Six years have passed since Rocksteady Games let the Joker run wild in Arkham Asylum, and the superbly skilled developer’s Batman trilogy has now come to a close with the release of Batman: Arkham Knight. As canon game three of three, it marks the end of one of gaming’s best story arcs, as well as one of its greatest triumphs thus far. However, in doing so, it leaves us conflicted. On one hand, we’re happy and thankful for having been treated to three fantastic outing that helped prove superhero games could be great; while, on the other, we’re saddened by knowing that such a good thing has had to end.
Over the last half-decade, few titles have matched the quality of both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. Technically and mechanically, the two are nearly perfect superhero games which show an unparalleled attention to detail, making them fanboys’ dream escapes. Now, with Batman: Arkham Knight, the series’ scale has become significantly larger and the action has been taken to a new level. Whether or not that has all been parlayed into a higher quality game is arguable, but there’s no denying that Rocksteady has concluded its trilogy in impressive fashion, delivering another standout genre effort.
After giving his all in battles against the Joker and Hugo Strange, the Dark Knight now finds himself face-to-face with the Scarecrow, who’s been moved from a supporting role and placed in the limelight. He’s not alone, however, as a myriad of Batman’s greatest and most iconic foes are also on the loose in disparaged Gotham City. On top of that, one new face has also entered the fold, that being the mysterious Arkham Knight, whose unknown identity serves as a major plot point throughout this lengthy campaign.
Batman: Arkham Knight begins with a bang and doesn’t let up, making it the Caped Crusader’s toughest fight yet. Denizens like The Penguin, Two Face and Firefly are causing chaos in the streets, while the big bad Scarecrow is working towards the large scale dispersal of a new fear toxin. Then, there’s the Arkham Knight himself, who cares little about seeing Gotham implode and is only worried about making sure the Batman dies. All the while, The Riddler is up to his old tricks and is now holding a familiar acquaintance hostage with a bomb collar.
It’s a night from Hell to say the least, and one that only we — as Batman — can put an end to. It won’t be easy, though, not just for obvious reasons but because things get quite challenging as dawn draws nearer. It’s a challenge that is greater than that of its predecessors, and one that will be appreciated by seasoned gamers.
Story-wise, Batman: Arkham Knight is not only strong but memorable. It’s amazing how Rocksteady’s writers were able to come up with such a large and engrossing plot, while keeping a pace that is always building towards something bigger. Magnitude and scope really come into play here, because there’s nothing small scale about the gameplay or the plot, which sends Batman to Hell and back without letting up. They say there’s no rest for the wicked, and in Arkham Knight‘s case that’s definitely true.
However, while I’m awestruck by the scope and insane amount of detailed fan service in this game, its storyline does have some faults that keep it from being legendary. In actuality, it opens rather slowly and has questionable pacing at that time. Thankfully, though, that problem is mostly rectified once things really get going. It takes a little while, but things really do get exciting, especially when a familiar face comes along for the ride.
Having two co-villains, if you will, also keeps the experience from being as tight as it could’ve been. It’s a relatively minor issue, though, and one that can also be blamed on the game’s larger scope. After all, Gotham is said to be about five times larger than Arkham City was, and it shows. Said size also brings forth a playable Batmobile — which may as well just be called the Bat Tank — for the first time in this series, and that’s something which will have a polarizing effect on people.
While I personally like that the Batmobile plays a role in Batman: Arkham Knight, it is overused and feels unnecessarily shoehorned into certain missions. It’s at these points where design decisions become questionable, because using the car to solve puzzles isn’t incredibly fun and does the game more of a disservice than anything.
What am I talking about? Well, think of the Batmobile as a car in one sense and a tank in another. It can be used to drive around Gotham City’s different islands at fast-speeds, and makes for a great battering ram against enemy vehicles, but its tank-like capabilities are overemphasized and overused. As such, you can expect a lot of arena-eque battles against enemy drones and different types of unmanned tanks. They’re fun at first, but eventually become repetitive and somewhat tiresome, even though new weapons are added to the Batmobile, including an EMP and a hack that can be used to turn enemies into allies.
Whereas the standard mode presents a fast car that Batman can call at will and eject from like a bullet, the vehicle’s secondary tank mode is, at times, surprisingly finesse-focused. You’ll find yourself using its winch to pull ramps down towards you, but will also have to maneuver it slowly across tight pathways in order to get it into position for assistance. This can be a bit of a pain, and it’s odd seeing such a large and powerful vehicle used in such a way. It’s something that comes up a few times during the campaign, but is also prevalent during some of the Riddler challenges. Remote control is a reality, though, and keeps things somewhat fresh.
Being able to use the Batmobile is certainly a dream come true, but it could’ve been handled better and would’ve benefitted Arkham Knight more if its focus had been lessened. That this is Rocksteady’s first time implementing such a vehicle shows a bit, although it’s generally handled well and relatively sound mechanically. It just isn’t as tight (there’s that word again) control-wise as one would’ve hoped, which can become a bit frustrating during high-speed chases against enemy NPCs and characters like Firefly, where the enemy zips around every available corner and uses shortcuts as a way to lose you.
Don’t get the impression that I hate the Batmobile or its inclusion in the game. It’s just hard not to nitpick about some of the ways in which it’s utilized. It also factors into one major boss battle against the Arkham Knight, which ends up being more frustrating than fun.
Outside of its vehicular sections, Batman: Arkham Knight is familiar, but in a good way. The Free-Flow Combat system is back and remains awesome, allowing for Batman and friends to deliver incredibly visceral attacks during combo sequences. Things are tougher this time around, though, because new enemy types have been added and it’s not uncommon to find oneself up against a large group of baddies. As such, you’ll want to pick up foes’ weapons whenever possible and strategize your approach. This is especially true when brutes, shielded foes and assholes who can infuse themselves with electricity come into play.
For the most part, the new combat mechanics fit well with the series’ established system. Being able to engage in dual combat is also great, because there ends up being quite a few occasions where Batman teams up with others to deliver punishment. Said list includes Catwoman, Robin and Nightwing, all of whom are a treat to play as.
Expectedly, Batman’s abilities can be upgraded over time, and as one sees fit. Points are earned not only by completing main missions and villainous side stories, but also by hitting XP plateaus and completing AR challenges, which take the place of challenge rooms in this outing and exist as a solid replacement. It’s through this system that I was able to make the Caped Crusader a defensive powerhouse, though I’m someone who tends to focus on health and armor upgrades over anything else. You may be the opposite, and choose to put most of your points into gadget upgrades and other offensive assets. Batman has some great gadgets at his disposal, too, including a jammer that causes guns to malfunction, a tool that mimics villains’ voices and the Batmobile’s often-handy remote.
Speaking of side quests, I’d like to take a moment to make mention of how well they’re handled in Batman: Arkham Knight.
As you progress through the campaign, which will take you between around fifteen to thirty hours depending on how much side action you undertake, you’ll come across different things, be it fires, flaming bat symbols, APCs, weapons trucks or more. Alfred will also alert you to different things, like armed bank robberies, and give you a location to head to. Most side quests rely on you to find them, but they’re not hidden in a frustrating way. Most, if not all, will be found throughout your time in the city and with minimal effort, but they won’t be handed to you on a silver platter. It’s a neat system that works well and is easy to keep track of through a radial mission selection menu that can be called upon during free roam play.
Switching to presentation, it’s tough to really fault Batman: Arkham Knight, because it exudes fan service and looks great while doing so, employing some stunning animations. The sound is also top notch, although it takes a bit of time to get used to Johnathan Banks as Commissioner Gordon. He’s a very good actor, and someone whom I enjoy watching on the small screen, but I don’t know if he was the right choice for that role. Still, he does a solid job and the rest of the cast also takes advantage of great writing to deliver something special.
Going further, Arkham Knight once again takes place on a rainy night, meaning that it’ll constantly be pouring as you move about Gotham. It fits into the lore, but can sometimes be a bit much and a tad distracting, although close-ups reveal a great attention to detail and some really nice puddling effects. The way that the light bounces off of the water is also thoroughly impressive, as the game benefits from some truly fantastic lighting. However, while I’m not sure of the exact cause, the frame rate isn’t always perfect and there were times where I encountered slight pauses. They were very rare, though, and two of the more memorable ones happened during my time with the twenty-minute-long Harley Quinn story pack, which is set in an interior location.
All of the above boils down to Batman: Arkham Knight being a very good ending to a historic and remarkable series. While it is imperfect, and is marred by its own ambition, it exists as another epic experience that all Bat-fans should check out.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.