You’ve probably seen that old Simpsons episode, the one where Homer ends up trying to jump an enormous chasm on a skateboard and it all goes horribly wrong. Falling short by several metres, his fall is thankfully broken by a jutting piece of jagged rock. And another. And another. By the time he’s halfway down he’s hit more stones than a miner with good work ethic, and they just keep coming. When he finally reaches the bottom he’s a bruised and bloodied mess, beaten into submission and needing to be taken off by an ambulance
I was reminded of that episode by the horror surrounding Arkham Knight on the PC this week. Every time it looked like that game had ballsed up as much as it was going to, it was suddenly struck by another rock and it all starts over again.
Let me be clear here – I’m referring to both the game as it ran on my computer, and to the general management strategy of Rocksteady Studios and Warner Brothers. They’ve all committed the kind of errors that need a bloody ocean of Tippex to even think about cancelling out.
I should probably explain to those who aren’t in the know. Batman: Arkham Knight, the highly anticipated conclusion to the critically beloved Arkham Series, came out three days ago. It was, by all accounts, a very good game, at least according to those who played it on the PS4 and the Xbox One. Not that those who bought it for their computer would know, because on that platform it’s unplayable.
That’s not an exaggeration. For most who downloaded it off Steam, the framerate was so poor and the game so riddled with glitches that it’s essentially unusable. I bought it myself, determined to see what the fuss was about, and it’s pretty bad. I have a high-end gaming laptop, and even on the lowest settings it still found a way to chug, still managed to fuck up everything it tried to do. I even downloaded a specialised driver that the game recommended, and it didn’t do anything to help. Eventually I got it to the level where I could basically play it (though it still resembled a slideshow at times and never actually looked good) and decided to power through, cataloguing every error and fault I could see.
By the end of this process I had cramp in my writing hand. It’s a horrible mess. Aside from the constant framerate issues, there were the usual suspects to back it up. The game crashed a couple of times when I went to a new area, the positioning of enemies often warped when I wanted to do takedowns, and anything involving the Batmobile, gliding, or combat – the three main mechanics of the game – made it freak out and cause the framerate to fall even lower. Not to mention a couple of other problems that were so absurd that they were almost funny.
For example, dialogue is spoken at a consistent rate, but the game is unable to handle something as complicated as one character moving their lips, and starts to slow down the visuals so it doesn’t explode. This usually means that after a character has finished their sentence, they still flap their mouths at the person they’re talking to for a few moments, making wildly emotive gestures in awkward silence, until the other person decides to interrupt just to put them out of their misery, only to do it themselves. This wasn’t a rare thing, mind you, it happened for all the dialogue that wasn’t in CGI cutscenes, and there’s a lot of that.
Another one that made me laugh was when Commissioner Gordon walked purposefully across the room in a highly dramatic scene, only for his gunbelt to bob behind him in perfect unison like it was auditioning for the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It took the tension out of the moment, but I think it was worth it. It’s about the only thing that was.
It’s sad, because the game itself seems to be really good. The brief moments of functionality I managed to grab were genuinely enjoyable, and there’s a horror-based sequence near the end that was one of the most chilling moments I’ve witnessed in a video game in years, not to mention a phenomenal moment where you have to navigate around a major villain without being spotted as he… Well, I won’t spoil it for you. I’m incredibly happy to say that the game worked on those moments, but it’s not enough to be worth buying it. Not that you can buy it anymore.
You see, at time of writing there’s been quite a bit of scandal around the whole thing. Quite rightly so – if a major product is sold in an unusable state, people should get pissed off. It should be a scandal. Immediately the game was hammered to death on Steam, where reviews currently put it at thirty-two percent positivity.
Thirty-two percent! Aliens: Colonial Marines is on fifty-four, and that game’s a load of dishonest wank. Things were not looking good. And then the companies really went and put their foot in it.
Weirdly, they’d actually done it twelve hours before the game was even out, but somebody noticed and made a note of it. And then they got the word out, and EVERYBODY noticed. Half a day before the game was playable, they very sneakily altered the required specifications for the game without saying anything about why. They also mentioned something that people might want to have known before:
“There are some known issues with the performance of Batman: Arkham Knight for PC owners using AMD graphics cards. We are working closely with AMD to rectify these issues as quickly as possible and will provide updates here as they become available. We thank you for your patience in this matter.”
“Issues” is the right word. Whilst it was buggy for most, the game was unplayable for those who were unlucky enough to have older AMD graphics cards. I’m sure they might have wanted to know that, but by that point they were already downloading the thing.
It became even worse with an update later on, this time all about the various computer specifications you’d need to run it in “greater” detail. The final straw was when they told us the recommended specs, the ones that would cause the game to dry heave with the strain and which weren’t even that good, and then they said the unforgivable.
“The Recommended Spec is intended to deliver an experience on par with the current generation of gaming platforms.”
Now I don’t know about you, but if I fork out over twice the price of a console on a gaming computer, or potentially even more than that, I don’t want to be told that I’m lucky if I can reach the level of a PS4. No way, no how. You don’t get away with it that easily. Let’s forget for the moment that the game has been proven to be less visually detailed on the PC than on the console versions (though I know I won’t), but it’s still inexcusable.
Finally, thankfully, Warner Brothers realised what they had to do this morning.
Took your time there, lads. Guess even the evil deities that run triple-A games publishers can understand that it might, just might be bad publicity to be selling a game that doesn’t work.
So who gets the blame for this farce? Well, I doubt it’s Rocksteady’s fault. They’ve gotten a lot of flack, but judging by my knowledge of the games industry, I’d be surprised if they really had a hand in this. It’s more likely that they made a console version as they normally do, and Warner Brothers provided a company afterwards to make a PC port.
Except in this case it was Iron Galaxy Studios who had to do the PC work, or rather, just twelve people from Iron Galaxy. With only eight weeks to do it. Well, hardly surprising then, is it? Especially when we recall that Iron Galaxy aren’t seasoned PC coders, also focused more on console work, and that they helped ruin the launch of Arkham Origins too.
Oh god, it’s all so obvious now that we know the facts. If I had understood exactly how little care was going into this project, I’d have hidden beneath the bed and kept my PC away from me with a spear and a copy of EA Origins.
Honestly, I suspect that Warner Brothers are the ones to blame. They would have known what this game was like before it was released, they’d have been in charge of finding a group to do the PC work, and they’d also have made the decision not to push back the PC launch until it was ready, something they’ve now been forced to do. I can only suspect that they’re pressuring the developers into taking some of the blame for this, as the big publishers always tend to, so now the prestigious Rocksteady is getting wounded by their efforts too.
Contrary to what you might think, I’m not even angry about all this. Just kind of sad and bitterly unsurprised. You see, I worked something out as I was writing this – that the video game industry is one of the most toxic industries that has even walked the earth. One of the most nasty, the most deceitful, the most uncaring and calculating systems we’ve ever seen.
It used to be better, back in the early days of the PS2. We all knew how it worked then – symbiosis. If a publisher and developer produce a good game, then we will buy it and fund their lifestyle as well as the production for other games. We all kept each other happy and satisfied.
It’s not like that anymore. It’s a sustained conflict, in which they are trying to gouge every penny out of you as fast as they can, before you catch onto the next trick they’re planning. We have to keep watching, keep being wary, because they will do anything they can to us and developers, if it will raise those profit margins. It’s stopped being symbiosis and has become parasitic.
This is the price that is going to have to be paid. In any war, there are casualties. Last year it was Assassin’s Creed and Unity, this year it’s Batman and Arkham Knight, two big sagas that have been inherently damaged by publisher’s attempts to con us. It’s always sad when a beloved franchise takes a bullet, but there’s no way around it, not now. We let them get away with too much, and now they want to see how far they can push it.
So I’m not angry about that, because this is just the way it is if you want to play games. But I am angry because of something I saw. When I was looking through news sites online, observing people’s reactions to the story, one comment said that we shouldn’t be so hard on Warner Brothers. Everybody makes mistakes now and then.
Fuck you. How dare you make excuses for that kind of behaviour? How dare you try to stop people being angry at such an offensive attempt to rob them? Do you really think that this was a mistake? Do you really think that they didn’t know how horrible this thing was? Do you really think that they were unaware of the product that they were selling?
Bullshit. They knew, of course they knew. They proved it with the update before it was released, it was all damage control. They were hoping we’d suck it up, that we’d sigh and say “well, it’s just one of those things.” They’ve only taken it off Steam because we forced their hand, because we locked all the other doors and told them that this was their only way out. Don’t make excuses for them, don’t tell us to go easy, because these companies don’t respect you.
They really don’t. They made a calculated decision before release, they weighed potential profit in one hand, and your dignity as a consumer and as somebody who might care about the product in the other. And you know what? You were found wanting. You weren’t good enough, your happiness came second to a thirty-five quid profit.
How is it, to know precisely how much they think of you? Thirty-five pounds or less, that’s what you amount to in their eyes. That’s what they think of you. And we all know this, but it’s inexcusable to forgive them for it, to tell us to stop being so mean to the poor little mega-global corporation. I’m not surrendering, and neither should anybody else.
This is the dilemma – I love video games, but I hate the video game industry. It’s partly why I do this site, because I feel that people need to understand how ugly these companies can get if they think they can take your money, how games we care about will suffer if they are permitted to do as they will. Because games often suffer, Arkham Knight suffered just this week. It won’t ever get that stench off it now, it’s too late. I didn’t want it to happen, but it did.
But we need to understand that it’s only when this happens that we can provably point at something and say those six magic words. “Don’t you dare do this again.” If we make apologies for them, it will happen again, because they’ll think that they can do this sort of thing to us, and to this great art form.
Don’t let them get away with, my friends. Love and forgiveness are greatly overrated.