It’s been a few years since Rocksteady had its developmental hands on the Arkham series. After two stellar games that critics and fans universally agreed upon, Rocksteady handed the reigns over to Warner Bros. Games Montreal, who developed the prequel Arkham Origins. The game wasn’t as well-received as Rocksteady’s efforts; it was a little too much of the same. I personally felt it was a huge excuse to keep primarily villains in their primary statuses and not venture off into something new. With Batman: Arkham Knight, Rocksteady is back under the Dark Knight’s armored cowl.
What’s It About?
Batman: Arkham Knight is the narrative successor to Arkham City and takes place just about a year after its events. The Joker is in fact dead and the city is in somewhat of a better place — but is Batman truly removed from his tortured past? Can he settle into peace time? Well, he doesn’t end up with a chance by the time you’ll step into Bat’s boots.
Scarecrow, a secondary villain to this point, has pushed himself to be the most powerful villain in Gotham due to his impending fear toxin attack. Employing a vast army of militia and drone forces led by the rage-fueled Arkham Knight, he’s become a far more legitimate threat to not only Batman, but to Gotham’s other super villains. But Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight are at odds. The former is focused on torturing Batman and ultimately tearing down Gotham through the fear that even their Dark Knight can be broken and beaten. The Arkham Knight, however, is a mysterious figure with some personal connection to Batman/Bruce Wayne, who is hell-bent on killing him. In what’s effectively a low-grade Iron Man-like version of the Batsuit, he makes it clear he knows exactly who Batman is and he has good reason to want him dead.
There are several Batman storylines and elements from both comics and film that are influencing Arkham Knight. Most notably, Scarecrow’s mission feels and looks very much like the basis of Batman Begins with the exclusion of the R’as ah Ghul and the League of Shadows. There are also natural extended elements of the Arkham Asylum: A Serious Place on Serious Earth (which the series is loosely based on), Batman: Knightfall, and The Killing Joke graphic novels. The Arkham Knight himself was a character created specifically for the game, but his story works its way into established Batman lore.
The story is easily the most packed of the Rocksteady trilogy but without being overly complicated or assuming you know everything about Batman. It strikes a wonderful balance between various Batman mediums and revisionist history to make it stand successfully on its own. What it really ends up being is a deep dive into Batman’s psyche; more than we’ve ever really had before. It’s fascinating to get into the dark mind of such a character, even if you may not be a psychology enthusiast. It tells the story in an engaging way, only ever really slowing down the pace when side missions pop up (more on that a little later). My only gripe with how Batman was portrayed was how much it focused on his desire to work alone. The way the character trait was written was a little forceful and unfortunate, because fighting alongside other characters was a great element of the combat. Otherwise, it’s a great sendoff for the trilogy.
Villain-wise, the titular Arkham Knight shares a good amount of the spotlight with Scarecrow. The latter may not have ever really seemed like the powerful type, such as the Joker or Penguin, but the writing and voice acting here (done by the always fantastic John Noble) really sell the character. The Arkham Knight is not necessarily a slouch, and ultimately does prove to be an interesting connection to Batman, but at times didn’t feel incredibly strong. He was almost too brash and out of his mind to kill Batman to really feel like he was too much more than a standard video game villain.
Why Should I Care?
Through this great story, you get a very engaging game. The pace actually proves to be quite solid and gives you the opportunity to glide and drive around Gotham more than ever before. Side missions have always been a big element of the Arkham games, but most tended to lean more towards standalone features or busy work. The Riddler Challenges were the most notable offenders of this, as there was typically no huge reason to gather all the Riddler trophies unless you were a completionist. That’s changed in Arkham Knight and primarily for the better.
All side missions are intrinsically tied to what’s going on with the main storyline. For example, Penguin and Two-Face are taking specific advantage of Arkham Knight/Scarecrow’s militia riots by running guns into the city and robbing banks, respectively. Azrael, the mysterious hooded figure who has tangoed with the Dark Knight in past Arkham games, is using the situation to prove to Batman that he can be a worthy successor. Even the Riddler has a more engaging storyline, capturing Catwoman and having more worthwhile (yet at times frustrating) missions — but there’s still a ton of Riddler trophies to collect. The primary downside is that you will never see the true ending of Arkham Knight without finishing the Riddler mission, which is accomplished by grabbing all the trophies. It’s a trap to get you to play through literally everything, but you won’t feel cheated with what you actually get.
Part of what makes the Riddler missions frustrating are the racing elements. It’s a new feature within the Arkham series, which teased the Bat-vehicles but never gave you control. This time, you’ll drive around in the pseudo-tank and it makes most travel that much easier. However, it doesn’t handle like most video game vehicles do as even the button mapping is non-traditional. For example, what you would typically expect to be the brake/reverse (left trigger) actually sets you into Battle Mode so you can use the canon and minigun loaded with concussive rounds. The Batmobile, stylized very much like the the new Batmobile to be featured within Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (a nimble tank), handles more like a character than a vehicle. It will definitely take some time to get used to, but there were times even halfway through the game where the handling was just so odd, I didn’t like driving. Still, the tank proves to be incredibly useful in many situations. You’ll have near constant access to it, calling it in remotely or even using it remotely so you can avoid major damage in combat.
These mission and transportation options give Arkham Knight the most open world out of the series. You have a better sense of freedom to move around the city and do what you please at your own pace. At times, I felt much like I did when I played Grand Theft Auto V because there wasn’t an insane rush to continue the primary story. I know that the side missions would give me a more complete picture of Arkham Knight as well as far more experience for upgrading Batman. The upgrade UI is far sleeker than before and was enjoyable to use. Previous iterations felt much more like a chore. Even the Dark Knight himself has a more kick-ass suit, which Lucius Fox points out will make him more protected, technologically-abled, and scarier.
Combat flows just as well as we’ve seen out of Rocksteady, but perhaps even more fluidly this time around. I found the flowing combat to be more accessible, with only the occasional moment of being engulfed in enemies causing some struggles. And while I liked using Batmobile takedowns (it’s pretty awesome to kick a guy in the air and see him get nailed with a 60mm concussive round), I liked dual combat opportunities with Robin, Nightwing, and Catwoman that much more. You won’t be forced into using these characters all too often, but revel at the chances you do get. They handle so well, Nightwing in particular, that I wished they were included more within the game. Switching characters is a breeze, with just a brief cinematic camera movement to ease you into the next character. Dual takedowns are an option, which work very similar to those with the Batmobile. However, not everything in the game handles so splendidly.
At this point, you’ve likely heard of the major snafus that the PC version of Arkham Knight has experience. My review is based on the console version of the game, which didn’t have the poor launch that the PC version did — but it’s not all too clean itself. There were at least five or six instances where the game glitched out and rendered it unplayable. There were a variety of glitches. Most often, the game would completely freeze upon a quick Batman action. Another couple times, a respawn had me fall through the environment into a couple thousand foot gap, or just get trapped within a normally inaccessible building. Only once did the gave work itself out of the freeze. For such a large game, a few loading issues may be excusable, but about a half dozen massive freezes really put a damper on my experience. Thankfully, none ever corrupted data (one was just around the time of a save), so I did not have to complete too much duplicated work.
Is It Worth My Time and Money?
Despite those glitches, the game is ultimately a great package. You end up with a fantastic Batman story that feels something the comics could accomplish far easier than a film would ever try to, but with a legitimate cinematic quality to it. I’d watch this game if given the opportunity, with its story telling and voice acting being at the level it is. There’s not even a need for multiplayer, which was a tack-on for Arkham Origins. It’s a fitting end to the trilogy Rocksteady put together, but there are so many hints and inclusions of other DC properties, such as Queen Industries and LexCorp, it made me wonder. Is a Superman game on the way? The Justice League? One can hope.
If you preordered the game, a brief story titled Harley Quinn’s Revenge is available, where she attempts to break Poison Ivy free from Bludhaven police. All content is promised within a standalone Season Pass priced at a whopping $40, featuring Batgirl, so if you really want the full Arkham Knight experience, you’re looking at $100. But if you’re looking for an incredibly strong and enjoyable game to kick off your summer, Batman: Arkham Knight should be at the top of your list.