There's no question that the Batman: Arkham series of games has set the bar high for video games based on a pre-existing license. The original title released less than a year after the successful Dark Knight movie and was largely written off before release as being another license cash grab with little merit. Since then, not only has the series achieved popular and critical success, it has also set the bar quite high for all comic book video games to follow, including the recently released Batman: Arkham Knight that serves as the capstone to the quadrilogy.
Beware the Batman
Being based on a major comic, the game requires a larger than normal suspension of disbelief. In Arkham Knight it can be a struggle at times, while other moments are a beautiful celebration of the Dark Knight and his legacy. The story of Arkham Knight isn't necessarily the sharpest of the bunch, with much of it being predictable to the point of discomfort. Having the Arkham Knight as an inverse of Batman works to a degree, but he's easily overshadowed by a more terrifying and arguably more capable Scarecrow. Digging at what makes Batman tick and leveraging his fears against him makes for great storytelling moments, but the story suffers a lack of escalation or accomplishment over its 12 hour length as Batman is perpetually told "you thought that but this was my plan all along!" Thankfully, the clever persistence of the Joker throughout the story, despite his death, adds a deliciously scary levity to the game.
The other great character, Gotham City itself, is one of the biggest highlights. Red search lights of aerial drones blanket this rainy city while neon lights draw your attention to points of interest. Gorgeous gothic architecture pierces the sky and promises a safe place to rest while you plan your next mission or attack. Police chase evildoers and thank you for taking over the pursuit, while burning buildings blaze in the night awaiting your intervention. It's hard to gauge just how large this city is, but when you're sitting on a high perch it seems to sprawl forever with dips between the buildings leading to warrens filled with character. At any given moment, it's easy to imagine all of the destruction happening in a distant part of the city while you're busy saving a firefighter from a group of thugs. This place is big and grounded enough to handle all of the insanity and chaos going on with plenty of room to spare for Easter Eggs and Riddler trophies. The alternating hilarity of thug chatter over the radio and menacing monologues from Gotham's most wanted really sell this as a place worth remembering.
That's a whole lot of city to save.
The Arkham Knight may not be the strongest character but his presence adds a lot of variety to the gameplay. Freeflow combat and Predator encounters return, although your enemies have new technology to help them in both, and constant supervision by the Arkham Knight seems to have made them smarter. Rather than patrolling guards smartening up after you've removed several of their number, the Knight will prompt his men to immediately adapt by instructing them to work in pairs if you're sneaking up behind them, or to firebomb grates if you are moving through the floors. From the start, these enemies seem more fearsome, especially in the presence of a medic that can revive them, but the environments are well designed for players to leverage their wits. At times, the combat scenarios can be a bit too easy, especially when you are paired with an AI sidekick such as Robin for a showy bad guy beat-down, but the predator missions reward cleverness better than ever.
The big addition to the game is the Batmobile. While this beast carries a lot of the heavier features of the more recent Tumbler from the Christopher Nolan movies, the sounds, style, and over the top performance draws on the nostalgic memories of the Tim Burton movies, right down to the vehicle's ridiculous acrobatics. Driving through a tunnel and needing to get enough speed by firing the afterburner to do a loop up to the ceiling and over a barrier elicits an epiphany like perching on a gargoyle in Arkham Asylum: This is what it feels like to be Batman.
Don't fall in!
It's regrettable that not all aspects of the Batmobile are quite so good. While it's an enjoyable vehicle in which to simply drive around, it sometimes feels shoehorned into story events that simply don't need it and vehicular combat encounters can sometimes be frustrating and boring. If you don't upgrade the vehicle consistently, the more basic scenarios where you fight off drone tanks can range from an enjoyable dance to a repeatedly frustrating exchange where sometimes the vehicle just can't dodge enough attacks or absorb enough hits.
Tougher missions where you have to disable an APC, which handles perfectly and is faster than the Batmobile except when using the afterburner, can take five or more minutes of mindlessly driving in loops, and are more likely to end when the APC has gotten so far ahead that it loops around directly in front of you resulting in a collision. Potentially the most infuriating are encounters with tough tanks that are weak only on the back, resulting in what is essentially a two dimensional version of a Predator encounter. Here, the strategy of the day is patience and planning. Finding a gap between these deadly tanks can be time consuming, and these deadly vehicles can kill you in just a shot or two if you're caught in the wrong spot. Throwing five minutes of very slow work away because you don't know the roads and got caught between a building and the water quickly sucks the fun out of these encounters.
Some things can't be scared. Enter the Batmobile.
Aside from the 12 hours of story content and an additional 15 or so hours in side missions, Arkham Knight brings back the AR Challenges and Riddler Trials. The Riddler's regular repertoire of statues, puzzles, and riddles all make a return, but a set of Batmobile courses are also present. These have all sorts of challenges that involve keen reflexes and the desire to push your ride to the limit. If you fall, you lose a little bit of time but get thrown right back into the track. While some of the Batmobile combat is very much how to do the Batmobile wrong, these trials do it very right, even if they tend to be a bit on the challenging side.
AR Challenges have also gotten a similar facelift. These were once just simple Freeflow combat scenarios or Predator encounters, but Arkham Knight adds some twists. While there aren't as many of the more basic challenges to which we're accustomed, they are replaced by new sets of endless battles that challenge your ability to fight increasingly difficult enemies without ever being hit. Other challenges, including Batmobile combat challenges, are also present but many of these mimic those found in the core game. Not all of them are great, but the chance to test your skill on more difficult challenges is always a nice option to have.
They, too, thought they could defeat the Batman
These challenges, as well as the story, side missions, and Riddler statues will constitute a large portion of the trophies. A little more than half come from the story and side missions, which are pretty easy to get on the whole, if a bit time consuming. The Riddler accounts for 12 trophies on his own, and his trials may be somewhat difficult, but collecting the trophies and riddles won't be too hard. The AR challenges on the other hand prove to be quite difficult, as do the miscellaneous trophies for achieving various feats. As with any of the previous games, these challenges are tough and may be near impossible for some players. The remaining trophies range from easy to difficult depending on the player's skill. Many of them are simple in their nature, though not necessarily in their execution, and require an exceptional level of consistency. With one trophy requiring you to complete New Game+, the large number of difficult trophies, and the time consuming nature of the easier ones, it wouldn't be surprising if it took 50+ hours for even an experienced player to get them all.
SummaryArkham Knight is an enjoyable finale to a series of games. Rather than resting on its laurels, it steps things up with a bunch of great new features, including a fully integrated Batmobile that meshes well as part of the Batman experience most of the time, except for in combat situations where it can be hit or miss. Batman is more desperate and more dangerous than ever before, even if the plot falls victim to predictability and the occasional cliché. Arkham Knight manages to capture Batman in his purest comic book form, with dark depths, good characters, fun but slightly goofy contrivances, and the occasional awkward gameplay and story moments sprinkled throughout.
- Gotham is beautiful
- Good character moments
- Seemless Batmobile use
- Intelligent new mechanics and upgrades
- Some Batmobile combat situations
- Poor story structure
- Unfulfilling Arkham Knight
The reviewer spent over 25 hours under the cowl, earning a pitiful 40 of the game's 65. The Playstation 4 copy used for review was purchased by Brandon. He won't be sharing until he stomps on Mr. Nigma's insignificant intellect and brings this final villain to justice.
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