Fly like a hero.
Who’d be a citizen of Gotham City? Not me, that’s for sure.
If I was unlucky enough to be born kicking and screaming in Elliot Memorial Hospital, I would firstly question the sanity of my parents for choosing to live there for so long, and then suggest that we relocate immediately – once I had the mental capacity to do so, of course.
If the city’s foreboding, gothic architecture wasn’t creepy enough, then I should probably mention the abundance of crazed super-villains who regularly pay a visit. These aren’t just your ordinary run-of-the-mill villains, either. They’re ‘super’-villains, which is an important distinction to make. And if you missed it earlier, I mentioned there’s an abundance of them. Not one, not two, not even a handful. No, Gotham has an abundance of them. And yet people choose to live there. Such as my fictional parents, in this case.
Bring On The Bat
So Gotham City wouldn’t fare too well on TripAdvisor, then. But as a thriving hive of criminal activity, surrounded by high-rise buildings and pulsing neon lights, few can argue that it’s an idyllic locale for Batman to swoop, soar and conquer as the rain crashes down. You’ll be pleased to know that Batman: Arkham Knight makes this dream a reality, and then some.
I would have never expected that gliding, such a seemingly simple mechanic, would become one of my highlights.
I would have never expected that gliding, such a seemingly simple mechanic in the grand scheme of the game, would become one of my highlights of this generation. Listening to the comedic mutterings of the thugs below as Batman’s cape flutters in the wind is truly a therapeutic experience, while diving headfirst off the top of skyscraper promotes quite the opposite sensation. It’s testament to the fantastic open-world that developer Rocksteady has created, and makes traversing the concrete jungle of Gotham City an absolute pleasure instead of a grating chore.
Happy Halloween, Bruce
But which sinister soul is responsible for causing havoc this time around? Well, it’s that damn sack-wearing Scarecrow, and he’s rudely interrupted everyone’s Halloween celebrations in the process. A city-wide evacuation is ordered as Scarecrow threatens to unleash a deadly toxic which will make everyone go c-c-c-crazy.
However, this isn’t Scarecrow’s main objective. He’s determined to reveal the true identity of Batman and finally show the citizens of Gotham that he is nothing but a man, dispelling the mystique and power that his anonymity carries.
What follows is a rollercoaster ride of unexpected plot twists, grand reveals and a much darker tone than I expected. It’s all executed remarkably well, and with a greater sense of conviction than the previous games managed to muster. The story kept me second-guessing all the way through, and despite a slight lull in the middle, it proved to be a satisfying finale to Rocksteady’s impressive trilogy. In fact, I was left rather exhausted by the end, as Batman is pulled in more directions than a Stretch Armstrong doll in a desperate bid to keep Gotham safe.
But while the story may have all the ups and downs of a popular Spanish soap opera, sadly the same cannot be said for the game’s numerous side-missions. Even though there are plenty to discover, they ultimately fall short as they fail to evoke the same sort of emotion and gravitas as the game’s main campaign. They’re also fairly repetitive, too, and a more cynical player could deem them as nothing more than a convoluted means to gain further upgrades and access the game’s true ending, which is a shrewd move by Rocksteady, I must admit.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt recently proved that side-missions can be more than just filler, so it’s disappointing that Rocksteady glossed over this area by choosing quantity over quality. Nevertheless, it’s a useful tool for introducing more super-villains into the fray and expanding the game’s fan service.
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block Batman: Arkham Knight faces is the danger of franchise fatigue. It’s a genuine problem these days, and with Arkham Knight technically representing the fourth instalment in nearly as many years, it’s only natural that we see much of the same formula repeated, refined and expanded upon slightly.
There’s still the same free-flow combat system in place, which holds up remarkably well, and the majority of gadgets function exactly how they did in Arkham Asylum. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as they’ve always worked so well. But as someone who avoided Batman: Arkham Origins entirely and only played Arkham City very briefly, there were moments where severe deja vu kicked in – and that’s an obvious concern.
Some people may be less susceptible when it comes to retreading old ground, but it’s worth bearing in mind that your enjoyment may vary if you ever felt like Batman was beginning to bore. That being said, Rocksteady have become masters of their craft and have managed to create an incredibly seamless experience by banishing almost all loading screens, as cutscenes blend into gameplay without a moment’s hesitation. They’ve also tried to shake up the formula by introducing a controversial new game mechanic, the Batmobile, which is unfortunately bound to polarise players.
A hulking tank of non-lethal destruction, the Batmobile has been heavily integrated into almost every element of Arkham Knight. And it comes at a cost.
Although cruising around the city streets is undeniably fun, with scorching flames spitting out from the Batmobile’s afterburners as you rip through obstacles and veer around corners, the decision to include Bruce’s new car in riddles, puzzles and tank-based combat can be a bit hit and miss. It works, there’s no doubt about that, and ultimately my experience with the Batmobile was generally positive throughout. But it doesn’t take much imagination to envision the frustration it will cause for others.[yt_video id=”OrxgqRvNbmQ”][/yt_video]
The Batmobile is a divisive inclusion, then, but I’d argue it was worth the risk. The sense of raw, unbridled performance the monstrous ride offers is tangible, and it definitely makes traversing Gotham City a more expeditious process. I also seem to be one of the few people who actually enjoyed the tank-based combat, especially once I’d sought out a couple of worthy upgrades. I guess it reminds me of an old PlayStation game called Cyber Sled, which admittedly was a bit naff. But hey, nostalgia.
Looking Like A Billion Dollars
It shouldn’t be understated that Batman: Arkham Knight is the best Batman has ever looked, period. I’d also go as far as saying it’s the most technically impressive game released on current-gen consoles to date, and I never grew tired of stepping into Batman’s sizeable shoes every time I booted up the game. Although I encountered a few graphical and performance hiccups here and there, such as spotty physics and dips in the generally smooth frame rate, I was consistently wowed by the game’s meticulous attention to detail, lavish textures and fluid character animations.
This is the best Batman has ever looked, period.
Of course, I’m completely discounting the PC version, as it later turned out to be an absolute train wreck and has currently been pulled from sale until further notice. PC port aside, Rocksteady did miraculous things with the Unreal Engine in Arkham Asylum, but they’ve surpassed even my highest expectations with Arkham Knight.
The same can be said about the game’s cast of characters, who feel more convincing than ever. Voice acting is up there with the very best, as infamous villains live up to their comic book counterparts with ease. As far as cinematic experiences go, you’d be hard pressed to find such a slick and seamless game as Batman: Arkham Knight.
A review code of Batman: Arkham Knight was provided courtesy of Xbox. The game was reviewed on Xbox One.
Be The Batman
Batman: Arkham Knight features a procession of mentally-unhinged mad men to tackle, a gorgeous recreation of Gotham City to explore, and is a fine conclusion to Rocksteady’s excellent trilogy. If you can make peace with the Batmobile and disregard the game’s tendency to overly rely on tried and tested mechanics, then you’d be a batbrain to miss out on this one.