“I’m Batman”, a phrase repeated at random by men the world over for one simple reason, Batman oozes cool! And thanks to Christopher Nolan’s movies and Rocksteady’s Arkham series, Bats has never been so cool. This leads us delightfully to Batman: Arkham Knight, the last in the critically acclaimed and much loved Rocksteady series of Arkham titles, following on from Asylum and City on the previous generation of consoles. The beauty lies in simple things - they allow you to be the Batman, soaring from rooftop to rooftop, gadgets galore, a plethora of fighting moves in arguably the greatest game combat system ever created (and now much copied, which is great), tonally superb throughout and gorgeous to look at. It’s not rocket science but oddly few seem to get it as right as Rocksteady do with their Batman games.
After a lengthy but seemingly very wise launch delay, the timing now couldn’t be better for this third and final chapter in the Rocksteady Arkham Trilogy. New consoles always bring new raw power for developers to play (or wrestle) with but that power is something which seems to always take a good year or three to unlock; often gamers are pitched next gen experiences early doors in a console’s life cycle but end up being severely let down. However, this is about the sweet spot where things start to get a little fruity and gamers ‘should’ begin to see games which are actually worthy of the now outdated label of being next gen. If any game tells us this it’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
So here we are...The Joker is dead, Scarecrow is looking to plunge Gotham into psychotic chaos using a new enhanced toxin and a new kid on the block, the Arkham Knight has a stranglehold on Gotham bringing with him with a small personal army and a deep loathing of our masked hero. As you can see, there is a lot going on here story-wise, and this is just a high level overview of the main plot which doesn’t includes side missions which are each multiphase and of course the now customary random events generated throughout the city.
The remit for Batman: Arkham Knight is fairly straightforward; continue the already awesome trilogy, bringing it to a satisfactory close and try to show a little bit with the new advanced hardware of the Xbox One and PS4. Picking things up where we left off in Arkham City and ignoring the prequel the stage is set for Rocksteady to deliver on this remit.
So let us begin with the story which is fleshed out primarily with a series of often lengthy main missions and supplemented with a reasonable quantity of side missions and activities. The core story itself focuses around the Batman tracking down and ultimately stopping Scarecrow turning the city on itself with a new serum; a serum which is further enhanced by a piece of tech that amplifies its effects, engulfing the city and causing everyone who inhales it to become hyper aggressive, slowly losing their minds.
As a main story line it’s good but some way short of amazing; the Arkham Knight story being the low point - alarmingly obvious from about halfway through before moving neatly towards terribly cliched towards the end, culminating in a series of terrible batmobile showdowns. As for the Scarecrow, well he provides some much needed menace and is superbly voice acted but ultimately we’ve been here before; dangerous toxin, end of Gotham, and so on. So as the main story line splutters to a fairly obvious conclusion it falls to a series of old friends to mix things up a little with a series of side missions, along with a one of these old friends becoming almost like a sidekick throughout the entire game. Spoiler alert: The Joker returns as an imaginary friend thanks to “Bats” inhaling, in part at least, some of Scarecrow’s lovely toxin and is without doubt the best thing about the game. The side missions give the fans a lot to cheer about, providing action sequences against old favourites such as Penguin, Two-face, The Riddler and more, seeing Batman often team up with another friendly character for some gorgeous double takedown action. These side missions provide some much needed distraction and oddly feel a lot less padded than the core elements with the Arkham Knight and his endless bloody stream of rubbish tanks. The Joker however, and in turn the way in which he is always with Batman, is a stroke of genius. Randomly appearing wherever you are and pretty much whatever you are doing (obviously some is scripted and triggered) he eats up every scene, throwing classic line after classic line, consistently winding up the Batman and desperately trying to eat away at his mind, with a view to fully taking control. This all culminates in arguably one of the best thirty to forty minutes of gaming towards the end of this ten to twelve hour adventure. It is in fact the Joker that keeps pushing you to progress rather than the main enemies which you are meant to be fighting against, the Joker is the only one with interesting, witty, funny and downright evil things to say throughout, the rest are all very much copy and pastes from past adventures.
One nice feature with the side quests comes the more you play. You see this Batman is probably the least user friendly / hand holdy of all the Batman games and there are rarely clear markers for the side quests, you are encouraged to explore. That said, the developers have implemented a small pulsing effect on the mission select radial. Therefore if time has passed while you’ve been whizzing around Gotham, these quests indicate that there is more to do, click them and instantly a marker appears for the next stage of the quest, where previously one was not offered. As well as this you can also stumble on a ton of the content simply by traversing the huge city itself from the rooftops.
Combat is just as good as it was in Arkham City and with a few fairly subtle tweaks the free flow elements are improved - this along with a variety of new enemy types and the introduction of Sleeping Dogs-style environmental takedowns make most hand to hand encounters an absolute joy to take part in. Most importantly for a game that relies heavily on combat, the animations are fast fluid and responsive. As well as the combat we have the introduction of the Batmobile, big, loud and fantastically animated, getting in and out of it is something which you could literally spend a lot of time doing. However holding left trigger turns the Batmobile into a battle tank...yes you read correctly, a tank. Now if used in short small bursts for unique situations/missions/puzzles then this would probably get a pass but sadly the use of this annoying damn Bat Tank runs throughout the entire game. Side missions are littered with Bat Tank things to do, even the Riddler has been busy setting up Bat Tank puzzles, we’ll assume he knew about the tank and planned accordingly but worse, much much worse is the fact that quite a bit of the main storyline requires the use of the Bat Tank to complete. Technically it handles fine, aside from the ridiculous platforming sections (car/tank platforming, honestly) but it’s just not something that should have so much attention given to it - it’s arguably the weakest part of the game.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a technical marvel, lovingly crafted, neatly wrapping up the Rocksteady trilogy but sadly what it doesn’t do is introduce anything particularly new, nor does it hold your attention from long periods. It’s a tough game to criticise when you see it moving on the screen due to its sumptuous moody looks but after kicking, punching and more importantly tanking your way through Gotham, it starts to wear a little bit thin. The much maligned Batmobile is a riot when just bombing around Gotham (getting in and out of it never gets old) but any love for the Batmobile will soon turn to rage when you realise that several key game moments depend upon its usage in chase sequences and massive padded tank battles, neither of which you would ever see Batman doing. Add to this the poor controls and on occasion some crazy camera angles, and the experience is slightly soured.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a very good game, held back from greatness by some odd design decisions and after a few hours, the nagging sense of deja vu.