Back in 2009, I don’t think anybody knew just how big the Batman: Arkham series was going to be. Now, six years later and after five games, a bunch of comic books and a movie we are finally saying goodbye to the Caped Crusader. After six years of us as players being the Batman, we, along with the developers are hanging up the cowl. With a new mystery to unravel and new villains to apprehend, is Batman: Arkham Knight a worthy swan song for the series, or have Rocksteady taken the game one installment too far?
Set a few months after the events of Batman: Arkham City, Arkham Knight pits the Caped Crusader against the Scarecrow, who has forced an evacuation of the whole of Gotham City so that he, and the rest of Batman’s rogue’s gallery can not only claim Gotham as their prize, but aim to break the Batman and show the world that he is not the hero that everyone thinks he is. Joining the Scarecrow in his crusade against the Bat is the Arkham Knight, a mysterious soldier who has bears a grudge against Batman and is willing to bring a multi-billion dollar army to help him enact it.
Arkham Knight manages to draw on 75+ years of Batman comics, cartoons and movies to create a story that perfectly does justice to everything that has come before. The way that Arkham Knight’s narrative plays out is very evocative of the Detective Comics stories where Bruce is pushed to his absolute limit in his search to uncover the facts of the case. “What’s Scarecrow’s plan?” “Who is the Arkham Knight?” And “What will happen to the Gordons?” Are just some of the questions that we as players are subject to as we play along, and while some of the story threads don’t really pay off in the end, the whole package feels like a Batman story.
A huge part of what makes this feel like a Batman game is the same as what made Arkham Asylum and Arkham City so great; the developer’s have nailed the world that Batman lives in and the characters that inhabit it. Some of Batman’s greatest on-screen interactions came from this game alone. The banter with Catwoman, Nightwing, Robin and Oracle really made the whole thing feel like a proper Batman experience.
While this is a Batman game, Mark Hamill has returned (after vowing he was done with the character) to steal the show as none other than the Joker himself. While the Joker died at the end of Arkham City, the character lives on in Batman’s mind as an almost cancerous growth that he cannot avoid. In his role as an internal antagonist, Hamill has delivered possibly his best performance as the Clown Prince of Crime. I don’t want to spoil too much more but I will say that the Joker is my favourite character from Arkham Knight and he isn’t even really there!
While the story does show that the creators have a lot of care and love for the rich Batman lore, there is one part that really sticks out like a sore thumb to me – the character of the Arkham Knight himself. Now, almost any longtime Batman fan would have been able to pretty easily guess the identity of the one man who was so driven with destroying the legacy of Batman, and that’s the problem. Rocksteady vehemently stated when the game was first announced that the Arkham Knight was not a preexisting character but a brand new creation, and that is just blatently untrue. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here but the identity of the Arkham Knight is merely a stop-gap between a longtime character’s vigilante persona’s. However, all that aside there just simply isn’t a pay-off after the reveal. There’s a brief (and I do mean brief) emotional interlude where Batman tells Alfred who was under the mask, and then he is saved by the Arkham Knight a little later on with no warning and no explanation. It almost feels like the game is missing a chapter or two of exposition.
Like the games that have come before it, Batman: Arkham Knight really lets you feel like you ARE the Batman. The game does this by utiliting its incredible free-flow combat system, and by taking down foes in the stealth-based predator missions. The free-flow combat is much the same as it was in previous Arkham games, and allows you to utilise strings of attacks with such finesse and precision that the combat really does live up to the “Free-flow” name. Not only that, but you also have access to just about every single one of the Dark Knight’s gadgets during combat, allowing you to create magnificent looking combo attacks with a few short button presses.
A few sections of the game have Batman teaming up with one of his allies, and working in tandem to take down thugs (or robots). Switching back and forth between Batman and Robin made my inner child cheer with glee as I took control of the Dynamic Duo themselves and laid waste to some thugs. Thankfully these sections are sparse, meaning that they never feel tired or stale.
While the combat is undeniably fun, I have always been a fan of the game’s Predator challenges, and this game is no exception. Hiding in vents and perching on gargoyles while waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike just feels SO Batman, and is an experience that can’t really be replicated on film (for a few pretty obvious reasons) but laying in wait and planning a trap before springing down and taking down several enemies at once is just an amazing experience.
There are also a wide array of side-quests to do featuring notable Rogue’s Gallery members such as Hush, Two-Face, Penguin and others (although for the first time in the main series, Bane is absent) as well as an infuriatingly complex series of collectibles to find which unlocks a confrontation with the Riddler. These would serve as cool little side-quests if that’s all they were, but to get the game’s full ending, one must 100% complete them. Yep, you heard right, before the game give you its full ending you need to have found every Riddler trophy, rescued every fireman and stopped Two-Face from robbing the banks in Gotham. A little frustrating? Yeah kinda, but at the same time it is good to have finally earned that reward at the end of the game.
So finally the Arkham games have introduced the Batmobile as a fully playable vehicle that you can hop into and charge down the streets of Gotham. It should be exciting, it should make the blood rush through your veins and it should make you feel more alive than ever to jump behind the wheel of the iconic car, and I’ll admit that it does… but that excitement soon fades. The Batmobile is a clumsy, awkward, downright frustrating gameplay mechanic that feels like it takes more away from the game than it adds.
I almost feel that the Arkham games got their modes of transport mixed up a bit. The gliding that you do in Arkham City is still present in Knight and is a much more effective method of getting from point A to B than driving through the narrow and twisting streets is. Due to this, there are huge sections of the game that feel like they have been designed entirely to justify the Bat-tank’s existence in the game. After beating certain enemies in the game (like Two-Face or Man-Bat) you put them in the trunk of the Batmobile and have to drive them back to GCPD yourself, artificially adding onto the time that each mission takes. Not only that, but several missions have you performing stealth operations as your giant mechanized war machine – ducking behind buildings in order to sneak up on opposing tanks and blow them up without being seen. It borders on the ridiculous and honestly I didn’t find many of the Batmobile missions all that enjoyable to play.
Visuals & Audio
Batman: Arkham Knight is the most gorgeous, well-rendered, playground of any Batman game, ever. Gotham City is finally realised in all of its dim, dank glory and it becomes your playground. Not only does Gotham City look amazing, but the characters have never looked so good. The new armored Batsuit combined with the visual overhaul has made Batman look more frightening to villains than ever.
The visuals are one thing, but the real star of the game’s presentation is the voice acting. Everyone brought their A-Game to this one, from veterans Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, to series’ newcomer Jonathon Banks, who provides an ever grittier Gordon voice than I think any of us are used to. The sound effects are just as exciting with every punch, kick and bone breaking being met with its own distinct “crunch.”
One thing I will say though is that whenever the camera showed Batman’s whole face/cowl (especially during cutscenes) there was just something really off about his eyes. It created a very uncanny valley moment because it looked almost real but there was just something wrong about them, like they were mis-sized for his head or the cowl.
There have been a tonne of reports on performance issues for PC players but sadly there are still issues on consoles. More than once I had my game completely lock up and freeze, forcing me to completely close out of the game and relaunch it, losing some amount of progress in the meantime. There was also one particular section where I had to run a vehicle off the road and interrogate the driver, but I happened to do so right near a body of water, causing the van to careen into the Gotham City River, leaving me unable to finish that quest without reloading the whole thing again. These issues are minor compared to those plaguing PC players, but they still mount up and become a frustration as they do.
After five games, two comic book series and an animated movie tie-in, Batman: Arkham Knight sees the conclusion to the epic Batman: Arkham saga. While not a perfect game, Arkham Knight is more than a fitting swan song for the series. Managing to capture the essence of everything that is Batman, while at the same time putting their own spin on things too. Shame that the big Arkham Knight reveal and Batmobile gameplay were the biggest touted additions to the series and neither did anything particularly well for the game. Eitherway, Arkham Knight will go down as a worthwhile chapter in the best superhero videogame franchises of all time.
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