No-one batted an eyelid when Warner Bros. announced Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum. Why would they? History had bombarded us with terrible Batman games for literally decades. Whether Vengeance, Forever, Rise of Sin-Tzu or even Gotham City Racer, no-one could take this seemingly “can’t miss” brand and do it any justice. Then Arkham Asylum was released in 2009, and everywhere Batfan’s jaws dropped wide open.
Barbara Gordon. Bats is gonna need all the help he can get.
Following the incredible success of Asylum, on a critical, financial and dramatic level, the scope was widened with sequel Arkham City in 2011. City took the same formula and expanded upon it, filling a larger map with deliciously evil villains and an array of OCD-inducing collectibles. With the addition of the game’s now infamous finale, it became known as a classic for the ages. We had waited forever, but Batman was finally getting the games he and his love-to-hate squad of rogues deserved. Batman: Arkham Knight is the swansong of Rocksteady’s trilogy, and expectations are incredibly high, especially considering this is the first “Next-gen only” Arkham title. It’s important that Rocksteady close out their magnum opus with a bang and, for the most part, they have succeeded in solidifying the legacy of this acclaimed series.
This guy’s having a rough evening, courtesy of Batman’s trademark Freeflow combat system.
Arkham Knight sees Gotham (once again conveniently evacuated) under the threat of Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow, who plans to poison the city with his terrifying Fear toxin, guaranteed to cause widespread death and destruction. Standing is his way is the ever-foreboding vigilante Batman, who with likely (and unlikely allies) works to end Crane’s horrifying reign of terror. But all is not well in the mind of Bruce Wayne, traumatic fallout from recent events transpires to destroy him utterly from the inside out. After tonight, The Batman, his allies, and Gotham may never be the same again.
The new Dual Play mechanic allows for seamless character switching mid-brawl.
Arkham Knight expands upon the tried and tested formula of previous iterations. The player guides The Bat through an incredibly lavish representation of Gotham City, all lurid signs, art-deco structures, and death-stalked shadows. The player follows the main plot line, but along the way will pick up a huge variety of side quests which will see Bats face of against an array of his regular, and decidedly UN-regular enemies. Once again, The Riddler returns to plague Batman’s journey through the night with an assortment of death-traps, along with the now series’ trademark hidden trophies and environment riddles, all designed to keep the player plugging away long after completion.
The Riddler. Dick. One of a myriad of foes facing Bruce this long Halloween.
Rocksteady’s big addition this time around is the Batmobile, an innovation that is a huge point of contention for some. The car (which looks fab) blitzes through the city at incredible speeds, and can be readily transformed into a gyroscopic tank for extended road brawls. The Batmobile is a HUGE part of the game, and features very heavily, appearing at times forced and unnecessary. As such, there’s no doubt that your opinion of the game will be hugely reflected by your opinion of this ever present carnage-wagon. For many, it has become a tripping point that they cannot get over.
One of Arkham Knight’s many, many, MANY car chases.
Gotham City and its inhabitants have never looked better. The sprawling metropolis is incredibly detailed, with a huge variety in building and street design, all lit beautifully with flair and perforated by relentlessly glum weather effects. The character models are uniformly fantastic and the game contains occasional moments of pure visual excellence. The model for Poison Ivy, my all-time favorite Batman character, made me legitimately gasp in awe once I had unlocked her model in the “Showcase” mode (essentially a viewable museum of the game’s assets)
Ah, my Plantlaifu Waifu.
The Batman universe has been reinvented and retold time and again for generations. As such, fans have a very different opinions as to how to write Bats and co. “correctly.” So the story quality might be very selective depending on the player’s personal view of the universe and its eccentric cast. I personally really enjoyed the game’s plot and the way the story handled the main players, who are all vocally well-portrayed. The titular Arkham Knight, however, becomes over-exposed, pushing the far more interesting Scarecrow into the background. The game has a brutally oppressive atmosphere, a feeling of pure dread and misery which pervades throughout. Rocksteady have proven that they believe everyone is “fair game” in the past, and that predication, coupled with this being the final chapter, leaves an omnipresent fear for the lives of all the characters. Seeing as the game is all about controlling the mind through anxiety and despair, the game’s dark storyline and overall doom-laden atmosphere are very apt.
Who is the Arkham Knight? Hint: It’s not Tony Stark.
Arkham Knight stumbles on occasion. The extended tank battles can grate a little, and if you aren’t a fan of them to begin with, you may be absolutely tearing your hair out during the second half of the game. There are also extended “mopping up” sections, where you are required to destroy checkpoints, watchtowers and vehicles, which is time that could be spent chasing much cooler villains. It might have been a better design choice to slim down on the Assassin’s Creed style “rounding up” missions to flesh out the actual villain’s side quests a little more. The game has a real pacing issue toward the end, and after a couple of really high drama, shit’s-kicking-off moments, it grinds right down, and asks you to do some more scrapping and driving for a couple of hours, hurting the dramatic tension. When the climax finally arrives however, it’s worth the wait.
Gotham in chaos. Intricately detailed and sharply lit.
Rocksteady have clearly loved building these games and are immensely proud of them. Rightly so, as they created a trilogy of excellent action-adventures, filled them with wonderful personalities, intense fighting, taut suspense, moments of pure terror and fascinating fourth-wall breaking head-fuckery. Slamming the door firmly behind them as they leave, we all know that whilst there’s dollar to be made, Arkham games will continue to be produced. But we will always know which ones are the Chris Nolan’s of the franchise and which ones are the Joel Schumacher’s.
Everyone can do a “spot-on Harley Quinn impression.” Except they can’t.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a gorgeous, proud and intense labor of love. It is a fitting end to the Arkham trilogy. Your experience may vary, depending on your opinion of the constant Batmobile sections and the story’s treatment of the universe lore. But, for even the most casual fans of the Dark Knight, there is plenty on offer here that is very special indeed, ultimately providing an experience that reminds you, for maybe one last time, just how absolutely enthralling it has been to Be The Bat.
The Hero we need.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a PC release. The game runs solidly on my machine, high settings, with no hiccups or glitches. This is NOT the case for a great number of PC players, who are suffering from a wide variety of unplayability issues, ultimately causing the game to be pulled from Steam until it improves. My review is indictive of my personal experience with the game, but all other PC players should be wary of these issues.