Batman Arkham Knight Head 2 Head

Publisher Warner Brothers Games
Developer Rocksteady
Platforms tested PS4 XboxOne PC
Launching fresh on the back of such an impressive E3 for both games interaction, dynamism, open worlds and of course visuals it is all to easy to stare off into the distance at what we have to look forward to when all these "next gen" games land on our screens.
But we do not have to wait that long, in fact none at all, as it is already here with the latest Arkham Knight on consoles and slightly less so on the PC (more later). With batman now coming compete with his latest toy, the fully equipped batmobile that has divided opinion but I can say that so far I am enjoying its charms and benefits.Showing off just how much Rocksteady have done to the Unreal 3 engine to push it into next gen without the need for the lasted UE4. This is an engine that they know well as do us gamer's being a widely used one last gen across many games like DmC, the complete gears trilogy, Bioshock infinite, Borderlands including the latest handsome collection on now gen and of course all previous Batman games including the spin off origins. So it only seems appropriate that its send off at the start of now gen is accompanied by the exact same engine also being bid farewell.

But this is no standard UE3 engine, with the team being well versed with it they have worked long and hard in bringing it up to scratch for such an epic occasion and it delivered on many fronts. With Anti Aliasing being a sore point with the engine and having such a contrasting colour scheme and heavy shader work it can make even the full 1080 display look slightly underdone, with most likely MLAA or FXAA being the chosen path taken.

The PS4 comes in with a full 1920x1080 display and the XboxOne renders in a not totally unsurprising 1600x900 resolution. With such a strong aliased game even in a native display this only really presents itself with distant objects having more movement and textures appearing softer. But both consoles run the same texture, effects and particles with the resolution being the only biggest split.

One of the biggest sections of improvement from Rocksteady outside the norm this engine brings, texture work is very clean for the most part with much shader work in play as it when it rains it pours in Gotham. These effects are all complemented by a superb DoF with Bokeh filter within cut scenes and gameplay along with a high sample motion blur with full camera and velocity based per object also that looks great in motion if not in still shots.

Performance on both consoles is a pretty solid 30 display in the majority of play but this is not always the case. With the game running a capped 30 but when the budget spills over the V-sync comes off and it can tear. This happens on both and is very occasional in exploring, cutscenes or traveling through the world ( a common weakness of the engine is streaming both textures and assets within the game) and this feels like where Rockstar have hit hurdles and had to work and do the best. But in the batmobile whilst careering through streets it can suffer, through such epic and physics based destruction which is most likely all CPU/IO bound along with some of the best particle effects I have seen in a game with collision and very long life it can tear itself up.

This is the same before the huge 4GB patch and after, but it is really the only place this happens. With most traversal, combat and scenes all sticking close to its 30 target. The XboxOne only suffers from the dip in resolution with both machines being close enough in performance to not really be an issue at all.

The PC version does not seem to have had as much love though, although it is by no means horrendous the huge allocation of RAM (10GB of system ram is used when the game is running along with the full 2GB of VRAM on the AMD machine) and this looks to be its biggest issue. As it hammers both I/O access from the disk and Ram alike not the engines strongest point at the best of times, let alone when it is pushing around this much geometry, textures and post effects. With V-sync on it shows how much the engine and machine is struggling here (and this is with the latest batman driver from AMD) with heavy dips into the mid teens. Flying over Gotham can also see long stutters, with the game capped to 30 by default but can be unlocked in the ini file but this can cause issues with the havok physics. The game is far from terrible but the PC release does look to need some work at least on AMD hardware not helped by an inconsistent frame delivery even with the in game lock.

What Rocksteady have delivered and achieved is even more impressive than my first thoughts when I covered the game over the last year or so after its stunning E3 demo of 2014. At the time Sony got some flack for passing off a then PC version as PS4 (rightly so) but is a good chance for me to reiterate something I have been saying for as long as I can remember including my latest Star Wars preview. As we can see the PC release across every single piece of hardware you can throw at it does not deliver that level of visual quality (although in no way as bad as some have made out but far from the quality it should be) as it was shown on a development PC which is vastly different to a retail one and highlights the need to always be aware of this.


But both Sony and more so Rocksteady have been vindicated in that approach as a target for the final release as on PS4 it is pretty much identical with the as expected drop in resolution on XboxOne down to 900 to keep the huge qty of GPU budget equal on pixel quality. As you can see in the E3 to retail comparison both consoles deliver a flawless version of that display at a solid 30fps with the only performance issues coming from the engine streaming that has affected pretty much all games on the UE3 engine. As this is not only the end of the franchise for Rocksteady but also the game engine as we usher into now gen with the latest version 4 of Epics ..er Epic engine. But from such masters of the tech and effort they have given it a swan song that defies what has been achieved on it previously.

With all the talk of next gen graphics and the often eluded but never confirmed next gen gameplay being so requested also. But here like another game that has also been started with just these machines as a base we see that much requested feature that I talked about last year, seamless and load less worlds. As I harped on about last year with this and other games it is my biggest win that the fixed combination of large memory allocation, harddrive and installed games now brings. Just going through a game with no loading screens or hidden ones behind long animations or Videos makes such a huge difference to how immersed and involved you become in the games world. Helped immensely by such a rich one that we have to explore here, balancing the careful act of feeling alive but within the realms of the story.

And it is in this free and open world that really sets the bar for open world games this gen, delivering not only a visual experience but a polished one that many a linear game would lust for. Again adopting its own and admittedly amplified physically based shader art style it looks glorious. Following its 50's noire style it always rains in Gotham adding to the bleak tone whilst also showing of the impressive work on the engine as a whole. Batman looks as moody and badass as he ever has drenched in rain midnight blue armour, buildings, cars, thugs and even more so the batmobile are all rendered in huge polygon models coated in some sumptuous texture work. That adds PBR work for reflectance and diffuse including albedo and specular maps. It just mixes together from such a strong art style design to convey the best looking batman game yet and up with the best looking game yet period, it really looks like a 1st party studio exclusive and borders on quality of off-line CGI at times impressed is not enough justice.

A big reason for this is its use of post effects, not content with going through the list of what is available, Rocksteady just crammed the whole damn book in. With the game sporting a full high sampled velocity motion blur for radial and per object which include particles. Chromatic aberration is again used but works brilliantly here due to the industrial art style, DoF gets used extensively in cut scenes and in game with a full quality bokeh that again fits brilliantly. Analytical ambient Capsule occlusion reflections are used in conjunction with cube maps to bounce of the neon lights, cars and inhabitants of the city. This is the same method used from The Order 1886 and works from the depth buffer aside any colour info which works well here. It is a better option for convincing reflections that current screen space methods as they no longer fade away, although culling can be aggressive in them at times causing a pop but this is rare and hard to really notice.

With a some lovely particles that not only can fill the screen but have a long life and collide with objects impressively. These are not canned with each explosion filling the screen and bouncing along before fizzling out. Smoke from tyres fills the screen and is lit by light from all sources including headlights and lighting. It is here the top end PC offers up the only decent bump from Nvidia game works extras. The interactive fog or smoke has an even denser particle cloud that is also light reflecting and is a very nice addition, but can only be ran on my GTX970 as the 750Ti machine suffers far to much from these effects. The others like rain, paper and extra volume in light are all either hard to spot or so Minor as not worth the performance dip and if have a lower machine they are better off and taking the performance back.

But the PC release at launch was alittle lacking in some features from the console. Mostly texture work, ambient occlusion but these have since already been patched in and now texture work looks identical to the consoles. The only dip is for 2GB or lower cards low Mip-Maps can be left on for longer or permanently, even the 970 can have this happen but tends to recover faster, it should be noted both consoles also have this when loading some scenes with varying levels of delay but they are much shorter than the PC overall and less often.

Draw distance is another high point, with this shot from a flyover and back into real time scene and then gameplay just summing it all up, from such an old engine that is known for streaming issues the amount of work done here with such a dense landscape to fill the team have really excelled and the results are breathtaking.

With such an expansive city, high polygon models the fact it also sports another big plus is its physics engine. Not only does cloth react far more realistically (courtesy of Nvidia) but objects can be destroyed, push, collapse and fold from force. Pulling down doors, or tearing up makeshift ramps out of tarmack although scripted events all look and feel sufficiently weighted in play. Building's can be partially destroyed, pillars, walls, floors the world has enough real weight to it that you start to apply logic to puzzles which like the game play and orchestrated action the bat mobile is weaved into this with such precision that you cannot imagine ever getting by without her.

Performance is another highlight in an ever growing list, both consoles as per my 1st contact operate in a very close pack staying north of the 30 cap pretty much all the time. Of the 2 the XboxOne dips ever so slightly more but these are so minor as to not be of any concern, and these like all versions mostly come from streaming as you drive or it loads up another scene.

PC is not so constant and with the 8350/7870 machine we can see that with V-sync on it struggles to get anywhere near the level of the consoles at the same 1080 display as the PS4 with the XboxOne being 900. My A10 APU machine has to drop all down to low or normal textures and 1360 x768 resolution but as you can see in general play this results in a constant sub 30 game with much bigger dips, but I do expect the PC release to improve over the next few weeks.

The 750Ti in the same machine bumps up to full setting minus all Nvidia extras to deliver a native 1080 but is outgunned in its current form on performance by the XboxOne by a good margin with a lower resolution, but the PS4 has no issue and manages to be ever so slightly better than that even. But I do expect more work to come which will iron out the hardrive and ram streaming issues but actual performance in battles to not change much as the card would most likely need a drop to the same resolution as the XboxOne to keep in line with its performance when things get heavy, and they do a lot.

The PC issues have IMOP been slightly exaggerated with it being bad but the level of issues and performance seem to be the reverse of what we saw from The Witcher 3 on consoles with patches still incoming on that side that I will update shortly I do expect this to be a few weeks to solve the streaming issues (if ever), but a lesson and example if needed to highlight that consoles are still quite different to PC's and both need specific methods adopted to deliver the best experience.

As it stands the consoles are the only real choice to make but if you have a high end PC then right now the game still allows 60fps with the same visual splendour just expect some dips to feel bigger from this when loading as the consoles are capped at half the rate it always feels the more solid for it on the most part.

I cannot recommend this game enough if you love the batman games and story it really delivers on that in spades but also offers up a vast city, side quests, engaging if black and white story that will keep you hooked till the end, even if the twists are pretty obvious they are fun non the less. A fitting end to a superb saga and poetically an engine that has delivered so many great games and in Rocksteady and the Arkham Knight it has never seen such a visually splended or technically impressive display of its ability till now, quite simply the highlight of the engine, saga and one of the best games this generation with it always feeling like something that could have never existed on last generation consoles.

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