The Knight falls.
Batman: Arkham Knight is the final game in the Arkham trilogy developed by Rocksteady Studios and a series whose previous entries I have loved without a doubt, until now.
As one of the few people able to run the Arkham Knight on PC, the majority of my playtime with Arkham Knight was bug free. That said, I am just one of a lucky few and the PC version of the game is currently not for sale pending some serious technical fixes.
The premise of Arkham Knight brings the gameplay we are familiar with to a whole new scope, with all of Gotham city open for exploration, swooping from building to building or tearing up the streets in the Batmobile. The opening moments of Arkham Knight’s explorable world bring you right into the experience of being the Bat; Gotham has been taken by the criminal gang leaders we know and love and it is up to you to stop Scarecrow and his new henchman The Arkham Knight from covering the now mostly empty city.
Those familiar with the design of Scarecrow from his previous entry in the series are now greeted by the rotting hooded face of a monster who has all the appearance of a potentially ghastly foe with none of the actions to back it up.
A large part of my issues with the game come from the story elements. The city is conveniently emptied with Scarecrow’s opening attack on the city being a warning of the fear his new improved toxin can generate. This leaves most of the city empty apart from the groups of thugs who seem to gather in areas for looting or in watch towers set up by the Arkham Knight’s militia and tanks.
It’s not long before Batman has to even the odds, calling the Batmobile to assist him in taking down an APC chasing a cop car. Initial impressions of the Batmobile had me pretty excited, as you can get around the city pretty fast with the roads initially being quite clear of obstacles allowing you to chase down enemy cars in fast-paced chases. In addition, it’s pretty easy to use the Batmobile as an extension of your usual air mobility with a double tap of a button propelling you high up into the air so you can glide off as fast as possible.
At first it feels like Arkham Knight is the definitive Batman experience, stumbling on side events as I drove around the vandalized streets of Gotham in a vehicle that seems a cross between the faster sleeker designs of the Batmobile past and the tank from the Dark Knight movies.
Gameplay in the car is broken up between car chases, tank fighting and puzzle solving, and it’s these three pillars that make up a substantial chunk of the gameplay you will experience in Arkham Knight. While car chases provide some pretty fun video game action, the rest of my time in video games’ coolest car is spent frustratingly navigating a battlefield filled with tanks and solving vehicle puzzles.
Tank combat revolves around using the Batmobile’s all new tank mode, allowing it to move in four directions and fire a large cannon or riot gun at enemy vehicles and thugs. Lasers showing the clear direction a drone is firing makes avoiding most enemy vehicle attacks a doddle with the frustration coming from how much it breaks up the experience as you roll round Gotham. I found it annoying as hell that I had to fight off waves of tanks all over Gotham and this mostly comes from how they seem to shove Tank Fighting and Vehicle Puzzles into as many situations as possible.
As cool as his new car is, Batman relies on the vehicle as a serious crutch throughout the game and for me this took away from the feeling the other games nailed. The feeling of being the Bat. Batman is no longer the improviser we all knew and loved, with new gadgets few and far between. Those situations that gave us new toys to play with in the previous Arkham games are now spoilt by driving a tank to the location and shooting some stuff.
When not driving around the game, it will occasionally drop you some self contained content that is more reminiscent of the predator situations in Asylum, and these are some of the best parts of the game. All of which seem to take place in a building more often than out in the city proper.
With old gadgets returning, Batman has a few new tricks up his sleeve unlocked from the moment you get the gadget or through the skill tree. This allows you take on predator encounters with a wide variety of tricks, and it is during these moments that the game returns to the high polished standard we’ve come to expect from this series.
Freeflow combat returns and it’s as easy to use and just as satisfying as ever, with all of the gadgets having quick-use options and enemies using new attacks. I found myself getting the most enjoyment out of the moments in the game where you get to take on a massive group of thugs or militia guys. Combat in Arkham has always been about building up a combo in the coolest looking way possible and Arkham Knight manages to deliver on this.
But of course the true stars of the Batman universe are usually its villains, and in attempt to make literally everything “bigger and better” Rocksteady strings out cameo after cameo throughout the game’s side missions and in references through the environment.
The side missions are often short but excellent pieces of content with Two Face and the Penguin having some of the best uses of Predator missions and Free-flow mission in the game. My only criticism being that there isn’t enough side content focusing on these villains with many of the skill points to be earned being locked behind content that focuses on the Arkham Knight and his lackeys.
The Arkham Knight feels like the true villain of the game. As the namesake of the game this makes a lot of sense, but it also means that for a game whose narrative puts Scarecrow as public enemy number one, we don’t actually see as much of the Scarecrow as we saw of the Joker in previous games.
This results in a game which has Scarecrow mostly in the background; shouting at you from the giant TV screens that litter the sides of buildings just so you can enjoy the Scarecrows droning voice telling you Gotham is doomed despite the lack of his involvement the majority of the night.
Scarecrow is around so little in the game that it feels more likely that it’s the Riddler in charge the entire game. Where previously Riddler trophies were well thought out and sometimes cleverly hidden, Gotham is now covered in a sea of green graffiti leading you to one of the over 200 different Riddler trophies. Many of these puzzles also use the Batmobile, creating additional tedium on top of occasionally engaging puzzle solving.
One of the advertised features of the game in the leadup to its launch was this great mechanic called Dual Play, allowing you to free flow combat for a short amount of time with another member of the Bat family like Nightwing and Catwoman. But the mechanic never pans out to its fullest potential with the majority of these sections locked to short ten minute gameplay segments. For me, this is one of the biggest disappointments of the game with combat becoming incredibly fresh and fun with the addition of a second character who also builds your combo meter and has different gadgets and attacks to use.
The best use of these characters in the past was usually through the challenge rooms, though it seems that where everything else has become bigger, challenges have become a smaller part of the game. Character selection is nowhere to be seen though a small selection of the AR challenges do include dual play.
The lack of other character content gets even worse when you look at the pre-order DLC which will be coming to season pass owners in the future. Each DLC representing less than twenty minutes of gameplay with a unique moveset leaves much to be desired for Red Hood and Harley Quinn fans.
With all of this in mind when you discount the issues on PC (which you shouldn’t) Batman: Arkham Knight is a game that starts with a bang and through a series of tedious design decisions and open world filler content goes out with a squeak. There is still plenty of fun to have in Gotham but for me, this was the fall of the Batman. Wait for the inevitable GOTY edition.
What’s your take on the Arkham finale? Let us know in the comments below!