Batman: Arkham Knight review – KnightStumble

Title: Batman: Arkham Knight
Alternative Title:
 Batman: Arkham 4
Developers: Rocksteady
Publishers: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Action-adventure, Stealth, Vehicular combat
Engine: Unreal Engine 3
Format: PS4 (reviewed), X1, PC
Release: June 23, 2015
Age Rating: 18 (PEGI), Mature (ESRB)

I am a pretty big fan of Batman; I have read many comic books based on the character (with my favorites being The Dark Knight ReturnsMade of Wood and The Killing Joke), having seen many of the Caped Crusader’s animated series and movies, and The Dark Knight is my favorite film of all time. That said… It was onlt around the release of 2013’s Batman: Arkham Origins that I finally got into the Dark Knight’s signature game series.

When it was first availed, I can’t help but admit that I felt some sheer excitement for Batman: Arkham Knight, which I saw as one of the very first games that simply screamed “next-gen.” I was given a special edition copy of the game several months before I bought my PS4, and this was definitely one of the titles I was eager to play on my new console.

But… I guess you can’t get everything you want. Maybe it was too ambitious? Maybe too grand? Maybe too cautious? Perhaps it was yet another big case of executive meddling? Maybe it’s all this things, but something in Knight just feels odd.

Story & Setting

BatmanArkhamKnight-SS.jpg
[It is pointless to say that heavy spoilers for
Batman: Arkham City might follow, but here it is anyway: HEAVY SPOILERS FOR ARKHAM CITY MIGHT FOLLOW.]

A year after the events of Arkham City, Joker’s demise has caused a decline of Gotham City’s crime rate, and left a power vacuum between the remaining supervillains and subsequent alliances between villains such as Two Face, the Penguin and Harley Quinn in their desire to bring the Batman down.

Uniting all those villains is the psychotic Dr. Jonathan Crane – otherwise known as Scarecrow – who threatens to unleash a powerful fear gas upon Gotham on Halloween night – all to undo and destroy Batman. And to make things worse, Scarecrow is allied with a new villain, the titular Arkham Knight, who harbors deep hatred for Batman and has his reasons to want the Caped Crusader dead.

 

Let me admit it right away: Arkham Knight is a weird piece of work. A truly bizarre story that does a lot of things right and a lot of them wrong. It has many highs and almost just as many lows, and without any doubt most people will finish this game wondering and pondering about its rather controversial story and ending.

It explores well known Batman themes such as morality, insanity and fear, and dives into infamous topics and concepts such as “the death of the Bat” and “Batman might be as much of a menace as he is hope.” It’s clear that Rocksteady aimed to finish its own Batman trilogy using classic ideas for the character while mixing it with fresh takes.

For better and for worse.

Some moments and sub-plots in Arkham Knight are truly brilliant and intriguing at times, the most obvious one being Batman’s declining mental condition following the death of his oldest nemesis. It’s bold and unflinching, and Rocksteady has no problem criticizing the Dark Knight for his odd relationships with both the Joker and the rest of the cast.

It manages to do so in new and inventive ways that make the old feud feel fresh and unique, and this is without a shadow of a doubt the story’s highlight.

Many other plotlines, however, make the story feel overstuffed and disjointed, with Rocksteady attempting to throw in as many Batman lore characters and events that they can found. This is particularly evident through side missions such as Penguin’s arm dealing and Two Face’s bank heists that lack much drive or flesh to their barebones premises.

It’s not that hard to see the developers intended Arkham Knight to be the ultimate, epic Batman conclusion and tried to tie a lot of loose ends as a love letter for fans, but this generally good intention unfortunately makes both the main story and the side quests feel like a giant checklist as Rocksteady clears names off.

Most side characters receive either a ridiculously short screen time or extremely basic development as they act more as background scenery to make Arkham Knight seem more crowded and complex. But both Bat allies and rogues are reduced to a little more than mere cameos in the Dark Knight’s grand finale.

Barbara “Oracle” Gordon, her father and Batman ally Jim Gordon, Catwoman, Robin, Nightwing, almost the entire rogue gallery in the game – they play second fiddle to a lot of set pieces, action scenes or shock value moments. Some are just kicked to tedious side missions with little connection to the main narrative.

Scarecrow is a fine villain for Bruce Wayne’s final run as the Batman, although he comes off as unfortunately underused despite being the main antagonist; he comes off as a contrast to the Joker – calm, collected and soft-spoken, and while he lacks the charisma or energy of the murderous clown, the deranged doctor can be just as menacing.

Scarecrow does suffer from the Joker syndrome that also haunted the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises in which the succeeding villain is just now as endlessly  interesting or threatening as the jester, but he manages to match the Caped Crusader in ways the Joker could never hope.

The titular Arkham Knight, however, is a bloody joke.

Billed as a new original villain, the Knight is ultimately a shallow, rage-filled brat who simply whines and screams at the Bat to the point of it getting jarring and pitiful. All he does is just ranting about how much he hates Bruce and his desire to kill him, and even his superb skills can’t save him from such childish portrayal.

There was also a lot of hype going about his supposed secret identity, but it is nothing special and even overwhelmingly disappointing. Comic book fans will be unsurprised and find it annoyingly obvious, while Batman newbies would be utterly confused at the forced reveal and melodrama behind the Knight’s mask.

As a supposed new nemesis to Batman, Arkham Knight is nothing but a failure, his biggest redeeming quality being his rather cool design.

Also… Am I the only thinking this game can be a little too dark and sorrowful?

Being all dark, gruff and gritty is what makes Batman such an interesting window for all sorts of deep and complex stories and adventures, but even I thought this game was a little too muddled by its gloomy atmosphere. It just gets somewhat overwhelming at times, and even disturbing just for the sake of it.

The game is hell bent on torturing Batman down to his very soul and mind, but the execution is too ruthless and lacks much charm or style to stomach through the brutal events. Thank god we have Nightwing and Robin to pull us through.

I do applaud some of the game’s segments for mixing story and gameplay so well, with some really good examples being the prologue as well as some of Batman’s inner fights throughout. Thankfully they are not as far and few as I thought they would be.

Overall the entire narrative is undoubtedly hugely ambitious and complex, but Rocksteady tried to appeal to way too many people and fan groups and the final package feels overstuffed, uneven and convoluted. And that’s just shame considering how Arkham Knight desperately tries to give its legend a proper send-off.

Oh, and I almost forgot to talk about the ending, or rather, how to get the true bloody thing; you need to complete most – if not all – side missions to unlock 40 extra minutes of story to 100% the narrative.

And that includes hundreds of Riddler trophies and challenges for Christ’s sake.

How the well all those events take place during one bloody night…?!

Gameplay & Design

BatmanArkhamKnight-GD.jpg

In a way, Arkham Knight is basically more of the good ol’ Arkham, only bigger and prettier than any of its predecessors. And if you liked any of Batman’s previous offerings, Knight has more meat to offer.

But I am only starting nice before getting straight to the business: let’s talk about the Batmobile.

The Batmobile is – at its very core – a fairly decent idea and a wet dream for thousands of Batman fans. It’s been on the top of the feature list for many people, and Rocksteady finally delivered it.

And it’s a mixed bag.

At its very best, the Batmobile is slick, cool and extremely fast, being a new fun way to explore Gotham City. At its very worst, the Batmobile is a forced, clunky meatbag of an addition that contrasts a lot of the Arkham games design philosophies while being shoved into nearly every piece of a main mission just to make its existence meaningful.

A lot of missions force the Bat to use his “trusty” car for a multitude of challenges, battles and obstacles, including new enemy encounters in the form of APC drones during which Batman battles with the “Tank” mode of the Batmobile.

It could be fun if the Batmobile wasn’t so slow and heavy in terms of controls and movement, whose clunky maneuvering and sluggish pacing – in combination with its highly destructive prowess – drain much of the fun and quality one would have expected from it. And this only gets worse due the ridiculous emphasis on the damn thing.

It feels less like Batman and more like a half-baked vehicular combat game without a much needed polish or testing of its biggest new feature beforehand, with shoehorned tank battles and tedious chases.

The Batmobile could definitely work as an occasional gadget and gameplay feature instead of being presented and forced as a core aspect, but Rocksteady needs to make use of the supercar to make their long effort meaningful, and so the Batmobile drives its fangs into multiple story and side missions.

The most noteworthy example being the Riddler, whose new schemes involve forcing Batman to complete monstrous death traps using the goddamned vehicle. Putting the illogical and impossible idea of the Riddler building all those tracks in less than a year, those complex, elaborated rides are just another attempt to make the Batmobile relevant to the game’s overall design. Not to mention that the Riddler was never such a fun addition to the Arkham games in first place.

Not everything with the Batmobile is that bad, however. Certain car chases – particularly those involving chasing down Firefly – are intense and thrilling in all their furious glory, while the so-called stealth vehicle segments involving Batman taking down powerful unmanned drones known as the “Cobra Unit” are surprisingly fun, even if eventually not so challenging or complex.

And just driving around that damn car is a pleasant distraction, despite the coal gliding and grapple hook remaining my favorite way of traversal.

And before you’ll think all I have to say about Arkham Knight is negative, rest assure as some of the best combat and stealth mechanics in gaming return in a fine form.

The Arkham holds the distinction of being one of the very few games where both direct combat and stealth are equally fun and polished, and Arkham Knight (when not pushing the Batmobile into your face) is as slick and satisfying as any of its predecessors.

The rhyme-based “FreeFlow” system is still a well-paced, well-timed and beautifully animated combat mechanic that, despite its slight repetitiveness, requires a certain level of skill and mastery to its techniques, and learning how to utilize the system to the fullest has always been a highly satisfying aspect.

Gadgets and tools help in empowering Batman both through combat and stealth, including new toys such a voice synthesizer to boss around thugs and brutes for a more strategic approach. A new major addition to the action is the Fear Takedown in which Batman can assault up multiple different goons in one go once he is in position, turning the Bat into a terrifying predator.

The “Dual Play” feature may be Arkham Knight’s biggest contribution to the series’ mechanics. At certain points through the game Batman will team up with one of his more acrobatic associates to take down a group of enemies. This allows the player to freely change between Batman and said ally and combine their forces to powerful dual takedowns. Not only this makes things stay fresh but this is also a fun way to dispatch incoming enemies in new and stylized ways.

Sadly this feature doesn’t really get much spotlight or usage and is mostly reduced to side missions, and this is a shame.

And to go back to negative issues, Arkham Knight is yet another example of an unnecessary transition of a mostly linear action-adventure game to an open world format, something that I’ve already felt with Arkham City.

Putting aside the little fact that the open world gameplay disturb much of the story’s pacing, Gotham City itself feels empty and desolated.

I’m not talking about the plot element that yet again people evacuated from Gotham due to villain threats, I’m talking about how there is little reason to enjoy such an open-ended map with few meaningful things to do.

Side missions feel more like a chore and lack much personality or depth – just a repetitive work, Riddler trophies remain a constant pest, and few secrets make it worthwhile to explore every detail in the gothic city. Arkham Knight only reinforces and enhances the idea that maybe Batman Arkham don’t need to go open world.

If Rocksteady will ever make another Arkham game, I’d love it if they would return to the more linear progress of Arkham Asylum, and perhaps keep the Batmobile but reduce much of its paddled role to make it more of an on-off mechanic. Knight is a solid spectacle brawler with exciting set-pieces, but too much of that damn car.

Visuals & Sound

BatmanArkhamKnight-VS.jpg

This is where I feel I can give the most praise to Rocksteady’s third title as Arkham Knight is simply astonishing with its gorgeous graphics and breathtaking art design. Seriously, this is one of the prettiest games available on console, even two years after its initial release, with unbelievable levels of detail.

Dark colors, fading neon lights, stark lighting effects and realistic rain effects make Arkham Knight‘s Gotham City incredibly lifelike and memorable, with every island having its own personality and slew of recognizable landmarks. It also lends to the fantastic atmosphere of the city, with the neo-Gothic architecture mixed with modern and sci-fi elements while the dying lights and rain bring a dark, unsettling and sinister setting to life.

It will also be a waste not to mention the beautifully executed character animations and the impressively crafted character models, alongside a huge step-up in terms of facial animations and modeling for Rocksteady. And hey, for all the shit I’ve said about the Batmobile, it’s still one heck of a damn cool car.

I have not experienced any major technical issues on my PS4, with the only noticeable hiccup being my car being briefly taken over by black holes, but it didn’t hinder my progress or the gameplay. I am, however, reliably informed that issues with the PC version are still happening, and I assume they would til the end of time. Warner Bros. needs to sell them DLCs, eh?

While the soundtrack is not particularly memorable, it serves its role well, and lends itself to build up the atmosphere, and can be similarly creepy and tensed.

The voice acting is – as with previous games – nothing short of greatness, with constant high quality all around, highlights being particularly long-time Batman veteran Kevin Conroy as the Caped Crusader and John Noble as the Scarecrow with his calm, tranquil fury voice making it seem like he’s about to snap every damn moment. And the legendary Mark Hamill himself also gets a few more rounds as Joker in several… posthumous appearances.

Honestly my one problem with the cast might be Tara Strong as Harley Quinn. I don’t really like this incredibly high pitched tone she is using to portray the character.

Final Verdict

Before going straight to the final verdict and my ultimate thoughts about Arkham Knight, let me just address about the game’s controversial manner of dealing with its DLCs; it’s disgusting, it’s insulting and it’s downright redundant. Laughably short DLC packages using reused assets, some feel cut short and many seem like they were torn from the main game itself. It’s an ugly way of doing business, and Warner Bros. should be ashamed of the way they handle their own product’s post-release support.

Anyways, back to the game itself; Arkham Knight is a game I really hoped to love, to admire and sing praise of, and I feel that this game could be a near-damn masterpiece that would have cemented Rocksteady among the greatest and undisputed game developers in gaming history.

Unfortunately, this is not true.

Batman: Arkham Knight is not a bad game, and at its very best, is just as fun and intense as either AsylumCity and even Origins. But a lot of its good points and additions are sadly held back due to its half-baked Batmobile, the breath-chocking emphasis on this new game feature, and the increasing belief that maybe Batman should not go into the open-world foray.

Arkham Knight is far from being a bad game, and if you’re a fan of the Bat, it might be essential to your game library, but eventually, the game is held back by its own ambition and rules. It’s an okay production, but Batman deserves so much better.

 

Alternate Recommendations:

  • My first recommendation would be one of 2014’s most acclaimed games, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, which basically took Batman: Arkham‘s rhyme-based combat system and turned it into a bloodier Orce slaughtering, but I feel like Shadow of Mordor would satisfy fans of the series, especially in part of its better designed open world environment. You can find this one on the PS4, X1, and PC, as well as a “GOTY” edition containing all DLCs.
  • As for my second recommendation… argh, let’s go with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. As much as I personally don’t like this game very much, I couldn’t really find a more worthwhile recommendation, and Assassin’s Creed employs similar combat systems and sanbox fans will eat all the meat this one has to offer. Plus, if you liked the grappling hook, Syndicate has one too. It’s avialable on the same systems as Arkham Knight and Shadow of Mordor.

In Points:

The Good:

  • FreeFlow is still one of the best combat systems around, and the new additions such as Dual Play only enhance it further
  • While not as charming or memorable as the Joker, Scarecrow is still a great antagonist in his own right
  • Beautiful visuals, stunning art direction, top-notch voice acting and a sinister soundtrack really make one striking atmosphere

The Bad:

  • Story is overstuffed with characters, events and paddling, pacing is all over the place, and the general narrative feels somewhat messy
  • The Batmobile is too much in the center of things throughout the game, while its controls and gameplay design don’t fit into the game or feel sloppy
  • Open world map feels empty and overall unnecessary

& The Ugly:

  • Okay, seriously, how does everything happening in this game fit into a single fucking night?

 

And that’s all for me, hope you have enjoyed my review for Batman: Arkham Knight, and please, if you liked it, follow my WordPress website and my Twitter.

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