Detail from Batman #497 (Moench/Aparo/Giordano/Jones)
I left the office yesterday having put ten hours into the PC version of Arkham Knight. I fully expected to put in another ten to fifteen hours before writing our review on Friday. In that review, I expected to say something along these lines:
"In a couple of months, when it works properly, buy it. Don't buy it now."
Then, late last night, Warner pulled the PC version from sale entirely. This renders the advice I was about to offer a little pointless, and as such there won't be a PC Gamer review of Arkham Knight this week. We're going to wait until it's on sale again—however long that takes—and deliver a verdict based on the state it's in then.
When that time comes, I'd love to be able to praise the game. It's very good: one of those big-budget games that makes you glad that studios still spend an extraordinary amount of time, money and effort on bringing these fantasies to life. It's exactly this that makes the poor state of the PC version such a disappointment: not only does it betray the trust of PC players, but it utterly undermines Rocksteady's achievement with the game itself.
It's unlikely that the blame for this situation lies with Rocksteady or even the third party studio responsible for the port. The buck stops with the publisher, here, and the decision to budget only so much time, money and effort for the PC version. Contrary to popular belief, this is one of the most difficult platforms to get right: the current-gen consoles are basically PCs with fixed specs, while developing for the PC proper means accounting for hundreds of thousands if not millions of configurations. It's hard. There's a reason it took GTA V eighteen months to get here. Whoever opted to release Arkham Knight in this condition didn't respect that challenge, and everybody involved has paid for it.
Withdrawing a game from sale is an unprecedented admission of error. In the case of major publishers and flagship games, it never happens—at least, I can't recall another instance. Plenty of games have been released in an unplayable state and remained happily on-sale until, a few months down the line, the developer or a well-meaning community fixed them. Remember Knights of the Old Republic II? Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines? Hell, even Arkham City had severe performance issues at launch. All of these games might have been candidates for withdrawal at the time they were released.
They weren't, and this demonstrates why the Arkham Knight situation might actually be very good for PC gaming as a whole. Something changed.
Steam's well-timed refund policy is the hero we didn't know we needed, here, as is GMG's magnanimous offer to allow their users to do the same. Players finally have an option that has always seemed like a good idea in theory but that has never worked in practice: to vote with their wallets. Boycotts and petitions don't work, traditionally, because games still sell and once they've sold the player is at the publisher's mercy. Now, with no-questions-asked refunds a possibility, it's simply too punishing to risk the consumer's ire. That's very good news, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was the main factor in prompting Warner's decision.
Arkham Knight may well be the first and only game where the PC port was both (a) rushed out to meet the console release date and (b) delayed by months until it worked. In the future, expect to see a lot more of option (b). Warner's predicament should send ripples through the publisher community, but don't expect it to fix all of the problems that PC gamers tend to face. We might be seeing the death of the rushed-out port, but the late port looks to be a part of our hobby for a long time to come.
I'm left in a strange situation by all of this. I'm about 50-60% of the way through Arkham Knight and I'd love to see how it ends. Yet I can't help feeling like my time on the PC version has been wasted: it runs badly and is lacking visual features, and this is a game that is all about fluidity and spectacle. I won't put any more time into it until it's fixed. But I might, er, head out at lunch and buy it for my PS4. Not the punchline I was expecting, honestly.
Edit: Original article accidentally read 'GOG' instead of 'GMG'.