Batman: Arkham Knight (Xbox One Review)
Keeping in with Christopher Nolan’s approach to Batman, Rocksteady have saved the most outrageous and over the top Batman instalment for last in their trilogy. With the batmobile, the largest cast yet, and Batman’s most aggressive villain to date Rocksteady aim to go out in style and they will stop at nothing to make this the game fans deserve. They even flipped the bird at the ratings board when pushing for a mature rating, a first for the series.
Rocksteady have presided over two previous instalments although there have been four – the less said about Origins, the better – and they see Arkham Knight as their coup de grâce in the series. It has been almost 8 years since Rocksteady graduated from being a little fish in games development to the bat themed behemoth we know today. Rocksteady has pulled out all the stops and have used these years perfecting the formula for the big finale.
Batman: Arkham Knight takes places relatively soon after Arkham City with the demise of the Joker and the fallout of the events leading up to the Joker’s death. Gotham is in pieces but Batman stands tall amongst his peers as they try to rid Gotham of the remaining villains until the Arkham Knight and Scarecrow intervene and cause mass panic. The writing of Batman: Arkham Knight is sublime, and arguably the best since Asylum. Unlike previous villains the Arkham Knight knows his enemy through and through; his thinking, his attack patterns, everything. The sole purpose of his actions are to see the demise of Batman and he has teamed up with Scarecrow to ensure this happens. There are some truly poignant points in Batman: Arkham Knight that you will never see coming, it is by far the most brutal and heart-breaking the series has ever been. Between the twists and plot devices the story is seasoned with perfect titbits of dialogue that will stick with your forever as a tormented Dark Knight loses grips on his city and even his sanity. Sans for a few rather lacking explanations and odd scenarios.
The story wouldn’t be what it was without the voice acting. Old favourites like Kevin Conroy, Troy Baker, Nolan North and Tara Strong reprise their roles with Jonathan Banks (Mike from Breaking Bad) playing a brilliant Commissioner Gordon. These talents bring the truly amazing story to life with the familiar voices from previous games making a massive impact. Each line is delivered perfectly and with enthusiasm, it really brings the story to life for actors that are synonymous with the characters they portray.
Although the meat of Batman: Arkham Knight is found in the main story, like any other game in the series, there is a lot of fun to be had in the side missions. As expected we see the return of loads of nice cameos from the comics, with some really great appearances but some do fail to hit the mark. Unfortunately the cookie crumbs left by the Riddler have lost their shine, for every fun side mission or unique story Rocksteady have shoehorned the batmobile in to a horribly forced mission. Cat stuck in a tree? Why not blast it out of there with your non-lethal cannon on the batmobile! Need to open that door but you are scared of the germs on the handle? Don’t worry we can tear it down with this super grappling hook in your bat-tank. The batmobile feels like K.I.T.T. from Knightrider asked Xzibit for more attitude and proceeded to run rampant all over David Hasselhoff’s lines. It is just too much and in all honestly it handles like a lead weight coated in butter doing its best impression of Bambi on ice. Even the AR missions have been drastically changed to meet the requirements of the batmobile, out of the 23 possible missions only 8 of them are free from batmobile involvement, the same can be said for Riddler’s challenges.
When you do manage to escape to confines of the Batmobile there is a vast city to explore and it looks amazing, in fact the graphics are astounding throughout Batman. Rocksteady’s attention to detail is second to none, there are character references and nods everywhere. The city may be overrun by loons and goons but it is still alive and bursting with flavour. In spite of a few changes to city, for the beloved batmobile I presume, it still feels very much like Gotham. I was certainly enjoying dive-bombing through the sky to find thugs gossiping about their plans of what to do with their wages and their idle speculation as to who Batman may be.
If eavesdropping on thugs isn’t your thing you can always glide down and provide an ample dose of sweet chin music to put them to sleep. The combat in Batman: Arkham Knight is definitely a lot faster than the predecessors and has tag team fights to make it that bit more enjoyable. Twisting and turning amongst a sea of fists will build you enough meter to perform your usual special moves but now with the addition of batmobile takedowns and team takedowns foes will fall a bit quicker than you are used to. Unfortunately all these news mechanics come at a cost, more often than not you expend a lot of energy dealing with countless different varieties of enemies that all need a specified approach, unless you’ve received an ample serving of radiation you might not have enough fingers to truly benefit from all the controls have to offer. I regularly found that I would avoid using certain moves or didn’t quite get the use out of all the upgrades I had bought as there was just too much going on. When faced with a thug with electric plating, a knife, and a shield you would be hard pressed to try and gauge what needs to be dealt with first. And that’s before you progress in the story and have to fight large thugs that hold shields that need stunned, disarmed, stunned again, and then taken down. Rocksteady have progressively added more with each and every game and ultimately the combat system has become a victim of its own success. You still feel the impact of each punch and the free flow from enemy to enemy is still great, it is just a little too much to process at times and it turns one of the more enjoyable aspects of the Arkham games in to a strenuous task.
To add to all these new combat mechanics Batman has also seen new gadgets and a lot of new interactive segments to match his batmobile. There is a great deal more depth to everything in Gotham due to these additions with new ways of pulling items with the batmobiles winch, or destructive walls specifically requiring the use of the cannon to obliterate items in your way. My personal favourite is most definitely the tag team fighting mentioned above but there is definitely tweaks to almost every aspect on top of these new mechanics that speed up the vast majority of the game. That includes the voice replicating gadget you get for challenges and the ability to hack drones.
Ultimately Batman: Arkham Knight is a bittersweet finale to the series. The writing was brilliant, although a bit farfetched even for the Batman universe with ropey explanations at times, and the acting and dialogue were brilliant. Unfortunately too much Batmobile makes for a bad Batman game. We all fell in love the caped crusader through the intimacy and detective work of Arkham Asylum, but he has strayed so far from the Metroidvania aspect that you could argue this isn’t the same game anymore. The wonderfully impactful combat still remains but much like detective aspect it has grown arms and legs to a point where it is cluttered and clumsy. I enjoyed a fair bit of Batman: Arkham Knight but it felt like those promising moments had to shine through some rather murky decisions to try and push other mechanics that I didn’t quite care for. If you always wanted to run around Arkham in the Batmobile imitating a tank then this is 100% the game for you but if you were hoping to be a creature of the night perched upon sparsely placed gargoyles trying to piece together crucial parts of an intricate puzzle this isn’t the game for you. Hell even the Riddler is running out of ideas and resorted to forcing batmobile orientated gimmicks to draw attention away from his horrible Hawaiian themed riddle shirt.