Scarecrow has taken over Gotham, threatening to spread his fear beyond the city’s borders. Only the Dark Knight can stop him, but in Batman way is a new enemy, the Arkham Knight!
Genre(s): Action, Adventure
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Release Date: July 2015
Played: Main Story (100% completion)
Purchase At: Currently Unavailable
Note: I will not mention the current performance issues the game presents on PC. That horse has been beaten too much. Instead I will focus on the game itself. But I will give this game 2 scores. One for the overall experience and one for the PC port.
Arkham Knight picks up months after its predecessor, Arkham City. After Joker’s death, the city’s crime rate falls drastically, showing just how much influence the Clown Prince of Crime had on the city. But a new threat arises with Scarecrow. With the rest of Batman’s villains working with him and his own private army, he quickly takes control of the city, using the panic created by his latest fear toxin to drive Gothamites out of their city.
Right from the start, this game’s plot shows its weakness. You understand the city is civilian-free so you can indulge in criminal busting, but as a terrorist with a desire to spread fear as far as possible, sending the people of Gotham away from the city makes little sense. His purpose throughout the game is to unmask and break Batman, so what better way than having the population there as collateral damage? It’s a case of story adapting to fit the gameplay.
The plot has a few twists, usually powered by fear gas, but with the exception of one thread involving Batman’s mental health, they are all predictable and weak. This isn’t the best Batman story ever told, not by a long shot, as it even manages to misrepresent strong comic and animated film arcs. The Arkham Knight’s identity is obvious well before the game decides it’s time for the revelation. In fact, they stretch this particular plot thread too much just to have a weak payout near the end of the game.
There is an upside though and it’s the last act of the game, with Batman’s final confrontation with Scarecrow. It shows us who Batman is, beyond the gadgets, beyond the cowl. It’s so good that I almost forgave the game for all its flaws. They even added the nice touch of having Kevin Conroy—Batman’s actor—perform one of his most famous lines: “I am Vengeance! I am the Night! I am Batman!” I got goosebumps when I heard it. It’s a moment of true Batman characterisation in a game that does all it can to misrepresent the character, offensively so.
Speaking of characterisations, Batman’s allies are good and consistent overall, with Nightwing, Catwoman and Gordon the strongest among them as. Batman & Joker pretty much carry most of the game, and Joker’s scenes are fantastic. Scarecrow’s plans make little sense from start to finish and the rest of the villains get so little screen time there really isn’t much to tell about them. Poison Ivy is a high note, though I would have loved if we’d had more time to explore her personality, as she is one of the most underdeveloped characters in the game series. The Arkham Knight is just pitiful.
One point that I have mixed feelings about is the rest of the criminal population. Their banter and commentary still drive the game and they are worth a few chuckles, but they seem needlessly antagonistic. They back Scarecrow against Batman even when they know Batman saved them all from a terrible fate. It broke my immersion a bit to hear them still berate Batman even though he just saved their lives. Don’t forget these are mooks, not the villains with personal stakes against Batman, yet their banter doesn’t reflect the game’s events.
Free flow combat is back again and it’s still as much of a joy as ever, and I am happy to report that this game has finally cured us from the Titan-itis the series had suffered from. There isn’t a single Hulked-out criminal in this game and it couldn’t make me happier. Instead you get a new type of heavy that needs a beatdown, can’t be countered and deals tons of damage. One of them in the mix changes the flow of battle drastically and make any encounter extremely challenging. Enemies can now charge Batman and tackle him, breaking off a combo and dealing moderate to high damage. They’re easy to counter, just a batarang, but when you’re fighting twelve mooks, It’s hard to notice them. Add environmental takedowns—with Batman using fans, lamps and power boxes to instantly disable enemies—and you have hundreds of combat options, keeping the formula fresh and entertaining.
One major addition to the gameplay is the new Batsuit, made with nonsensical materials and making Batman even more overpowered than he already was. The biggest points on the suit are the enhanced grapnel and the Fear Takedown, a rechargeable ability to take out multiple unaware opponents in a quick and smooth sequence. It’s fun to do it, but it completely breaks the stealthy element of the series. Predator scenarios aren’t tense cat & mouse sequences anymore but just a matter of silently taking out a mook to charge the Fear Takedown and then going to town on the enemies.
Gagets don’t see as much use as they did in previous Arkham titles, as most of the technical puzzles are now Batmobile centred, and they’re all about opening the way for the car to go through. If that sounds dull to you, it’s because it is. It’s the Batman equivalent of opening garage doors. You reach a spot the Batmobile can’t cross, you get out, open the way, move the car, and so on and so on.
The Batmobile is a horrendous mechanic and forced on you for most of the game. The thing controls like a tank with a jet engine attached. It’s finicky and wobbly and doesn’t have a great deal of control, making it opposite of everything you’d expect from Batman’s car. In addition to the driving you can turn the car into a tank, firing rockets and high-powered guns to take out enemy tank drones, because Scarecrow made it convenient for Batman by making his forces unmanned.
The tank fights get better near the end when you have to dodge and escape from multiple enemies, but until then it’s perhaps the dullest point in the game, as you spend most fights just dodging around waiting for your main weapon to recharge after each shot, hoping to fill up the “limit break” bars and take out all our enemies in one move. The game’s worst moments are the fights against the cobra tanks and the different Arkham Knight fights, most of which are tank battles.
To make things fun, especially since starting to stream the game, I mostly just skip the tank shooting and just ram the enemies at high-speed. Same results but more fun.
There’s only one thing I ever truly used the Batmobile for: flying. You can fire yourself from the cockpit at high speeds, and it’s a fantastic way to start a glide.
I have a personal complaint on the Batmobile. Batman would never have such an insane tank (and yes, I’m aware of Batman Begins). It’s extremely lethal no matter how much the game tries to sell you the idea that Batman is just knocking out the people he’s ramming at 200kmh and electrocuting—because the Batmobile shocks anyone who comes close. During my playthrough I caused more damage to Gotham than the entirety of Scarecrow’s militia. I have blown up criminal cars with their passengers still inside, yet the game tells me they’re “unconscious.” Sure, they’re just never going to wake up!
Much like in other Arkham games you have side-missions or cases. In this game they’re called Gotham’s Most Wanted. These cases were one of Arkham City’s strongest points, but here they feel lazy and rushed. They don’t offer any variety in gameplay, just the same gimmick repeated over and over. Take the Firefly side-mission, every instance follows the same set of events: reach a burning firehouse, turn on sprinkler system, chase Firefly until he runs out of gas, beat him up and he escapes…until he doesn’t anymore. It could’ve used some variety. A similar case is the murder investigation case. Every victim has one of each identifying mark type: skin, muscle and bone, never mixing it up or trying to do something new. This last one is one of the better cases though and has a fantastic villain at the end.
In Arkham City, you had to explore to find them and while this is generally true, in this game you consistently get help from allies and police in tracking down the next segment of the case.
Then there’s Riddler. This time around he’s kidnapped Catwoman and holding her hostage unless you solve his riddles. The challenge rooms can be fun, as they’re nothing more than glorified racetracks, so you need to master using the Batmobile to finish them in time. But the trophies are pitiful. Whereas in previous games you had to use gadgets and other skills carefully to open the way to them, in Arkham Knight the vast majority of them are just lying around waiting to be collected. Top of a roof or even near a lighthouse, there’s no challenge involved and make it quite clear they’re there to pad the game out. And it’s a shame because there are some real gems of puzzle design in some of those trophies.
Then there are the militia-centred sidequests, which I would honestly recommend everyone wait until near the end of the game to do them. The Arkham Knight sends waves of minions to take over Gotham every so often, forcing you to clear the island again if you’ve already done so.
Arkham Knight replaces almost every boss fight with a tank battle and that is something I will never forgive Rocksteady for. Late in the game a new commander shows up for the militia, and if you’ll forgive this one spoiler, it’s Deathstroke. Anyone who played Arkham Origins will agree the fight with him was one of the highlights of the game. Yet here the fight is just a rehash of the Arkham Knight tank fight that takes place a few hours before. It’s utterly pathetic and disappointing.
When the game works properly, it can be fun, even with all its flaws. Sadly, it often bugs out, with glitch character animations, texture errors, crashes and much more. It might just be the poor PC port, but it shows a lack of quality that I find appalling in the Arkham series.
Visually, I’ve had to play the game at its lowest resolution because of the performance issues, so I’ve been looking at the overall visual details in the city, and there are hundreds of tem. From movie posters to announcements, Gotham really does feel like a recently abandoned city. There are signs that people lived there. It looks really good as I played it, but it’s gorgeous when seen in its fullest specs.
Sound design is where the game truly shines, with an amazing soundtrack (when it plays) and phenomenal voice acting. While it does seem at times that Kevin Conroy is hamming it up a bit, he, Mark Hamil and John Noble take the prize home as Batman, Joker and Scarecrow. Noble in particular adds a degree of maliciousness to Scarecrow that has never been done before, making even his gloating come off scary and menacing. Hamill delights as the Joker, even more considering he’s just a figment of Bruce’s fear-toxin-ed brained. His one-side banter is astounding! I do feel bad for Conroy as he’s had to record hours upon hours of tutorial messages. In Arkham Knight Batman will constantly tell you what you need to do, even if he’s already said it a few hundred times before.
Music comes into play at the right times and it’s deliciously atmospheric but often you’ll be left with just the sounds of the city…and the dull groan of the Batmobile.
Arkham Knight is a game that hyped too much but fails to deliver on many fronts. It can be entertaining but I doesn’t live up to its predecessors. I’ve called Arkham City “lightning in a bottle,” but Knight opened the bottle and let it all go to waste.
TMA SCORE – Overall:
2.5/5 – Average
TMA SCORE – PC:
1/5 – OH HELL NO!
One thought on “Review: Batman: Arkham Knight”