I had been looking forward to Batman: Arkham Knight for months. The Arkham series has been a favourite of mine for years and I wasn’t about to miss what was said to be its grand finale. I went in expecting all the usual (a lethal criminal mastermind, cowardly and/or overconfident thugs, the inevitable and ever-annoying riddler trophies and a chance to really feel like Gotham’s predatory protector) and left feeling astonished.
Batman: Arkham Knight is set one year after Batman: Arkham City. Scarecrow (who left only his eeriness in Arkham City if you were bothered to find it and decipher it) is back in town and he’s joined forces with Two-Face, Harley Quinn, Penguin and the mysterious Arkham Knight to once more try and obliterate the caped crusader; Gotham’s shadowy beacon of hope.
The story is intriguing enough despite a few clichés attached to it, but its delivery could have been better. From the beginning, you hear that Harley Quinn, Two Face and Penguin are back (they helped fund the entire evening) but after a while it seems they were largely forgotten. It’s clear that the writers meant to focus on Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight and that’s a problem. There is a huge dynamic between Batman’s rogues gallery that simply isn’t explored. In fact, they’re reduced to side mission mini-bosses and none of them put up much of a fight. This is a huge contrast with what was presented to players in Batman: Arkham Asylum when you really felt like, even though Joker was running the show, he was the least of Batman’s worries. Scarecrow was running around with fear toxin trying to ruin Batman from the inside out, Harley Quinn was traipsing around the Asylum and dropping elevators on us, and Poison Ivy was…well she was being Poison Ivy.
None of that is presented to us in Batman: Arkham Knight. Most if not all the villains recruited by Scarecrow, are beaten through repetitive side missions and left to pace back and forth behind bars with a dozen other villains. Literally in the same cage (I’m starting to think Batman wants them to escape so he can keep doing what he does).
I will admit, I found a lot of those same repetitive missions in Batman: Arkham Knight to be highly addictive. Searching for Gotham’s loose serial killer for example, was a lot of fun and I kept my ears open for his operatic clues, excited for the next victim to turn up.
The mystery of the Arkham Knight might be encapsulating at first for those who haven’t read the Batman comics though the reveal might seem a little forced. Those who have read them would probably figure his identity out after the first few missions. But don’t worry Batman: Arkham Knight has plenty of other twists that will undoubtedly excite and shock everyone.
As for Scarecrow, the main antagonist of Batman: Arkham Knight, he’s just not the same devious embodiment of fear that he was in the asylum. John Noble does fantastic voice work and one of his monologues about the nature of fear actually impressed me quite a lot but the character’s appearance in the game amounts to little more. We never see Scarecrow at his best here and never get the sense that his very being revolves around fear. Certainly not in the same way that we did in Batman: Arkham Asylum when we were left traversing through Batman’s psyche, trying to fight his demons and fears whilst avoiding Scarecrow’s demonic gaze. In comparison, he seems like a man broken by fear and by Killer Croc’s jaws (for anyone who remembers his defeat in the Asylum). It makes sense, I suppose but his presence feels as though it was toned down and as though he was building up to something that simply never reached its full potential. After completing the story wasn’t given the same victorious feeling as I received at the end of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.
Gameplay hasn’t changed all that much from Batman: Arkham City. The developers (Rocksteady) have implemented certain features you might recognize from Batman: Arkham Origins (theoretical scenarios at crime scenes, Gotham’s Most Wanted etc…) and the gameplay does seem a little more refined. Batman is a detective in this game, more so than he was in previous games. When I found myself in a brawl or in a room full of armed thugs, I was dazed with the euphoria of clearing an entire room without ever taking a hit or being seen, and being challenged with a variety of thugs. Batman is a shadow in the night, a relentless phantom, his Batmobile…not so much.
Gotham is huge. There are towering landmarks, a monorail system and a lot of indoor areas, all of which feature unique environments ranging from the decadently exquisite to the dark and eerie. With neon lights, flickering billboards and shimmering glass spires all over, the canopy seems just as full and lively as the streets (as lively as streets can be with no innocent pedestrians around). There are thugs below and militia above, armed and protected by drones. There are more drones in this game than there are batarangs in Batman’s famously spacious belt. In the predator missions, they’re a clever addition. Some thugs will watch over the area from the air and you’ll have to find a way around it.
Beyond that, you’ll spend a lot of time in the Batmobile fighting unmanned tanks and airborne drones. You’re even forced to complete The Riddler’s race courses. Yes. The Riddler has seemingly begun to think that anything you can place a green question mark on qualifies as a riddle. But I digress. The Batmobile missions are pretty much what one might expect warfare in real-life to become but it doesn’t belong in a Batman game. It feels out of place and ruins the experience. He’s a stealthy ninja predator, not a monster truck driver. The Batmobile is a tank (something you’ll hear thugs say a lot throughout Gotham when comparing it unfavourably to its predecessor). It’s loud, destructive and ultimately unnecessary. It’s obvious that its inclusion was due to the size of the open world but the need to have drones and tank battles were overdone and I found myself slumping into my couch and closing my eyes hoping that these tank battles were each just a horrible dream and I had somehow ingested fear toxin in real life. You’ll find that gliding across the city is much more practical than driving that monstrosity, but at least the explosions were nice to look at.
All in all, the game is a beautiful love letter to fans of the Arkham series. The most incredible thing about it, I simply cannot say. I can say that the breath-taking moments in Batman: Arkham Knight more than compensate for the lacklustre ones. It is a fiery and epic end to the trilogy, one I’ll return to over and over in the years to come…partly because I still haven’t finished searching for all those damn Riddler trophies. Recently Telltale Games announced they are making a Batman game which could be an interesting new way to play Batman.
• General gameplay in respect to Batman has been refined
• The voice acting is amazing
• The plot is full of awesome twists
• Side-missions are addictive
• Gotham possesses a truly immersive atmosphere
• Batmobile is obnoxious and unnecessary
• Some Villains play a marginalised role
• Unmanned vehicles are overused
• Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight are generally underwhelming antagonists