Batman: Arkham Knight Review – Be The Batman
Reviewed by Liam Brand
They say you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. The extraordinary conclusion of Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham series has ensured that the trilogy will be remembered as one of the greatest superhero games of all time. Batman: Arkham Knight isn’t just the game that fans deserve, but also the one they need right now. It’s the true Batman experience.
Gliding, grappling, and racing through through the street and rooftops of a gorgeous and totally destructible Gotham made me feel more like the Dark Knight himself than I ever have before. You might get to the point where you ask yourself, “Is there anything that Batman does that I can’t do in this game?” Foil the schemes of Gotham’s most dastardly villains? Yup. Take down a fortress of thugs using nothing but my fists and the tools on my belt? Obviously. Fight side-by-side with Batman’s sidekicks and allies? Holy dual-play, Batman! Yes you can! Dive from the top of a skyscraper, land in a moving batmobile, race through the streets of gotham, eject out, land on a Riddler Informant, and interrogate him for vital information? Yes, yes, and yes. I could go on for hours, the possibilities are endless. The plethora of missions and activities in Arkham Knight is just scratching the surface of what makes this game so great.
When Arkham Asylum was released, it was a damn-near perfect game. It brought an authentic Batman game and set the core foundation for the rest of the series. Arkham City expanded and perfected Asylum in every way, creating an absolute masterpiece. So how do you follow up a masterpiece? WB Studio’s Arkham Origins then attempted to expand on Arkham CIty even more, but ended up falling flat due to a lack of original ideas and poor additions to the gameplay mechanics. At the time, I cut Origins some slack because it seemed almost impossible to improve on a game that has almost no flaws. How could they possibly further evolve and add to a game that’s already perfect? Arkham Knight has answered that question, and the answer was more than you can count.
The improvements to the famous combat system were apparent the second I threw the first punch in Arkham Knight. It’s clear that Batman is quicker, stronger, and much more brutal in this game. Building huge combos is seamless and flowing with just the right amount of difficulty. Tons of of new enemy types have joined the roster as well as new moves and behaviors for familiar opponents. Most notably, the combat medic who will revive their fallen allies mid-fight and even charge up their suits, making them deal extra damage while being untouchable. Enemies will also now grab and hold Batman from behind, as well as charge and try to tackle him. Additions like these prevent combat from being a stale, button-mashing frenzy, and demands the player to be careful and prepared to adapt to whatever is thrown at them.
Environment can now be utilized by the player for a wide selection of creative takedowns. Batman can use objects like electrical boxes, light fixtures, and air conditioning units to take down anyone who dares stand near them. Batman can also pick up planks of wood or baseball bats and wield them for a few hits against enemies for extra damage. This function acts almost as a substitute to Origins’ rather overpowered shock gloves by only giving batman a few hits with the object rather than a long string of instant KOs. Using either of these functions is brutal and incredibly satisfying in any scenario. Batman’s personal armory of gadgets have also seen significant improvements in combat. Players are now able to quickfire gadgets for special combo takedowns.
The batarang, explosive gel, and REC takedowns are very similar for the most part. They are fired off and stun/knock down a large group of enemies. The batclaw takedown provides some variety as it pulls a distant enemy towards you and slams him into the ground. These additions arent essential or exceptionally helpful, but they are satisfying and add more variety to the combat. However, said variety feels like both a gift and a curse. On one hand, there are an incredible amount of ways you can beat up and take down your opponents.
These additions make you feel like an unstoppable fighter, able to expand combat far beyond simply punching, kicking, and countering. On the other hand, the many additions have made the combat feel a bit cluttered and overwhelming. Some players may find that there are too many options in a battle whilst the path of least resistance is often the simplest one. Players like myself enjoy the depth and variety brought to the table, but I can definitely see many of these features going unused and serving only as a distraction.
The stealthy predator segments have undergone a makeover as well. Most notably, the new fear takedowns have made knocking out a line of bad guys in succession quick, useful, and incredibly cool. Being able to take out 5 enemies with the press of a button may sound like it could make things a bit too easy, but it actually balances out quite well. For starters, you have to have your targets in a close proximity and unaware of your location. In most predator sequences, enemies are spread out across the area and only clump together on occasion. The fear takedowns are loud and draw lots of attention, making it inconvenient to use in a situation where absolute stealth is key. The fear takedowns mostly serve as a great function for cleaning up the last few stragglers in an area or grabbing a few easy knock-outs before engaging a crowd of thugs.
Batman’s gadgets are extra handy during stealth missions now as well. Old tools such as the Disruptor have been improved with the ability to scope in and disrupt jammers, trackers, and medical equipment. The cryptographic sequencer seen in the other Arkham games has been upgraded to the “Remote Hacking Device” and given the ability to hack objects to create distractions, knock out enemies, or blind the optics of turrets and drones. New gadgets like the voice synthesizer give players the ability to command militia and certain thugs to investigate certain areas or interact with objects. This opens up many options for the player to combine gadget abilities to take down enemies.
Telling a guard to investigate an ammo crate with the synthesizer that you have rigged to blow with the disruptor is just one of the many ways you can utilize several gadgets in predator and spice things up. In fact, the large selection of new gadgets and takedowns meant that I rarely found myself using only traditional takedowns to clear a room. The game not only gives you the option of variety, but often requires you to use more than one consistent strategy. After a couple of sneak attacks from behind, the Arkham Knight will issue instructions for soldiers to buddy-up and watch each others backs. After using grates to escape or get the jump on an enemy, guards will use bombs, rendering the grates useless. The enemies are adaptive in a way that’s similar to Arkham City’s exceptional Mr. Freeze boss battle. While they may not always be as smart or challenging as Freeze, the improved strategic thinking of enemies makes the stealth segments more challenging and far less formulaic than before.
The open-world in Arkham Knight is the largest it has ever been. Naturally, with other games like Arkham Origins featuring a city that feels lifeless, boring, and abandoned, I had concerns about how Rocksteady would manage to fill the gigantic city of Gotham with stuff to do. My doubts were put to rest early-on in the game as I saw the incredible amount of content that the open world has to offer. Despite being evacuated, Gotham feels as alive as ever. Mobs of rioting thugs crowd intersections, automated tanks cruise the streets, and Scarecrow’s ominous broadcasted monologues fill the silence of rooftops and alleyways. There’s an obvious change in atmosphere when travelling from a seedy area of the city to the newer, skyscraper-filled districts. Top to bottom, Gotham is thought out and detailed to feel like an authentic city evacuated and overrun by criminals.The side missions placed throughout the city really feel like important quests rather than afterthoughts.
By using the ‘Mission Select’ wheel, you can choose which side mission to pursue at any given time. Not all missions are entirely spelled out for the player, but are presented in very interesting ways. For example, one mission requires batman to locate the victims of a serial killer around the city. The bodies are not marked on the map, but you can hear opera music (the calling card of the serial killer) when a body is nearby. Additionally, you can overhear thugs mentioning that they might have seen a body atop a certain building. Instead of it being marked on the map, the player will have to look around the city for the spot that the thug was talking about. This may seem like an annoyance to some, but I think it’s a really important component to Arkham Knight, and one that other open-world games would benefit from using. By getting rid of the objective marker, I paid attention to the city and observed my surroundings. I got to know Gotham and its ins and outs. By the end of the game I was able to navigate to certain buildings or areas without a guiding line. The game is filled with a lot of these moment, especially so in the Riddler challenges, where you must do the investigating and thinking for yourself. Doing so creates a deeper level of immersion for the player, putting them more in the mind of Batman than ever before; and that’s totally awesome.
It’s on the posters, it’s in the trailers, it’s on the cover, and it’s the main focus of the game. The Batmobile is the biggest and best new feature in Arkham Knight. It’s such a main component in the game to the point where it’s becomes Arkham Knight’s greatest flaw. It seems that the common complaint among players and critics alike is that batmobile missions are forced on the player far too often. While this is true, the redeeming quality is that the batmobile is unbelievably fun. In races and pursuits, the batmobile controls better than almost any car in any game I’ve ever played. It’s fast, powerful, and can turn on a dime. Chasing down criminal vehicles attempting to escape and running them off the road is an absolute blast.
These set pieces do an excellent job at recreating the epic car-chase feel seen in the movies and tv series. However, when the car transforms into the ‘tank mode’, the game seems to transforms with it. In the tank mode, you have a cannon, a minigun, and a barrage of missiles that you use to blow up countless numbers unmanned tanks and drones. Whenever I have to use the tank mode, I’m sucked out of the world of Batman and into something that feels like a Transformers game more than anything.
There’s not much strategy or thinking involved, just blowing stuff up and avoiding the laser-paths showing you where the tanks are going to fire. The upside is that dodging fire and blowing up tanks feels damn good and almost never gets old. Almost. Not only does the tank combat feel out of place, but it is thrown at the player in excess. I enjoyed many tank combat sequences, but by the time you’re finishing up the game, you may find yourself saying “Another tank battle? Really?” This would be a much larger gripe if the tank combat wasn’t enjoyable a large majority of the time. If the worst parts of the game are still a great time, you can’t really complain too much.
The story told in Arkham Knight is one of the most memorable of the series. FInally, villains other than Joker are the main focus, and some awesome ones at that. Scarecrow is dead set on killing Batman, but not before showing him what true fear is. The mysterious Arkham Knight assists scarecrow by supplying a literal army to take down Batman. Batman as a character feels haunted and worn down from his past (Especially the events of Arkham City). As a result, the story is much darker and grittier than ever before. It takes some turns that you wouldn’t expect into some unsettling territory, but it’s very fitting given the circumstances.
There’s a mixed bag a twists throughout the story, some of which are fantastic, others you will see coming from a mile away. One of my main gripes with the story was how predictable certain parts were. Like I said, some moments left my jaw on the floor, but the huge plot points you know will happen before you even start up the game really take away from the overall experience and leave a disappointing taste in your mouth. At times, Arkham Knight feels more like a potboiler than a game made for hardcore fans. I won’t go too much into any spoilers, but it does feel a little bit catered to fans who only know the most popular works of Batman. Sure, few lesser known characters pop up in side missions and easter eggs, but the story is definitely ruled by the “fan favorite” antagonists. Are these personal complaints enough to make Arkham Knight anything less than fantastic? Absolutely not. This is a narrative so explosive from start to finish it might just burn off half of your face.
Arkham Knight may not have made the leaps and bounds with flawless execution that Asylum and City made, but I would make the bold statement to say that it is the best Arkham game yet. The combat and predator are the best they’ve ever been, the world is filled with more interesting content than any other, and the story told impacted me in a way that few games have. I could nit-pick at the minor flaws all day, but the reality is that you’d be insane to miss out on easily one of the best games of the current console generation. So suit up Batman fans, you’re in for one hell of a ride.