WARNING: May contain a spoiler if you have not played Batman: Arkham City to its conclusion
Batman is back, the Arkham series is back, and more importantly Rocksteady are back, in arguably one of the most highly anticipated video game sequels of the last decade, Batman: Arkham Knight.
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also Available On: PlayStation 4, PC (Sales Suspended)
Release Date: Out Now
Now you may be thinking to yourself, “this game has been out for two weeks now, I’ve read all of the reviews, where have you been?”, the answer is I’ve lived and breathed this game from start to finish, tested every inch and thoroughly explored everything Arkham Knight has to offer to a level that completionists will appreciate.
I am an Arkham uber-fan, I am that guy who will spend many painstaking hours collecting every Riddler trophy and after the disappointment of Arkham Origins I needed to be sure that this game deserved the universal praise it has been getting, it really does by the way.
So, back in the hands of the original developer Rocksteady Studios, Batman: Arkham Knight is the conclusion to their “official” Arkham trilogy.
Set one year after the closing events of Arkham City and Batman is struggling to come to terms with the death of his nemesis, the Joker. Without the clown Prince’s chaotic presence, Gotham has seen a significant drop in its crime rates, leaving the Dark Knight ready to hang up the cape and cowl.
The lull is short-lived though, as on Halloween night Scarecrow unleashes full anarchy on Gotham, forcing a city-wide evacuation, leaving only Gotham’s finest and the criminals of the city behind. Scarecrow isn’t alone on this venture, he has a new ally known only as the Arkham Knight. The Knight is military trained, fully versed in Batman’s fighting techniques and has his own technologically advanced army.
With the help of his allies (and the batmobile), Batman must uncover the mystery of the Arkham Knight, stop Scarecrow and ultimately save Gotham city from tearing itself apart.
First of all, that brief story description barely scratches the surface of what Batman: Arkham Knight brings to the table but in order to maintain a spoiler-free review I’ve had to keep it short and to the point. Playing the story from start to finish is simply one of the best experiences I’ve had in gaming, the story is one of the most engaging, interesting and occasionally mind-blowing I’ve had the pleasure of, it’s quite simply the perfect swan song for the series.
Where Nolan’s movie trilogy gave the Dark Knight some realism, it’s the Arkham series which has really given the superhero emotional depth, shown the burden that leading such a life could have and this is most evident in Batman: Arkham Knight as our hero fights not only with physical foes but also mental torture personified in a very interesting way.
The story is above and beyond what we’ve seen from many of the other triple A releases in the last couple of years, but this isn’t a movie, this is a video game, so how does it play?
Probably the most publicized new addition to the game is, of course, the Batmobile. Batman’s trusty steed finally makes its debut in the Arkham universe as a playable tool, fans of the series will note that the Batmobile actually made its first appearance in Arkham Asylum though it was unusable.
The design of Batman: Arkham Knight’s Batmobile is unique to the game though it does seem to bear a resemblance to what we’ve seen thus far of Batflek’s car for Dawn of Justice. As one would expect, it has the look and feel of a car with the arsenal of a tank at its disposal, a much more loyal representation than the tumbler.
From the very beginning of the game the Batmobile has a significant part to play, the Arkham Knight has numerous drone tanks at his disposal and even with a full utility belt on the ready Batman has little chance without the explosive force of his tank. This becomes a recurring theme throughout the game, not directly driven by the story campaign but more the open-world side-missions.
As the story progresses, the Batmobile becomes the go-to gadget for powering up generators, blowing through walls, large-scale radar, scaling buildings and on one occasion vertically descending an industrial sized air vent, it is definitely a versatile piece of kit.
Jumping in the car itself as you transition from Batman to Batmobile is one of the most satisfying things about the new addition, the animation is flawless and seamless whether you’re in the middle of the street and calling upon the car or descending from midair directly in, it’s fun every time. Once you’re in control, the game shifts a gear, having a bit of experience with games like Burnout Paradise and Need for Speed: Most Wanted will certainly serve you well as the Batmobile handles very much like you’d expect to find in one those games, takes a little time to master the cornering but it’s a fairly steep learning curve.
My one and only issue with the Batmobile is the default control layout, rather than the left trigger being the brake/reverse button – as you’d expect in any racing game – this puts you into battle mode for taking on the tanks, it can be quite annoying at first for those of us used to the established racing template, I lost count of the amount of times I went to take a sharp corner and ended up smashing straight into the corner building in tank mode.
The weapons on offer whilst in the vehicle are impressive, the main cannon is extremely effective at destroying tanks, cars and the occasional wall and the vulcan machine gun allows for quick fire bursts at the smaller enemies. As you build up a kill streak the secondary weapons powers up, once fully charged it can auto-aim and take out multiple tanks simultaneously, very handy when you’ve got 20 of the things trying to blow you up. As you progress, other options become available, from EMP to drone hacking, by the end of the story there’s not much this car can’t do on the ground.
Along with the Batmobile’s armor and additional tech, all of the weapons are upgradeable in the standard way, complete missions and side-stories, collect XP, level-up and then upgrade. This has been a constant throughout the Arkham series since its inception with each game slightly tweaking the user interface to make it more friendly, Arkham Knight is no exception. The upgrade system works in exactly the same way, only with the addition of Batmobile upgrades and addition suit upgrades.
The on-foot combat is exactly what we have come to expect from the Arkham series, the superb mixture of kicks and punches, stringing together moves with takedowns and the occasional quick time move. The Arkham combat system has become the benchmark that many now consider games must live up to, with the Assassin’s Creed series failing miserably, the only game to come close has been Shadow of Mordor – possibly the only current-gen open-world game to rival this for quality.
There are a few minor variations in the combat compared to Batman: Arkham City, the addition of a couple of new gadgets means there are some inventive new takedowns to enjoy. The jewel in the combat crown though is the dual-takedowns. Throughout the story and side-missions there are occasions where you team up with one of Batman’s allies to take down a large group of bad guys, while in combat you can switch between characters and fight as either. When, however, you are in the perfect position for a takedown you will have the option to do a dual takedown, meaning that your character grabs the villain, throws him in the air while the other hero swoops in and knocks him out midair, it’s awesome, truly awesome.
The open-world Gotham is unsurprisingly huge, approximately five times the size of Arkham City’s, which isn’t surprising given that not only does the newer generation of gaming machines allow this, but also with access to the Batmobile, you need room to move at high-speed. It’s packed to the brim with life, either through side missions, the obligatory Riddler trophies or the occasional random car chase, you are never more than moments from the action. The city feels alive, it never feels artificial and it’s a testament to how good Rocksteady are when they deliver such an impressively detailed open-world to compliment an already stellar story.
The downside to the abundance of things to do outside of the main story is that a few of the side-missions feel a little repetitive and uninspired, mainly because they’ve taken elements from a particularly good story mission and made them into multiple mini-missions throughout the open-world. Sadly this means there are a few occasions when you think to yourself, “didn’t I just do this mission?”. It’s not the end of the world, this isn’t a damning feature unique to Batman: Arkham Knight, it’s part of the standard open-world template that hasn’t changed much since Grand Theft Auto III.
Overall Batman: Arkham Knight is the perfect end to an outstanding trilogy of games, almost the perfect game in fact. The story’s conclusion not only ties up Batman’s narrative nicely but leaves you in shock – in a positive way that is. There is a level of emotion to this story that no video game, let alone one centered around a superhero, has any right to have and that’s what makes this such an interesting game.
Gameplay wise, we are treated to the best of the series with the brilliant combat system making another welcomed and refined return as well as the newest addition to the series, the Batmobile. In my opinion, despite being the center of attention for marketing, the Batmobile only enhances the gameplay, it never defines it, it’s a supporting cast member where the main focus is still very much on Batman on foot.
A game to admire and the new benchmark for the genre.
- The story is the best of the series, highly engaging and thrilling throughout
- The visuals are stunning, making full use of everything the current machines has to offer
- The batmobile, it adds a new level to already brilliant gameplay
- The PC release has been a disaster
- The overuse of the batmobile early in the game
- Many of the side missions are repetitive and uninspired