The Batman Arkham games are undoubtedly one of the best ways to experience what it’s like to be the Dark Knight, and while we haven’t had a new entry in the series since 2015 – Gotham Knights is finally here. Well, it features Batman, except now he is dead. Developed by WB Montreal who previously worked on Arkham Origins comes what seems like the next step for these games as an unlikely alliance of Batman’s proteges try to uncover the truth behind his sudden death. But what about the more technical side of things? Let’s dive into the PC version of the game, which by all accounts is supposed to be the best version of the title.
The Batman Arkham games made great use of the Unreal Engine, and despite Arkham Knight being on the Unreal Engine 3 – the game features some astounding visual quality that holds up to this day. Gotham Knights has shifted to Unreal Engine 4, which has resulted in a direct improvement in many aspects. The PC version features a plethora of visuals options including but not limited to field of view, depth of field, chromatic aberration, ambient occlusion, ray tracing, environmental density, draw distance, and post-processing quality. I guess it goes without saying that the suite of options here is definitely impressive.
We tested the game on a reasonably beefy PC which was composed of a Ryzen 5950x, an RTX 3080Ti with 12GB of memory. The game was installed on an NVMe SSD. We first tested the game on everything switching to their highest possible option at 4K resolution. Unfortunately, performance wasn’t great as we were consistently facing lag in gameplay. You see, the game gives the player different options of TAA and the highest possible setting which is TAA [Gen 5] is very taxing. We switched it over to Gen 4 and performance was much better. However, the lag was still present. As mentioned previously, our PC hardware is reasonably powerful so not being able to max out the game at a stable 60 frames per second is a tad disappointing, although tuning down some of the other settings will likely result in better performance.
Briefly taking a moment to compare Gotham Knights to Rocksteady’s latest, it’s rather obvious that the asset quality has received a noticeable uptick in quality. The polycounts are much higher than before, and it shows if you try to zoom into a character model or try to examine the micro-level details in the environment as well. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Arkham Knight looks bad by any stretch – but it certainly looks a bit dated when compared to its successor.
The world streaming tech also looks similar to Arkham Knight, though that isn’t a surprise since the game isn’t using the cutting-edge Unreal Engine 5 which allows for rendering even larger worlds with smooth LoD swapping. Over on the presentation side of things, the TAA implementation on Gotham Knights looks much better than Arkham Knight – which was also reasonably crisp but the game could show some shimmering artifacts which isn’t the case with this implementation.
Gotham Knights’ strongest suits remain mostly the same as its predecessors. The game features a high level of fidelity for its character models. From the high-quality skin meshes to physically-based materials for costumes and proper physics implementation for capes, Gotham Knights has a lot to love when it comes to gawking at these faithfully recreated superheroes. Combined with cinematic lights that are triggered during select cutscenes, these character models can look really amazing.
Of course, the environments have to be top-notch when it comes to an open-world game like Gotham Knights. Much like the Arkham games that came before, Gotham Knights also doesn’t feature a dynamic time of day since the game is primarily set during nighttime, so a lot of the lighting work can be delegated to pre-calculated baked lighting for some sources of light which is what looks to be happening here as well. This saves up on compute resources, and the game can use the fixed sources of light and their reflections to create an ominous atmosphere that works to great effect in a game such as this one.
Suffice to say, Gotham Knights features an impressive presentation when it comes to its environments. Plenty of light sources cast their reflection on the slick, rain-soaked streets of Gotham City while neon sign boards peppered throughout the landscape come together to create a unique aesthetic that’s really beautiful. Furthermore, playing on a high-end PC would also give you the option to turn on ray-traced reflections – which would obviously allow for dynamic reflections that are more realistic than your normal baked-in reflections or cube-maps or any other implementations that may be featured otherwise.
Gotham Knights features a vast map with plenty of varied locations and elevations, and it doesn’t compromise on the micro-level fidelity that we have come to expect from a AAA game of such a scope. The asset streaming system works very well and showed no signs of LoD swapping or visible pop-in during our experience with the game. Gotham Knights also seems to render solid chunks of the map at once, with some impressive draw distances – though I am personally not sold on the fact that these draw distances or the world streaming system is something that wouldn’t have been possible on last-gen hardware.
The Arkham games also featured similarly expansive open-worlds with plenty of mobility options to traverse these distances quickly, and last-gen hardware was able to handle it all with relative ease. Of course, there might be some other differences with regards to how Gotham Knights handles its asset streaming system or there could have been other complications with regards to different movement abilities for each of the 4 characters – but we didn’t notice any radical changes in the technical makeup that would warrant skipping last-gen hardware entirely.
And this brings us to the post-processing side of things. On top of the impressive asset quality and environmental detail, Gotham Knights uses a bevy of post-processing effects to enhance the visual presentation. The game utilizes an impressive implementation of TAA anti-aliasing, which shows little to no signs of shimmering or image-softening artifacts. It’s easy to mistake it for MSAA, which is something that happens a lot with Naughty Dog games as well.
The game also uses a lot of volumetric fog to establish a sense of atmosphere, and it doubles as a method of masking off details in faraway areas. You will also find light diffusing through these dense particles at various points across the world as well, which also looks really great. Weather effects like rain and snowstorms are also used at times, which look great thanks to its use of high-quality assets. Furthermore, you’ll also come across plenty of explosions, which are all rendered in high detail and are accompanied by a slew of alpha particles. There’s also generous use of depth-of-field and motion blur.
And that’s a general theme with the complete game as well. Gotham Knights is a beautiful-looking game with many strong suits, and on a high-end PC hardware, it will likely blow you away with its vistas. However, the game still runs on Unreal Engine 4 and it’s not something that hasn’t been done before. Part of that could be the developer’s insistence on sticking to Unreal Engine 4 instead of shifting to the newer UE5, but either way – there’s a constant feeling that it could have been so much better since the developers completely skipped last-gen consoles. The Arkham games had always featured cutting-edge visuals, and Gotham Knights continues that trend on a high end PC, albeit with performance issues that need to be resolved post-launch.