Batman: Arkham Knight for PS4 and Xbox One
Arkham Knight has had a bit of a backlash already and I’m not even talking about the botched PC port. I’m not sure if the backlash is quite fair, but it’s difficult to deny that Arkham Knight isn’t quite as impactful as Asylum and City were (I’m not going to count Origins). Asylum nailed its core mechanics pretty much out of the gate, so successive games were always going to have a tough time finding stuff to add. If Arkham Knight isn’t particularly original, it is extremely slick, offering the kind of smooth experience too often lacking in AAA gaming in this console generation.
Picking up several months after the end of Arkham City, Gotham is much changed. The Joker is dead, but new forces are moving into the power vacuum. Chief among them is Scarecrow, now horribly mutilated after his encounter with Killer Croc, who holds Gotham hostage with the threat of chemical annihilation. When the civilians are evacuated, Gotham collapses into lawlessness yet again as the criminal underworld bubbles back to the surface. Batman, his allies and the Gotham City Police Department are all that are left to stand up to Scarecrow. However, a new foe has appeared, allied with Scarecrow, the mysterious Arkham Knight. With a personal vendetta against Batman he has amassed an army with the solitary goal of ending his life.
Rocksteady did a much better job of keeping key plot details hidden than many companies, so talking about what makes Arkham Knight so compelling is difficult. Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight are good villains, but moreso than the previous games this is a story about Batman himself. I may lose some geek cred here, but I’ve never really considered Batman to be as complex a character as some think; I always prefered his rogue gallery and supporting cast. Arkham Knight is arguably the most interesting study of what makes Batman Batman that I’ve ever seen. I won’t say any more than that, only to say that the most interesting part of the plot takes place not in Gotham, but in Batman’s mind.
The core mechanics from Arkham City are present in Arkham Knight and have now been refined to something approaching perfection. The brawling is satisfying, zipping around the streets is exhilarating and the predator challenges are still wonderful. Arkham Knight is mostly interested in refinement rather than innovation, with one notable exception; the Batmobile. It’s been pretty divisive to say the least and I have mixed feelings myself. Zipping around and gliding is already one of the most enjoyable open world traversal mechanics out there and riding the Batmobile never seemed tempting. It can switch from car mode into tank mode with a press of a button, with a remarkable fluidity. It’s satisfying and easy to use and you’ll spend a lot of time blasting drones sent by the Arkham Knight. These tank battles are quite fast and fun, but some go on for way too long. My least favourite part of the game were some fairly ill advised tank ‘stealth’ sections. I applaud Rocksteady for not sitting on their laurels; they could probably have got away with it, but the Batmobile is a mixed success. It’s best moments are when it is used in puzzles, such as when you use it’s winch to move Batman up and down a broken elevator. There are some really cool moments like this, but I think we could have done with more of that and less of the combat.
This is the biggest Arkham game yet, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to complete it as exhaustively as I did it’s predecessors. I don’t worry about 100%ing games any more; who has the time? Asylum and City were exceptions though, but I found myself feeling nothing but resigned at the thought of hunting down a couple hundred more Riddler trophies. Much of the side content is excellent, such as a good subplot involving Riddler, but many are repetitive and dull, simply involving you doing the same thing a few times then bringing in an iconic baddie. The rogue gallery was weaved perfectly into Arkham City, but it isn’t pulled off quite so well here. I’m not claiming that the side content is bad by any stretch, but for the first time they felt like ‘Assassin’s Creed’ style side content rather than the more interesting stuff found in the previous games. Perhaps I’m being unfair; I suspect that I’d be singing this games’ praises if it has been the second in the series, but Rocksteady have already spoiled me.
Now, I’m aware that the PC port is a disaster, but Arkham Knight on PS4 is a technical marvel. It runs pretty much perfectly and I encountered no major glitches when playing. The frame rate was solid the entire time and the visual design is excellent. Gotham in the rain is a hell of a sight and Arkham Knight is frequently jaw dropping. The voice acting is outstanding, with performances which manage to improve upon excellent ones from the previous games. I want to talk about so many amazing looking and sounding moments but can’t spoil them, so will say only this; Arkham Knight is a genuine labour of love.
Arkham Knight is a great game getting an unfair amount of flak. That said, Rocksteady can’t get away with doing the same think again; Terry McGinnis now please. Batman: Arkham Beyond could be exactly what this series needs. Whatever happens, ignore the negativity (if you own a console); Arkham Knight is a great game well worth your time.