Developer Rocksteady’s previous Batman games, Arkham Asylum and Arkham city, were to superhero games what the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy were to movies — a media catapult to new heights.
Before Arkham Asylum his back in 2007, no game had truly let the player embody a superhero so well. Previous attempts had been made, but playing the Arkham games makes you feel like you’re Batman with all the gadgets, detective skills and martial arts expertise that come with it.
And now with Arkham Knight, they’re bringing their Batman tale to a close, and they’ve come at it with all guns blazing.
The story picks about six months after the events of Arkham City, and the death of the Joker.
In the time that’s passed, a power vacuum has echoed across Gotham City’s underworld, with various supervillains seizing power and territory.
Now, on Halloween night, the Scarecrow has launched a plan to bathe the city in his newest fear toxin, and to turn Gotham into a hellish landscape of nightmares. He’s aided in this endeavor by the Arkham Knight, a mysterious armored individual with a vendetta against the dark knight and an army of mercenaries at his disposal.
On top of that, Batman’s foes have come together in a council of evil.
That’s a fantastic set up for a story. And, for the most part, it delivers, though not without a few warts and glaring problems.
There’s some fantastic scenes with dead on characterization, with few moments being genuinely moving or even shocking. Unfortunately, clichés abound in certain places, with characters like Barbara Gordon and Catwoman being treated like absolute dirt. Barbara is wasted here, and Catwoman is little more than a cog in the Riddler’s latest scheme, though she’s as charming and funny as ever.
The main campaign focuses pretty much entirely around Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight, relegating most of Batman’s rogues gallery to side missions that get far less gravitas or narrative heft. You encounter the villain, exchange a few words, then do a repetitive quest before bringing them down.
The biggest new feature, and the one that’s been the focus of most of the game’s marketing campaign, is the batmobile. Unfortunately, it’s a really mixed bag. Now, the idea of using the batmobile is awesome. However, it’s significantly less awesome when the game forces you to use it in pretty much every single mission. Every time Batman progresses to a new Gotham island, he has to go in on foot and disable various defense systems so that he can bring it over. All of the side missions either revolve around it or require it to power up some device.
All of the Riddler’s Saw style death gaunlets are either batmobile time trials, or caves that require it’s use to navigate.
It can be fun to use in moderation, but it probably would have been better if it had been constrained to certain sections dedicated to it, rather than shoehorning it into every aspect of the game. Controlling the thing can take several hours to get the hang of, and even then the whole feature is kneecapped by the fact that it’s far easier, and far more fun, just to launch yourself with the grappling hook and glide to your destination.
The other, more familiar aspects of the game however, are as great as ever, with a few tweaks and additions here and there.
The free flow combat has never felt smoother, or looked better. Countering is perfectly response, reacting even to the slightest touch of the button, and taking out a room full of thugs in a single combo string is immensely satisfying.
A new feature is tag team fights. At certain points in the game Batman teams up with various allies, Catwoman, Nightwing, and Robin, and the player can take control of them at any time during the fighting, pulling of special team-up finishing moves if enough hits are racked up.
Each of them has a unique fighting style, from Catwoman’s claws to Nightwing’s electrified battle sticks, and it would have been nice to play around with them some more in the story-mode, though they are playable on challenge maps.
Puzzles are a good mix this time around, with Riddler races being one of the better ways to use the batmobile, and cool puzzle rooms where Batman and Catwoman have to work together in order to find the solution. They’re kinda short, but they’re a fun mix of puzzle solving and tag team combat sections.
Graphically speaking, the game is phenomenal. The rain spattering Batman’s cape as he glides across the city, the gritty feel to seedier of Gotham’s streets to the gleam of Wayne tower, it all looks fantastic with little to no glitches or pop in. (I’ve been playing on the PS4 version of the game, which is essentially bug free).
Other versions, most notably the PC version, are absolutely disastrous, so much so that it got yanked from the Steam Store. By the time this goes up it may have returned, but at this point in time, the port is basically unplayable except at the lowest performance settings.
Warner Brother’s even apologized for their crappy business practices.
Overall, Arkham Knight is a fine, well put together experience that’s well worth the time of series fans. It’s marred by a few cliché narrative choices, an overpriced season pass and an insulting bad PC port. But a good game is still a good game.