Rocksteady has cemented itself as an incredibly talented studio, thanks to creating the outstanding Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games. With that success comes expectation to keep pushing the limit, uphold quality, and to continue to craft a world that draws you in. Their prestige even afforded them the opportunity to add to Batman’s rogues gallery, with the titular Arkham Knight. Batman: Arkham Knight ought to be the crowning glory of their Arkham trilogy, but it doesn’t quite reach that mark.
Set months after the events that unfolded in City, Gotham is still dealing with the fall of The Joker. For a while a strange peace has engulfed the city, but that is shattered on one fateful Halloween night, as Scarecrow seeks to exact his revenge on Batman. However, he can’t do this alone and so in steps the Arkham Knight to assist, a mysterious figure who commands their own military organisation and, for some reason, also wants the Dark Knight to fall. Not unlike the final film in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, an overwhelming military force rolls in and takes control of the city.
The story seems set for a full blown war to engulf Gotham and explode into a multi-sided conflict involving the many players of the criminal underworld. However, the story doesn’t reach that potential, with a majority of established villains cast off into optional side missions, with the main drive of the story kept on Scarecrow and Arkham Knight. Some incredibly well executed moments will leave you in awe, but at other points it can simply trudge along to the point that, if I’m being honest, I don’t feel Arkham Knight’s plot is as strong as Asylum and maybe not even City’s.
Much of the game focuses on uncovering the Arkham Knight’s identity, with clues teasing you throughout until the very well executed, if not truly mindblowing reveal. This was supposed to be the pinnacle of the story, but moments from earlier in the game involving other characters outshone the removal of the Arkham Knight’s façade.
As a villain, the Arkham Knight simply isn’t as menacing as the Scarecrow, the real rogue in charge, and he comes across as more petulant than powerful. While this makes sense given his backstory, the Arkham Knight isn’t someone set for the top tier of Batman’s villains.
Batman himself is different in relation to his fully stoic and sure self from the previous Arkham games. This is a Batman trying to contend with the loss of Joker, his greatest foe and a force which was once a constant in his life. In fact, Batman’s portrayal in Arkham Knight is very well handled to show that he does have feelings and his own demons to contend with. This is a Batman that is trying to control the situations that unfold in Gotham, all while trying to not lose himself.
At his disposal is the newly introduced Batmobile, which only glimpsed briefly in previous games, and it gives an impressive first impression. The car is effectively its own character and has an important role in the game. The Batmobile has two sides to it, transforming between being an incredibly fast car and a slower yet very powerful tank when in battle mode.
These two sides to the Batmobile create a love/hate relationship with the vehicle. As a car it’s unwieldy with steering that needs refinement, as it would often slide round a corner before smacking side on into a wall and continuing. Battle mode is where the Batmobile shines though, as it glides across surfaces with absolute precision all the while being able to fire rounds to incapacitate Arkham Knight’s tanks and soldiers (non lethally of course), as well as the various street thugs.
The battles in the Batmobile are fun, but it is overused during missions. Of course, Rocksteady want to show off this new toy, but it feels like the car is getting shoehorned in where it doesn’t need to be, slowing down the action at times. It’s used to lower ramps and ambush soldiers, but you also need it every time you want access to the GCPD building – simply walking down the ramp to the door does nothing – and even some side missions see you needing to use the car to “solve” The Riddler’s riddles, which are little more than time trials through Gotham.
The side missions themselves vary in quality. Some trigger as you explore Gotham and won’t continue until you find the next piece for yourself. It makes you feel like the detective that Batman is, as you have to constantly be aware of your surrounding, listening for the telltale sounds or chatter of the police or enemies, and hunting for clues to crack a case.
Other side missions simply revolve around chasing people through the streets in the Batmobile or hunting enemies down one by one to stop crimes being committed. A minor annoyance I had throughout was that side missions which clearly had further steps had to be reselected from the mission screen to mark the next point on the map.
The best parts of the game are when you are gliding over Gotham. The city looks absolutely stunning from the docks to the high rise buildings that shine in the night as their neon lights glow. Batman’s design is also well done, with the suit showing him at his pinnacle. The majority of his tools are ready for use from the beginning, making him a formidable force. It all really comes together as Batman glides over the city as the rain hits and trickles down his cape, while a sea of lights passes underneath him. Gotham is one of the best cityscapes I’ve seen in a game, exuding an atmosphere of sorrow as its streets fall to thugs.
Batman can dive down to the streets and right into a group of thugs that are tearing away at the city. The combat is as good as ever with some new additions, primarily the fear takedowns. As you’re stalking enemies from the shadows, you can surprise them with a fear takedown which slows down the action and allows you to switch to nearby targets and instantly incapacitate them as well, evening the odds a bit in an area where there are a lot of enemies.
Then there are dual takedowns which can incorporate the Batmobile or one of Batman’s allies, depending on the mission. They’re great fun, allowing you to switch to the other character that is present, for example Catwoman, who have their own skills to bring to a fight. Getting to see Batman and someone else work together to take out a room full of thugs is one of the highlights of Arkham Knight. Rocksteady created a superb fighting system in Asylum, improved it in City, and have once again refined it. A bar has been set once again when it comes to combat in action games.
Batman: Arkham Knight is bigger and bolder than its predecessors, but it’s not better. The plot has some good twists and the exploration of Batman’s character is well done, but overall it doesn’t draw you in like the events of Asylum and City. I couldn’t help but feel something was missing from the game, but even now I struggle to put my finger on what exactly. The Batmobile is fun but it is overused and detracts from the overall experience of being Batman, while the Arkham Knight is a good addition, but doesn’t reach the heights of The Joker, Scarecrow, or even Hugo Strange.
Batman: Arkham Knight isn’t the crown jewel in the Arkham series, that remains in Asylum’s honour, but it is still a good game in its own right.
Version tested: PlayStation 4