BY SAMUEL GUGLIELMO
Rocksteady’s Batman games have been well known for their quality. Arkham Knight marks the last time they plan to take up the cowl. It’s easily their most ambitious Batman game yet, but will Arkham Knight match those highs they set with Arkham City, or is it time for this knight to retire?
Taking place about nine months after the end of Arkham City, Gotham is one again in danger after Scarecrow threatens to release his fear toxin across the whole city. Worse, a private military force has shown up and they are led by a mysterious figure called the Arkham Knight, someone who has a grudge against Batman for some unknown reason. Having to deal with both threats, and some little dangers being put out by Gotham’s most wanted, Batman is in for the roughest night in his career. On one hand, the story is expertly told. The cutscenes are engaging and all the voice actors do amazing jobs with the characters. On the other hand, Knight seems to suffer from having the weakest story of the games. While it doesn’t have the “villain parade” problem that Arkham City had, a lot of Arkham Knight’s story just misfires. The side stories are underwhelming at best (if you’ve been excited to see where Hush’s story is going after a genuinely amazing setup in Arkham City, well, prepare for the letdown of the year), while the central plot focuses on an underwhelming twist that is hilariously easy to guess. There’s some good stuff here, but after Arkham Origin’s genuinely interesting story it’s a shame to see Arkham Knight stumble.
The biggest new feature, so the one I feel like is the most important to talk about, is the addition of the Batmobile. It’s not just a gimmick, the Batmobile is a very important part of the game. Any time he is outside Batman can call the Batmobile simply by hitting the L1 button. The Batmobile itself serves as both a car to get around Gotham quicker, and a tank to take on enemy drones. It works well enough, and the Batmobile is a good change-up when it comes to the Arkham formula. That said, people may be a little disappointed in how much of the game is devoted to it. While the Batmobile works well (at least, after you go into the options and change the controls. The default “hold down L2 to tank” is a bafflingly bad control decision.) it also just feels like a generic tank section in a third person shooter. There are times where I was tired of the Batmobile and wanted to move onto the next on-foot section.
Still, there are attempts to keep the Batmobile fresh. As he fights Batman can build up a meter that allows him to unleash some power attacks with the Batmobile. The option to either launch a missile barrage, hijack enemy tanks, or disable everyone with EMPs does do quite a bit towards mixing things up, and the constant risk/reward of trying to build the meter up without losing it from getting hit does help make the tank battles more intense. Riddle has apparently become the CEO of “Batmobile Racing Inc.” and has set up a few race tracks to test your speed. Nearly all the boss fights also take place with the Batmobile, which at least serves as an interesting way to mix things up even though the lack of hand-to-hand boss fights is a real let down. A couple weird Batmobile stealth segments don’t really fit in that well, and any time I had to drive on a wall I fell off a bunch of times before I succeeded. Yet I found the good to outweigh the bad, and in the end I did not mind that a good chunk of the game took place in the Batmobile.
Yet a good chunk also takes place on foot, which has seen some significant changes as well. One of the big ones is a feature called duel play. At various points in the game Batman can team up with either Robin, Nightwing, or Catwoman. As the fight goes on, the character I wasn’t playing as would be off doing their own thing. Every time I hit an enemy I filled up a meter, and once it was full enough I could preform a duel team takedown, which would defeat whichever enemy was unlucky enough to get hit by it while also switching who I played as. It worked well, and I honestly wish that duel play was available in more segments of the game, or that I could play as the other characters in free roam. Still, taking advantage of it while it was available proved to be a lot of fun.
There have been a bunch of little tweaks to the combat system as well, and the good news is that none of them ruin the combat in anyway. Batman can now pick up enemy weapons to use, though I’ll be honest: I never saw the point in doing so as it didn’t change the combat up in any substantial way. He also now has access to environmental finisher attacks, something that were very useful for taking enemies out of the fight early, but difficult to target specific enemies. Yet I also did have a worry that Batman’s combat capabilities have grown a little too large. By the end of the game I found myself getting through okay using some basic combos, but it seems like every single combination of buttons is booked and trying to remember specifics was more frustrating than anything else.
The game also features the predator sequences that require a more stealthy approach. My favorite predator sequence actually involved the duel play mechanic: I would play as either Batman or Robin and would call out lone guards for the other to knock out. It’s a really fun change up, and one that I’m hoping future content will have more of. Yet there’s still a good chunk of stealthy segments for people who enjoyed those.
I was also impressed with how much there was to do in Batman: Arkham Knight. Besides the main story (which took me a solid 10 – 12 hours to finish) there was a large chunk of side content to be completed. Two-Face is robbing banks, Penguin is smuggling guns, and Firefly is lighting buildings on fire. A good selection of Batman villains show up in Arkham Knight and I was excited to see new villains like Deacon Blackfire, Man-Bat, and Professor Pyg make their first appearances in the Arkham series. There’s a little something here for all levels of Batman fans, and I doubt anyone won’t crack at least one smile at the references.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a pretty fantastic game. It has its downsides: I can see the Batmobile not topping many “most exciting new gameplay features” list, the story is a bit of a let down, and the game’s hand-to-hand combat could use a bit of simplification. Yet still, Arkham Knight is a delight to play and I was greatly enjoying every scene. Fans of the past Arkham games should jump right into Rocksteady’s last hurrah.