I’ve been a fan of Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham games since day one, when Batman: Arkham Asylum came out of nowhere in 2009 and gave me the Batman gaming experience I had always dreamt of having. Its sequel, the far bigger and more ambitious Batman: Arkham City, was equally impressive and offered a continuation of everything I loved in the original.
Even Batman: Arkham Origins, while not developed by Rocksteady but by Warner Bros. Games Montréal, I also enjoyed, flaws and all, and thought it offered a great prequel story to Rocksteady’s two games. Obviously, I was very excited for Rocksteady’s triumphant conclusion to their trilogy, and have been anxiously waiting for Batman: Arkham Knight since it’s announcement early last year.
After committing the better part of two weeks to delving into everything Arkham Knight has to offer, I’m very happy to report that this is a tremendous way to end Rocksteady’s run with Batman, and while it comes with some unfortunate bumps in the road, it tells a compelling, psychological story for the Caped Crusader that is just as much fun to watch unfold as it is to actually play.
The game’s story starts off one year after the fallout left by the end of Arkham City, and in this time Gotham has enjoyed a relative state of peace. However, as these things usually go, this peace doesn’t last and on the night of Halloween, Scarecrow launches a chemical attack on the city that forces the entire populace to evacuate.
With the city all but abandoned and criminals running rampant, it’s up to Batman and his allies, including Commissioner James Gordon, Robin, Nightwing, Oracle, and a few surprising inclusions, to reclaim Gotham from Scarecrow’s unique brand of terror and destruction.
However, the story goes far deeper than that, and quickly proves to be more of a psychological mystery than its initial premise seems to suggest. In order to avoid spoilers, that’s as far as I’ll go with the plot, as it truly does come packed with plenty of exciting and surprising twists that completely change the structure of the story.
This is Batman at his most desperate and vulnerable, and as the story unravels, we’re treated to a somber and often unsettling look at the psyche of a man who has literally worn the weight of an entire world on his shoulders. It’s both profound and chilling, and easily ranks up there as one of the better Batman stories in recent memory.
With that said, the story does have a few setbacks that hold it back from perfection. While Rocksteady has repeatedly stressed that the Arkham Knight, a volatile ally of Scarecrow who has a personal vendetta against Batman, is an original character, the mystery surrounding his identity becomes blatantly obvious before the halfway point, as the story telegraphs one of its biggest twists far earlier than it had any right doing.
While disappointing, this is the only real flaw to speak of in the story, as nearly everything else comes across as smooth and well executed. The twists come at a steady pace, and keep you from never really knowing what to expect around the next corner, a feeling only amplified once Scarecrow begins to introduce his signature fear toxin into his master plan.
As the ending of Rocksteady’s Batman trilogy, Arkham Knight had a lot to live up to, and for the most part, it reaches the high expectations it set out for itself. This is a character focused story that values the development of its cast over the depth of its plot, and this approach works in its favor in more ways than one.
However, the final moments don’t deliver the kind of closure I was hoping for, but rather leave things open for future installments. While the actual climax was a brilliantly executed twist, and one of my favorite Batman moments I’ve seen in a long time, I was disappointed that Rocksteady left certain plot threads unresolved.
Still, as a whole Arkham Knight is a successful ending to the story that Rocksteady started with Arkham Asylum, and it builds on what came before in many fun and exciting ways. This is never more prevalent than in the gameplay, which retains the same fluid, free flow combat we’ve come to expect, but also adds in a whole new layer of depth that makes every confrontation feel like a new chance for experimentation.
More than ever, success in combat relies on quick timing and a mastery of the diverse combo system. Batman is frequently faced with a high number of enemies that grow more and more difficult to handle as the story progresses you will be required to use every tool available in Batman’s arsenal if you hope to survive.
There are times when the combat almost feels a little to complicated for its own good, as certain enemies require you specific gadgets in order to take them down which, something that occasionally throws off the pacing of a fight if you’re not prepared. It’s still possible to make it through the game without mastering all of the many combos, but expect some trial and error in the later missions.
Arkham Knight innovates with its mechanics more than any of the other games ever have, but it always manages to hold tight to the excitement players experience while fulfilling their vigilante dreams. The biggest example of this comes from the Batmobile, which is playable for the very first time and has a big role in the overall game.
The Batmobile is a lot like any of the other gadgets in Batman’s arsenal, as it can be used in a variety of unique and interesting ways depending on the given situation. However, the Batmobile quickly loses its charm when its repeatedly forced on the player in what seems like every other story mission.
While driving the Batmobile around the city is a blast, and is most fun when used to chase down criminals or traveling across the gigantic map of Gotham, the combat grows old very fast. This version of the Batmobile comes equipped with a powerful tank mode that can be initiated at any time, but as cool as it may look, the actual tank combat is slow, somewhat clunky, and just not very fun to play.
It’s not the the tank gameplay isn’t designed well, but rather that I never felt like Batman while doing it. Blowing up remote controlled drones over and over again grows repetitive very quick, especially when the game suddenly forces you to use the Batmobile in a series of frustrating stealth missions.
The Batmobile missions never failed to throw a wrench in the pacing of the game, and playing them feels like more of an obstacle that needs to be overcome rather than an integral part of the game’s story. It’s the only part of the game I didn’t enjoy, and would’ve vastly preferred to have had it as an optional approach to combat rather than a repeatedly required one.
The final third of the game is especially guilty of this, and it’s unfortunate that the game loses so much of its steam so close to the otherwise fantastic climax. The Batmobile is thankfully put to much better use in the many side quests available for you to play at your leisure. They use the Batmobile in much smaller quantities, and never overstay their welcome the way the story missions often do.
Even with its flaws though, Batman: Arkham Knight is a profoundly deep and enjoyable game that I spent many, many hours playing. If the tank combat left me frustrated, I could never stay away for to long because I was so invested in the story. Even after the credits rolled, I couldn’t put the controller down and am still working towards completing every possible mission in the game.
While not the perfect conclusion I may have been hoping for, Batman: Arkham Knight is the first game of the year I’ve truly lost myself to. I’ve spent at least sixty hours finishing the story and all the side missions, and am still working towards completing New Game+ and perfecting the various AR Challenge maps that I’ve unlocked.
This is one of the most visually impressive games I’ve seen from the current gen consoles, and its fantastic, suspense-driven story and exciting hand-to-hand combat are able to make up for a frustrating reliance on the tank combat. It’s probably my favorite game of the year so far, and even after spending an exorbitant amount of time playing it I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.