Batman: Arkham Knight Review (PS4)
The Arkham series of games have been kind of on a downhill slope for me. Arkham Asylum was a damn near perfect game, and everything after that just tacked more things on to it that didn’t add much to the overall Arkham formula outside of story beats. Arkham City was a pretty decent story that weighed itself down with so many different gadgets and side quests, and Arkham Origins was functionally an Arkham game but that’s about it. So where does Arkham Knight fit into all of this? Well, it’s better than Origins.
On Halloween night one year after the events of Arkham City, longtime Batman villain Scarecrow announces his plan to gas all of Gotham with the newest batch of his fear toxin. This triggers a citywide evacuation as Batman starts tracking him down. But suddenly, a new challenger appears, as a person calling himself the Arkham Knight shows up with an entire army, equipped with battalions of remote controlled tanks and choppers, siding with Scarecrow and knowing more about Batman than he should. The race is on as Batman has to figure out who the Arkham Knight is and stop Scarecrow from plunging Gotham into a city of fear. Well, more so than it already was. Also there’s some other stuff. Like, a lot of other stuff.
And that’s one of the problems I have with this game. There’s is just way too much shit to do in it. I know that sounds like a weird complaint, but just hear me out. On top of the main storyline, there are 14 side missions. That is a fair bit of stuff to do, and if it all felt critical and fun, I wouldn’t have a problem with it at all. But all the really interesting stuff involving Two-Face or Penguin or anyone you actually care about as villains only lasts for about three or four missions. Then you punch the bad guy in the face and ship him off to jail. The three or four missions are also almost exactly the same. With Two-Face you stop a bank robbery. With Penguin you tail a van and fight some dudes. With Man-Bat you fly at him. These guys are iconic Batman villains and they only show up on screen near the very end of their missions for a cameo appearance before they turn into 3D models at the police station, occasionally saying something along the lines of, “Ima kill you, Batman.”
The missions that actually last a while are the Riddler trophies and the shit with the militia. They set up roadblocks and watchtowers all over Gotham, have APCs roaming the streets with the lieutenants inside, and placed bombs that don’t look big enough to cause any real damage but super could, you guys. Over the course of my playthrough, I actually forgot I was supposed to be doing these because I never gave half a fuck about the Arkham Knight or his bullshit army. Since I didn’t care about them as an entity, the only drive I had to get rid of them would be if they hinder my progression through the story or the world, and they barely did that. Every once in a while I would fly by a watchtower and get shot at, but it barely registered with me that it was happening so I forgot about it. The only reason I ended up clearing out all of these things was because I needed to to get the best ending (which was kind of weird).
I also barely registered the Arkham Knight as a threat. He shows up fairly early into the story and I immediately guessed who it was. If you know anything about Batman characters, the second you hear the Knight speak more than one or two lines, you should know, too. And it was such a colossal disappointment when it turned out I was right. In the lead up to this game’s release, they were pushing the Knight as this new, original threat to Batman that would push him to his limits, but it just turned into a big wet fart. If they had spent the entire story focusing on Scarecrow I would be way more into this game, because the Scarecrow shit was really cool.
I’ve always liked Scarecrow as a Batman villain. He is a really simple villain that I find incredibly interesting, and this game uses him well. He gets bumped up to a more serious threat this time around, with his ultimate goal being to destroy the legend of Batman. He wants to reveal to the world that Batman is nothing but a human, susceptible to fear, and afraid of him. I fucking love this plan. It’s almost a Joker style plan, but where the Joker wanted to destroy Batman by making him break his code, Scarecrow wants to reduce him to nothing in the minds of the world.
Rocksteady really went out of there way to make Scarecrow way more threatening than he was in the previous games, too. Before Scarecrow had this really nasally, high-pitched voice and his mask was bigger, taking up more of his face. This time around, John Noble was cast as Scarecrow, giving him a much deeper, more sinister voice. The mask was also cut up and thinner, showing off more of his face, but not too much. Just enough to see that something wasn’t right with it. When you’re flying around the city, you’ll hear some of the thugs talking about Scarecrow’s face. They’ll ask if the other thugs had seen it, saying how disgusting it was and that he did it to himself. It was a little touch that really helped make him just that much creepier.
Because of the main villain being Scarecrow, we also get hallucinations like what was shown at this year’s E3. First person scenes like that happen a few times throughout the game, but they’re few and far between each other so they never get in the way of the actual gameplay. They’re mainly used for story beats, and there’s one near the end of the game that is really effective at what it’s trying to do.
Speaking of gameplay, it’s Arkham gameplay with one very big, very annoying addition. But I’ll get to that. The on foot gameplay is split between fighting and stealthing, and both feel better than ever. The brawling side still feels mostly the same, with pulling off giant, unbroken combos still feeling fantastic to pull off, but they made some small changes. Countering feels like it magnetizes to enemies a lot better, with Batman sometimes leaping across the entire party of thugs to counter a guy on the other side. In previous games, when you tried to counter somebody who was too far away it would break the flow of a combat encounter and probably lead to you being hit. This helps make the combat feel better and you feel like less of an idiot when you see the counter lightning bolts only to realize that they’re behind four guys after you get a pipe to head. They also added bum rushing, where an enemy will charge at you at tackle you to the ground if you don’t batarang him. When someone’s about to rush, the camera will swing around to show him to you, giving you the chance to take him down before he hits you. It’s a well handled addition to the combat that could have easily been incredibly annoying.
The stealth side also got some new additions. While it still revolves around moving from vantage point to vantage point, taking enemies down one by one before slowly walking up to the last survivor so he can shit himself before you beat the crap out of him, they added air vents that can be accessed from the vantage points, giving you a way to get from the ceiling to beneath the floor without being spotted. Once you’re down below the floor, Detective Vision now lets you know when an enemy could see you through the floor grates. This was information that never really came across in the other games (at least to my horrible memory it didn’t), and honestly I never really needed, but it was very nice to have.
When you’re down in the floor, or even on the ceiling, you can also pull off the Fear Multi-Takedown. When you perform a silent takedown in a stealth mission, you get Fear. With this, you can take out a bunch of guys in one move if they’re lined up right. This is more of an end of stealth encounter move, and it was most effectively used when you sneak your way into a combat encounter. Dropping down from the sky or bursting through the floor and instantly taking out four guys before beating the crap out of the rest is very satisfying.
In certain combat and stealth areas of the game, you’ll get one of the Bat family joining in to help you out. Depending on where you are, you’ll get either Nightwing, Robin, or Catwoman, and while it is cool that they’re there, I don’t really see a point to most of them. Catwoman is part of the Riddler shit and she gets to use some her character specific moves like climbing on the ceiling, but Nightwing and Robin aren’t different enough from Batman to matter in their individual sections. Nightwing is part of combat encounters, where he controls the exact same as Batman, and Robin mainly has stealth encounters, where he’s a one button KO. Neither of them feel like they have any purpose outside the need to be included in this final Batman story, and Catwoman just barely feels more relevant.
The gadgets are the final gameplay thing that’s been changed, and I feel it’s definitely for the better. By the time Arkham Origins came out, Batman had so many goddamned gadgets that it was ridiculous, and having them on the d-pad for selection was terrible. Arkham Knight reduces the number of gadgets you get by the end of the game (not by a considerable number but enough to make a difference) and puts them on a radial wheel, kind of like the mission select. While it does break the flow of the things a bit, having to pause the game to pull out a new gadget which will, more often than not, be the explosive gel, it does make things less frustrating overall.
Now then, the biggest addition to this game, the thing that got brought up whenever anybody talked about this game before release, is the Batmobile. And I hate it. I really do. And that’s a damn shame for me, because this game forces you to use the Batmobile for a huge chunk of the missions, both storyline and side. It comes with two different modes, car and tank. In car mode, you can get around the city a lot faster than you could gliding. It also projects a line of arrows on the ground to help you navigate to your next objective, and I’ll admit this was pretty helpful. Hell, it was even fun to drive at times, plowing through other cars and buildings and such. But then the physics would fuck up and everything would go to shit. I would run into the side of a car that was parked and suddenly the front end of the car would fly into the air, or I would drive straight through five or six giant stone columns and then crash to a screeching halt because I ran into the handrail of a staircase. And the controls are so unintuitive I kept fucking up and failing driving missions. It’s right trigger to accelerate, like every other driving game, but it’s Square to brake and reverse and left trigger to switch into tank mode. Pretty much every time I got into the Batmobile and was driving around I would instinctively press the left trigger to stop only to turn into a tank. During some of the driving missions this can really fuck you over because turning into a tank saps all your momentum. Why not just have Square be a tank toggle instead of having to hold down the trigger that has been the brake as long as right trigger has been the throttle?
The tank also has its fair share of problems. When you hold down the left trigger, the Batmobile switches to hover tank mode. You can move in all directions while facing any direction and have access to a cannon and a minigun. Putting aside the thing about Batman and guns, when you move the turret the body of the tank follows with you but not exactly. It’s a couple of seconds behind the turret. When you stop moving the turret but keep moving in general, the tank body snaps into line the turret positioning. This feels incredibly awkward and actually got me killed a few times when the back end of the tank jutted into an enemy tank’s line of fire. But, in fairness to the tank combat, the game does give you line of fire indications before the enemy can shoot. A bright white line will show the trajectory of the next enemy shot for regular tanks, and it will turn red when you are in that line. It would be nice if it gave you some kind of indication on when the enemy was going to fire, because sometimes you will get a few seconds from when the line shows up to when the enemy will fire, other times it’s almost instant.
There was also this weird graphical glitch that kept happening whenever I was in tank mode. This black shape started to leak, for lack of a better word, whenever I was roaming around in tank mode. This, and some instances of raining indoors, are the only real complaints I have about the graphics and performance of this game, though. Even running at 30fps the game looks great. This is definitely something that could only run on the PC or on this new generation of consoles. The scope of the world you play in, the detail everything in that world has, and the fact it runs at a solid framerate at almost all times all add up to an amazing looking game. It would probably look even more amazing running at 60fps, but this is one of those games that I don’t think really needs to run at 60 to look great. It already does that.
Arkham Knight is the third best Arkham game, but everything that was supposed to set it apart from the others is what is holding it back. The Arkham Knight himself is just annoying, and the Batmobile is almost no fun to drive or play around with. It’s really unfortunate that the game insists on having them both appear as much as possible. It’s also unfortunate because beneath them is a story and gameplay that beats out Arkham City for me. Add on to that the huge, beautiful open world, this could have been the closest Rocksteady has gotten to the original Arkham Asylum. That didn’t happen, though. Instead we have a really solid game with a couple of things that are so prevalent that it pulls the entire experience down. Not to any level of bad, mind you. It’s still leaps and bounds better than Arkham Origins.
With the two biggest additions to this series being the two worst things about this game, Arkham Knight is still the best Arkham thing to come out since City. The Batman gameplay has never felt better, and the story, in spite of featuring the Arkham Knight way too much for my liking, has the foundation of a truly great Batman story.