There was a time, before Batman: Arkham Asylum, when people would dread the release of a video game about the Caped Crusader. Batman video games, before Arkham Asylum, were almost universally horrible but after it’s release we saw what a Batman game could really be. All of the subsequent releases in the “Arkham Series” have been an improvement on the previous one, despite having their faults. Yes, I even like Batman: Arkham Origins; although that may be because I played it several months after it’s release, probably after most of the technical issues had been resolved.
I would like to preface the actual review by stating that there will be spoilers of the previous games, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. The events of these games are critical to the plot of Arkham Knight, specifically the events surrounding The Joker. I would also like to point out that I played this game on the Playstation 4 because when I purchased it, the PC version had already been removed from steam due to its technical issues. So we begin with The Joker being cremated, his death at the end of Arkham City has been cemented into the reality of this world. This is going to be a Batman game without The Joker.
Instead of The Joker as the primary antagonist, this game features the Scarecrow; who wants to completely cover all of Gotham City in a cloud of his patented fear toxin, because, of course he does. This is a plan that has more holes in it than should be allowed, even for a superhero story. The Scarecrow, in Arkham Asylum, was probably the greatest villain in that entire game. Batman would be exposed to the fear gas, periodically, and he would need to defeat a terrifying version of The Scarecrow in a battle for his mind. In this game, Scarecrow just talks to Batman over a PA system just like The Joker did in the original game, giving lots of long drawn out speeches about how his victory is inevitable.
His plan involves building a giant bomb and filling it with a version of his fear gas that is absorbed through the skin, making conventional gas masks useless. The Scarecrow orders all of his henchmen to evacuate the city and reach a minimum safe distance from the explosion or else be exposed to this toxin. This plan is foiled within the first 30 minutes of game play so he then quickly moves to plan B, which is where the plot completely falls apart. Plan B involves the Scarecrow stealing a mobile gas disbursement machine to complete the same objective, and spending the majority of the game trying to complete this task. But Gotham is still full of thugs and henchmen, meaning that these were all henchmen that volunteered to stay behind just in case the fear bombs didn’t go off. The roaming thugs will occasionally bring up this fact and instead of revolting on Scarecrow, leaving them all to die, they just accept this notion that they were going to be exposed to the gas, this makes no sense. The entire first 30 minutes to 1 hour of the game should have been completely removed as it serves no real purpose and only creates confusion.
After this prologue we are introduced to, what I feel is, the real antagonist of the game, The Joker and not the “Arkham Knight”. If you recall, in Arkham Asylum The Joker had a plan to modify Bane’s Venom which he injected into himself. In Arkham City, it is revealed that his little science experiment was killing him. In order to coerce Batman into finding a treatment for his condition he sent samples of his blood to hospitals all across the city and injected some of his blood into Batman. This blood that was put into Batman is slowly turning Batman into The Joker and a lot of the game’s story focuses on Batman’s internal struggle against The Joker and his search for a cure for this condition. This struggle, of Batman against his personal demons, completely redeems the story and makes this game worth playing. This part of the story is so integral that the climatic final encounter of the game isn’t even against Scarecrow.
The performance of The Joker in this game is probably the deal breaker. Some of you may remember that when Arkham City was released Mark Hamill announced that he was officially done with The Joker; which meant that The Joker had been recast to Troy Baker, who actually did an incredible job in Arkham Origins. I was about 3 hours into the game when I said to myself that Mr. Baker was really nailing the performance in this game, and I became suspicious so I went to the IMDB page for Arkham Knight and found that Mark Hamill had come out of Joker retirement for this game.
Another antagonist throughout the game is the “Arkham Knight”. The Knight is described as a militia leader who built and trained an army for the sole purpose of killing Batman due to some sort of personal vendetta against him. The reveal of who the Arkham Knight is can be described as an important part of the game, but about halfway through his identity is telegraphed to the player making the reveal completely obvious. Anybody who is familiar with the Batman comic series will be able to guess it, like I did, well before the game starts to give you hints. I knew who the Arkham Knight was when I was about 25 minutes into the story.
Like with any sequel the game features a wide array of new gameplay mechanics for you to play with. The largest and most obvious would be the new Batmobile; however, there is much more than just a car to this game. This game does not feature an abilitease, meaning, almost all of the upgrades that you unlocked through the course of Arkham City are available at the very start of Arkham Knight. Most of the upgrades that you are able to unlock are brand new created just for this game, and there are a lot of them; however, the Batmobile is still a major aspect to the game.
Even with all of the other enhancements that were added to the Batsuit you are going to be forced to spend a lot of time in the Batmobile. Seeing as this is an open world game, a majority of the “open world content” involves you driving the Batmobile. Batman needs to use his car to be able to attack commanders in the militia force, disarm bombs and shoot an endless supply of drone tanks. The most ridiculous use of the Batmobile comes from the Riddler and his trophy hiding hijinks. The Riddler seems to have found the time to go around Gotham City and dig large underground race tracks and forces Batman to race in them for his amusement. This is a concept that is so ludicrous that I am not going to discuss it any further.
The most annoying part of the Batmobile is breaking, or reversing. Typically in a driving game, on a console, the right trigger would be used to accelerate and the left trigger would be used to brake, like pedals on a car. In this game, the left trigger is used to transform the car into its “Combat Mode” and the brake is on square or “X” buttons for Playstation and Xbox users respectively. This is something that I never quite got the hang of, all the way through the game, I would indistinctly try to break with the left trigger and found myself surprised every time. I could not find a way to get this to change from the in game menus. (I have since found out that there is a way to change the controls of the Batmobile, but you are only able to do this once you reach a specific part of the story. I looked for a way to change the controls immediately, saw that there was none and assumed that it was not possible so I completed the game without looking again because the game never informed me that the menus had changed or that there was a way to change the controls.)
Arkham Knight has a lot of extra enhancements to the “Predator Missions”, the little areas where Batman is outnumbered by armed guards and he uses the shadows to hunt them for sport. There are lots of extra places to hide, lots of extra gadgets that make you more mobile or can be used to strike fear into your enemies. Along with new combat maneuvers that can be used to quickly dispatch small groups of enemies. One thing that I appreciated was that this game managed to integrate the predator missions into the open world. These missions were probably the highlight of all of the previous games and they are no longer just set pieces to the story, you can be traveling through the city minding your own business and manage to find these in the world, which is rad.
The biggest drawback is that this is still an open world superhero game that doesn’t have a real world. Every single non playable character in the entire game, with a few exceptions, is an enemy and can be fought. This is a world that is completely barren and devoid of any people that need to be rescued. Even Spider-Man 2 had a world where you could see people walking on the streets. It was not nearly on the same level as a Grand Theft Auto game but it was there. Unless the developer, Rocksteady, was lying about this being the last game it doesn’t seem that we will get the real Batman game that I would really like to play.
Arkham Knight also seems to be almost absent of boss fights. There are four by my count, three of them are against the same character, the Arkham Knight, two of them are inside of the Batmobile, one is optional against The Riddler, and all of them are quite anticlimactic. None of these boss fights come close to the same quality as the Mr Freeze fight from Arkham City or the Bane fight inside of Arkham Origins. Both of these boss fights featured Batman hiding from an enemy that he could not defeat in hand to hand combat so you needed to use your stealth and wits to defeat them. I am not sure if what Arkham Knight features is better or worse than Arkham Asylum, a game that featured the same boss fight over and over again.
Visually this game is mind blowing. It is the best looking video game that I have seen on the Playstation 4 to date. The character models and environments look gorgeous and the rain and water effects are stunning. If you are a fan of racing games then the wet pavement in this game is really cool to look at. Rain will fly by you when you are driving really fast in the Batmobile but it never really seems to obstruct your vision or become distracting. The skyline of Gotham City is quite stunning and the majority of places that are seen can also be visited. This is the largest world that has been built for a Batman game yet and it is jam packed with gorgeous things to see.
If you have been a fan of the previous games, I am able to recommend this game without a moment’s hesitation. It’s story does have some flaws on the surface but those flaws do not affect the real story of the game. Arkham Knight adds enough new mechanics to keep the gameplay fresh and enjoyable and the Batmobile is really fun to drive around and shoot stuff with. This is an excellent conclusion to a series that has now spanned across two console generations. Now the PC version just needs to be fixed, and I really hope that the SteamOS / Linux version isn’t horribly broken as well, although if they couldn’t get it running on Windows then what hope does Tux have?