Review: Batman: Arkham Knight
Rocksteady brings their excellent Batman series to a conclusion with their final part of the trilogy that promises to fulfill everything that Batman fans have wanted since 2009 when we first descended into the asylum, a full open world to hunt, stalk and take down the entire rogue’s gallery of villains in the Gothic surroundings of Gotham City.
Now it’s here the biggest success of the game isn’t founded on the story, which isn’t exceptional as the original is still the best (excluding the terrible ending) however that doesn’t mean this is bad by far as Asylum is incredible. There are nagging issues that pop up in this game in the sense that pretty much all the characters have had good runs in previous titles and now they’re sidelined to some degree or it’s pretty similar to what’s gone on before. It’s not Rocksteady’s fault but it’s simply down to diminishing returns due to this being the fifth title in the series (including the handheld title, Blackgate).
To counter this and in a first for Rocksteady they’ve been granted the opportunity to create their own original character and insert into the official canon, the titular Arkham Knight. He’s a mercenary hired by Scarecrow (who’s doing his own mischievous antics of drugging the entire city) and brought along a multi-billion dollar army to Gotham to ultimately bring down Gotham. The character’s name is fairly contrived as the link to Arkham is tedious and is more of an attempt to keep the series’s title in the name. On the whole this new character is pretty successful and keeps you guessing (for a while at least) who this mysterious character is. Yet there’s never quite the fascination/intrigue you can get with the characters we know and love. It’s a very good attempt however and fits well into the universe and it will be interesting to see the character’s legacy beyond this game.
Whilst Arkham Knight’s plot never reaches the brilliance of the first title, combined with the presentation (more on that later) this is still one of the best games around.
The core free-flowing combat that worked so well in previous titles remains the same with simple button presses causing Batman to hit, stun and throw being far better than many similar titles like Assassin’s Creed. Yet Rocksteady have added some great new features to combat whilst keeping the satisfying free-flow nature going. Multi-takedowns where you can chain several knockout blows in a row to unaware enemies are make you feel even more badass than before. Coupled with the inclusion of environment take downs that are not far removed from Sleeping Dogs (sans swordfish) Batman has never felt stronger and that’s very handy when you’re facing off an army. That’s not all though as the developers have even added dual takedowns that are granted at certain opportunities when you fight alongside someone else, such as Catwoman or Nightwing. You really do feel unstoppable at times. It’s a shame that these tag team fights don’t happen more often.
Another unstoppable force is the Batmobile which helps you get around the city which is approximately five times bigger than Arkham City in fact. With not only the ability to speed around Gotham City and destroying pretty much everything you come across by sheer brute force you’ve even got the Battle Mode. This turns the Batmobile into what feels like a hover tank with its missiles, Vulcan guns and strafing abilities. It feels very out of place but that doesn’t mean it’s not a hell of a lot of fun to play with. It does take some getting used to as it’s driving physics are somewhat unique making it the weakest part of the game. Despite these problems it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the title as a whole in my opinion.
The Riddler is back with more of his standard trophy hunts such as hitting switches with batarangs and riddles that require scoping out but there’s also car based antics these times. There’s platform/puzzle-lite sections which require careful navigation plus full-on race tracks he’s developed. These take the shape of a normal race against the clock format with the challenge of timing button presses whilst racing in order to create a path and remove obstacles. No idea how he managed to find the time to develop these huge underground course and it’s a sign that Rocksteady are close to jumping the shark now they’ve used the same characters two times before (plus the non-Rocksteady developed Arkham Origins) as they’re clearly struggling to come up with something unique whilst keeping them within the Batman universe.
The main thing to take from this title is that is doesn’t innovate the series in anyway but by now Rocksteady have pretty much perfected and fine tuned all the elements that have been in place since the beginning. Therefore not only is this game the biggest of the series yet, it also plays better too.
Arkham Knight is simply one of the best presented titles ever. The adaptation of source material that Rocksteady nailed since Arkham Asylum is as strong as it has ever been but now they’ve pretty much perfected this game on a technical level. Stunning graphics, excellent voice acting and the cinematography is pretty much peerless. Graphics aren’t everything but when you’ve got stunning detail combined with excellent shots/angles and seemless transitions from cutscenes to gameplay and back again this really is proving that Rocksteady are among the best in the business.
Let’s go to some specifics. The graphics for example, you haven’t seen rain done this well. The way the water runs down Batman’s cowl is looks exceptionally lifelike and behaves in a realistic manner. More impressively is the way light and rain interact with each other. Screenshots don’t do it justice but you really can see the light refracting. On a more general level the level of detail across the entire map is rich as anything else out there, namely GTA V. Unlike Rockstar’s title though there’s no issues with delayed pop-in or missing assets. Sure, Gotham isn’t as big but GTA V has real issues in cutscenes too which is a bit of a sin. The PC version has been deservedly panned for its technical issues but thankfully the console versions are pretty much polished to perfection. Through the many hours playing this game, whether it’s sneaking in corners where clipping can occur or speeding around Gotham with rubble flying everywhere there wasn’t a single moment I spotted something off.
Voice acting too has always been top notch in this series and there’s no difference here. With some returning cast such as Nolan North as Penguin, Wally Wingert as The Riddler with sprinkling of new additions like John Noble’s turn as The Scarecrow there isn’t a step wrong anywhere. They’ve always brought the fun and exciting story alive with their fun, menacing and disturbing voices in equal measure.
To sum up
Equally the best game in the series along with the first, albeit they’re pretty much different genres now, Arkham Knight is the perfect ending to Rocksteady’s amazing series.
Version reviewed: PS4
Batman: Arkham Knight is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.