Review: Batman: Arkham Knight

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Arkham Knight represents a number of things for Rocksteady’s Batman franchise – it’s the fourth game under the Arkham banner, the first game on new-gen consoles, and the third part in Rocksteady’s trilogy (for those of you playing at home, 2013’s Arkham Origins prequel was developed by WB Montreal instead). With a bigger Gotham playground than ever before, can Bats’ final chapter live up to the hype?

Fair warning here: if you haven’t played through Batman: Arkham City yet — and don’t want it spoiled — stop reading now.

Arkham Knight begins in a post-Joker Gotham, nine months after the Clown Prince of Crime’s death at the end of Arkham City. The city has seen an unusually crime-free few months, before a new threat steps onto the stage – a returning Scarecrow, creepier than ever before and touting an even more deadly strain of his fear toxin. Standing at his side is a new, unknown adversary in the form of the titular Arkham Knight, a masked foe who knows Batman’s every move even while the Bat has no idea what to make of him. With the threat of private militia forces and a Fear Bomb hanging over the city, it’s up to Batman & Co. to step up and defend the city once more.

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The ‘& Co.’ part is one of the most welcome changes in Arkham Knight. Once relegated to the occasional radio communication, Batman’s stable of allies and protégés finally step up alongside their leader to take down this new threat together. Not only do characters such as Oracle, Nightwing, Robin and Catwoman play a part in the story of the game, they also become playable at various points throughout. Each character has their own subset of missions to play along, which regularly allow toggling of control between Batman and his companion, including combat scenarios which are extremely well executed. In addition to the chaining of combos, you can switch between characters on the fly and even eliminate enemies in special tag-team takedowns. It’s great to see the extended roster featured in more than challenge rooms and that weird ‘Catwoman mode’ from Arkham City.

The combat itself has been refined even further for this latest outing; snappy and responsive as ever, Batman will be leaping to and fro, taking down enemies in brutal chain combos using his fists, legs and assortment of gadgets. With a combination of blunt weapons, guns, knives and turrets at play the combat can become overwhelming however. There’s no denying that this is a well-executed system, but the sheer volume of different warnings and onscreen prompts can be overwhelming.

Having to remember the difference between blue, yellow and red warnings was more than enough, but now some of these are context-sensitive to boot. Red can be a rushing enemy or gunfire, requiring you to not only react fast but comprehend the exact nature of the threat at the same time. It’s true there are only so many ways to convey this information, but in this reviewer’s case combat was as much of an information-parsing challenge as it was a gameplay challenge. Sometimes, I just wanna punch a bunch of guys until they fall down.

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Speaking of well-executed systems: the Batmobile. Oh my, the Batmobile. The biggest new element in Arkham Knight, this vehicle adds a whole new dimension to gameplay. More tank than car, the new-and-improved Batmobile is a non-stop juggernaut and Swiss Army tool in Bruce Wayne’s campaign to protect the city. Almost surpassing the zipline-and-cape combo for fun traversal, the Batmobile is integral to many missions throughout Arkham Knight’s story Racing challenges and high-speed pursuits are not all that’s on offer for the Batmobile- its ability to transform into an all-directional battle mode pits it as a great combat platform as well.

The Batmobile is crucial to taking down the tank drones choking the city of Gotham, and the various upgrades available allow it to become an ever-more threatening foe to the Arkham Knight’s forces. I won’t lie, however – at times, the Batmobile felt more curse than blessing. One subset of missions sees the Riddler returning to make trouble in the form of Batmobile challenges. Ranging from puzzles to time trial challenges, Edward Nygma asks a lot of a vehicle that both steers like and IS a tank. Anyone who knows me via social media will be aware that some of the later missions in this chain required fine motor control that I just didn’t think my body was capable of. Nevertheless, the good outweighs the bad so the Batmobile gets a reluctant Bat-thumbs-up from me.

Visually, the new platform allows Arkham Knight to deliver a Gotham City that just feels… RIGHT. Gotham is unrelentingly rainy, dark and foreboding, studded with neon lights and Gothic architecture that truly captures the essence of the Batman’s home town. Watching Batman glide through the city with rain running of his cape is a delight, as is smashing through that same (destructible) city with the Batmobile. Added detail in the character models allows more expression and visual storytelling than ever, with Batman looking slowly more bedraggled as the main story wears on – this has been a staple throughout the series, but the many bumps and scratches on the more mechanised Batsuit offers more vsual storytelling than ever before. Various upgrades to the Batmobile subtly change its appearance over time, and the additional touches such as mud building up on the tires really make the game feel like a living world.

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Some of the best stuff in the game however, is the hardest to talk about without venturing deep into spoiler territory. Suffice to say that the game makes excellent use of ambient storytelling and visual trickery, features that are definitely needed in a story where Scarecrow’s fear toxin has the ability to twist your perception of the world around you. If you manage to go into this game without accidentally reading anything about the story, you’re in for some surprising and very effective twists.

All in all, Batman: Arkham Knight is an excellent final chapter for Rocksteady’s trilogy. Over the course of the last six years they have really distilled the essence of a great Batman game, so it’s sad to think that there’s a chance this might be it for their Bat-instalments. However, with a string of Superman-related Easter eggs prompting speculation that Clark Kent might be up next for the video game treatment, there’s always something to look forward to! That said, if Arkham Knight is our last look into this version of the DC universe, it’s an exceptional swan song.

Batman: Arkham Knight was reviewed using a retail copy on PS4, as purchased by the reviewer.

 

Review: Batman: Arkham Knight
9 out of 10

The good

  • A truly immersive version of Gotham.
  • Featuring the entire Batfamily!
  • You can use your preorder skins from the start of the game.

The bad

  • Difficulty spikes in some challenges.
  • Almost too many layers to combat.

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