Batman: Arkham Knight Review

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This is how the Batman died.

Batman: Arkham Knight
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Batman: Arkham Knight released in late June for Xbox One, PS4 and PC. The latter release was the one I intended to review at that time but never could because it released with major performance issues and was soon made unavailable for purchase. Due to my region, the game actually never unlocked for me and I couldn’t even access it in my Steam library until late October. Despite all these issues, I was still looking forward to finally playing the game as I have enjoyed every entry in the series thus far. This review will include some information that will be considered “spoilers” to some but I feel this is necessary for my criticism.

The Arkham series was one of the strongest franchises last generation. The first game had low expectations with a largely unknown developer and a long history of disappointing Batman games. It exceeded these expectations with its streamlined design, excellent stealth set-pieces and the unique and now highly influential free-flow combat. The sequel Arkham City brought a more open-world design with side-quests and much larger play area. Arkham Origins which was not developed by Rocksteady Studios, introduced multiplayer into the series. Arkham Knight has again expanded the open-world but the most notable addition is the Batmobile along with a truly impressive visual overhaul.

The Batmobile was certainly something I wanted to see included since I played Arkham City. How precisely it was to be implemented I never gave much thought to. Rocksteady has unfortunately included it to the detriment of the experience. I assumed the extent of its inclusion was exaggerated when I read early criticism but it really isn’t. It is absurd. So absurd that late in the game you have to spend a tedious instance disabling giant turbines so you can lower the Batmobile into a sewer with a winch. This is not a joke. From very on you are using it to transport characters, chase down enemy vehicles and destroy enemy positions. It can be controlled by remote so there are even puzzles and events where you’ll have to control it this way to help Batman.

There is frequent combat with enemy vehicles and to cover for Batman’s “no killing” rule, the vehicles are revealed early to be unmanned. These are mostly tanks but there are also APCs that must be chased down and disabled as well as flying drones. The nemesis of the game, Arkham Knight supposedly knows everything about how Batman operates but didn’t think to have his army of henchmen man these vehicles to make Batman’s job more difficult. The combat itself is mechanically well designed and initially entertaining but becomes monotonous to the point where I would actually groan when forced into vehicle combat. I even cheered in a late story mission when the Batmobile was destroyed. But then Lucius Fox sent me another one.

When the Batmobile is parked, the gameplay in Arkham Knight is largely as enjoyable as its predecessors. With that said, much of what you’ll experience is similar to the previous games and there are no new combat set-pieces that stand out more than the prequels. Rocksteady being conscious of this may explain why the Batmobile combat makes up such a large part of the game. There are some new enemies but many – especially the henchman-reviving-and-electrifying medic just make combat more tiresome than enjoyable. Probably the biggest and most welcome addition is the team combat which involves Batman and an ally fighting a group of bad guys together. The ally automatically fights but you can take direct control at any time. Once you fill up a meter you can pull off powerful team attacks which are as slick as they are strong. These team fights are sensibly spread out through the game and were a genuinely clever way to improve the combat.

Batman’s gadgets are for the most part the same as the previous games. As well as the Batmobile remote there is expanded hacking for the enemy drones and a voice synthesiser. The latter gadget will get Batman through voice activated locks but is much better implemented in the stealth sequences where Batman can give false commands to individual goons and lead them into traps. A number of the returning gadgets are available immediately but many are re-introduced throughout the game. Players new to the series might appreciate this but if you’ve been following the series for even one title, the time it takes to unlock these features coupled with the tedious tutorials right up until near the end of the game will be irritating at the very least.

Batman: Arkham City famously ended with the apparent death of the Joker and Arkham Knight begins with the player literally lighting the fire that cremates him. I was excited to see a focus on other villlians but Rocksteady has brought the Joker back; this time as an apparition giving commentary on events throughout the game. This will be largely subject to individual taste but I was quite sick of the Joker by the end of City and his presence here added nothing to the game. Many villains appear again including Poison Ivy, Twoface and the Riddler. Scarecrow and the mysterious ‘Arkham Knight’ are the main nemeses. I won’t reveal the identity of the latter but his reveal marks a disappointing climax and the story limps on unnecessarily for too long after.

Once it is all over, it is revealed that every side-quest including collecting the Riddler trophies are required for the “true ending”. Despite doing this in the first two games, I remain less than keen to go through this and likely never will. The other side-quests mostly involve collecting, destroying rescuing and finding people or objects around the city. One of the more interesting and unresolved quests in Arkham City involving an identity thief is also brought to a close. This was something I was looking forward to but the quest is resolved in minutes and a thoughtless let-down for anyone who was as immersed in the series as I was.

I was originally going to hold the major technical issues of the PC release against the game but in the 15 hours I played it, I encountered no major technical issues. The thing is, even if the game had released without any major issues, the problems with the general design are bad enough. Arkham Knight is a conceptual mess that seems to be trying to do too much and appeal to too many. The features that made the series successful are disappointing and most new gameplay features are tedious. It is important to point out that with the exception of the major PC issues, the game is highly polished. The voice acting is strong, Gotham City looks amazing, and the gameplay is smooth and responsive.

Regardless of all the controversy surrounding the PC version, Batman: Arkham Knight just isn’t a very good game. As someone who has enjoyed the series immensely up to this point, that isn’t something I’m pleased to state. This isn’t a matter of my expectations being too high as I they were sufficiently deflated by the long delay. If you’ve been following the series for a while you will likely be disappointed but if Arkham Knight is your first experience then you will probably find more to appreciate.

2 Stars

November, 2015

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