Batman Arkham Knight Review
Mark my words, Arkham Knight will be a contender for game of the year and it could potentially win it despite facing some very stiff competition in 2015. This is shaping up to be a fantastic year for games. Microsoft and Sony both had arguably one of their best E3s after so many years with some incredibly looking first party titles. To make things even more difficult, Bethesda has a couple of juggernauts with Ubisoft, Activision and EA all competing for control of our purse strings. However, Arkham Knight is something truly special and I couldn’t be happier that it has released in the June window, allowing me to spend plenty of time to enjoy it without the release clashing with other huge blockbusters (apart from Elder Scrolls Online which released recently).
Arkham Asylum was the first of very impressive trilogy of action games. It was thoroughly enjoyable, intense and challenging at times. However it had its flaws. It’s amazing to see how far the Arkham franchise has come since then, and Arkham Knight is the perfect ending to quite a spectacular journey. Arkham Knight expands in almost every way from its predecessor. The combat is more brutal, the city of Gotham is larger, the traversal options are considerably more expansive and there are also more villains to take on.
One of the biggest additions to the franchise is the introduction of the batmobile. This was a much needed feature since the map is huge and swinging from one corner to another can take a while (although sometimes, you will have the urge to do exactly this due to the gorgeous graphics). The batmobile isn’t just a vehicle introduced to let you travel faster either. It plays an integral part in many of the missions.
Arkham Knight does a great job in humanizing Bruce Wayne. In previous Arkham games, you often forget that there is a man behind the mask and he is only human. Arkham Knight places an emphasis on the relationship between Wayne, the Gordons and the Robins. There are supernatural elements to this game, which some may not be a fan of. However this only emphasizes how you’re still just playing as someone who is a mere mortal with fancy gadgets and a fighting skillset.
The title of the game is indicative of who the main villain of the game is. The Arkham Knight is not Batman himself, but in fact an ally of Scarecrow who is essentially the evil version of Batman. As the story pans out though, his relevance becomes lesser (at least for the duration of the plot) since you end up having to focus on some of the other villains that surprisingly make appearances to act as obstacles in your way. The best villain is clearly Scarecrow and the actor behind the character, John Noble, does an incredible job that should win him some awards. He makes the character extremely terrifying to be around and I have to admit that I was very unsettled whenever Scarecrow made an appearance. The Joker also makes a return, with Mark Hamill reprising his role. There’s no doubt that the voice acting is one of the main reasons why Arkham Knight is going to be a contender for game of the year.
The ultimate selling point is the city of Gotham. Never has the world of Batman looked so real and vivid. Major landmarks including the Wayne tower are now explorable. The sheer level of detail that has gone into recreating these landmarks is unexplainable. You really have to play this game in full 1080p on a big screen to appreciate the lighting and weather effects when you’re sitting on the edge of a building as tall as the Wayne tower. One frustration I have is that Gotham city is not a lively one. Similar to previous games, there are no citizens. The only people roaming the streets are criminals, however there are a lot more than previous games. Due to this, there is no interaction with innocent people. The map is designed purely as a playground for you to beat up criminals. The batmobile does introduce a new element of high speed chases, but the game forces you to take the path of the hero by eliminating any possibility of your character ever hurting an innocent bystander. The developers have also removed the batcave from the game. It no longer serves as a sanctuary or a place for you to begin new missions. This doesn’t bother me at all. There was nothing special about it that I can remember. It looked pretty and authentic, but if nothing improves, I’m happy for it to be removed.
Gotham city is considerably larger, however to cater for this large sandbox map, Batman’s abilities and gadgets have been upgraded to let him travel across much faster. As mentioned before, he has the batmobile to travel on ground level at a fast pace. However his grapnel hook can also been upgraded, letting him swing from one building to another much more quickly. There’s no doubt that riding around in the batmobile is clearly the most enjoyable way to travel. Being at ground level lets you run over a huge number of environmental objects all of which are degradable as you run them over. You can even take part in car chases and take out criminals who are escaping on wheels. When vehicles clash, you get a lovely slow-motion effect to emphasize the impact of the damage done. You can even run over bad guys, since they are the only people who are scattered around the map.
When you’re not in the driving seat of the batmobile, you can still control it remotely, which is largely what you need to do when trying to solve puzzles. If you need to be in more than one place at the same time, the batmobile is the perfect partner to act as the secondary ally. Whenever you are on the streets, it is at your disposal. Of course, if you’re indoors, you’re in trouble. It’s a great tool to have if things are getting heated and you need a bit of backup.
Rocksteady have slightly digressed from Batman’s usual moral code by equipping the batmobile with guns and explosives to use in electronic or vehicular combat. I can’t remember a time when Batman needed to use lethal weapons to get the job done. You still cannot kill human enemies with the equipment, but it still seems a little strange that he is building destructive tank-like vehicles to get the job done. Tank battles initially can be hugely enjoyable and in many instances, very tricky. However after a while, they do get a little tiresome and you’re most likely going to be hoping for more close-quarter-combat soon. Fortunately, the game keeps moving at a fast enough pace for you to never get too bored of a specific element of the campaign. At times, maneuvering the batmobile can be a very tedious job, especially in puzzles where you have to move it in tight spaces. The controls seem too clunky and the experience becomes quite dull.
Fortunately, the core of the combat system is based on the hand-to-hand action. I thought that Arkham City had a great combat system but Arkham Knight has somehow managed to better it. The combos are smoother than ever before and there is a brand new move-set to accompany this. A lot of Batman’s moves are a little too strong, however perhaps this is just to ease you into the system by putting you against weaker opponents. The game does get very difficult eventually. A new addition is the ability to use environmental objects temporarily to help you fight. Non-lethal weapons such as baseball bats can be picked up and used against foes to help break their guards. The entire combat system is geared towards letting you fight more people at the same time, and it works like a treat. The variety in enemies is also quite impressive. You even have to take on enemies who have personal medics, by destroying the source of the electric healing before being able to defeat them! Enemies are much smarter in the game and you simply cannot get through the entire campaign by using the same tactic.
Of course, no Arkham game would be complete without boss battles and this tradition follows suit in Arkham Knight. I won’t give away much about these since boss battles are always tense, exciting and surprising at times. Just don’t expect too much from them in comparison to previous Arkham games. I often found the boss battles to end in a low note. There are side quests for Batman to engage in, which let him team up with other superheros including Robin and Catwoman. In these missions, you can even play as your allies. The combat system is still the same and playing at Robin doesn’t feel that much different to Batman, but it’s a nice touch which adds authenticity to the franchise.
I actually find these side quests to be more enjoyable. Not only do you get to team up with allies, but you also get to take on enemies such as The Riddler and Two Face. It’s clear that the developers didn’t have to tie in the campaign to the side quests too much, which means that they could afford to be a lot more creative when making side missions. I didn’t quite get the logic of Riddler making you do what are essentially batmobile time trials. Each villain in the side quest seems to focus on one particular gameplay mechanic of the game.
I’m not 100% sure if Rocksteady has announced Arkham Knight as its last attempt at a Batman game. The company has certainly consolidated itself as an excellent game developer and any announcements of future games by this company will result in very high expectations from the gaming community. Arkham Knight is not only the best Batman game to date, but it is a title that seemingly pushes current-gen consoles to its limits and shows off the true potential of current-gen hardware. Most importantly, this game is pure fun (apart from the occasional annoying puzzle sequence). Whether you have played the previous Arkham titles or you’re a newcomer to the franchise, Arkham Knight is a must have for everyone who appreciates a high quality, narratively linear single player action experience.