Batman. Who doesn’t know Batman? Who doesn’t like Batman? I’ve never met a single person that didn’t like Batman in some capacity. Batman is infamous and loved in pretty much every medium: comics, films, TV and, of course, video games.
Though for the longest time, there was never really a ‘true’ Batman game. Not to say there weren’t any good Batman games but I don’t think there was ever a game where you actually felt like Batman. The World’s Greatest Detective, the master of hand-to-hand combat, the stealthy ninja that could take out a room full of armed guards without being seen; were there any games like that?
That all changed, however, in 2009 when developer Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham Asylum, a title that came out of seemingly nowhere and took everybody by surprise, much like Batman himself. It received critical acclaim and pretty much put Rocksteady on the map due to it being the first time where players weren’t just playing a videogame that had Batman in it – they were Batman.
This single game sparked an entire series of Batman games; the latest of which being the grand finale, Batman: Arkham Knight (though I doubt Warner Bros will let an easy money maker like this end). Is it as awesome as its marketing makes it out to be? Let’s find out (BTW, I’m reviewing the PS4 version).
Batman: Arkham Knight takes place on Halloween, a year or so after the events of Arkham City. The Scarecrow (last seen being supposedly mauled by Killer Croc) has threatened to detonate a chemical bomb in Gotham, prompting the entire city to be evacuated. The only ones left are the police, the criminals and, of course, Batman and his allies. It’s now up to Batman to thwart Scarecrow’s scheme, all the while dealing with other members of his rogues gallery, including a new threat called the Arkham Knight, a mysterious figure with an entire army working for him and a massive grudge against the Dark Knight.
That’s a pretty basic summation of the plot but things do get more complex as it goes on. You really feel like the stakes have been raised now that Gotham itself is under siege, with highly trained militia and remote-controlled tanks patrolling the streets. It’s all suitably ‘epic.’ I would say it’s a bit more focused than Arkham City’s story since you’re main threats are the two main antagonists (Scarecrow and Arkham Knight), with the other villains relegated to side-quests but there were times when I felt like the story just came to a bit of a halt and stalled for time. There’s even a sub-plot that sounds super important when it first comes up but winds up not going anywhere.
Plus, one of the big things about the game is that Scarecrow has managed to unite nearly all of Batman’s foes into working together but we don’t really see much of that. Like I just said, the other bad guys are only in the side-quests. It feels like they’re not actively collaborating so much as just staying out of each other’s way.
Also, without spoiling anything, the Arkham Knight is incredibly weak as a villain. When we first meet him, he comes across as threatening, his vocal performance is enjoyable (it IS Troy Baker doing the voice) but he spends the entire game saying how he just wants to skip theatrics and kill Batman yet when given prime opportunities, he doesn’t take them. There’s a scene where he has Batman at gunpoint and could easily kill him there and then but decides to just wound him and leave his goons to deal with it. It’s a classic example of the writers realising that they’ve written into a corner and the only way for the hero to survive is for the villain, no matter how smart they may be, to act like an idiot.
Not to mention the mystery surrounding his identity is about as complex as a cardboard box. If you’re at all familiar with the Batman franchise, you’ve probably already figured out who he is yourself. And even if your only experience with the franchise is via the Arkham games, there’s a whole section that acts as very obvious foreshadowing. For the big mystery of the game, it was incredibly lacklustre, especially when there are other smaller moments that are genuinely surprising.
I could go into the plot some more but I want to keep this review as spoiler free as possible so let’s move on to the important part: gameplay.
For the most part, it’s relatively unchanged from the previous entries. Don’t fix what’s not broken, right? This is by no means a bad thing because it means it’s still fun to manoeuvre the rooftops of Gotham, lay the smackdown on hoards of mooks and pick them off one by one during the stealth sections; though some of it has been tweaked slightly so as to improve the experience. For example, Batman can now hit mooks that are still on the ground without leaving himself open and can perform takedowns when hanging on a ledge under a mook without making a noise. It’s a little thing but I personally loved it.
Batman retains most of his old abilities and gadgets from the previous games but he’s got plenty of new tricks too, which are welcome additions and are implemented very smoothly, such as environment takedowns and even taking enemies’ weapons and using them for himself.
The most notable addition to the stealth parts is the Fear Multi-Takedown, which allows you to take out up to three enemies within quick succession (it can be upgraded to target even more). The downside is that it makes a lot of noise and has to be recharged by performing Silent Takedowns but it’s immensely satisfying to pull off, especially as a finisher.
However, the biggest new thing for the game is the inclusion of the Batmobile, something I’ve been clamoring for since the very first game. With the Batmobile, you can now race through the streets of Gotham, chasing down bad guys and getting to your destination that much faster. There’s always arrows on the ground pointing to your next mission (or whatever way-point you’ve placed on the map) so you’re very rarely going to get lost, though you’re not going to be able to take it everywhere from the get-go as whole parts of Gotham are cut off until you’ve advanced enough plot.
The Batmobile handles decently – it took a short while to get used to the control but after a while, I was cruising along just fine. Drifting’s a little bit awkward but I was never constantly crashing into walls or skidding off of the road. The car can also turn into a tank of sorts for combat situations, which is where the game gets a bit Call of Duty.
There are countless moments where you have to engage with RC tanks coming at you from all sides, firing everything they have at you as you dodge and return fire. It’s fine but it’s very mindless when you compare it to the combat and stealth which require some level of thought.
You spend a lot of time in the Batmobile and this will be a deal-breaker for some people. If you play the first hour of the game and you don’t like the Batmobile, you are going to have a very miserable experience with the rest of it. The Batmobile sections will feel like an interruption; something you’re forced to suffer through in order to get to the parts of the game you do enjoy.
Completing gameplay sections, whether it’s combat, stealth or Batmobile, gives you EXP, which goes towards earning WayneTech points (which you can also get by progressing side-missions which I’ll get into later). You spend these points on unlocking new techniques and upgrades to your gadgets and the Batmobile, which help create this feeling of progression. Batman’s armed pretty well at the beginning but every upgrade makes you feel more and more powerful, which is good considering the mooks that you’re dealing with in this game are probably the most dangerous they’ve ever been.
See, while Batman may have more ways to break people’s bones or sneak up on unsuspecting goons, those very goons now have countermeasures, particularly the Arkham Knight’s militia which he has trained specifically to counter Batman.
There are now medics that can revive enemies (fortunately they can only do it so many times), mini-gunners that you can’t perform Silent Takedowns on, enemies that can detect your presence if you have Detective Mode on for too long, guys controlling surveillance drones, sentry guns – point is they’re armed to the teeth as well.
Not only that but they will catch on to your strategies during stealth sections. Attack too many times from above and they’ll place mines on vantage points. Attack to many times from below and they’ll destroy the grates you were hiding in. Dealing with these guys can get intense because they are just as smart as you, which is why it’s incredibly satisfying when you counter their countermeasures.
You can use a voice modifier to trick mooks into going near an area you’ve rigged to explode with explosive gel. Use that device too many times and they’ll wise up and ignore your fake orders. But that’s okay because you’ve bugged a medic so that when they try to revive a guy, they’ll electrocute themselves and get knocked out. The further I got into the game and the more upgrades I got, the more fun I began to have. This is not a beginner-friendly game though; if you haven’t played any of the previous entries, you’re going to struggle for a while.
So, what else is there to do besides stopping Scarecrow? Well, like I said, there are plenty of side-missions to do (which the game encourages you to do during breaks in the story), which are worth doing for the extra WayneTech points alone.
They’re quite varied in terms of content as they have you taking on other members of Batman’s rogues gallery. These encounters are certainly enjoyable for the most part but as I was making my way through them, I realised how repetitive they really were.
One side-mission involves neutralising mines that the Arkham Knight has placed around the city. You roll up to one in the Batmobile, upload a virus, battle some tanks and then detonate the bomb. Rinse and repeat.
Another side-mission involves finding kidnapped firemen. You find one, either beat up the surrounding thugs or take them out via stealth. Rinse and repeat. Instead of feeling like a super-bad-ass cracking down on crime, it feels like you’re going through the motions, as if you’re clocking in for that 9-5 job you secretly hate.
The biggest offender is easily the Riddler side-mission. Yes, he’s back and with even more obnoxious trophies to find and riddles to solve. I know this is his thing but he’s been doing it for three games now. The only differences are the Trial segments where Batman teams up with Catwoman to solve certain puzzles (which is admittedly really awesome) and the fact that in order to complete the side-mission, you need to find every trophy and solve every riddle. And if that’s not bad enough, you need to complete every side-mission to get the true ending (yep, it’s one of those games) so there’s no way of avoiding the Riddler stuff.
There’s not even any boss fights. Yes, you read that right. No boss fights. Well, that’s not entirely true. There are, but they’re all in the Batmobile. It’s just you shooting at a slightly larger RC drone. It feels so weird considering Arkham City had some really nice boss variety – it’s like Rocksteady took one massive step back. You never get to really revel in defeating a villain. Sure, you’ve foiled their plans but the villain in question is usually taken out in a cutscene or a QTE. There is one actual boss fight where you’re not in the Batmobile but it’s incredibly basic and repetitive.
It’s a real shame, though, because whenever you capture a villain, you get to drive them to the GCPD and lock them away yourself. In fact, throughout the game, the cells slowly begin to fill up with all the crooks and supervillains you’ve beaten up. It’s incredibly satisfying to witness.
That’s also not to say that the side-missions are bad. I certainly enjoyed the more story-driven ones, particularly the aforementioned Catwoman one and another where you team up with Nightwing, as they introduce another new gameplay mechanic where you can switch control to another character mid-fight. If you charge up a special meter, you can perform a dual takedown on an enemy that also seamlessly switches control to the other character. It’s quite weird to get used to but I personally loved it if only for the spectacle.
Unfortunately, this mechanic is barely utilised. Aside from those two side-quests, the only other time it’s used is during a story segment with Batman and Robin teaming up. There’s even a stealth section where you control the two and I remember wondering why this wasn’t implemented more often (at least in the story mode). I wouldn’t mind seeing a whole game revolving around it.
But what do you do when you’ve done all the side-missions? Well, there’s a bunch of AR challenges you can unlock but they’re really only there for getting high scores to share online and for getting achievements. If you’re into that kind of stuff, then you’ll probably be kept busy but otherwise, there’s no real incentive. Maybe if you could unlock new costumes or Batmobiles to use but this is a game published by Warner Bros in 2015 and, nowadays, unlockables are paid DLC. And good Lord, there is so much DLC.
I hate having to devote time to this but Arkham Knight‘s DLC list is obnoxious. Unless you want to buy new costumes and the like, it is really not worth it. Not even the story DLC. I was lucky enough to get a download code for the Harley Quinn DLC and while it was fun to play as Joker’s psychopathic sidekick for the first time, it barely lasted half an hour, and I think most of that was me hiding from cops during the stealth bits. It doesn’t even add anything to the overall plot. I can even sum it up in a single sentence. Watch:
Harley Quinn breaks Poison Ivy out of prison.
That’s it. That’s all that happens. From what I’ve heard, the Batgirl and Nightwing DLC are just as bad and the Red Hood one’s even worse, lasting only ten minutes.
It may sound unfair to some but the ridiculous amount of DLC that could easily have been put into the main game (with even more still to come) and that shoddy excuse of a Steam release back in July (which at the time of writing STILL hasn’t been re-released yet) kind of sours what should’ve been one of the most exciting releases of the year.
Arkham Knight is still a fine game on its own; that’s something I should note. What’s important is that I had fun playing it and I think, from a gameplay standpoint, it’s the best in the series. If you’ve enjoyed the series since Arkham Asylum, chances are that, despite its issues, you’ll enjoy it just as much. Just try to blot out all the advertisements for DLC.