Batman: Arkham Knight Review
“You will bring death to all who follow you”
Being Rocksteady’s final Batman game, Arkham Knight serves as the explosive conclusion to the ‘Arkham Trilogy’, (Origins doesn’t count for some reason) and overall it’s an extremely satisfying experience that’s only marred by the poor handling of new features. For instance, the batmobile is exhilarating to tear around the streets of Gotham with, but it’s forced upon the player to progress in missions, it has the result of diluting your ultimate enjoyment. Nonetheless, the other elements of Arkham games have never been so refined as they are here, be it the brawling with dozens of criminals or taking goons out one-by-one in the Predator sections. Arkham Knight indulges the player with such giddy empowerment, it’s irresistible; indeed the marketing titles says ‘Be The Batman’, and when you leap off from Wayne Tower, soaring into the night in the rain-battered skies, you’ll find yes, yes you are.
Being the final instalment from Rocksteady anyway, Knight sees the culmination of all those storylines started way back in 2009’s Arkham Asylum. Scarecrow has returned and his deadly fear toxin has caused the entire city to be evacuated, Batman is put through face trial after trial in order to stop him and the mysterious Arkham Knight over the course of a single rain-soaked night in Gotham. This may sound very ‘safe’ as far as narratives go, but boy you’re in for a real shock because this is a game with lofty ambitions for how it tells this conclusion. It may wear the comforting façade of a modern open-world action game well, but Knight is an intense psychological character study, this is a game about the loss of sanity. No it’s even greater than that, it’s about the unthinkable, about heroes failing and succumbing to the darkness. Batman is visibly haunted by events of the previous games and the strain pushes him to breaking point, the horror of failure is brought to the surface.
The narrative also succeeds in how it perfectly blends the surreal with biting reality, Scarecrow’s fear gas acts as the platform for Rocksteady to get very freaky and mess with your mind. Machinations plague Batman throughout the night due to circumstances I won’t spoil, but these aren’t just restricted to confined sequences. The whole game is filled with blink and you’ll miss it details, disturbing monologues and jump scares. Surreal genius is peppered throughout Knight and the medium of gaming itself allows it to flourish in a way I don’t think it could be matched elsewhere. It may have all the villains you’ve come to expect like Two-Face, Poison Ivy and so on, all united in a plan to kill Batman, but Arkham Knight’s tale deals with far deeper themes than Batman tackling adversaries. It’s utterly gripping and deeply creative too with the final half-hour especially being astounding.
If you’ve played Arkham City or Origins before, you’ll know what to expect with regards to the gameplay in this instalment. From the puzzles to the free-flowing combat, it’s all very familiar, yet it’s never been so polished and refined, making it an absolute joy to experience. Reinvention has been substituted for an array of subtle tweaks and new gadgets, for instance in brawls Batman can now use environmental takedowns such as electrocuting an enemy near a generator, and he can also pick up melee weapons dropped by goons giving you an additional attack boost as you clobber them senseless.
The stealth sections have received more notable upgrades meanwhile; new tools include a voice synthesiser that imitates the voices of various villains, luring enemies to exactly where you want them. Other additions include the new multi-fear takedown which allows Batman to take out multiple enemies in predator sections at once if you catch them unaware. It’s not as easy as it may sound though, enemies have gotten smarter too with them actively responding to Batman’s style, so for example if you’ve been taking them down from ledges or vents, they’ll chuck mines in to eliminate that avenue of attack. Similarly, the use of drones and deployable sentry-guns forced me to alter my playstyle and keep me on my toes. Furthermore, new enemy types such as the medic who can revive his incapacitated buddies and the huge gatling-gun brutes who are impossible to take down quietly, keep the predator sections constantly fresh and it evolves in response to what’s happening; for me these sections have always been the best aspect of the Arkham games and it remains the case here.
The big change in Knight though is of course the introduction of the Batmobile, as mentioned earlier it handles well and it’s a lot of fun to roar through the deserted roads of Gotham in it. But it’s the way it’s needlessly shoehorned into scenarios where it just doesn’t need to be in, like it’s inclusion in puzzle-solving or stealth. The designers attempt to impose it into existing gameplays structures causes its own problems, and it’s a damn shame because the more low-key abilities of the Batmobile feel like a natural extension to the formula, like how it’s can blast through walls and concrete like its Paper-Mache to devise shortcuts, or how you can hit the eject button and fling Batman into an awe-inspiring glide.
The tank combat as well feels pretty good, simplistic controls but on the whole fun to use, yet Rocksteady overuses it to its detriment. Your first encounter with these drones plays out the same as your last; it only comes down to strafing away from your enemy’s fire and picking shots of your own. The most galling thing about these sequences is how they’re actually decent enough to play, but because Rocksteady are so keen to justify the Batmobile’s inclusion, you spend far too much time in these encounters; it’s repetitive and completely unnecessary.
The frustration of these seemingly endless wars of attrition is mirrored in other failed ventures, the Riddler challenges where you must race around his constructions in the Batmobile are absolutely awful, highlighting the peculiar desire to crowbar the Batmobile into absurd scenarios. On the whole, the Batmobile is a really odd feature, it handles well and it’s cool to have the option to tear around the city. But some kind of insecurity has influenced its final role in the game; contrived attempts to make into some kind of game-changer fall flat because it simply isn’t, treating it as a gadget should have been the logical path to take.
Arkham Knight does nail how its open-world structure though, in basic terms a much improved version of Arkham City with a grander vision. Here, Gotham is utilized to great effect, populated with a ton of intriguing side-missions and seamless story sequences. Indeed, ‘seamless’ is the key word here, because Rocksteady have crafted a world where side-stories and the main narrative overlap organically, as opposed to say Ubisoft’s suffocating approach to activities in Assassin’s Creed. New missions are introduced at a steady stream, all presented in a handy on-screen wheel, showing you just what’s available and where you go to start it. What’s more starting a quest sparks neat conversational cues between Batman and Alfred, allowing you to keep track of the context of each plot strand. It may be a simple inclusion, but it’s really effective since it’s so natural, rather than having to make do with an emblazoned completion statistic.
Gotham is structured into a large trifecta of distinct areas, each with their own unique sights and feel, for example Miagani Island is characterized by clean, cloud-piercing skyscrapers and affluent shopping malls, whereas Bleake Island contains a gothic city underbelly. The world is expansive to behold, yet perceptively handcrafted in every bit of luscious detail, it’s so rich and rewarding to explore. Truly the ultimate playground for you to play Batman in.
With Gotham mired once again in anarchy, Batman clearly has a lot to do, so you often find yourself having multiple missions on the go. Nightwing needs help taking down Penguin’s gun-running operation, Two-Face is robbing every bank in Gotham, Catwoman has been kidnapped by the Riddler, Firefly is torching firestations and a mysterious serial killer is leaving bodies all over the city. That’s far from all of them but you get the idea for just how much work Batman is in for. What’s more is that all of these missions require you to be aware of your surroundings, you don’t just head over to a designated waypoint; rather for many activities you’ll have to investigate clues in the environment. They’re often quite tricky to find in such a dense city, but a burning building with smoke billowing could indicate Firefly’s recent hit or creepy opera music will highlight that one of the serial killer’s victims is nearby. Having to actually scan the environment for clues not only plays into the ‘world’s greatest detective’ tag, but it reiterates the intoxicating freedom Knight gives to its players, you’re no longer trapped within crushingly sterile menus looking for where to go, here you investigate Gotham on your own accord.
Beyond these story-driven quests, other activities are more arbitrary and less fulfilling to complete, defusing bombs and eliminating convoys all feed back into the ‘reclaim the city’ objective for Batman; however there’s simply too many of them and it falls victim to grinding repetition.
You’ll either be pleased or tormented to discover the Riddler trophies are back, all 200 of them, yikes. They’re not intrusive for the most part since the more sprawling environment means they’re not every rooftop like City. However if you want the ‘full ending’, you’ll have to get them all along with completing all the other activities, or you can just go on youtube and watch the ending like the rest of us.
It looks absolutely incredible by the way, easily one of the best-looking games out now. The art design may have retained that gloomy style but it’s rendered in astonishing fidelity this time around. With the game taking place in a single night in the midst of a rainstorm, you can be sure you’re in for some spectacular sights and that is absolutely true. Gotham dazzles with intense neon reflections and smoky streets, it’s a breathtaking world that does everything to ensure Arkham Knight is the ultimate Batman experience.
After finishing Arkham Knight, you can’t fail to get the impression that this is a game where the developer is pushing the absolute limits of its series. Never has the combat or stealth been so accomplished or as in-depth, yet the clumsy role of the Batmobile indicates insecurity over what was and still is a fantastic formula. Sometimes change doesn’t have to be radical, instead one can cohesively tie together successful elements for an even better end result, and that’s what Arkham Knight does. It’s a culmination of all of Rocksteady’s hard work on this license over the years, and their work should be rightly celebrated.
+Surreal, creative narrative
+Outstanding world design
+Excellent base gameplay
+Lots of great side-missions
-Overuse and misuse of the Batmobile