The concluding chapter to gaming’s most successful superhero series to date, one of this year’s biggest blockbuster titles, competing with the likes of The Witcher and Bloodborne, the direct successor to what I believe to be the most blissfully sensual gaming experience to date, this is Arkham Knight. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Unique new features
First and foremost is the batmobile. This is a particularly divisive implementation, half of critics will tell you that it feels under-developed, forced, frustrating at times, the other half laud it as a satisfying reply to fans’ requests. I stand on a conflicted middle ground. I do enjoy the addition of the bat’s strong and silent companion, but to a degree. It drives like a blind badger, which is particularly miring in the Riddler’s batmobile track missions and the equally arduous Firefly chase missions. The turning is quite unresponsive, the turbo boost is far too quickly consumed and there is little to no incentive to use it considering that gliding is a far quicker and more aesthetically pleasing method of navigation. I want to say that the batmobile is useful at points, especially when collecting Riddler trophies, but that’s only because Rocksteady have made the batmobile mandatory in obtaining them all.
The batmobile’s combat is fairly inoffensive, at points it is fun, and in the beginning it feels like a challenging mini game, but this feeling quickly diminishes as the same exact combat sequences are repeated over and over and over again. It would have retained its charm if there were an actual variety of approaches to the combat, and a variety in weapons, however upgrade trees only provide for a slightly enhanced approach to the vanilla combat you experience at the very beginning of the game. It’s not bad, it’s just not particularly thrilling, and it feels quite dispassionately made.
Dual play is a joy to experience, it is successful in capturing the comic essence of beating up baddies with your sidekick, and it is particularly relieving to know that your fellow vigilante can pull you out of a tight corner at the touch of a button. Dual play is where combat flourishes in the game, which is why I feel annoyed at its limited use.
As far as I can tell (at 96% completion) I can’t see any new gadgets except the voice modulator, which can be used to command enemies to move to certain positions or perform certain tasks under the influence of their commander’s voice, and the batmobile remote control is also a new addition. There really isn’t much new in this title, but I don’t mind much as I find it hard to imagine any other gadgets the batman could possibly ever need or use (or hold in that utility belt). The voice modulator is particularly helpful in predator sequences. Another good but not quite original implementation is that the grapnel boost can now reach up to a 5x accelerator boost, which helps tremendously when navigating round the city.
A sprawling Gotham City is beautifully brought to life in the form of three magnificently, scrupulously rendered islands. It’s a shame that I can’t really talk about any of them. It’s becoming a trend for AAA games to boast maps 100 times larger than the previous instalment’s. This sounds good at first, but when you’re actually experiencing it, you almost never care, in fact it goes to the detriment of the game. The map is significantly larger than City’s, which means that you’re significantly less likely to become familiar with any section of the map, you’re significantly more likely to get lost, it takes significantly longer to travel, the world’s lore references are significantly diluted and the Riddler trophies are significantly more difficult to find. Don’t get me wrong, it looks gorgeous, but over 90% of the map is generic city filler. City’s map was perfect, I knew every corner and I knew the best route to get from every A to B. This map just feels bigger for the sake of trend, which not only is worse for the above reasons but also because there’s an awful lot of lag and pop-in because of it.
The new multiple fear takedowns provide a fantastic way to finish off a cowardly and superstitious lot. Other new additions to Arkham Knight’s predator mode primarily set out to challenge players; enemies now can detect your position if you use detective mode for too long a time, they can flush you out of grates with thermo charges, there is a new breed of enemy that is untraceable by detective mode, and there are now giant mini-gun brutes that require quite a deal of damage to take down. This all seems to make quite a futile challenge but the combo fear takedowns (which can be upgraded to take out 5 enemies at a time) is a strong enough buff by itself that it balances fairly smoothly.
The combat in the game is the best yet. While Origins’ shock gloves have been removed, the ability to take enemies’ weapons provides just the same buffs, and weapon (weapons being pipes and baseball bats) drops are not limited to combo levels. As well as this, environment and batmobile assisted takedowns provide a balance for the plethora of new combat challenges given. Giant enemies can now wield shields and knives, electro-enemies can now harm you if hit, and new medic enemies can revive downed players and create electro-enemies. This is the most challenging but most diverse system in the series’ history. For the first time in the series you have to take into account who you pick off first instead of just how you pick off enemies. A disappointing note, however, is that there are almost no boss fights, for no apparent reason. The only boss fights I can recall are the fairly bland batmobile sequences with one slightly buffed vehicle. This is a great disappointment to me, as bosses made up a lot of the lure of City. The boss fights were what made these villains intimidating.
This instalment has the most available upgrades yet, which I assume is a good thing as I am 96% complete and still have nowhere near enough points to unlock them all. Some upgrades require 8 points to unlock whereas completing an entire side quest may only grant you three. It is a very disproportionate and broken system that means players experience less of what the game has to offer.
As well as this, the points upgrade system is a very boring method of progression to me. I would much prefer an actual unlockable skin, gadget or ability rather than just… gift cards.
The game runs at a very meagre and not-next-gen 30fps that can hardly sustain itself when rendering its superfluously large city. The most notable drops occur when using the batmobile at full speed, and when gliding on the 5x grapnel boost. It is not so common as to completely taint the experience but framerate is a notably poor issue.
Overall, the visuals are stunning. The rain effects are gorgeous, from every tortuous droplet on the cape to the ripples of the rooftop puddles. The neon-lit city has never looked more beautifully gritty, and I particularly commend the artists behind the camera lens glare effects. Besides this, the character models are gorgeous, darling, my favourites being Azrael and the Arkham Knight himself.
There is a lot of pop in in this game, most notably on buildings when gliding but it can even occur on characters’ models during cutscenes. Two instances I remember are the textures on Firefly’s chest during a cutscene and the textures on Deathstroke’s armour during a death scene. Pop in is a major issue in the game, no doubt owing to its too large a world.
At first I thought Batman’s facial animation was conspicuously poor but I think this may be down to a design decision, as generally the facial animation is brilliant, which is especially evident when speaking to the firemen of Gotham City. Poison Ivy in particular looks photorealistic.
The cutscenes run off the game’s engine as far as I can tell, and the aspect ratio remains the same as the game’s. There was an instance on the airship where I experienced a one second vibration and sound delay, which really took me out of the experience. I’m not sure if this is a universal problem but it was mine nonetheless.
I’m really not sure where to start with reviewing the story, because I don’t think Rocksteady knew where to start when writing it also. I say this because it is quite clear that Arkham Knight is not a concluding chapter. It’s a chapter, certainly, but it doesn’t actually do… any job of tying up the series’ supposed loose ends. The beginnings of both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City actually made sense, batman had to infiltrate perfectly tangible prisons that have their place in the batman universe, in order to once again cease the transgressions of a villain who has one simple, but justifiable motive, that he just loves to mess with batman.
Scarecrow has no motive. He is not a loose end. He has absolutely no reason to even be in this game apart from the fact that Rocksteady very deliberately removed him from the last one. His justification for wanting to destroy batman is watery thin. He claims that batman left him disfigured as he is now, and that he will pay for it. Except, hang on, who foiled his plans in Arkham Asylum? Wasn’t it Killer Croc? Who disfigured him as he is now? Killer Croc? Who should all this anger be guided at? Killer Croc? Even if it’s a deliberate design implementation to have Scarecrow’s anger actively misguided, it just looks lazy. It’s just annoying having to fight a guy you don’t really hate at all and who just can’t leave you alone.
But, despite Scarecrows lack of motive, and the fact that he conveniently wants to destroy Gotham on a whim, his actual character is very intimidating up close, he is eerily confident in his posture and he is brilliantly voice acted, dragging out every single word in a knowing, prophetical manner. This is not the case in the beginning, however. Considering he is meant to be a kind of puppet master villain, the fact that he puts himself on loud speaker throughout the city just to say ‘just you wait, batman, I’m gonna get ye!’ because he’s so damn insecure and not confident in his own plan completely ruins his character at the beginning. A puppet master should be mysterious, intimidating to his subordinates, and should at least appear to equal if not be capable of toppling the protagonist. A game that I thought did the puppet-master villain approach very well was The Wolf Among Us, where you don’t actually know who the character is, you never hear his voice or see his face, and that’s what made it such an interesting game to play. I think that would have been a much better mystery than the Arkham Knight, if we didn’t know who Scarecrow was, what his motive was, until the end, it wouldn’t have been obvious at all.
On the subject of the Arkham Knight himself, this is the worst attempt at creating a new DC villain I have ever seen. Luckily this character is relegated to a supporting one relatively quickly but by golly was this painful to watch. To begin, I knew who this was the second he opened his mouth. His boisterous, showboater demeanour is an immediate red flag, and the terribly conspicuous ways in which the game supposedly arbitrarily shoves random references to Jason Todd down your throat every bloody five minutes (which looks even more out of place as Jason Todd has almost never even been referenced in the series before) as well as the fact that there are genuinely no other suspects thrown into the mix makes Jason Todd’s identity shamelessly obvious. His inception is the most daft thing I have ever seen, as well. Rocksteady bend the lore of the comics in order to house this lacklustre sub-plot. They claim that Joker sent fake video footage of his murder to batman in order to hide the fact that he was keeping him captive and torturing him for a year in an abandoned wing of Arkham before he escaped. This is not how it happens in the comics. Batman holds his dead body in his arms after the explosion that killed him in Jim Starlin’s A Death in the Family. Firstly, I don’t believe that he was held in an abandoned wing of Arkham by the Joker. The likelihood of both Joker being able to keep him there unseen AND batman not finding him during the events of Arkham Asylum are extremely low. Secondly, I doubt that Joker would just let him escape, not giving him a moment’s attention in either Asylum or City. Lastly, I am so puzzled at the fact that Rocksteady claimed that this was an original character. I could have accepted it as a terrible adaptation of Under the Red Hood, but no, because if they actually claim this is an original character, I am calling them out as intellectual property thiefs. This is blatantly stealing from a much better book called Under the Red Hood. Jason Todd resurrected with a vengeance is not new. Batman against a mysterious new armoured menace who knows his name, called the red hood, is not new. It is stolen. But what miffs me the most is that they actually made it worse. Jason’s motives in Under the Red Hood make sense, he doesn’t hate batman, he wants to better him. He wants to prove that you can’t stop crime, but you can control it (below are screenshots from the animated film (wasn’t John DiMaggio such a great Joker? I thought so)).
And this is the very same red hood that was subjected to Joker’s very same torture, brought back to life in a canonical, sensible way, using R’as al Ghul’s Lazarus pit. His motives make sense. Arkham Knight’s doesn’t. He’s just angry for the sake of being angry, which is completely a bore to watch. As well as this, considering he has been set to kill batman for years, I think it’s ridiculous that he suddenly changes sides in the space of 20 minutes. He’s not even a worthy opponent, he never proves himself as the least bit intimidating to batman once. Sure, he shot him, but who cares? Batman’s got it covered with that med spray (see later about coincidence). Everything about the Arkham Knight is awful. You would have thought that the character worthy of the game’s name would have had a bit more effort put into him. There are so many batman comics that would have provided a better paint-by-numbers guide for an actually competent mystery character. There is no excuse. And is it just me, or does it feel like the world’s greatest bloody detective would have had the sense to use either the remote hacking device, batmobile EMP or electronic disruptor to scramble his voice changer? At least tried to?
But one character who does shine in this game is Joker. Joker as a figment of batman’s imagination is fantastically portrayed and written. The use of metafiction in certain memory sequences is particularly commendable. Even the fact that Joker is what batman envisions under fear toxin puts a lot of events past in the series into perspective. The use of Joker in this game is where the story shines, and it allows for an unease that you would expect with a scarecrow-oriented game.
My final point on the story is that I must address the fact that it, like so many others, tiptoes around the themes it promises. This game set out to explore batman’s darker side, explore the fact that he puts those he loves in danger and he is not to be trusted. The most telling moments of this game are where, firstly, Jim Gordon (very well acted, might I add) realises the disappearance of his daughter is the fault of batman, and in a rage he punches him. Secondly, where batman has to watch Barbara die because he just can’t save her. These moments do truly show that batman is just a human and that he is ordinary and suffers like the rest of us. This would have been great, if any of it actually mattered. I talked in my notes about how this game goes against the ubiquity of convenience that so much of the genre suffers from. Update: it doesn’t. Barbara didn’t actually die. Jim Gordon makes up with batman (at least Jim doesn’t resent batman, and batman doesn’t resent him after they essentially betray each other). Cornered and strapped to an asylum restrainer, batman somehow, yet again, defies biology and Scarecrow’s toxin just doesn’t affect him for some reason. The only people that really die are a few firemen at the beginning and Poison Ivy. You can’t show at the beginning of the game that batman is entirely human and susceptible to failure and then go against that and show that, actually, batman can get away with being irresponsible and reckless. The whole human aspect doesn’t work when it’s a conveniently happy ending for those he puts in danger anyway.
This story is not a great one. It feels more like an arbitrary addition to batman lore rather than a competent, even necessary conclusion to the Arkham series. Unfortunately, this is another contender in the vast line of games that set out to be epic, sobering narratives but end up reverting to that safe ground of archetypal villains and illogically fortunate endings.
Note: I’ll only be talking about side missions which add to the story. Also, I didn’t read any of the city stories because I don’t think that relevant story should be relegated to that kind of exposition, and also because the average consumer won’t read them.
Friend in Need
I liked this one. The surprise you feel when you realise that’s not Bruce Wayne is a nice surprise, you feel very uneasy. I found it difficult to believe that Batman would just reveal himself like that, but the events of the ending make it rational.
Line of Duty
The reveal that the lauded fire chief has been working with Firefly was one of the most telling moments of the story. I really found it surprising, and it did a good job in creating a morally complex situation.
Creature of the Night
I found the section inside the lab a very well made part of the story, but the actual side quest is a very nondescript rinse and repeat process that could have done with a boss fight.
Heir to the Cowl
This is one of the most fun Arkham side quests I have experienced. You really get inside the mind of the elusive Azrael, and it reminded me of Knightfall volume 1. The multiple choice ending I found interesting, but considering I left the sword and left the building, I would have liked a cutscene or at least some exposition on Azrael confronting the Order of Saint Dumas.
Lamb to the Slaughter
I found it interesting to actually experience something that the thugs and police had been wittering about, but the actual characters I had no interest in. I would have liked it if this side quest had multiple sections rather than just the one.
The process of finding Professor Pyg is another boring rinse and repeat task, the bodies too difficult to find in the overly large world, but the conclusion to this side quest is brilliant. Taking place in a doll shop that I believe is a reference to the comic Earth One, the boss fight is very fun to play and Professor Pyg’s lines are fantastic.
I enjoy the Catwoman sequences, as they remind of playing Portal 2, but can we talk about how there are just too many Riddler trophies? I’m 25% done on them now and I had to just stop and say to myself: why am I doing this? Collecting these things aren’t fun and they don’t yield great enough a reward for the effort. I’m not gaining anything by collecting all over 200 of them, I’m just proving that I like the game so much that I’ll spend hours on a dull and arduous task on it… except… do I like the game that much? Why should I have to spend hours on a dull and arduous task?
The side quests that actually add much to the story are in the minority. Most feel uninspired and almost all require rinse and repeat methods that don’t give back a satisfying reward or boss fight.
Still enjoyable to the fans, and probably great for newcomers, while still an amazing game by itself, you have to judge it by its predecessors, and unfortunately I must say it is a downgrade. What it adds in size it lacks in love. It is hard to objectively say that something lacks in love, but, to me at least, City seeped passion. I walk around the city of Knight and it just feels like a game people didn’t really want to make. If you were a hardcore fan of City like I was, I am afraid to say that you will be disappointed. I will unconditionally love anything Batman, but I just feel like so much in this game could have been done better.
Is it worth buying?
Honestly, no. I’ve thought about it a lot and I just feel that my money would have better gone to something like The Witcher or Dragon Age. If there’s nothing better out at the time, yeah sure, why not? But don’t buy it on PC just yet, it’s horribly ported.
Goethe’s 3 Questions:
What is the creator trying to do?
Create a satisfying conclusion to the Arkham trilogy
Was the creator successful?
Yes, in continuing the story of their own Arkham storyline
Was it worth creating?
No, as it feels relatively detached from anything ‘Arkham’, and it doesn’t retain enough of City‘s passion to be regarded as an improvement