Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: June 23rd, 2015
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Reviewed on: Xbox One
A copy of the game was provided by Rocksteady Studios on the PS4. However, the reviewer purchased his own copy for the Xbox One before the code was received. A giveaway will be held for the extra code.
When Rocksteady Studios released Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009, Batman fans and gamers alike were ecstatic – not only was it a superb game, it was a superb game about a comic book hero! Comic book games have a very poor track record in the industry, and it was very exciting to see this trend broken so spectacularly. Rocksteady somehow improved upon the formula and gave us Batman: Arkham City in 2011, and treated gamers to an enormous open-world of Bat-tastic goodness to explore and discover. When it was revealed that the third title would be their last in the Arkham trilogy, expectations rose higher than ever before.
I am very happy to report that not only has Rocksteady met those expectations, they’ve surpassed them in fantastic fashion. Batman: Arkham Knight improves upon every single aspect of the first two games, all the while delivering the story to you in a massive and evolving open world. Set in the infamous Gotham City, players guide Batman through an epic storyline and endless side missions taking place over three gigantic New York-style islands. I’m going to avoid any spoilers, but the basic storyline is as follows: since the Joker’s death in Arkham City, Gotham has enjoyed its longest stint of relative peace ever. As soon as the population becomes complacent, however, the villain Scarecrow unleashed his chemical weapon – dubbed “fear toxin” – into a diner, and lets the individuals inside tear themselves and each other apart. He threatens to bomb Gotham as a whole with the toxin if they don’t immediately evacuate, the panicked civilians immediately comply. Thus, Scarecrow holds Gotham hostage – with the help of his new lieutenant, the mysterious and titular Arkham Knight – and the entire city falls into anarchy. Every police officer has stayed behind to try to keep order, but they’re outmanned and very much outgunned.
This setup gives the perfect alibi for players to freely roam Gotham, with no chance of injuring or running into innocent civilians – which turns out to be a very good thing indeed, because by the end of Arkham Knight Gotham has had the holy hell blown out of it. The biggest – and somehow, most controversial – addition to this installment is the Batmobile. Batman can call in his trusty vehicle at will and high-tail it around Gotham to race to objectives, chase criminals, or wreak general havoc. The consensus on the Batmobile seems to be 50/50 at this point. You either love it, or you hate it. I haven’t seen any middle ground in this argument. Luckily, I fell in the latter camp, and I had an absolute blast mastering and using the Batmobile. Between the afterburner, the drifting, the smashing through obstacles, and tank mode – yes, it turns into a tank – it was always giving me a child-like glee to pilot. The Arkham Knight has deployed drone tanks onto the street of Gotham to keep the thugs in line and hunt down Batman, so the Batmobile was turned into a mobile weapons platform. It has a 60mm main cannon, a Vulcan Gatling gun, and various upgradeable special moves, such as missiles, EMPs, drone-hacking, and thruster boosts. While the car version of the Batmobile handles like a beastly racing hotrod, the tank handles like a dream – the control scheme switches from tradition forward and reverse to full 360-degree fluid motion, which one stick controlling the movement and the other controlling the turret. After the first few missions, when you get the hang of it, you’ll be in love.
Arkham Knight is stuffed to the gills with side-quests. They vary between destroying the Arkham Knight’s militia, capturing infamous Gotham criminals, solving crimes, solving Riddler puzzles, helping out friends, or rescuing stranded civil servants. A lot of these quests you can run into naturally, as you’re progressing through the story and traveling through the city. Some of them require skills you unlock later in the game, or need to be intensely sought out, such as the Riddler puzzles. I spent a little over a week of heavy playing, and I just reached 100% completion. The Riddler puzzles are by far the most frustrating part of achieving full completion, and I was a little irked that they were required for the “true” ending of the game. You’re guided through all of these tasks through your holographic wrist-communicator, which keeps you in touch with Alfred (the most tech-savvy geriatric I’ve ever encountered), Oracle (a.k.a Barbara Gordon, your sassy-but-awesome tech-guru), and James Gordon (worn-down commissioner of Gotham). It’s a very clever and effective way of communication without making you run back to “base” every time you complete a mission. As you complete main quests and side quests, you’re awarded ability points. You can use these points to upgrade your Batsuit, the Batmobile, your combat moves, your gadgets, the combat skills of your gadgets, and the combat ability of your Batmobile. Rocksteady cleverly included several encounters centered on specific abilities, so instead of upgrading for no reason or having abilities that served no purpose, you always had a reason for a particular upgrade.
Traveling in Arkham Knight has been made exceptionally easy with the addition of the Batmobile, but sometimes using your grappling hook and cape to glide is still faster and easier, depending on your destination. Driving around in the Batmobile allows you to cause immense property damage, as literally everything in the game is destructible at ground level. Carts, pillars, building corners, gates, fences, traffic lights, newspaper stands, architecture, trees – it’s all fair game to your car’s treads. It gets a bit absurd at times, watching priceless historical monuments or giant trees hurtle into debris on the road, but it succeeds in immersing you in the world and making it feel that much more real. I just liked to pretend Bruce Wayne will use his billions to repair all that damage because it is very extensive. Arkham Knight does not let players forget one of Batman’s most famous maxims – he does not kill. You’re taunted by foes repeatedly about locking them up just to have them escape, and how not killing your enemies makes you weak. Some of the combat moves you use on opponents are truly brutal, and look like they’d break a bone or five – but there’s no overt killing. The hardest part to suspend your belief on this is during the Batmobile sequences – citizens you hit with your car are electrocuted by the Batmobile’s hull and sent flying off. No one dies, even though they would for sure be dead. But, I understand and respect the intention of trying to balance that crucial aspect of Batman’s ideology with letting players drive a car in a free-roam environment.
The gadgets in your arsenal seem almost as endless – I’m often left being unable to decide which to utilize in a fight because I want to use them all. The number of combinations you can make in combat situations with your martial arts and gadgets is staggering, and incredibly rewarding to pull off. Nothing makes you feel like a badass Batman like dropping into a room and flawlessly taking out 12 armed guards before a single one can fire. The actual fighting remains largely unchanged from the previous titles – you jump from foe to foe, countering and stunning as you go, seeking an opening to knock them unconscious. Enemy types vary slightly to mix things up, but most scenarios before the end game stick with the standard fair of militia or thug brutes. Enemies end up using gadgets against you that make the planning stage a technological battle, which was a nice change of pace. Units can block your Detective Mode, making it harder to see the whole battlefield and plan your moves, others can lock onto you if you use Detective Mode, and pinpoint your location. Giant mini-gunners wield huge weaponry that shreds you in seconds, and special ops are equipped with suits that render them invisible to Batman’s Detective Mode. Medics can revive units you’ve already incapacitated, drone commanders can bring mini-copters in to attack you, and electrically charged enemies can shock you if you try to attack them. There’s a huge variety of enemies, and it makes each battle take some serious planning if any of the more difficult units are present.
The visuals in Arkham Knight are spectacular – the atmosphere, the world-design, the combat, the roaming, they all set the perfect tone for a Batman story. Everything is extremely gritty and dark, and the architecture is appropriately gothic. The character animations are solid, and the only thing that caught me off guard was Batman’s eyes – whenever he was talking into his holographic wrist-com, he had dead fish-eyes. It was a little disconcerting! I was sadly a bit disappointed with the soundtrack – it wasn’t anywhere near as memorable as the Arkham City production, which was fantastic, but it definitely served the story well. The voice acting in every character was top-notch, led by the inimitable Kevin Conroy of course. Even the generic thugs and milita men had convincing chatter, and there wasn’t a single performance that took me out of the experience – on the contrary, a couple of them were a little too good, and made their characters that much more disturbing.
Contrary to the ongoing drama revolving around the PC port of Arkham Knight, I’m very happy to report that during my run of the game I didn’t encounter a single bug. No clipping, no stuttering, no freezes, and no glitches. Oddly enough, the few bugs I did encounter were easily reproducible and only appeared after I had beaten the main storyline, though I had done the action that caused them multiple times. If I were to try to interrogate a Riddler informant, the informant would flicker in and out of existence, and when I threw him to the ground he would simply sink half into it. This happened with about 80% of my informants, yet it didn’t happen until the end of my playthrough. I also found if I glided through a certain crane near a shipyard, I’d simply fall through the world for a couple minutes until I died. Very odd, but easily avoidable.
In the end, Arkham Knight truly delivers what fans of Batman and the Arkham trilogy were looking for – more fantastic story, a bigger world, and deeper Batman lore. The additions to this entry only improve upon its predecessors, and it should be used as a template on how to craft an open-world game. Hopefully the massive success of the Arkham trilogy will inspire other studios to create more comic book games, as Batman has shown not only can it be done – it can be done exceptionally well.