“This is it… This is how the Batman died.” Such are the first words of Arkham Knight, uttered by none other than Commissioner Gordon himself. Even if you’ve been living under a rock, or didn’t read the back of the game case, those words are enough to tell you one thing: this is the end of Batman’s story.
The hype is real, some might say, about this game. Rocksteady has developed two previous amazing entries in the Batman universe. They created a signature combat style that will be seen for years to come. More importantly, they showed that licensed games could be something more than just marketing tools for a larger film. The term “licensed game” is no longer as negative a term as it used to be. This is mostly due to Rocksteady’s work.
So naturally, everyone is looking to see how Batman: Arkham Knight will close out the story of the Batman. Will he die? That’s been the big question, alongside the identity of the Arkham Knight. Who is this new villain that Rocksteady created? How will they create a new and interesting story without the presence of the Joker?
And how about that Batmobile? The addition of the Batmobile being playable is the biggest change to the formula. The Batmobile allows you to travel the streets of Gotham City’s three islands at a breakneck pace. The vehicle also has a combat mode, where it turns into something of a hover tank. You’ll be using the combat mode to fight a decent amount of robot tanks throughout the game.
The problem, and perhaps that’s due to the hype surrounding the game more than anything else, is that Arkham Knight falls short in many areas. The most damning of which is the Batmobile itself. The vehicle is just a nightmare to control. This is especially true when the vehicle is in its tank mode. Not only does it move extremely slowly, but the aiming itself is difficult. More than anything else, it isn’t very fun. The addition of a slew of vehicle combat missions towards the end does nothing to improve this and only serves to highlight everything that’s wrong with the Batmobile.
Playing the Batmobile in regular “car mode” is a bit of a different story. Driving it around can be fun at times, but vehicle is a bit too floaty and tends to spin out if it even touches something it can’t destroy. This is incredibly frustrating towards the end of the game when a number of precise jumps are required in order to pass. Fail, and you’re instantly destroyed and sent back to beginning.
It’s unfortunate because the Batmobile is actually a major part of the game. Most of the story missions and side missions force the Batmobile on you. There’s no way to avoid using it and that’s a shame because most of the other game play mechanics are fun. But they’re overshadowed by the magnitude of failure that is the Batmobile.
Among the things that do work in Arkham Knight is the combat. There are a good number of additions to the kinds of things you can do in the game’s combat. This includes a feature called a “fear takedown”, where surprising your enemies will net you the change to instantly take out three to five of them. It’s a fun way of changing up the combat and integrates stealth a bit more into the mix.
There’s also the team combat. Throughout the story and some of the side missions, Batman will team up with other known Batman characters. Such characters like Robin, Nightwing, and Catwoman are among those that you’ll find throughout the game. When you enter combat with the other character, they’re AI controlled until you build up enough meter to enter a “team takedown”. At that point your control will switch from Batman to the other character. Each of the other characters has their own unique items and move sets that make them fun to play as. It’s a great way to portray Batman and his sidekicks working together.
The game also looks amazing. No longer held back by the previous generation of consoles, Arkham Knight takes full advantage of the new tech. Gotham is more or less covered in a never ending rainstorm. So everything looks sleek and shiny from the rain. All the character models look really good, especially those characters who have never appeared on screen before – like Oracle and Lucius Fox.
The voice acting is top notch, which is to be expected. There are a few changes to the roster this time around. Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks plays Commissioner Gordon, and Tara Strong plays Harley Quinn. Most notably though is the addition of John Noble as Scarecrow. Scarecrow takes the main antagonist role this time around, and Noble brings the kind of gravitas needed to make Scarecrow something worth fearing.
These newcomers work well alongside the already well established cast of Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker, and other well known voice actors such as Troy Baker and Nolan North. Also yes, the Joker is present in the story. I won’t say how, but it’s a fairly creative way that they pull it off.
Unfortunately, like most of the story elements in this game, they just don’t properly capitalize on their ideas. Many of the subplots in the game are left and forgotten. The mystery of the Arkham Knight has one of the lamest resolutions I’ve seen in gaming in a long time. In fact, if you’re paying even the slightest amount of attention to the story, it’s telegraphed long before the reveal. Not only that, the reveal is a trope that’s been explored in Batman stories so many times over that it just feels recycled here. It’s unfortunate because there was real potential to create a new and fascinating villain.
The story also backs out of some of its riskier elements. Because it’s the final chapter of Batman’s story, I thought that Rocksteady would allow themselves to take some risks. But alas, they wind up reversing most of them by the end of the story. They allow themselves such a small amount of room to do something interesting, that it winds up following the usual tropes you’d expect. It’s becomes predictable and kind of boring.
For a series that usually has a really great comic book story, it’s sad that they fail to pay off most of their plot lines. There’s a really interesting sub plot that gets solved in the most ridiculous way possible. It’s the exact opposite of the solution they present earlier in the game. It’s odd and kind of sticks out like a sore thumb.
That said, the first act or so of the game’s story is great. It’s when all the threads are introduced and everything seems interesting and original. The mystery of the Arkham Knight is at its highest and you can’t help but wonder why he’s helping Scarecrow. What is Robin working on that’s so important? Alas, none of these pay off in any interesting fashion by the end of the story, but it was fun while it lasted.
They also do something a bit off in that the game’s “true ending” as they refer to it, is gated beyond a progress meter. At first it’s just that you need to complete some more of the side missions. Okay, that’s cool. I understand that you would want people to see some of the side content before getting rid of the game entirely. And within the context of the game’s story it actually makes a lot of sense. But even after that, there’s a further “truer ending” that’s locked beyond a 100% completion. At that point I not only feel a bit lied to, but it feels like a cheap tactic to prevent people from reselling the game back to GameStop or wherever. Thankfully there’s YouTube to solve that problem.
The side missions themselves range between tedious to actually kind of interesting. Most of them involve the usual suspects of villains. The Riddler, Two-Face, and the Penguin are all involved in the side missions since this time around they have nothing to do with the main story. Most of those missions are the more tedious ones. But there are certain missions that involve some more underused characters like Man-Bat and Professor Pyg that are more interesting to play. It’s hard to believe that it’s true with characters with names like they, but they are in fact the more interesting set of missions.
There are also a set of various AR missions that allow you to compete against friends in a leaderboard fashion. But from what I could tell, they were fairly boring and more or less like the challenge rooms from the past Arkham games. They’re easily passable and don’t really affect the overall game.
The story lacks cohesiveness and the Batmobile being forced on players for most of the game is frustrating. If it controlled better, it would be a much different story. But it’s easily the worst controlling vehicle in gaming since the original Mass Effect’s mako. As a final outing for the Batman, this is a disappointing one. At least there are the other games to look back fondly upon and wonder how things could have gone so wrong at the very end.
(Also it’s worth noting that I played the game on the PS4 and did not suffer any of the technical difficulties that PC players are facing right now in regards to framerates and other issues)