning of possible crashes when running the in-game benchmark with the latest beta driver, we are happy to report that we didn't encounter a single crash after testing a dozen Radeon GPUs. In fact, besides the strange frame rate drops with the R9 380 and R9 285, everything was fine on AMD's end.
For optimum performance gamers are still forced to choose a processor from Intel's Core range. It would be nice to have some variety but we were nonetheless impressed with how well Intel's Core i3-4360 performed.
Although Arkham Knight is probably worth playing for fans of the franchise, it seems smart to hold out for patches and discounts if you haven't already spend the $60 at launch. Warner Brothers has suspended sales on PC and we suspect this will be among the first major releases to supply Steam with the data it needs to start shaking out its new refund policy.