Batman: Arkham Knight
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Release Date: 06/23/2015
The Arkham franchise is in a unique position among video games. In particular, it’s a licensed franchise that has continuously garnered high praise and expectations. Arkham Knight is the culmination of all of that, and supposedly the final game in the franchise. Or at least, the last one done by series creator Rocksteady Studios. As such, the pressure is on to deliver the best game in the series yet.
Nine months after the death of Joker, Gotham has become a quiet and peaceful place. Of course, such nice things don’t allow for action packed video games, so things go to hell in a hand basket rather quickly. The gist of it this time is that Scarecrow has planed bombs full of his fear toxin all over the city. After allowing all of one day people to evacuate, the power is given to the thugs and villains who remain. And so, Batman goes to work. Thing is, there’s this new bad guy called the Arkham Knight. He knows everything about the dark knight, including his weaknesses and even his allies. Who this man is, and why he wants Bats dead is a major theme throughout.
Overall, the theme this time is Batman trying to do everything on his own. The story has running ragged trying to keep up with everything. Between the legions of tank drones patrolling the streets, Scarecrow threatening to douse the coast in fear toxin, Riddler kidnapping Catwoman, etc., it’s quite possibly too much for him.
Like the other Arkham games, the story works more as a giant collection of awesome Batman moments rather than a cohesive plot. A few tricks are used too often, leading to predictable plot twists and a few repetitive missions. However, the incredible roster and the love of the Batman lore shines through at even the darkest moments. The attention to detail in particular is to be commended. The goons around the city change up their dialogue based on what’s going on, various secrets around the city clue you into what’s going on with characters who don’t make appearances in this game, and the side missions tie up loose ends from Arkham City. Basically, Batman fans will love it, but it won’t be winning any writing awards any time soon.
Gotham has never looked this good. I mean, we knew this generation was going to be a pretty decent leap forward in terms of graphics, but you can’t even compare this to the previous. The map is bigger, the streets are somehow even more detailed, and even something as simple as the rain effects are phenomenal. I had only a couple of problems with the graphics. Close up, the explosions look dated, and I would have liked to see characters emote when the models are talking in game. Beyond that, this is one of the best looking games of the year. Fluid animations, great art design, and flat out amazing locations define the visuals in this game.
Perhaps the games biggest strength lies with its audio. Kevin Conroy is back as the Bat and the rest of the cast is equally talented. Not only that, but there is so much more dialogue. Even the goons you fight have dozens more lines. When they start calling out specific areas of a specific building where they think you might be, you can’t help but get immersed. The soundtrack is moody as always, but it knows how to turn things up a notch when things get hectic. The effects are equally top notch. From the squeal of the Batmobile’s tires sound of a baseball bat going into the soft parts of some thug, it’s all good. We don’t give out numerical scores here anymore, but rest assured AR would be getting a perfect one in this department if we still did.
Let’s start with what’s the same in this game. You still fight using the intuitive combat system that is more about reflexes and strategy than button mashing. There are still predator sections where you swing from the rafters in order to take out armed baddies. You still have a large open environment full of enemies to fight, places to visit, and secrets to uncover. It’s all good. If you’ve played an Arkham game before, you know how it works. What we’re interested is the new stuff.
First, the combat has seen some new upgrades. However, it’s the baddies that have been given the most love. New enemy types include a medic that can revive foes, ninjas that launch themselves at you, and enemies surrounded by an electric charge. Touch the latter, and the results are similar to getting tazed. Batman has a few new moves too. He can use the environment in a few spots to get instant takedowns, team up with allies or the Batmobile for instant takedowns (if they’re nearby), and he can even pick up dropped melee weapons for some extra damage. The fights are generally crazier e than ever. It’s often you’ll be up against more than a dozen foes and several different types of foes at that. Prioritizing is key, as you’ll need to take down medics first and save the trickier bad guys for the end.
Second, we have the predator sections. Batman has a number of new toys to play with. He can grapnel directly into grates now, he can use a voice replicator to trick guards, and use a remote hacker to blind turrets. Oh right. There are turrets now too! Enemies will react more than ever to discovering the hero is on their trail. They’ll set up defense turrets, drop mines in grates, and stay in formations. New mini-gun enemies can’t be taken down silently, some enemies have drones, and others will track your location when use detective vision. On the plus side, the areas you have to work in are bigger than ever, and there are plenty of tools at your disposal to win the day.
Of course the biggest and most talked about change is the inclusion of the Batmobile. Pretty much right out of the gate, you’ll be able to drive around the streets of Gotham in this beast. You can drift and boost with ease, and arrows on the ground take you to your next objective so you don’t get lost. When it is time to battle, you’ll switch to tank mode. From there, you can fire one of two main weapons and use a few different secondary weapons. The tank controls are odd at first, but you get used to them. You stop driving and instead strafe around. You can use a quick boost to move in any direction, which is good for dodging enemy fire. It’s fun to play around with, though you’ll likely want to edit the default control options. The way the game has it set up, you have to hold down the left trigger to stay in tank mode. It’s much easier to turn on the toggle option, which lets you tap the right bumper every time you want to go back or forth. This will also feel more natural to people experienced with driving in games, as the left triggers becomes the brake.
There are a couple of problems with the tank. For starters, there are stealth sections where you fight large drones that can only be taken out with a targeted shot from behind. These sections are often long, boring, and too punishing. Secondly, the game has completely done away with traditional boss battles in favor of vehicle bosses. There are three of these in the game, and they are the low points to be sure. Two of them are more complicated versions of the stealth section, and another has you racing away from an earth mover. It’s not fun, and the fact that you can die so easily makes it quickly frustrated. This is compounded by the thirty to forty seconds it takes to reload the section.
Of course, one of the game’s biggest selling points is all of the various side missions you can complete. These offer you a chance to bring down various villains or simply rescue some civvies. Penguin is supplying guns, Two-Face is robbing banks blind, some nut is hanging up dead bodies everywhere, and some armored guy wants to replace you. These side missions offer up different types of gameplay to suit your fancy. They also offer a good amount of experience that gives you points you can use to upgrade your gear and abilities. Of, if you prefer, you can simply hunt around for the near three-hundred Riddler trophies in the game. Some are out in plain sight, but there are plenty of tricky ones that require use of Batman’s various gadgets. Even the Batmobile gets in on the action, with many of the trophies requiring you to get good with the car in order to earn them.
Even if you’ve done all of those side missions and collected all of the trophies, you still have more to do. New game plus lets you go through the story again on a much harder difficulty, the AR challenges are back to test your skills, and there is a substantial gallery to muck around in. You can easily get dozens of hours of gameplay out of this thing, which is great for an action-adventure.
Short Attention Span Summary
Let’s be clear. There are some bumps in the road. The plot is a little messy at times, and the Batmobile can easily wear out its welcome. You might hit the odd bug or two as you’re moving forward. However, none of that stops Arkham Knight from being one of the best games of the year, and a fitting ending to the trilogy. Is it better than Arkham City? That’s debatable, but it’s certainly in the same league.
Tags: batman, batman arkham knight, ps4, rocksteady studios, Sony, warner bros