In case you missed it, the Batman: Arkham Knight Interim update dropped last week. Rocksteady’s open-world brawler based on DC’s most beloved hero still isn’t on general sale having been pulled, but the mid-way update does at least bring a semblance of a playable state to some users.
One of the biggest talking points surrounding Batman: Arkham Knight was the partnership with Nvidia. This isn’t the first time Nvidia has buddied up with a developer and it won’t be the last, but the combination of Nvidia exclusive GameWorks effects and giving away copies of the game with select Geforce cards led to an expectation Batman: Arkham Knight would at least work on Nvidia GPUs. We now know this wasn’t the case, and Batman: Arkham Knight was a shocker at launch three months (3 months!) ago. With the interim update installed, we thought it was about time to head back in and look at just what these Nvidia GameWorks effects bring to the table, and just how demanding they are when enabled.
In Batman: Arkham Knight there are four different Nvidia GameWorks features; Interactive Smoke, Interactive Paper Debris, Enhanced Rain, and Enhanced Light Shafts. In the video below we’ll be taking a look at just when and where these graphical effects take place, and just what what the frames per second hit will be when enabled.
The Batman Arkham Knight PC Gameworks Graphics Frame Rate Analysis is being performed on an MSI GeForce GTX 950 Gaming 2G. We reviewed this graphics card a month or so ago, and it’s a reasonably performing entry-level graphics card.
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Gameworks Effects Breakdown
|GameWorks Effect||FPS Disabled/Enabled||FPS Cost||Frequency||Impact|
|Interactive Smoke & Fog||30 / 18||10-15||Often||Heavy|
|Paper Debris||50 / 50||0||Never||Pointless|
|Enhanced Rain||50 / 44||4-7||Rare||Medium|
|Enhanced Light Shafts||50 / 46||3-5||Rare||Low|
Interactive Smoke & Fog - A cursory glance at the video will let you know this is an impressive and attention-grabbing effect. The demonstration of the smoke spewing out from the Batmobile tire spin is thick and voluminous, shifting dynamically as the car moves back through it. It's an effect that crops up plenty in Batman: Arkham Knight, thanks to hissing steam pipes, gaping manholes,and the aforementioned Batmobile. It's the strongest of all the Nvidia GameWorks features, but it's also the most demanding. In the benchmark you can see a drop of more than 50% at times, depending on how much smoke is filling the screen. Luckily it tends to sort itself out fairly quickly, but you're looking at a heavy frame rate drop at peak load.
Paper Debris - Now Nvidia made a big song and dance about this feature ahead of Arkham Knight's launch, and during the GameWorks trailer it almost looked as if there was too much paper debris being whipped up and whirled around during combat. Felix spent hours, and I really do mean hours, looking for an example of Paper Debris is action, but he couldn't find any. In the clip you can see paper on the floor, but it remains static whether the feature is enabled or disabled. Because we couldn't find any instances of it happening, it has zero impact on performance. Overall it's a pointless feature, but it may have been disabled entirely with the Interim 1.02 update.
Enhanced Rain - You have to look really closely to see this effect in action, but Enhanced Rain comes into effect when Batman unfurls his cape. During the first slow motion clip it's easiest to spot. Individual rain droplets splash off his cap as it whips open. This is a very brief, incidental effect that you will have a hard time seeing during normal gameplay. When enabled the MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G saw a drop in frame rate of 6 FPS, equivalent to 12%. The drop only occurs when Batman opens his cloak however, rather than during normal gameplay.
Enhanced Light Shafts - Once you spot it, this one's really obvious. The usage of the helicopter's beam is to highlight to the player where clusters of enemies are. The problem is, it's difficult to decide whether Batman: Arkham Knight is better with it off or on. With Enhanced Light Shafts on you can see the spotlight cast from the helicopter is pretty much invisible. From the ground level it appears to illuminate, but from the air you can see there isn't much of a beam being cast. Conversely, if you look closely when Enhanced Light Shafts are on, you can see when it shines directly on AI they actually disappear from view. This works against the entire logic of having a light beam, and actually makes it more difficult to locate enemies. I should stress it's quite difficult to see in this render of the video which is a bit of a victim of YouTube's compression, but the soldiers are just about visible on the balcony where the beam is shining, at about 3:12.
In total, you're looking at an average of 22 frames per second lost when all of the Nvidia Gameworks features are activated and in use. This is a 44% drop in frames, which is an absolutely massive impact for the visual game you're getting. For point of reference, this is not far off the difference between playing 1080p and 1440p, you're just choosing to spend your graphics performance on additional features rather than additional pixels. I know which I'd prefer.
Of the Nvidia GameWorks features on offer, the Interactive Smoke & Fog is undoubtedly the best, but it's also the one capable of brining systems to their knees. For now this a luxury option, only afforded to those with excess performance, but we're still hopefully WB Games, Rocksteady and Nvidia can work out something a little more reasonable once the next patch rolls around.
Ultimately, Batman: Arkham Knight still isn't a fantastic performer even with the interim patch installed. There's some fundamental problems with stuttering that don't even bear fruit in the frames per second benchmarks, and from the few hours I've played it with a GTX 970, I'd still suggest waiting on another update.
The problem with this scenario is this June release already feels old hat, and it's about to be snowed under by the deluge of holiday releases. It's difficult to avoid thinking this was released in such a terrible state there's really no way back now. I recently started up Mad Max, another Warner publisher title, and its performance is excellent. It also scratches the same itch the Arkham games do, leaving me wondering where its place now is.