Batman: Arkham Knight Review
Superhero Video Games are notoriously difficult to make. Many have tried and failed to get it right. Being a superhero, the player is super powerful and then pretty much any sense of threat or peril is removed from the game and it is no longer fun to play. Often, these games just turn into simple brawlers or beat-'em-ups.
That is until 2009 when Rocksteady and Warner Brothers released Batman: Arkham Asylum. The Batman game we had all been waiting for. Batman is above all a man, albeit a wealthy, agile, intelligent man with a lethal arsenal of weapons and billions in the bank.
He does not have any super powers, so to speak. This mortality makes him a much more sympathetic character. His gadgets give him an advantage when fighting or investigating crime. Sure, he can outsmart anyone or best anyone in a fight, but if the numbers are really stacked against him then how will he fare? If you prick him, does he not bleed. If he bleeds, he can be killed.
In Arkham Asylum, Batman's arch-nemisis, the Joker, tries to take control of Arkham Asylum and traps Batman in the Asylum, surrounded by his many foes while trying to prevent Joker from blowing up Gotham City.
That game, written by several veteran Batman writers and voiced by Kevin Conroy (the voice of Batman: The Animated Series for many years) got the tone and feel of being Batman just right. Trying to outwit the Joker, played beautifully by Mark Hamill, and stay alive long enough to prevent disaster befalling the citizens of Gotham was a difficult and enjoyable task.
A huge success critically and commercially, the game's sequel two years later, took the formula and made it bigger and better. Batman: Arkham City had the same feel of the first game, but Batman was more powerful, having retained many of his gadgets and smarts from the first game. This time his foe and hunting ground was bigger, too. Joker, suffering the ill effects of the Titan overdose he took in Arkham Asylum, seems to be close to death unless a cure can be found. Although they often say that a wounded animal can be more fearsome than a healthy one.
Trapped inside the huge Arkham City complex, Batman must fight against his legion of enemies and even fight to find a cure for his old nemesis, to save the people of Gotham who had been poisoned with Joker's blood in a bid to force the Dark Knight's hand to help the Joker recover.
Brilliantly played out in the beautiful, huge, walled city of Arkham, it fulfilled everything a sequel should do. Bigger, Bolder, Better.
The city and supporting cast of heroes and villains are as much a part of the game as the Caped Crusader himself.
But what could Rocksteady do to beat that? Surely, if Batman was more powerful again in the sequel they would run into the problem of all Superhero Games. If there is no threat, there is nothing driving you forwards nothing to stop you running headlong into every confrontation without fear of reciprocation.
Batman: Arkham Knight
Fast forward four years for the next sequel - we'll ignore Arkham Origins, as it was not developed by Rocksteady - and a new console hardware generation brings many great possibilities for a sequel - Bigger, check; Bolder, check; More Beautiful, check; But is it better?
In one word: Yes.
Events at the end of Arkham City meant that Joker would not be returning as the lead bad guy. His absence has left a power vacuum in Gotham that was never going to last. The game starts in a crowded Gotham City, streets bustling with people as a beat cop enters a local diner for a bite to eat, he is called over to stop a man smoking only for Scarecrow to unleash a dose of his fear toxin resulting in a shoot up that leaves many dead.
Scarecrow has launched his master plan, and warns all of Gotham that they will not be safe as long as they are within the city limits. An evacuation is called and the city is abandoned to Scarecrow and his band of goons. A clever plot device to ensure that you are free to roam the streets, knowing that only bad guys are out there, and minimise the potential collateral damage of civilians, but it works well in the context of the game.
Early in the investigation Batman is faced with a new foe: Well trained, well financed and seemingly well-schooled in Batman's fighting and detective style. The Arkham Knight comes with an equally well trained and well-oiled army of foot soldiers and technology designed to frustrate and even destroy Batman. But who is he, and why does he seem to hate the Bat so much?
How does it look and feel?
One of the great parts about the Arkham trilogy is that it is a very character-driven story. Bruce Wayne wants to save the city and those he loves; There are familiar faces from Batman's past in this game: Allies such as Night Wing (the Artist formerly known as Robin), Robin (the artist currently known as Robin), Oracle and Alfred;
The many arch villains in of the piece are well developed individuals, with their own driving force. Some, like Catwoman or Poison Ivy are possibly on your side, but others like Penguin and Two Face are most definitely not.
The environment has always played a big part in the Arkham series, and Gotham City is over five time the size of Arkham City from the previous game. It's open to explore from rooftops and street level and inside many of the buildings. More impressive than the vast city scape, with it's three distinct islands and many smaller islands in between is the fact that it all loads seamlessly. No longer do you have to wait for the game to load when you switch from outside a building to inside.
It is not just the visuals that get a well-deserved bump in the new consoles, the audio is greatly improved and plays a vital role in not only making the city seem alive but is also used to great effect to provide clues to the whereabouts of a nearby crime scene to investigate.
How does it play?
The Arkham series got the formula right for being Batman. No longer were you playing Batman, you had gadgets, guile and brawn that could work your way out of all problems. All the gadgets from the earlier games return for this iteration and are used to more effective sleuthing - this game is a series of set-piece encounters with multiple hired goons for you to freeflow combat against. At times you will need to analyse crime scenes and security recordings to try and determine what happened and where to go next.
This does not slow down the game, rather it increases the immersion in being the World's Greatest Detective. Solutions are not handed on a plate and require a little noodling before you move the investigation forward.
There is plenty for you to investigate: You could concentrate on the main story to track down and thwart Scarecrow's dastardly master plan to have Gotham destroy itself and that would take a number of hours. But, this is a living Gotham and there are many criminals all vying for your attention and whether you just stumble across a crime in progress or actively help GCPD investigate reported crimes there will be enough to keep you busy for the whole night.
Playing as Batman is a rewarding experience, you feel that the hand-to-hand combat is balanced well along with the stealth and exploration sections. Batman's plethora of gadgets do not make him as invincible or invisble as you would expect - Arkham Knight knows all Batman's old tricks and has some tricks of his own to beat the Bat at his own game.
One new 'character' of Batman: Arkham Knight is the Batmobile. This has been a Marmite addition to the game among fans - feeling that it was like bringing a sledgehammer into a situation that has usually been handled with a surgical knife.
It is true. The Batmobile takes some getting used to: it's armour, speed and weaponry feel alien for an Arkham game. In part, this can be explained by the default control scheme that requires you to hold a button to switch between Driving and Battle modes. The default scheme places this button as the one you would have associated from years of driving games as the Brake button and can lead to frustration as you chase a bad guy through the streets only to inadvertently switch to Battle Mode mid-chase. In the options, you can change this to a different button to toggle modes.
The Batmobile is definitely an important addition to the game and Rocksteady want you to use it often, and at various points the main story or several side quests require the car in order to advance the game. It is this mandatory use of the car in certain sections that goes against the freeflowing and open world created for Batman to do his thing.
It has to be said that although I initially disliked the Batmobile, I grew accustomed to it and rather enjoyed the battle sections before the end of the game.
The controls are responive and scaling large buildings, gliding around the city become as natural as hiding in the dark to pounce on an unsuspecting henchman to be taken to GCPD lockup.
This is a studio that are at the peak of their craft. Through the Arkham series Rocksteady have had a natural feel for what would be right for Batman to do or say, for how it would feel to be Batman in a given situation.
The size and scope of the map are all the more amazing considering the lack of loading screens when changing from one location to another.
Batman: Arkham Knight is the conclusion of a masterful trilogy and the beautfiful city of Gotham is the perfect place for this showdown with may of Batman's biggest and firecest enemies.
Graphics: Gotham looks beautiful and can be explored inside and out without loading during transitions.
Sound: Although some of the Goon small talk can get repetitive, the audioscape of Gotham invites you to pay attention and listen out for clues to help you overcome a situation or uncover a crime
Gameplay: This is a fantastic adventure, a perfectly honed single player experience that let's you play Batman as you would like - stealth or brawn and be equally effective as both.
Batmobile: Initially, at least, the Batmobile sections are jarring. After changing controls and more practice it is less so. Although the compulsory sections seem to be included to prevent players just abandonning the car at the start of the game (yes, we tried!)
This review was carried out on the Xbox One with a purchased copy of the game, completion of the main story and side quests took about 36 hours. PlayStation 4 owners can receive exclusive content not available on Xbox One, also a marginally better screen resolution (1080p vs 900p) although you would need to look at both side-by-side to notice this. PC Owners have had poor experiences with the game, which caused Warner Bros. to recall the game on PC and attempt to patch bugs out and eventually refund players for the incomplete game experience.