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The wait has been long and ridden with unfortunate delays, but Batman: Arkham Knight has finally arrived and it has a lot to live up to. Batman: Arkham Asylum completely redefined what a licensed video game could be and its follow-up, Batman: Arkham City, did an amazing job of pushing the formula to the next level. Uh, and Batman: Arkham Origins was also a game that existed.
Developer Rocksteady Studios has promised Arkham Knight will be a suitable grand finale to the the Arkham series, but has the franchise already peaked? Has the addition of the Batmobile and the power of current-generation consoles resulted in the ultimate Batman experience?
Batman: Arkham Knight (PC, Xbox One & PS4)
Warning: The following review doesn’t contain any Arkham Knight spoilers, but it does spoil the heck out of earlier games in the series.
As mentioned, Batman: Arkham Knight is being pushed as the grand finale of the Arkham series, but let’s be honest, from a storyline standpoint, Arkham City was the real culmination of this franchise. Arkham Asylum and its rogues take over the entire city! Batman faces all his top adversaries in one long, grueling gauntlet! The goddamn Joker dies!
The writers of Arkham Knight try, and mostly fail, to come up with something equally weighty. Not that the story is necessarily bad, it features a few moments that are among the most effective in the series, but if Arkham Knight was a comic-book story, it would be a nice little three- or four-issue arc. Most of the big events the story teases are fakeouts, and the twists it actually does follow through on are fairly predictable. That’s fine, the writers probably only had so much leeway, but again, just for comparison’s sake, in Arkham City’s main mission you face off against Hugo Strange, Joker, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Solomon Grundy, Clayface, Talia and Ra’s al Ghul. In Arkham Knight you fight Penguin, Harley Quinn, Scarecrow and some dude they just made up for the game. A bit lacking for what’s being sold as Batman’s final adventure.
If only creepiness translated to credibility.
Visually, Arkham Knight is certainly the most impressive game in the series, although it looks more like a very polished version of Arkham City than a truly next-level experience. Character models are incredibly detailed, but they still have a somewhat inexpressive, plastic quality. The environments are strewn with more little details than ever, but they’re far from photorealistic. Batman: Arkham Knight was built on a souped up version of the now-dated Unreal Engine 3, and ultimately it feels like a last-gen PC game with all the settings turned up to maximum.
Arkham Knight is definitely the most aurally impressive game in the series. Rocksteady has gotten away from the obvious Danny Elfman homages, providing a more original score, and the voice acting is top-notch as usual (with the exception of Tara Strong’s Harley Quinn, which is tooth-gratingly shrill).
For the most part, Batman: Arkham Knight focuses on carefully evolving a proven formula. The game provides a small handful of new gadgets (and some new uses for returning gadgets) and Batman himself has a few new moves that make sneaking and combat more varied and fluid. You can also now occasionally team up with computer-controller partner for some Batman ‘n’ Robin style fun. Ultimately though, the game’s level design is where you really see the innovation. Arkham Knight gets away from the “lurk atop gargoyles and drop down on guys” gameplay of past Arkham games somewhat, in favor of more varied setups. Disarm bombs behind a distracted maniac’s back! Solve puzzles by tilting an entire blimp! The game provides a steady stream of interesting scenarios.
Looks like Batman might be formulating some interesting scenarios of his own here.
In the end, Arkham Knight‘s most significant new feature is the most heavily promoted one – the Batmobile. Using a vehicle in an open-world game is hardly groundbreaking, but it feels like a fairly major addition to the Arkham formula. Whether it’s an improvement to the formula, well, that’s a matter for the next section.
Everything the Arkham series has been doing from the start works better than ever in Batman: Arkham Knight, but the flip side of that coin is that most of the game’s new elements, particularly the Batmobile, leave something to be desired.
Combat really hasn’t changed all that much, but it’s more fluid and satisfying than ever before. Racking up combos just feels easier than it did in past games and countering enemy attacks is less finicky. As mentioned above, the stealthy parts of the game are more varied and feel less contrived than in other Arkham games. Yes, you’ll still encounter the occasional gargoyle, but most of the time you’re given a much greater assortment of vantage points to stalk your prey from. Picking off thugs feels like a natural game of cat-and-mouse, rather than a strict “you must follow these exact steps to succeed” puzzle.
Busting skells will never not be fun.
All the little things have also improved. As in past Arkham games, there are all sorts of hacking minigames you have to decipher, and they’re more intuitive and fun here than in past. Also, for the first time the Arkham series really nails the detective aspect of being the Dark Knight Detective. Searching through surveillance footage for clues, scanning dead bodies and recreating elaborate 3D crime scenes is surprisingly absorbing stuff. Hey, even the Riddler trophies are less annoying now!
So yeah, Batman: Arkham Knight delivers most of the things you’d expect from an Arkham game, and it delivers them well. Unfortunately it also delivers the Batmobile. Oh, the Batmobile. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with the Batmobile. It controls well enough. It’s perfectly functional. If this were a fancy HD remake of BattleTanx, I’d be all over the Batmobile, but it doesn’t really belong in an Arkham game. The Arkham titles have always been about finesse, style and careful strategy, and those are the last words I’d use to describe Arkham Knight‘s Batmobile. Again, smashing through graveyards and engaging in lengthy, explosive tank battles is fun in theory, but it’s not something I’ve ever wanted from the Arkham series. I actually ended up enjoying most of Arkham Knight‘s many forced Batmobile sections, but the fact remains I’d always grumble under my breath a little when one was foisted upon me. An impending Batmobile mission was the most common reason for me to put the controller down and step away from Batman: Arkham Knight. Not a great sign.
At least the Batmobile looks pretty damn rad.
There are also, unexpectedly, a few things missing from Arkham Knight. The big, elaborate boss fights that were such a cornerstone of Arkham City are largely gone this time around. Don’t expect anything nearly as complex or satisfying as the Mr. Freeze battle from Arkham City. There are also fewer short, yet memorable sidequests like the Mad Hatter bit from Arkham City. In Arkham Knight almost all the sidequests are long, multi-part affairs that feel like something out of an Assassin’s Creed game. Arkham Knight largely makes up for these omissions in other ways, but still, it was surprising to see a game being pushed as the biggest, baddest Batman game yet scrimping in some key areas.
If you stay razor-focused on the game’s main mission, it will take you around 7 to 10 hours to beat Arkham Knight, but as with all Arkham games, you haven’t truly bested Arkham Knight until you’ve finished the game’s towering pile of sidequests. In fact, this time around you need to check off every last sidequest and Riddler trophy to get the game’s true ending. Those dedicated to totally mastering Arkham Knight should be at it for a solid 30 hours or more.
But will Batman: Arkham Knight be a game you pick up again months/years down the line? Quite possibly. There are multiple difficulty settings and a New Game+, and most of the game’s frustrating sections are less annoying once you know what to do. Besides, if this truly is the last Arkham game, you may not have a lot of other options for getting your Batman on in the near future.
OK, first off, I’m specifically reviewing the console version of Batman: Arkham Knight here. As you’ve probably heard, the PC version of Arkham Knight was badly broken, a situation Warner Bros. was fully aware of before they released the game according to insider accounts. I’m not even sure how this would be possible at this point, but if you’re considering buying the PC version of Arkham Knight, you can consider the Bullsh*t Factor to be off the charts. Unmeasurable by conventional bullsh*t detectors.
The PC version of Arkham Knight makes Batman a Grumpy Gus. Moreso than usual.
But again, for all intents and purposes the PC version of Arkham Knight no longer exists, and I played PS4 version of the game, so I’m not going to punish the console versions of Arkham Knight for the PC version’s sins. In my experience, the PS4 version of Arkham Knight was about as stable as major games get these days. I didn’t suffer a single significant bug throughout my entire play-through (something that couldn’t be said of earlier Arkham games) and performance was rock-solid throughout.
Thankfully, it doesn’t feel like too much of Arkham Knight is locked away behind pay walls and DLC. This is primarily a single-player game, with leader boards being the only thing you’ll require Playstation Plus for. There are a small handful of Playstation and/or pre-order bonuses you might miss on out depending on your choice of platform or purchasing method, but they’re lightweight stuff you won’t miss too badly. For your $60 you get a full-featured game without any serious compromises.
Warner Bros. is offering a $40 season pass, which a bit on the pricey side, particularly considering they’re being somewhat vague about its contents. Word is the pass will include three story-based expansions, one featuring more supervillains, one that lets you play as sidekicks like Robin and Nightwing, and a prequel that lets you play as Batgirl. That actually sounds fairly meaty compared to past Arkham season passes (which also cost 40 bucks) and I can’t get too terribly upset about some content being locked away as DLC, since the core, $60 Arkham Knight experience is nearly as large as Arkham City (and probably bigger than Asylum or Origins). Aside from the complete bungling of the PC version, I can’t find a lot of fault with Warner Bros’ handling of Arkham Knight.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a mostly great game that you may still end up slightly disappointed by due the the mildly deceptive way Warner Bros. and Rocksteady have pitched the game. Story-wise Arkham Knight delivers some emotional, memorable moments, but it doesn’t feel like the bombastic conclusion we were told it would be. The most-hyped new addition, the Batmobile, is also the most problematic part of the game.
I don’t want to come off like I’m trying to tear the game down. GammaSquad’s review format is designed to dig deep and provide a full assessment of both the good and bad aspects of a game, and Arkham Knight is far from flawless. That said, it’s still clear the folks at Rocksteady are top-level game designers, and Arkham Knight is packed with countless inventive, thrilling and just plain fun moments from beginning to end. There’s no mistaking the love the makers of Arkham Knight have for Batman and the specific version of Gotham City they’ve crafted over the course of three ambitious, groundbreaking games.
If you’re into Batman, past Arkham titles or just well-made action games in general, it’s hard not to recommend Batman: Arkham Knight (unless, of course, we’re talking about the PC version). If this is truly the swansong for the Arkham Universe this version of Batman went down fighting, even if he was just slightly past his peak.
Clear Your Calendar
This review was based on the PS4 version of Batman: Arkham Knight, which was purchased by the reviewer.