If it were not for the overuse of the Batmobile, Batman: Arkham Knight would be the perfect finale for the series. With a flawlessly told story, improved combat and incredible variety, Rocksteady's conclusion is certainly the best in the trilogy.
Batman: Arkham Asylum was a huge surprise when it released in 2009. It had been years since gamers had been treated to even a good game based on an established comic-book world, let alone a great one. Two years later came Arkham City which gave the series an expansive open-world setting and refined what made the first game so good. Now, Rocksteady are back with the conclusion to their trilogy (not counting W.B. Montreal’s Arkham Origins) Arkham Knight, a game they say is their biggest and most ambitious yet.
The central villain of the three previous games was The Joker. However, with his death coming at the end of Arkham City, Scarecrow and the titular Arkham Knight have taken up the role for the final installment. Taking over from the iconic character would always have been difficult, but they manage to a be threatening and interesting as a pair. The Scarecrow may not be the most interesting personality, but the Arkham Knight more than makes up for it with the mystery of his true identity. As is the case with most Batman stories, the plot centres around the villians’ plan to kill the hero and destroy Gotham City. With the help of characters such as Alfred and Oracle, Batman has one night to stop the bad guys and save the residents of Gotham City; pretty standard stuff really. However, with the addition of shocking twists, heartfelt moments and huge set pieces, the writers at Rocksteady have created a perfect story from a very familiar, basic plot. The writing is also incredibly detailed with a number of short moments seamlessly weaved into all kinds of situations to make it deeper, yet more complex storytelling than in previous games. Anyone with a vast knowledge of the Batman comic-book stories may see some of the twists coming, but this is certainly a step up in terms of narrative for the Arkham series.
Arkham Knight also sees a step up for the series in terms of variety and combat. There is so much to do around Gotham City, whether it be stopping Two-Face’s assault on a bank, solving the 200 plus Riddler trials or following the story missions. Even in missions the events vary, with some involving defeating swarms of tanks in the new Batmobile, hand-to-hand combat, or puzzle solving – at times the amount to do can be overwhelming. The combat itself has also had an upgrade; it has been slowed down slightly and feels much better for it. With the various new enemy types and the slower pace, players have more time to think during combat, creating more chances to think tactically about how to approach groups of enemies. You can lurk in the shadows taking enemies out one by one, or jump in and fight them all at once with gadgets flying everywhere. The number of choices and variety of situations keeps the combat from become tedious at any point in the 15 hour story.
It may not be a surprise since Arkham Knight is the only game in the series to be on current generation consoles, but it is a beautiful game. Gotham City is larger, more detailed and the fog and smoke that cover the environment helps to maintain the menacing atmosphere. Destructible environments also makes traversal more of a spectacle, especially when the Batmobile smashing through walls or sends enemy vehicles crashing off-road. The game is also more cinematic than the previous installments, with cutscenes featuring long panning shots that sweep behind characters, and slow motion action moments emphasising the game’s beauty and detail.
Gamers criticised Arkham Origins for feeling like Arkham City 1.5 due to its lack of significant additions. It is therefore quite ironic that, although Rocksteady’s latest addition features many other improvements, its biggest new feature, the drivable Batmobile, is its only significant flaw. Speeding through Gotham City’s dark and deserted streets is fun, if not slower than gliding between rooftops, but the car’s ‘tank mode’ is a frustrating and overused feature. In some of the Riddler’s challenges the tank is used as a tool for solving puzzles and this is where it can be fun. However, as the main story progresses Batman is confronted by increasingly larger waves of enemy tanks which players must shoot one at a time. It is not particularly difficult, it’s just nowhere near as enjoyable as every other element of the game, and it happens to be the one that its the most prominent. The awkward controls do not help either as L2/LT must be held down at all times during tank mode. This means reverse for the standard Batmobile had to be moved to Square/ X whilst accelerate remained at R2/RT. This can be changed in the menus but be prepared to momentarily enter ‘tank mode’ every time you attempt to brake or reverse. Also, aside from being very ‘un-Batman-y’, the overuse of the Batmobile extends to the boss battles, creating some frustrating levels that are certainly some of the game’s worst.
With the increased map size and variety comes some mostly excellent side quests featuring most of the franchise’s well known villains. Penguin, Two Face, The Riddler, Firefly, Harley Quinn, and many more pop up to take advantage of a vulnerable Gotham. These missions offer a great distraction from the main story, should you need it, and they also give players a chance to team up with characters such as Robin, Catwoman and Nightwing in order to take down enemies. The ‘double-team takedowns’ add a more cinematic element to the combat and the ability switch between characters only adds further to the variety.
Under the weight of expectation that came with Arkham Knight, Rocksteady have created a near-perfect Batman game that is not only for fans of the comic’s world. With excellent storytelling and combat that’s up there with the best in video games, it should not be missed by anyone. If it were not for the overuse of the Batmobile’s ‘tank mode’ we would be talking about Batman: Arkham Knight as a masterpiece.
Batman: Arkham Knight is available now on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC.