One of the biggest surprises of the last few console generation has been the Batman Arkham series. Prior to 2009’s Arkham Asylum, good superhero games were extremely hard to come by. For every Batman Returns on SNES, there were a bunch of Superman 64s. It got to a point where the term “superhero game” was synonymous with “failure.”
Arkham Asylum changed all that. While most cash-in superhero games are still pretty poor, at least we can count on the Arkham series to churn out a top notch game every few years. This year is no different. Arkham Knight is the conclusion of the Arkham Asylum/City/Knight trilogy, and it’s perhaps the most ambitious and massive undertaking in a Batman game so far. Everything about Arkham Knight is bigger and better, from Batman’s combat moves to the size of the city (now traversable in the Batmobile). Even the story has a much bigger scale than in previous games, even if it does remind me a bit too much of the plot of Batman Begins.
For starters, let’s talk about how gorgeous the game looks. Batman, his rogue’s gallery, and the city of Gotham have never looked so sharp. Everything from the smallest hole in Batman’s cape to the splashing of mud off the Batmobile’s tires is absolutely spectacular to look at. Especially impressive are wet rain effects. While gliding through the city, it’s hard not to notice how awesome Batman’s cape looks covered in rain, fluttering about in the wind. The entire city of Gotham is dark and bleak, yet at the same time, bright and teeming with personality (interesting considering how the city is basically empty). If you played through any of the previous Arkham games at all, you should feel right at home here. Gotham is yours to play with, and this time around you get the Batmobile.
The brilliant thing about the addition of the Batmobile is how seamless the integration is to the rest of Batman’s arsenal. It’s more an extension of Bats himself than a separate entity; think of it more like another one of his gadgets like the Line Launcher or Remote Hacker. You can call on the Batmobile at almost anytime when you’re out and about in the city, and whenever you’re ready to leave the car, you can simply eject into a glide and go about the city. The Batmobile can even be accessed remotely, giving Batman an additional tool to figure out environmental obstacles.
Batman was always able to move about the city at a brisk pace, with his ability to propel himself through the air via grappling hook, but actually having the Batmobile at your disposal makes the city feel even more open. It’s an extra means of transportation, and when used in conjunction with gliding and grappling, it makes the user feel truly like…well, Batman. When driving around the city, you can use the Batmobile like a normal car (albeit one with tank wheels, armor, and an afterburner). When you run into enemy tanks, a quick button push transforms the Batmobile into Battle Mode, where it basically becomes a free moving tank with a cannon and machine gun. Don’t worry, if there are enemies running about, Batman will shoot them with riot bullets meant only to stun. Interestingly enough, however, you CAN run people over, which seems odd considering Batman’s code against killing.
The enemy tanks sequences in the game are exciting the first few times you experience them, but I soon grew weary of them. You really only experience the same two types of enemies each time you run into a squad; either your lower powered missile/rocket weaklings that attack in numbers, but can be dispatched with a cannon shot or two, or Cobra tanks, which are much more powerful and can only be destroyed via a weak spot on their back. Cobras are a major pain in the ass; they can destroy the Batmobile with a couple of shots, attack in packs of four or five (or more), and generally trap you in claustrophobic alleys and narrow streets. It becomes a game of positioning, but you’ll almost always come out on top with no issues simply because the Batmobile is faster and more manueverable than the Cobras.
The remainder of the gameplay is pretty much unchanged from pervious entries, but is much more polished. After two previous Batman games, Rocksteady is now a master of their craft, and combat is fast, furious, and satisfying. Batman can now weild weapons that enemies drop. It’s pretty awesome to beat on a thug, grab the crowbar he dropped, and finish him off with swipe. There are also sequences when you’ll team up with an ally (Catwoman, Nightwing, Robin, etc) which gives you an opportunity to perform tag team moves. The tag move is not much more than pressing a button and watching a cool animation, but when you finish the move, you take control of the other character. Perform another tag move, and you’re back to Batman (you can switch between the two at any time).
Predator sequences received a slight facelift, and was probably my favorite change from previous games. In Asylum and City, these sequences were almost exclusively confined to indoor areas. Anytime a mission sent you into a building, you were pretty much guaranteed to play through a Predator sequence. Here in Arkham Knight, Predator sequences not only happen indoors, but out in the city as well. This is an extremely welcome change and makes the transition into Predator gameplay much less predictable. Now it gives you the feeling that you’re actually choosing to go into Predator mode as opposed to being forced into one gameplay style. In short, it makes me feel even more like Batman. I can jump onto a rooftop with fists swinging, or I can swing around the gargoyles and floor vents, picking off enemies one by one.
While we’re on the subject of Predator sequences, a new concept called the Fear takedown has been introduced. When your “Fear” meter is full and you are well hidden (usually in floor vents), you can choose to either perform a slient takedown like in previous games or go into a multi-foe takedown, which uses your Fear meter. Multi-foe takdowns can see Batman take out up to five enemies, and work basically like the mark and kill feature in Splinter Cell Conviction and Blacklist (sans guns, of course). You don’t use the fear takedown too often, and it only really works if you’re completely hidden, but successfully taking out a whole team of armed goons in slo mo is simply badass. And yes…it makes me feel even MORE like Batman.
I won’t delve too much into the story since I don’t typically like spoiling the plot, but as I’m sure you all know by now, Gotham is being threatened by Scarecrow, who has given all the citzens 24 hours to evacuate the city before he covers the entire city in his fear toxin. For once, there’s finally a convenient explanation as to why Gotham City always seems to be empty except for the criminal element. Alongside Scarecrow is a mysterious new threat called the Arkham Knight, someonewho proves to be more than a match for Batman. Looking like a Batman Beyond-esque armored version of Batman himself, the Arkham Knight has just as many gadgets, just as much smarts, and a whole army to boot. He knows all of Batman’s moves before they happen, and through much of the story, you feel like a mouse where the Arkham Knight is a cat, just toying with you and never shutting up with his taunts. Compared to previous Arkham games, Arkham Knight has a miniscule number of supervillain boss fights. Where Origins had some pretty sweet battles (think Deathstroke), here I could name off maybe only two instances where I would even consider it to be a “boss battle.” Most of the resolution is handled via the story, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to being a tad disappointed that there weren’t more epic bosses. Ah well, at least I have all those awesome Riddler challenges to do (sarcasm).
The version of Arkham Knight that I have includes a couple of extra DLC; a bunch of Scarecrow challenges, and a short Harley Quinn themed episode. A few extra suits for Batman and his friends and some additional Batmobile skins round out the extras, which also includes mainstays like concept art and character viewer. Future DLC will be released, with the most recent being a Batgirl episode. And of course, there’s a season pass. It’s more of a shock NOT to have one these days, isn’t it?
With the exception of one or two instance where the game felt a bit too repetitive (tank sequences and no boss battles), Batman: Arkham Knight is by far the best Batman game of this entire Arkham series. Rocksteady had years of making Batman game under their belt, and Arkham Knight is their magnum opus. All that they have experimented with in the past have been mashed together into a glorious ride of Batman-ness. You can fight as Bats, drive like him, sneak like him, and destroy an entire squad of soldiers like him…all while listening to perhaps the definitive voice actors for each of the characters. ANd when you’re done with the main story, you have more to do in the form of side missions, challenges, and DLC galore. It’s hard to imagine a Batman game getting much better than this, folks.