Riddle me this, Chiropetra loving friends: What ever shall we do when the Arkham game ends? This really is the end according to developer Rocksteady. Their trilogy (Origins was done by a different studio so it technically doesn’t count) has seen the most critically acclaimed Batman iteration since the Nolan movies, brought expertly to life with an excellent team of developers, writers, actors and artists. I’m actually a little bit sad about it.
It is kind of refreshing in this world that (regardless of your opinion on the games season pass) a franchise isn’t being milked to death, and by that I mean annual or bi-annual releases which, given the success of the games, could easily have happened. But there is a love here for the source material and the sense of achieving a great story rather than just making a great game, so this kind of closure is essential.
Ok, enough pontificating, this is where I tell you that Batman: Arkham Knight is my game of the year so far and that I actually like the Batmobile. After the events of Arkham City, the game begins with some dirty work from Commissioner Gordon and everything being really peachy in the normally dark and rainy Gotham. This of course lasts all of 5 minutes before the work of Scarecrow ends up evacuating the entire city leaving it open to the evil machinations of the series super-villains at large.
So yet again, you have to go forth as the caped crusader and be the vigilante that kicks everyone’s ass. You’ll encounter various foes along the way, along with various allies and be flummoxed by the mystery of who the new villain, the titular Arkham Knight, actually is. All of this whilst trying to curb the spread of gang thugs across the abandoned districts, finding all sorts of lost firefighters who they seem to have exclusively kidnapped, solving The Riddler’s little treats across the city, and much more.
It seems with every Arkham game, the combat has got smoother, the fighting more fluid and the space more apt for the style of a character such as Batman. By this I mean that the halls of the Asylum have progressed to the cramped alleys of the City and now to the streets, rooftops, and buildings of Gotham as a whole. The space to fight and to have epic one man, or even dual takedown battles, really gets your excitement level up and makes you concentrate more on how far away flying objects are, how much there is to counter and how satisfying it is to get the timing just right.
One of the things this game certainly rewards, much like Arkham City, is Batman’s flying and gliding. At times, City felt a tiny bit claustrophobic, at the lower levels, towards the ground. Gotham is huge though and the space is there for you to fly around, get to the super high places, and glide between buildings and to really enjoy and explore the city. And as you upgrade your Batmobile, launching yourself in to the air is incredibly fun, seeing the metropolis of Gotham flash past you as you catch a current.
Which is great because it is visually wonderful. The gothic dark beauty, evocatively creating the air of Burton’s movie direction and the lighting and building density of something like Blade Runner, is in abundance here. The super structures of business made of glass and steel mixed with the old industrial buildings of Founders Island are fantastic against the backdrop of the old and regenerating styles of Bleake Island and its imposing clock tower. Miagani Island shows some of that comic book juxtaposition of the fantastical and real life with the orphanage and Wayne Tower and the huge blimps always in the sky towards the eastern edge of the map. There’s an aesthetic and colour palette representing the dankness of grimy expired industry and modern chrome that, under the dark clouds and rain, only reflects the entropy it’s trying to counter or delay. It’s a stunning visual treat.
Flying around this city and even driving around it really makes you connect to the world, despite it being very different from most open world games and their maps. Mostly the connection is familiarity with the world around them in popular culture and history. But in the case of Batman it’s like being given the opportunity to explore a landscape painting, finding all of the tiny brushstrokes of life and colour. The missions that ask you to search for things (Riddler trophies and firefighter rescues) really do give you the opportunity to experience every nook and cranny, which is a wonderful thing.
The story reflects the character of Batman and everything that has brought him up to this point. The duplicity of his morals, the violence of his pacification and his single-mindedness dictate everything that happens in Arkham Knight, along with everything that has already happened in the franchise. The mysteries that surround what is happening keep you going from point to point and the non-story specific distractions are fun to keep you from going way too deep in to the Bruce Wayne introspective rabbit hole.
Which leads us to the elephant in this room, the Batmobile. I like the Batmobile. The transition from ridiculous supercar to hovering tank is fluid, the arsenal and upgrades at your disposal are great and the driving is smooth and incredibly easy, especially if you aren’t normally a car guy. People that have played games with tanks in like World of Tanks, BattleZone and others will probably get on really well with it. The easy to read firing arcs of all the different enemy drones, encouraging the evasive action needed, make it an experience that isn’t jarring or too steep a learning curve. The puzzles that require the Batmobile all use a different part of the car and a different use of it as well, showing how man and machine can be quite symbiotic.
The criticisms I have is that the world occasionally doesn’t make a lot of room for the Batmobile when it is required, making the whole operation a little bit clumsy. That is something that isn’t helped by the controller layout with L2 on my PS4 pad activating the battle (tank) mode – normally L2 would be your brake or reverse in any vehicle. It’s something you get used to but you will slip up, especially if you do play a lot of games that involve driving. The other issue I have is how reliant of the Batmobile some of the missions are. There are many tanks and vehicles that the Arkham Knight’s militia employ and sometimes there are far too many to destroy or navigate in the casual missions.
The secondary problem with this is that it makes the side missions incredibly repetitive, especially if you’ve completed the main story. You kind of want to complete it but at the same time, it can feel very grindy and after awhile, the sense of achievement fades in to relief that it’s over, which is a far cry from how you feel throughout the main part of the game. In fact, it’s very similar to the work you need to do in another Warner Bros. game, Shadow of Mordor. A surprise hit of 2014, after the main story finishes there isn’t the greatest of incentives to fully complete it. With Batman, you can complete what you need to finish the game to your satisfaction but to 100% it and get the reward/achievement for it is a slog that you might not wish to partake in. But the other way you can look at it is that, if these are the only holes we can pick (well known platform issues aside) then Rocksteady have really succeeded.
One thing I have to mention, as I’ve said it to friends that have played it and to those that haven’t, is that the voice acting in this game is phenomenal. As far as game voicing goes, we always look to big names like Troy Baker and Nolan North in recent times to turn out stellar performances, and they are present here too. But the Arkham series has had the magnificence of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in the past reprising the roles they voiced on the animated TV series. Arkham Knight is no exception to that style. Everyone is stellar, and one in particular is worthy of an award if such a thing existed, as the performance was just perfect. Tara Strong is brilliant as is Tasia Valenza and Jonathan Banks (Mike from Breaking Bad) makes an excellent debut as a video game voice actor with Commissioner Gordon.
The thing is with this acting talent and the strength of the story is that the presentation becomes a magnificent thing. Excellent use of the game camera can turn one moment of insignificance in to a brilliant cacophony of entertainment, terror and danger. Flashbacks are brilliantly utilised and the slow reveals of plot are magnificently constructed in the game environment. Whilst some games can just portray this in a cutscene or a filmic way, Batman: Arkham Knight has done it in a beautifully encapsulating way, without falling in to the gaming cliché of quick time events or removing you too far from the action.
All of this combined is why this is my game of the year so far. The future for Rocksteady is solid, with Warner Bros having invested heavily into the studio and hopefully giving them some solid franchises with which to work their magic, especially if they’re involved in anything regarding the DC universe. But for their Batman swan song, it is a lesson in how to create a brilliant game with a potentially saturated franchise and ultimately, how to end a story. The answer to the introductory question, we can only cry. Cry lots with sadness that this won’t happen again and with joy that it was wonderful while it was here. Thank you Rocksteady.
The end of a great era of Batman games and a brilliant game by itself. A fantastic story, a huge beautiful city, wonderful gameplay, and superb visuals are only hampered by some subjective issues with the controls of the Batmobile and the repetitiveness of some side quests that overuse the vehicle. Batman: Arkham Knight is the greatest way to say goodbye to this wonderful series of games.
[tab title=”Good Points”]
- Gotham is dark and beautiful.
- Fantastic story and voice acting.
- Excellent fluid fighting and gameplay.
[tab title=”Bad Points”]
- Some repetitive side missions and over-reliance on the Batmobile.
- Slightly odd driving controls for Batmobile.
- There won’t be any more Arkham games cries
[tab title=”Why a 9.5?”]
This is my pole position contender for game of the year. I really connected with the voice acting and the artistic construction of Gotham. The colours, the light, the rain, the brooding… Everything made this an excellent vehicle to deliver a great story and the gameplay is expertly refined. I liked the Batmobile and the slight issues I have with that and the missions are the only things keeping this from a higher score.
This review was based on the PS4 version of the game.