Batman: Arkham Knight has a lot to live up to. Both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are two of the greatest games of the previous console generation. Both games play so damn well and it only makes it even better that the game just so happens to be based on Batman. You can't go wrong with that! Furthermore, Arkham Asylum is also one of the most influential games released within the last ten years, with it's influence still found in games coming out now. Rocksteady have accomplished something almost unheard of: a perfect track record in game development. Yes, I love Urban Chaos: Riot Response!
It's been quite a while since Arkham City, though. Since then, Warner Bros. Montreal made Batman: Arkham Origins, which wasn't a bad game but it felt completely superfluous. Thankfully, Rocksteady's latest and possibly last entry in the Batman Arkham series is essential... well if you like these games anyway. I am not going to lie, Arkham Knight is in many ways very similar to the previous games, especially as far as the combat and stealth sections are concerned. But Arkham Knight is ambitious enough in other areas to help give the game its own identity and place in the franchise. At times Arkham Knight pushes itself too far and stumbles but for the most part, this a really great game and a fitting way to finish an excellent trilogy.
I am not going to go to much into the story featured in Batman: Arkham Knight because it really should be experienced yourself without any prior explanation. If you paid any attention to the game at all, you will know that the main villains terrorising Gotham City are The Scarecrow and the titular Arkham Knight. It starts off slow and uninteresting but the pace quickens a few hours into the game and from there, Arkham Knight doesn't let up. The story packs plenty of surprising "Oh snap!" moments, but all of it feels earned and satisfying. Arkham Knight does subtle storytelling and foreshadowing that rivals something like BioShock: Infinite, which is quite the compliment. You really need to finish this game as some of the stuff that happens towards the end is just great. Oh and if you haven't played through Arkham Asylum and City yet, do that first!
As I mentioned earlier, the core gameplay featured in Arkham Knight doesn't deviate from the previous games. Combat and stealth sections are almost identical to before. There are some new gadgets and enemy types to keep things fresh but for the most part, you will be using the same tactics that you have been using for several games now. That's not really a bad thing though as both the combat and stealth here is still as fun as it has ever been.
Many games have tried to copy Batman's specific rhythmic combat system but none have done it quite as well as Rocksteady. Each punch has a nice thump to it, maintaining long combo strings make you feel like a badass and how you are forced to mix up fighting styles mid combat as the game slowly introduces more enemy types helps make the game feel somewhat tactical as well. The main new enemy type who changes things up a bit is the medic, who is able to revive other incapacitated foes and later on, is able to give them an electric shield, which means you can't hit them conventionally. Yes, the combat has not changed much since Arkham Asylum, but it's still really bloody good anyway.
Stealth is also very similar. Like before, you will still be up on high ledges, monitoring your enemies below, trying to pick them off one by one. The only new system introduced is that you can now perform Fear Takedowns which allow you take down multiple thugs in a row. However, in order to do a Fear Takedown, you have to do a regular takedown first so it's not too overpowered.
While combat and stealth are very similar, Rocksteady have introduced a new mechanic that plays a big role in the game: the Batmobile. You may think that you only use the Batmobile in the open-world as a way to get from A to B but that's not the case at all. Plenty of moments in the main story require you to use the Batmobile and it's quite a big focus throughout a lot of the game.
While it is ambitious that Rocksteady have tried to incorporate the Batmobile into the game, it is probably the weakest aspect of Arkham Knight. At first, I hated the way it handled. The Batmobile here doesn't handle much like a regular car in a standard driving game. Instead, it feels very soapy and imprecise. On top of that, it's a bit weird that at any time, the Batmobile can transform from standard car mode to tank mode, which is where you will be doing lots of vehicle combat. The tank mode is a nice way of giving you some much needed precision on the fly but it is still all a bit strange.
Despite hating it in the beginning, I have to admit I warmed up to the Batmobile as I got further in the game. There is a learning curve associated with just learning how the Batmobile moves and getting used to the default controls. Acceleration is handled with the R2 trigger but reverse is mapped to the Square button, which takes a bit to get used to. I also actually enjoyed the vehicle combat. It sounds lame on paper but the tank battles are well designed and fun.
I just think the Batmobile is featured in the game a little bit too heavily. It might sound neat having to use the Batmobile in a puzzle-like fashion in order to help Batman progress but it slows the pace of the game down too much for me. Both Arkham Asylum and City are perfectly paced and I don't think that's true here in Knight, because sometimes there is too much time wasted on solving pretty basic puzzles involving your Batmobile. When I say puzzles, I mean you might have a wall that you need to smash down and you need to figure out a way of getting your Batmobile in a position so it could shoot down the wall for you, something like that. It feels remiscient to some of the puzzle solving type stuff we saw ages ago in Half-Life 2.
That's the only real flaw of the game I have though. The only other problem I have is that I wish they overhauled the whole Riddler challenge system. Yeah, collecting trophies and solving riddles was cool in Arkham Asylum but six years later, it feels really tired now. On top of that, Arkham Knight has plenty of infuriating Riddler puzzles that are physics based and they just don't behave like the way they should sometimes. I had to restart a checkpoint once because a Riddle puzzle completely broke. Oh and don't get me started on those awful Riddler race courses...
It's a shame that the Riddler challenge stuff is so lackluster because most of the side missions offered here are worth doing. On paper they all sound pretty straightforward, like rescuing hostages, interrupting bank heists or blowing up weapon caches but all of the side missions have a good pay off that makes them feel significant. Also, doing the side missions is the best way to earn upgrade points, which feel vital here. Between the story missions, the side missions and all of the optional challenges scattered throughout the world, there is plenty to do.
The best thing about Batman: Arkham Knight is Gotham City itself. It looks fantastic and despite being overrun with criminals, feels like a real place. The environments are stuffed with small little details that rival something like the Grand Theft Auto series. There's nothing cooler than gliding across Gotham as the Batman with the wind blowing your cape around while the rain is pissing down. This game absolutely nails what Batman should all be about and its overall aesthetic is absolutely amazing.
On a technical level, the game looks gorgeous, despite using a modified version of the aging Unreal Engine 3. Sure, there are plenty of animations recycled from previous entries but who cares, once you see this game in action, it is clear to see that Arkham Knight is one of the best looking games on the new consoles. The character models look superb, the special effects are amazing and the attention to detail just puts most other games to shame. Even the destruction system in the game is surprisingly solid, allowing Batman's Batmobile to plow right through a lot of objects in the game.
From a sound perspective, Batman: Arkham Knight can't be faulted at all. Special attention need to go out to the voice acting, which is excellent across the board and there's loads of it. The music is also so good in getting that Batman atmosphere down perfectly.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a great game, you really should play it. I know it's not too different from the previous games but who cares, it is still easily one of the best games to come out this year. It is a shame that the Batmobile wasn't implemented as smoothly as I would have liked but don't let that put you off, this is a riveting game that you should play until the very end.
FOUR OUT OF FIVE
(A great game that largely succeeds, but stumbles in some notable ways.)