To say that I had high expectations for Batman: Arkham Knight would be an understatement. The Arkham series is one of my favourite franchises, and after having platinumed both Asylum and City (I would have platinumed Origins as well had there not been online trophies) I felt prepared to take on the Dark Knight’s final chapter. Arkham Knight is one of the prettiest, most enjoyable games to play that has thus far appeared on the next-gen consoles, and offers perhaps the tightest gameplay in a series renowned for exactly that. However, some odd story choices and lack of challenge maps hurt the overall product, as well as a number of audio and visual glitches that hampered my time with the game. I will note that I played the digital version of the game on PS4 which may have affected how the game plays when compared to the game reading from a physical disc – keep that in mind if you are considering downloading from the PlayStation Store. Since the game has been out for a week or so now, I am not going to shy away from spoilers when discussing story content, though I will relegate that section to the end of the review so that those who do not want anything spoiled for them can read my thoughts on the rest of the game. I will clearly mark when spoilers begin. That said, let’s dive in.
The Arkham series is known for it’s tight and fluid gameplay, and that legacy continues in Arkham Knight, with both Combat and Predator sections receiving just enough new kinks to totally change the experience while remaining incredibly familiar to anyone who has played the previous games. New gadgets, such as the ability to order guards to perform a specific action by mimicking the voice of their leader through a voice shifter, really change up the freedom of Predator encounters – though I still found myself relying on silent takedowns more than anything else.
The new fear-takedown mechanic is a massive addition, as you can instantly incapacitate between 3-5 guards (depending on how you have levelled up the skill) which can completely shift the balance of power in a room filled with armed enemies. It can be a bit difficult to activate, and alerts all other guards to your position. However, it balances the immediate threat with this new mechanic by overpowering the others Batman has at his disposal.
Combat is fantastic, with a multitude of new enemy types appearing for the first time in the series which totally change the balance of fights. Medics can revive fallen comrades, and can give other thugs an electric charge which makes them harmful to attack unless taken down in a specific way. Huge, bulking enemies laugh off your attacks, becoming imposing threats on the battlefield which beg to be defeated last, since they can only be attacked while leaving yourself open.
When a number of these new additions appears in a single fight, the combat becomes less about attacking everything until it is unconscious, and more about ‘which order do I need to defeat these guys in’. It’s an awesome addition, and one that left me defeated in a number of combat scenarios despite 3-starring every combat challenge in the previous games.
Yet, there is a third main pillar of gameplay introduced in Knight that doesn’t hold up nearly as well: The Batmobile.
Over all, I think the way the Batmobile handles is totally awesome. Zipping through the dark, dank streets of Gotham in a jet black car-tank is something I wouldn’t trade for the world, but Rocksteady seemed to be a little overexcited by the car’s inclusion. There are an absurd amount of tank battle missions in the game, with most (if not all) of the large scale boss fights being some variation on Batmobile vs. Drone Tanks. It’s a shame, considering how good the boss fights have traditionally been in the previous games in the series, that they were done away with in this game. There are a few supervillains that appear who would have lent themselves to awesome one-on-one fist fights, but instead are relegated to stealth-tank fights (which barely makes sense in the first place). It’s a huge missed opportunity – both in that it forces the Batmobile on you and doesn’t capitalize on the strengths of the villains.
The PC version of Arkham Knight has received a lot of flack over the last week, with it launching in an almost unplayable state, and while the PS4 version is definitely head and shoulders above the PC version, I still managed to run into some problems. While soaring around the city, my audio would cut out unexpectedly for about a second, before coming back – not the end of the world, but frustrating. Then, during big tank battles with a lot of explosions and particles my frame rate would drop – again, frustrating considering how often tank battles would appear, but certainly not game breaking.
The biggest problem I ran into was a key character model simply not appearing in a scene it was supposed to be in. For a moment, I thought ‘is Batman going insane? Is he talking to nobody?’, but when a second character began responding to the invisible person I realized it was actually a bug. It has only happened once, and was only active for one scene (a pretty important and emotionally resonant scene, mind you), and afterward the character was visible and able to be interacted with, but it’s just a shame a little more polish time wasn’t taken as it could have completely transformed the game into something far better.
While we are still talking about gameplay, let’s discuss the amount of content that is in the game. The main story is pretty lengthy, and does some awesome things with Gotham City – over the course of the game you will see the skyline of Gotham change multiple times, which is an incredible feat considering the size of the map. There are, in total, 14 side quests – most of which require multiple steps, though some require only one interaction, and others may require over 10.
Are the side quests as good as in previous games? Not really. There are a few stand outs, the quest to catch a serial killer at large probably being the best one in my opinion, but most of them feel like open-world filler. I would have preferred less ‘destroy the mines around Gotham’ style missions, and more ‘investigate this crime scene and track down the killer’ style quests. But to me, the most glaring omission is the overall lack of challenge map content. Asylum, City and Origins all launched with more challenge content than the last, yet Knight has launched with the least amount of the entire series. While I feel that there was potentially too much content in Origins, I think City had the most balanced amount of content you could realistically get through. Not only that, but each challenge could be undertaken by any unlocked character – also not true in Knight. Some characters can’t even be used in the challenge maps, despite being in the main game, which is incredibly strange and, in my opinion, a really stupid oversight.
Challenge Maps have been confirmed to be in the Season Pass, but really, it’s pretty unacceptable to be expected to pay extra to play as characters that appear in the main game. Red Hood and Harley Quinn, I would understand, as they are already DLC characters, but why aren’t there any challenges for Robin or Catwoman?The music in the game is incredible, as it has been in the preceding titles. The satisfying instrumental score that serves as the backdrop to the game’s predator encounters is beautifully realized, and always kicks in and fades out at the right moments. Audio glitches aside, the game sounds great, with many hilarious lines of dialogue from random thugs and some truly great voice acting by some of the main characters – I still think the Riddler is one of the best voiced characters in video games.And now, we come to the story. For those of you who still wish to remain unspoiled, feel free to scroll down past the text below: I’ll leave spoilers out of the final paragraph where I’ll post up my final thoughts. For those of you who have finished the game, or just don’t care, read on.
I think, when compared to Arkham City, Knight’s story stands out in some ways as far better, and in some ways as far worse. The fact that it is centered mainly on 3 villains, with the occasional appearance by another being a short diversion, or serving to more fully flesh out those main 3, is a welcome change as it allows you to really focus your efforts on defeating these enemies and makes the main narrative thread far easier to follow.
This main story thread is certainly the most ambitious Rocksteady has attempted, particularly the areas where Gotham is bathed in fear gas, and you view it from both above and below the noxious cloud. This moment is amazing, as it shows you how serious Scarecrow is in his mission, when compared to the villains of the previous games who never really achieved anything quite as horrible. I found the ending that, essentially, all the mental and physical issues that Batman had been struggling through the entire game suddenly don’t matter and he can just will his way through them to be pretty disappointing. I’d just spent 20 hours watching Batman, little by little, eroded away in front of me, so for him to just decide that everything he feared no longer scared him was a bit of a cop out.
Moving on, the moment Barbara Gordon was killed off had a huge amount of emotional weight. Seeing Batman kneeling down before her corpse was striking, and set the tone for what I thought was to be a far more brutal game going forward. Instead, the story backpedals on this move a few hours later, showing that even in a self-contained comic book universe main characters will never die: Except for Joker, of course.
I can’t stress how great it was that Joker didn’t get magically revived somehow, though the concept that his blood is somehow infecting a few people – Batman included – slowly turning them into him is one of the goofier things I’ve ever seen. Some cool scenes came out of it, but ultimately it was a pretty stupid idea.
Where I believe the game has it’s biggest story misstep, however, is with the side quests. Considering there are so many opportunities to tell interesting stories about the other villains of Gotham who have apparently joined forces against the Batman (I can’t remember a single moment where this alliance was important or noticeable in the game), it is disappointing how the majority of these side missions play out. Most of them have to be unlocked organically across the city as you play, a great idea in theory that gets bogged down with you, realizing how hard it is to find a single building with a flaming bat atop it, or a random murder victim crucified on the side of a different one.
Penguin and Two Face have pretty meaty side quests, with one focusing on combat and the other stealth, but for some reason these super villains never collaborate. Why couldn’t there have been one side quest, where each stage jumps from combat to predator, and you are hunting down the united criminals and dealing with their combined forces? Instead, you get to hear them have a few lines of dialogue together after you’ve already brought them both to the GCPD, which essentially amounts too saying ‘I never should have trusted you’ to one another for the rest of time. A wasted opportunity, yes, but that is nothing compared to how disappointing Hush is.
In City, Hush was easily the most interesting part of the entire game: A maniacal serial killer who has stolen Bruce Wayne’s face in order to enact some kind of revenge against him? Awesome. Waiting years to find out what kind of huge plan he had in store was excruciating, and that it turned out to be ‘walk into Wayne Enterprises, beat up the CEO and take him hostage while trying to rob them’ is just… what? For someone who, in the comics, was a criminal mastermind to have a one part quest where you literally talk to him, and hit a single QTE was a terrible choice by Rocksteady, in my opinion.
One last thing: The Arkham Knight’s identity is telegraphed for hours before the reveal, which was a let down for me. I think Jason Todd is an awesome character, and would have been fine with the Knight being him, if only he didn’t take off his mask and then whine for the entirety of his ‘boss fight’, only to change his mind and not want to kill Batman anymore after an entire game where that is all he will talk about. Comic-book logic, I guess, but there are so many ways this character could have been handled better.
END OF SPOILERS
In the end, I really want to like Arkham Knight more than I do. It brings a lot of new things to the Arkhamverse, which is great, even when some of them don’t work 100% of the time. The overuse of tank battles in lieu of actual fist fights is frustrating, especially considering how polished the combat and predator sections of the game are. The lack of challenge maps sting right now, and I think it’s unfair to ask people to pay extra for something that has been a series staple until now.
However, there is a lot to like in this game, and after a few patches it’ll probably be even better. The combat is tight, soaring through Gotham feels fantastic, and hunting down criminals from atop a gargoyle is still one of my favourite things to do. It’s just a shame that between those parts there are many, many tank missions.
Note: Arkham Knight was reviewed based on a PSN code supplied by Warner Brothers