Welcome to Gotham, city of fear
Played on: PlayStation 4
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release: November 27, 2018 (Batman: Arkham Collection)
***SPOILERS for Batman: Arkham Knight***
Do you know what’s even more difficult than crafting a sequel? Making further sequels.
Rocksteady had a tall task ahead of them. The predecessors to Arkham Knight were lauded for defining a generation of action-adventure games. This entry in the already-iconic series had to adopt the “go big or go home” approach. A new generation of consoles presented a smattering of new possibilities. The team had a series to finish, and they intended to close it out with style.
A larger open-world, new ways of traversing it, and a spate of new gameplay mechanics are just some of the elements introduced in this series-closing epic.
Bigger? Yes. Ambitious? Yes. Better? Let’s find out.
It was surreal returning to Arkham Knight for several reasons. One of which was Gotham City—the much-expanded sandbox for this threequel.
It feels like a somewhat different space than Arkham City and Arkham Asylum. While the presence of neon colours and cartoonish qualities can still be felt, it feels like it has been toned down a few notches. Replacing some of the more flamboyant feature-filled facades are buildings under construction and brown scale buildings, more closely reminiscent of the Gotham City in Batman Begins. It’s a shame that the more radiant aspects of the city have been toned down, but it does make it more consistent with the story content in this divisive entry of the Arkham series.
As ever, there is a lot to do in this iteration of the famous fictional city. Side quests, Riddler trophies, and crime galore—Batman has never been so busy in the gaming world.
Upon my first attempt at playing Arkham Knight, I didn’t manage to explore too much, which is something I sought to remedy on this outing. This time around, barring the Riddler trophies, I explored and experienced pretty much everything the city had to offer. While some of the side content and general vibes of the city aren’t quite as memorable as Knight’s predecessors, it was a consistent pleasure to glide around the skies.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only mode of transport available within the game.
The batmobile-sized elephant in the room
The Batmobile sections largely weren’t fun when I first played the game, and they’re largely unenjoyable now too.
That’s not to say it’s a bad concept. It’s perfectly viable to have Batman chasing down bad guys in a pursuit fashion and bringing them to justice, the main issue is with the tank battle sections. The tank battles are still as immersion-breaking as ever, and the convenient excuse of un-manned tanks doesn’t make the concept more palatable. It’s not Batman-like and scuppers what could have been an excellent boss battle with Deathstroke. It would have been way easier to deal with the Batmobile if its sections were optional, but there’s a significant amount of scenarios where the vehicle is required and it becomes exhausting very quickly.
I originally started playing this game in 2017 and quickly rage quit during the Cloudburst tank battle sequence.
At the time I had no investment made in Batmobile upgrades and I saw the fight as insurmountable. Fast forward several years and I won the skirmish with ease—what was the difference? I actually invested in the Batmobile, with it being fully upgraded by the time I reached that fateful fight again. I learned from my previous mistakes but it’s absolutely not a good look to create an expansive skill tree, where the player is somewhat funneled into upgrading just one section of it, only to perform better in an exhausting branch of the gameplay.
And don’t even get me started on those Riddler race tracks.
[REDACTED] is dead and I can’t stop laughing
I’ve had several years to wrap my head around the main narrative beats and I still can’t decide if I hate them, or if I think they’re passable.
The namesake—the Arkham Knight—is Jason Todd because of course, he is. This was a particularly disappointing revelation, albeit unsurprising. Rocksteady led fans to believe that this was a new character, and it wasn’t. Jason is already one of the more complex characters within the Batman mythos and absolutely didn’t need to be saddled with this identity too. It felt like a lazily patched-together take on the Red Hood story arc, without any of the intrigues that made the original so enjoyable and iconic. Late-game redemption and being fun as the playable Red Hood character aside, this was the biggest failure of the game.
Another major arc that I feel endlessly ambivalent about is the presence of The Joker.
Mark Hamill is and always will be excellent in the role, he is the definitive voice of the Clown Prince of Crime, but I’m unsure as to whether his appearance enhanced anything in the game. There are some cool scenes where Batman is hallucinating and seeing Joker provide witty monologues, but that is about it. If Rocksteady stripped away the presence of the character, it would have been a more focused story with Scarecrow as the true villain, and importantly it would have proved that Batman can exist and thrive without The Joker.
Some of the Joker scenes are just plain odd and took me out of the game. In the various scenes where The Dark Knight is seeing The Joker—bearing in mind, he exists only in his brain—I couldn’t help but imagine what other characters were seeing. Is Bats rolling around the floor, struggling with himself, or what? I understand that the characters are intrinsically linked and are “destined to do this forever”, but this was too literal.
“I don’t need help”
Have I mentioned that the combat is f*****g awesome in this game?
The hand-to-hand fights are completely refined and feel smoother than ever. It’s more believable than ever that this man can take down dozens of thugs at once due to a much-improved sense of agility and ruthlessness. One of the highlights is fear takedowns. In Arkham Knight, players can take down multiple armed foes at once through a snappy quick time event. It’s empowering and gave the developers room to not only expand the predator sections but also blur the line more between the stealth gameplay against armed foes and traditional fisticuffs.
I tried going back to the previous titles to compare the combat more directly, and there is no competition, Arkham Knight absolutely has the best action in the series. Rocksteady Studios got one thing unequivocally right and that is the combat outside of the Batmobile.
Playing as Batman, you don’t feel like you need help, but when it comes to the narrative, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Batman is slowly going insane or… becoming… The Joker. He is up against a mercenary force, complete with armoured vehicles of destruction, and The Scarecrow is working with the Arkham Knight and his aforementioned army to terrorise Gotham. At what point does the man not need help? It’s part of Batman’s character to refuse help and go at it alone, and he does so to protect those who he loves, this isn’t a criticism of this character. However, when there is a genocide underway and he doesn’t accept the assistance of his years-trained and highly tenured vigilante companions, it crosses the line from being a character quirk to impractical.
It’s undoubtedly in-keeping with the Batman character for him to work alone, but not when he is up against a literal army and atrocities are being committed. I can already hear people saying “but he got help from Poison Ivy”, and while he did, that only happened because he literally wouldn’t have been able to save the city without her.
I fully believe that Batman: Arkham Knight is going to plague my thoughts for the rest of my life.
It’s a game that betrays itself as much now as it did years ago, and it’s sad that some of its best moments are contained within downloadable content. For every sublime fistfight, there is another egregious Batmobile tank battle waiting to happen. For every awesome Scarecrow scene (voiced by the incomparable John Noble), there is another unnecessary Joker hallucination.
It’s worth playing to complete the story of the “trilogy” (shout out to Arkham Origins for being underrated) and to experience its wonderful combat, but it’s not a closing chapter I expect to re-play any time soon.
All images are taken from the Batman: Arkham Knight press kit here
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