Rocksteady closes their epic Batman trilogy with a military-grade bang in Batman: Arkham Knight.
Rocksteady Studios have consistently delivered a master-class in how to build a game based on existing IP. Both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City achieved review scores in the 90s, and so far it seems like Arkham Knight will be no different.
While Arkham Knight's launch has been making headlines because of its broken PC port, the Xbox One version is near flawless on a technical level. And it's this version that forms the basis of this review.So, is this the perfect end to what's been an awesome trilogy? Or do Rocksteady Studios fall at the last hurdle?
Setting & Graphics
Welcome to Gotham City
Rocksteady has painstakingly recreated the classic Gotham City for Arkham Knight, complete with ACE Chemicals, Wayne Tower and various other landmarks from Batman mythology. The city's open-world bleakness is matched only by its attention to detail. Arkham Knight's Gotham is littered with subtle references and details in homage to the DC Universe. This includes various references to Superman's domain of Metropolis, leading many to think Rocksteady's next game may soar to whole new heights.
Throughout my time with Batman Arkham Knight, I haven't encountered a single crash, a single instance of screen tearing or slowdown
Batman: Arkham Knight is PS4, Xbox One and (eventually) PC only, and that new-gen exclusivity shines. Gotham is rendered in Unreal Engine 3 and proves that the aging engine still packs plenty of wallop. The draw distance is positively insane - a dive from the top of Wayne Tower reveals the full breadth of play-space available to you, which is equal parts daunting and enthralling. The sheer amount of detail found across the game's locations and characters place Batman: Arkham Knight among true new-gen games.
Throughout my time with Batman Arkham Knight, I haven't encountered a single crash, a single instance of screen tearing or slowdown. Arkham Knight, like the other games, side-steps the gritty realism of the famed Nolan movies, opting instead to remain firmly in the comic book realm. From Poison Ivy's scientifically-questionable mutant plants to meta-human hybrids like Man-Bat, Rocksteady's Arkham Knight revels in the wackiest elements of Batman lore and emerges credibility unscathed. Batman has always provided us with a warped, nightmarish reflection of Western living, and Arkham Knight's Gotham is no different.
Darker than 'The Dark Knight'
Truly, the crown jewel of Arkham Knight is its story. As a Batman fan, I've longed for a movie that was a more accurate reflection of the comic books, and I think Arkham Knight is as close to the mark as it gets. Picking up the 18-rating from the ESRB is undoubtedly a step towards this. The 18-rating allows for the retelling of some of Batman's bloodiest moments from the comic books in grim flashbacks and Fear Toxin induced hallucinations.
The Arkham Knight leads a vast mercenary army, who sport advanced technology and a huge drone arsenal.
Praising Batman Arkham Knight's story without spoilers is incredibly hard, but the bait-and-switch between the events of Arkham City and Arkham Knight is masterful storytelling and elevates some of the lesser Batman villains as a result. Scarecrow is (on paper) the primary threat in Arkham Knight - he's concocted a new type of Fear Gas that is so potent that it leads people into a self-destructive psychosis. The effects of this are seen right at the beginning of the game, as he unleashes it on an unsuspecting diner to devastating result. Gotham City's population drains in a massive evacuation, and it's up to Batman to discover what Scarecrow is up to. Batman's efforts are complicated by the titular Arkham Knight - a self-styled Batman imposter who carries a pathological hatred of Batman. The Arkham Knight leads a vast mercenary army, who sport advanced technology and a huge drone arsenal.
On his quest to stop Scarecrow, Batman runs the gauntlet of an entire gallery of super-villains and is tormented throughout by the events of the previous games. The method of delivery for this torment is sheer genius and is almost on par with 'Metal Gear Solid' for its bait-and-switch twists-and-turns.
The Arkham Knight draws heavy inspiration from Batman's darkest comics, the authenticity of the Nolan movies and the nightmarish comedy of Batman: The Animated Series. Rocksteady weaves all facets of Batman's most desperate moments into the Arkhamverse with grim surgical precision. Batman: Arkham Knight might be the greatest portrayal of Bat-lore outside of the comics, beating the Academy award-winning Nolan movies in my opinion. I wish I could say more without spoiling the game, which is laced with break-neck plot-twists right from the start. But, if you're a fan of Batman in any incarnation this is the video game you've been waiting for.
Batman: Arkham Knight's rich story has reignited my passion for Batman. As a fan, I hope that Warner Brothers look to emulate Rocksteady's comic book-leaning portrayal of The Dark Knight, as opposed to Hollywood's recent attempts at hyper-realism.
Be the Bat
Rocksteady's Arkham series invigorates the beat 'em up genre with a fast and reactive combat system; that is equal parts rewarding and challenging. They haven't gone to great lengths to change the formula in Arkham Knight (if it ain't broke - don't fix it). But, the Arkham Knight himself has thrown some fresh dangers into the mix to catch veterans off-guard. The Arkham Knight's 'militia' enemies come at Batman with military tactics. For example, medics can resurrect defeated soldiers, as well as electro-charge their comrade's armor to make them untouchable.
Similarly, in the stealth-focussed 'Predator' sequences, the Arkham Knight's militia are far more deadly than the standard enemies of previous games. They toss grenades into ventilation ducts, track Batman when he uses his IR Detective Mode and deploy a whole host of other new weapons and tools - including an army of drone tanks and bombers.
To combat this, Batman also sports new weapons. The iconic Batmobile is now playable for the first time in the Arkham series, taking design inspiration from Nolan's 'tumbler' and some of the most classic schematics. The Arkham Knight Batmobile can be toggled into a highly mobile tank, allowing you to ditch the typical car controls and instead move with wheels that allow for lateral motion. New toys mean new upgrades, and the Batmobile can eventually turn into an all-purpose mobile battle platform complete with hacking, EMP fields, and homing missiles. Despite this fire-power, when shooting human enemies the Batmobile deploys rubber bullets and electric shocks - Batman does not kill.
Some reviewers have decried the Batmobile's handling, but after practice I think Rocksteady's implementation is, well, rock steady. Flipping between battle mode and pursuit mode can be cumbersome to begin with, but car handling isn't an issue since the Batmobile can squash most obstacles with minimum resistance.
Batman also enjoys new abilities in regular hand-to-hand combat. After a suit upgrade, Batman can perform a "Multi-Fear Takedown", which allows him to instantly knock out up to 5 enemies in slow-motion. You can only initiate a Fear Takedown after performing a Silent Takedown by sneaking up on enemies during stealth 'Predator' mission sequences. The Fear Takedown effect is cool but doesn't really add anything game-changing in combat. Accompanying Fear Takedowns, players can initiate new Dual Takedowns after building up a meter during fight scenes with a partner AI character. Pressing LB will initiate a tag-team knock-out with characters like Catwoman and Nightwing. Again, the effect is fun but limited to a few scenes only, which might come across as disappointing.
As someone who's played through Arkham City and Arkham Asylum, I found the sheer amount of new hazards and abilities in combat to be a tad overwhelming - but again, that would be overcome with practice. Knowing which ability to use when, where and how really stretches your reflexes, particularly if you're trying to be more stylish (and thus, earn higher EXP) in battles. Despite lacking any semblance of grace and timing, the only instances I found myself dying in Batman: Arkham Knight's normal difficulty were the results of rushing. Arkham games reward finesse and methodology, and Arkham Knight takes this to all new heights.
Thus far I haven't had much negative to say about Batman: Arkham Knight, but I feel as though the game is let down by its mission system. Throughout, you follow Scarecrow on the main mission, dotted with the opportunity to chase other super-villains on the side. The main story campaign is gripping, but the same cannot be said about the game's poorly implemented side-missions.
The way Arkham Knight makes you face repetitive challenges before getting there just feels like play time padding.
Upgrading your gadgets, combat abilities, Batsuit and Batmobile requires a metric ton of upgrade points. You can accumulate some of these by 'leveling up' after gathering EXP during regular combat. The more stylish you are, and the fewer mistakes you make, all go towards improving your combat rating, thus awarding more EXP. Grinding EXP this way takes far too long. Instead, Arkham Knight incentivises you to undertake its side-missions - each awarding you up to two upgrade points per quest, and then more for completing the quest chain. The problem is, these missions are almost always repetitive.
Holding right on the d-pad brings up the mission select radial menu. Some of these are standard "defeat 10 of x" quests (which I abhor), but thankfully they can be skipped unless you're achievement hunting. If you want to come to blows with Riddler, Two-Face, Penguin or any of the game's other major villains, Arkham Knight forces you to jump through a copy and pasted series of hoops (Catwoman's words) masquerading as gameplay. It's made worse by the fact that it tells you how many times you have to jump through these hoops before capturing the villain.
Prevent 3 bank heists to see Two-Face, follow 4 trucks to see Penguin, chase Firefly 3 times to capture him - the visible quota to achieve these goals slaps you out of the fantasy of being Batman, and lets down what is otherwise an amazing game. It's a shame because the conclusions of these needlessly time-devouring side-quests can be interesting. The way Arkham Knight forces you to face repetitive plot-absent challenges before finding those conclusions just feels like play time padding. Those of you who enjoy collect-a-thons will feel right at home. This is particularly true if you want to capture The Riddler, who will only face you if you solve every single Arkham Knight riddle.
I would have preferred it if Rocksteady had focussed less on the Assassin's Creed-style of open-world, providing it meant we could have more themed areas or events. Although, the main story quest is so good that the occasional sense of grinding is almost worth it.
A satisfying end to an amazing trilogy
The Arkham Knight is a worthy ending to Rocksteady's Arkham trilogy. Arkham Knight represents the potential hidden within our favorite franchises to become video game classics, instead of shallow Hollywood cash-ins.
On Xbox One, every aspect of Batman: Arkham Knight glistens with polish. It features a painstakingly detailed overworld, complimented with awesome special effects, rock-solid combat, and a truly tense story.
- Challenging and rewarding gameplay
- Gorgeous and grim comic book designs
- Mature plot laden with mystery
- Side missions are repetitive at best, boring at worst
While I felt like Batman: Arkham Knight was let down by its mission structure, the main story makes up for it. The bump to an 18-rating allowed Rocksteady to examine some of Batman's darker stories, and they fit right in with the world they've created. I hope that the next time Activision sit down and try to produce a game based on the Marvel Universe, they look at the success of the Arkham series and take note.
Superhero games have rarely been taken seriously over the years, and Batman: Arkham Knight and its predecessors prove that it's possible to build convincing video games based on existing IP. Cheers, Rocksteady.
Batman: Arkham Knight is available now on Xbox One, PS4 and is 'coming soon' to PC.