*Reviewed on PlayStation 4
Batman: Arkham Knight was a game I and other gamers had been waiting to play for quite some time. The first game in the series, Arkham Asylum, was a pioneer game and an all new high for superhero games that few others can hope to equal. Arkham City was a bigger and better sequel that somehow improved pretty much every aspect of its predecessor. Rocksteady then hunkered down and started working on the final game in the series, and during the interim publisher WB Games gave us Arkham Origins, which was a slightly bigger version of Arkham City with less impressive graphics and some technical issues. It didn’t quite compare to Rocksteady’s efforts, but it was still a really good game. The follow-up, Arkham Origins Blackgate, was a side-scroller which changed things up a bit; it was an okay game, but nothing to write home about. At the very least, these two games made the wait for Arkham Knight more bearable. Now that it’s finally here, I’m happy to say that the game really delivers the definitive Batman experience, for the most part.
Opening almost a year after the events of Arkham City, we find Scarecrow threatening a large-scale attack on Gotham City with his fear toxin, after making a rather frightening display of its effectiveness on a small diner full of innocent people. Twenty four hours later, the citizens of Gotham have evacuated, with the city’s less savory residents like Two-Face, Penguin, Harley Quinn etc. staying behind to take advantage of the lack of citizens and police to do what they please. Scarecrow’s own private army of mercenaries, led by the mysterious Arkham Knight, have taken up defensive positions all around the city in order to prepare their attack. Of course, they’ll first have to deal with the Dark Knight himself, Batman. And as much as he would like to be, he’s not alone.
First off, I have to mention how great the game looks and runs. The game world itself is about three times the size of Arkham City, and almost twice the size of the portion of Gotham displayed in Arkham Origins. The level of detail on the city and characters is incredible, from Batman’s new armored suit and cape, to the armor plating and bat-themed rims on his Batmobile, and even the ruined roads and buildings littering Gotham look downright lifelike. And not once did the game slow down or stutter, whether I was gliding high above the skyscrapers or driving at breakneck speeds on the city streets. As for the gameplay, it hasn’t changed much at all from the previous games, which is fine by me. It does add a few new things here and there, with the biggest change being the ability to drive the Batmobile for the first time ever in the Arkham series.
Opinions have been largely divided on the implementation of the Batmobile in Arkham Knight, with the most common criticism being that we are forced to use the Batmobile way too much. I don’t like using the word “forced” to describe the gameplay revolving around the Batmobile. I will admit that in order to complete a large number of missions, we do have to rely a lot on the Batmobile. Whether it’s chasing down villains, taking out a large group of armed and well-fortified mercenaries, or even acquiring a lot of those ever annoying Riddler trophies, the Batmobile is a necessary tool. But it’s a necessary tool that is FUN to use. It controls like a dream and lets you cover great distances in half the time it would take to glide through them. Certain environments make driving the Batmobile effectively somewhat challenging, but for the most part it can make sharp turns with ease and is highly responsive to every movement of the analog sticks. It can even turn around in any direction while stationary (a feature I hope to see added to cars in the real world someday).
When the Batmobile goes into battle mode, it transforms into a tank armed with a machine gun and a main cannon that fires 60mm shells at the many unmanned drone tanks in the game, while it automatically fires non-lethal rounds at any human enemies who are dumb enough to challenge Batman when he’s in his sweet ride. And after charging up its power by destroying enemies, specialized attacks like missile barrages and EMP pulses can be used to help turn the tide in battle when outnumbered. Battle mode makes the Batmobile move more slowly, but it’s still capable of dodging incoming enemy fire and allows for more precise movement through roads or tunnels that don’t provide much maneuverability. Even the transition between the Batmobile’s regular mode and its battle mode is seamless, letting you make use of effective hit and run tactics when surrounded by stronger drones. Probably the coolest feature of the Batmobile is being able to control it from a distance with a remote control. Not only is this feature cool, but it’s also necessary in solving a number of puzzles and getting Batman out of sticky situations.
The Batmobile is a great addition to the game and the fact you have to use it a lot is not a negative thing, instead it’s a fun and enjoyable gameplay element. Since Arkham Asylum was released back in 2009, gamers everywhere have been begging and pleading for the option to drive the Batmobile. Now that we finally can drive it, a lot of those same gamers are complaining about how we have to use it too much. I hope I’m not the only one who sees the irony here. In the previous games, we had to make much use of Batman’s gadgets like batarangs, the line launcher, and so on to solve problems, yet I don’t recall people complaining about how they were “overused”. In short, I find the Batmobile to be an awesome addition to the game and not an inconvenient gameplay element you’re forced to use. Controlling it quickly becomes second nature and it feels more like an extension of Batman himself rather than a separate tool.
The rest of the gameplay in Arkham Knight is just as awesome as in the previous games, with the ever popular combat and stealth mechanics getting some improvements. Batman lays the smackdown on enemies as gracefully and forcefully as ever before, only now he can do extra stuff like pick up baseball bats and clubs dropped by enemies to make his strikes twice as strong, use environment takedowns to instantly defeat even stronger enemies by bashing them into things like circuit boards and light fixtures, and unleash “super attacks” with gadgets like batarangs and the explosive gel to damage large groups of enemies at once. The same types of enemies from before like thugs with knives, shields, and shock batons return, as do ninja type enemies and big brutes who require continuous blows to bring down. Some of these enemies are tougher than ever, with even the simple thugs being able to tackle Batman or grab him from behind so other enemies can attack him. Some of the brutes are equipped with dual blades, high tech shields, and shock gauntlets, making them considerably tougher to beat when paired up with other enemies.
And when dealing with enemies through stealth, some of them will be using drones to help them survey the area more effectively, while others will use devices that can track Batman’s Detective Mode, wear combat suits to make them invisible to Detective Mode, and set down sentry guns that will automatically pump Batman full of lead on sight. Fortunately, Batman has new gadgets to deal with these threats. The remote hacking device lets him open or close doors and shutters to gain access to areas and trap enemies, or even take out enemies by hijacking their drones. The voice synthesizer lets him issue commands to enemies in their bosses’ voices to fool them into opening doors or even to walk to secluded areas so Batman can take them down in uninterrupted peace. Batman’s new and improved suit also grants him enhanced speed and reflexes to use “fear takedowns”, where he seamlessly incapacitates up to five enemies back to back. While these takedowns cause a lot of noise, they let Batman quickly thin the numbers of an especially large group of armed enemies (and look totally badass while doing it).
In several of the main and side-missions, Batman will be paired up with an ally, namely Catwoman, Nightwing, or Robin, and join forces with them to beat down on large groups of enemies, as well as take out armed enemies through stealth and solve puzzles. When in combat, Batman and his current ally can perform “dual takedowns”, where both heroes will attack the targeted enemy with strong, acrobatic blows that will leave the enemy face down in the pavement. You can even switch between Batman and his allies on the fly during these bouts, allowing you to make use of their unique combat moves against enemies for a bit. I liked being able to play as these characters in the main story for a change instead of only in the challenge maps like in the previous games. I only wish we had more opportunities to use these other characters.
However, if you pre-ordered Arkham Knight like I did, then you’ll automatically have access to two mini-missions known as Arkham Episodes where you play as Harley Quinn and Red Hood in their own adventures set in new locations. Harley Quinn’s story takes place before the events of Arkham Knight where she infiltrates the Bludhaven Police Department so she can break out Poison Ivy under orders from Penguin and Scarecrow. The crazed jester girl has some pretty neat fighting moves on display, as well as a baseball bat, explosive jack-in-the-box, snare traps, and laughing gas to take out the police standing in the way of her objective. Her Psychosis Mode works a lot like Batman’s Detective Mode to highlight points of interest and locate enemies behind walls, with the added touch of having the whole screen light up in a reddish haze and all the walls having random messages scrabbled all over them in a style similar to what would be found on a crazed asylum patient’s cell walls. Mayhem Mode momentarily increases Harley’s attack power to let her take out her enemies more quickly. After it’s been used up, the meter can be refilled by defeating more enemies. In stealth sessions, Harley very nimbly jumps up and over walls very much like Catwoman, and she’ll need to be quick since her takedowns are loud and will always attract attention from other nearby enemies. This feature makes her stealth sessions more chaotic in a fun way; just the way Harley and her “Puddin’” would like it.
Red Hood’s story takes place after the events of Arkham Knight and has him tracking down Black Mask and his gun running operations in Gotham. Playing as Red Hood was especially fun due to his more lethal approach to taking down enemies. He can use his twin handguns to permanently put down enemies both in straight-up combat and even by sniping them from a distance in stealth sessions. His flash bang grenade and zip kick round out the rest of his gadgets. He also has his own Detective Mode and grapnel gun to help him spot enemies and get around more quickly. Despite his controls not being very different from all the other characters in the main game, I felt extra lethal playing as Red Hood. When he takes down an enemy through direct combat or stealth, he’ll do stuff like headshots and neck snaps. While this less merciful approach to defeating enemies doesn’t really make Red Hood’s gameplay all that different from the other characters’ from a technical standpoint, it still FELT different and made it quite clear to me that I was NOT playing as a hero like Batman, Robin, Nightwing, or even a semi-hero like Catwoman. Red Hood is a lethal vigilante, and just that relatively simple and cosmetic change-up in his gameplay makes it feel distinctly different from Batman’s. Even so, both Harley Quinn and Red Hood’s stories are supremely short; I beat them both in no more than half an hour. Hopefully the additional upcoming Arkham Stories on Batman and his allies, including new gameplay as Batgirl, will be somewhat more lengthy than these two, as fun as they were.
As for Arkham Knight’s story, it’s great. Some moments dropped my jaw, with the game’s climax and ending proving to be very surprising and memorable (respectively). I also liked how Batman’s relationships with those closest to him were strained and put through the ultimate test. It gave real importance and impact to a lot of the missions Batman had to complete. Scarecrow was a truly menacing lead villain, filling the role well in Joker’s absence. The same can’t really be said about the titular Arkham Knight though, he proved to mostly be an angry and vengeful punk, and he rarely seemed like much of a real threat to Batman. As for the ever hateful Riddler and his…riddles, their challenge levels (and stakes) have increased. This time, instead of Riddler holding several random people as hostages, he has left Catwoman’s life hanging in the balance, and unless Batman wants to see her go up to that big scratching post in the sky, he has to find all the trophies and solve all the riddles in order to save her and defeat Riddler once and for all. Some of these riddles and challenges were exceptionally tough to solve, to the point where a couple of expletives burst forth from me out of sheer frustration. In the end, this just made completing the challenges all the more satisfying. While I didn’t fully enjoy the trial and error elements of Riddler’s race challenges, there luckily weren’t too many of them in the game, so I was able to deal with them.
The one thing about this game that I found to be quite disappointing was the almost complete lack of boss fights. Some of the boss fights in the previous games weren’t too exciting, such as the fights against Bane and “TITAN-Joker” in Arkham Asylum, but they were still relatively fun. Then there were certain boss fights that really stood out, like Mr. Freeze and Clayface in Arkham City, as well as Deathstroke and a younger Bane in Arkham Origins. I was looking forward to similar boss encounters in Arkham Knight, only for my hopes to be dashed when the game ended up providing only two actual boss fights. One was against a villain I had never heard of and the other was against a villain who’s not known for resorting to simple fisticuffs to solve his problems. As fun as these two boss fights were, they simply weren’t satisfying or challenging enough. There are other encounters with Batman’s rogues gallery in the form of chases, stealth encounters, and tank battles, but the lack of direct boss fights was disappointing, yet not altogether surprising given the overall smaller number of villains included in Arkham Knight. Looks like the previous games used up too many of them.
The lack of boss fights wasn’t enough of an issue for me to end up giving the game a bad score, as this was really the game’s only true fault. That and the fact the game took a while to start up when I first put it in my PS4. I was unable to access certain side-missions and challenges when I started the game since its update bar was stuck for some reason, but fortunately a simple restart fixed this issue and soon afterwards I was lost in Gotham City. My final verdict: Batman: Arkham Knight ended the Arkham series on a high note and gave us a very appropriate and meaningful ending. While it’s possible a new series could arise from this one, I can live if this is truly the last Batman game we get from Rocksteady. Perhaps now they can focus on giving us a different game that could set some new standards. Imagine Rocksteady developing a free-roaming, third-person style action game based on Predator. Or hell, I’d be happy if they could take over the Spider-Man gaming franchise from Beenox and reinvigorate that series as well. In any case, Batman: Arkham Knight is a more than worthy finale to an incredible series, one that Batman fans would be foolish to miss.