Batman: Arkham Knight review

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The Joker is dead. Batman’s most iconic and volatile enemy is out of the picture. So how good can a Batman game be without him? As it turns out, it can be extremely good. The struggle between Batman and his erstwhile nemesis can actually be a stumbling block in the way of some much more interesting stories regarding the Dark Knight, but TV, film and comics insist on dragging the clown prince of crime back from the dead for the sake of a more immediately attractive story.

The Arkham Knight proves that you don’t have to do that. The Joker’s function as a polar opposite to Batman works as well in death as it does in life. It’s not a spoiler to say this – the very first thing you do in Arkham Knight is manually incinerate the grinning lunatic; watching the skin peel from his eyes and lips as ‘Rocksteady Studios’ passes across the screen. This is the last game in a proposed trilogy of Arkham games, and Rocksteady and its director Sefton Hill want to say a lot in this wave goodbye (Origins doesn’t count – it was made by Warner Bros. Montreal).

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The narrative begins to distort and set itself up within the first hour – so forgive our review: at the cost of avoiding spoilers we’re going to have to talk about some of the game’s elements rather vaguely. To that end, our absolute favourite thing about Arkham Knight is its respectful approach to cinema. That sounds absurd, right? In a game that almost never takes you off the stick, the way Arkham Knight treats the camera is nothing short of masterful.

It’s no secret that the big bad of this game is Scarecrow – the Fear Gas-wielding lunatic that posed as the primary antagonist in Asylum. The way the first game in Rocksteady’s trilogy played with psychosis and fear was innovative: messing with perspective and player-oriented control was amazing back in 2009, but it was quickly aped in other games (including Arkham Origins, to underwhelming effect).

Arkham Knight reclaims the camera trickery as its own, but rather than the Fear Gas inspired mind games being confined to scattered setpieces, it permeates the whole game. Every cutscene, every enemy encounter, every time you’re navigating the wider world of Gotham… it sounds hammy, crow-barred in, but it isn’t. It’s actually pulled off in a very subtle and impressive way – self-aware and playful. Supported by some terrific voice-acting, it’s the most immersive part of the game. The characterisation and writing generally are worthy of a triple-A game: something we find ourselves unable to say very often these days.

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From there, we’re naturally lead to thinking about the game’s story: we write this just after we’ve wrapped up the main story, and we’re still trying to get our head around some of the conceits. We mentioned the camera play in relation to Fear Gas – that carries on into the general theme of things as well. The Joker might be dead, but his legacy from City is alive and well, and his grip on the minds of the heroes and villains of Gotham shapes this game from beyond the grave.

This is a more intimate story than City ever was, and uses the expanded DC cast far better than Asylum did, resulting in a more domestic, inviting narrative that genuinely makes you want to race through the game to save everyone that needs saving. For the hardcore fan, heady notes of Death In The Family, Killing Joke and The Long Halloween can be detected within the rich compound that forms Arkham Knight’s DNA, all wrapped up with that now-traditional Rocksteady polish. We genuinely forgot about trying to uncover the identity of the Knight at some points, because we were so wrapped up in all the other surprises the game had in store for us, still, when the time came for all to be revealed… it was a true ‘goosebumps moment’.

So, that being the most immersive facet of the game, let’s talk about the least immersive… the Batmobile. Granted, the Arkham series needed something to bolster its explore-puzzle-fight-repeat rhythm, but the car sections feel somewhat out of place a Batman game… It’s thrilling to be able to hop into the car and zip around the streets of Gotham (and it actually makes the whole place feel more ‘lived in’ and rounded than Arkham City’s, um, city) but if you’re just playing the Story mode through to see all those twists and turns in Batman’s darkest night, you’ll be sitting through a lot of car sections.

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That’s the thing, though – if you confine yourself to playing the story exclusively, you’ll only be seeing the most impressive areas of Gotham City and the shiny new toys that Rocksteady have given the caped crusader to play with. Go exploring, and you’ll meet a couple of new faces in the Arkham-verse (Man-Bat and Hush, just to name a few none-too-spoilery additions). Otherwise, your erstwhile helpers Lucius Fox and Alfred Pennyworth will be checking fairly often to drop upgrades on you and give you advice about what’s going on during the course of the night.

On that note, it’s worth saying that anyone that loved how Arkham City dealt with extra-curricular activities is going to feel very at home mopping up the Most Wanted side-missions. Anyone that loved the intimate, mind-bending combat puzzles of Asylum is going to enjoy tackling the various militia outposts under the command of Deadshot – having to use the full gamut of gadgets available to you in the past games, plus a few more Bat-toys to boot.

The Riddler makes a return, too, his puzzles requiring all of the cerebral gymnastics of the last two games combined. Again, though, the Batmobile sometimes feels like too prevalent an element in the puzzle designs – yes, it’s cool, yes, we finally get to drive it around, but some of the tight puzzle designs seem to unravel a bit when held against the more intimate Batman-centered stuff.

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That said, The Riddler challenges tend to have you paired up with Catwoman – and that’s another amazing part of this game: our favourite moments, by far and away, were the tag-team sections. There are at least three members of the expanded Bat-family that will pair up with you, allowing you to perform dual-team takedowns, explore their unique movesets and hear some pretty well-constructed Bat-banter en route.

To unlock the true end of the game (hinted at heavily during the opening cutscene), you’ll have to hit practically every completion percentage – so that includes clearing every checkpoint, unlocking every Riddler trophy and hunting down all the miscellaneous villains that have run amok in Gotham this night. And your reward is jaw-dropping. The finale of the game is yet more proof that Rocksteady is making strides in cinematic gaming that other developers should be taking notes on – a player-controlled camera has never felt so natural, so free, so important. This game series was built, it seems, with one core goal in mind – to make you feel like a superhero. Arkham Asylum did this physically – Bats was powerful and decisive in combat. City did this in its world – you had to prioritise what you wanted to save first, weigh up what it means to be Gotham’s saviour. Arkham Knight finally properly peeks under the cowl, gives you a real insight into Batman’s brain, truly makes you feel not just like Batman, but the fractured broken man that is Bruce Wayne.

If this is Rocksteady’s Batman swansong, which we have every reason to believe it is, the studio is making a point on its way out: it’s saying that it’s not just Christopher Nolan that can make a superhero entertainment dark and relatable, it’s saying that not only Marvel can construct properties with limitless appeal, it’s saying that superheroes aren’t what they used to be. They’ve changed, adapted for the dark days we live in. Batman struggles during the Arkham Knight – he’s finally held accountable for his ‘above the law’ attitude – and Rocksteady has masterfully and knowingly deconstructed the man behind the mask with such aplomb, even Alan Moore might give a begrudging nod of approval. This is the best superhero fantasy we’ve ever enacted, and we’re so sad it’s over.

9
You’ve never played a superhero game like it


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  1. elbiggus

    Sorry, were you playing a different game to the one I just finished? I’d say this is the *worst* of the four. Sure, it had some moments of shining brilliance, but at no point did I feel like I *was* Batman, and although years later I can still remember every inch of the maps from Asylum/City/Origins, in this game I have only the vaguest idea where anything is — it never felt like a city, it was just some stuff between where I was and the next waypoint (probably due to the map being too big for its boots; all the points of interest are spread too far apart, and 90% of the time you’re either staring at tanks (more about those later) or hundreds of feet above it so you never really get a sense of place.

    Personally I felt the brawling had *less* variety than previous games, and one fight seemed very much like another — in previous games the brawls got noticeably tougher as new enemy types were introduced, but even the final brawl on top of GCPD didn’t feel any different from the first one. I’ll admit enjoying the tag-team addition — it didn’t make a lot of practical difference but it at least provided some semblance of variety — and it returned to the flow of City rather than the fumbling of Origins, but other than that it seemed a retrograde step.

    The plot was… OK, I guess. The “surprises” were not surprising, the whole thing was unfocused, and the [SPOILER AVOIDING REFERENCE] you seem so fond of became overused and tiresome; the only reason I finished the plot was so it could be over, not because I cared. (And if “the world’s greatest detective” is surprised that chemicals are being mixed at THE CHEMICAL PLANT then what hope is there for mankind?)

    The whole driving the Batmobile thing was fun for precisely two minutes, and then for the rest of the game I groaned inwardly whenever I was forced into the infernal thing. And who came up with the idea of maybe a quarter of the gameplay being almost identical tank battles, who approved it, and why haven’t they been fired? Not only did it feel EXTREMELY un-Batmanlike, they were too numerous, too long, and too repetitive; hold L2: fire missile, strafe about to avoid fire while missiles recharge, fire missile, repeat — the only difference between the “climactic” tank battle and the first one is the number of enemies. A truly AWFUL addition to the game, and one that I did not enjoy even a tiny bit. (And don’t even get me started on the racing sections.)

    I’ve played Asylum, City, and Origins multiple times, 100%-ing them each playthrough, but Knight is getting traded in tomorrow — I could barely stomach finishing the plot and getting to about 75% overall completion, and the thought of playing it again at any point in the future holds no appeal for me whatsoever. This was an utterly disappointing conclusion to the series.

    (Oh, and for the record, Hush is not a new addition to the Arhkam-verse; he features quite heavily in Origins in a mission that Knight appears to have ripped off almost wholesale in the opera murder missions.)


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