Rocksteady bids farewell to the Dark Knight in a big way.
FAREWELL, GOOD KNIGHT
MINOR SPOILERS BELOW
Batman: Arkham Knight is a marvelous masterpiece. Building on the superb storytelling and gameplay from Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, Arkham Knight is the concluding chapter in Rocksteady’s Arkham Trilogy.
It’s Halloween and Scarecrow has issued a message to Gotham: get out while you still can. He is about to unleash a massive cloud of his infamous fear toxin over the entire city. The mega villains all team up in an effort to put Batman to rest once and for all.
The story feels just like it should – a direct sequel to Arkham City, more so even than City felt to Asylum. Gotham is larger than ever, a sprawling metropolis with plenty of room to spread your wings (or burn rubber). The game puts you right into the action as opposed to teaching you the basics. It assumes you have played past Arkham games and I am fine with that. Combat is even more polished than before, with each move feeling silky smooth. You start out with most of the abilities Batman has in his arsenal from Arkham City and as the game goes on, you learn new technologies. The Batclaw, Explosive Gel, Remote Hacking Device, and Line Launcher are back, just to name a few. Some of the new devices were pretty clever, but I found myself sticking with the originals. The most noteworthy device is the Voice Synthesizer, which allows Batman to utilize the recording of the voice of an enemy he has encountered. You can use this to bypass certain security gates or to manipulate enemies to do certain things like stray from the pack or even let Batman into blocked off areas.
The upgrade system is simplistic yet deep. The progress you make throughout the game is rewarding. I found that if I really wanted to upgrade the Batsuit, I needed to perform more side quests and missions but it isn’t anything that holds you back if you decide not to. Though similar to the previous games, the upgrade system is different enough to feel unique. You can upgrade just about everything that has to do with Batman, from aspects like resistance to melee attacks or resistance to gunfire, to upgrading each gadget to the Batmobile itself. I tried to upgrade my health first, then the gadgets. The Batmobile featured similar upgrade options to Batman himself, with the ability to add combos and strength during battle sequences.
The Batmobile is the biggest addition to the Arkham series, adding an entire new facet to the game. I welcomed the Batmobile with mixed emotions. When I first saw the trailer from 2014’s E3 that showed off the vehicle, I was excited yet I didn’t want it to take up too much of the game. Why fix something that isn’t broken? Arkham’s gameplay consistently ranks among gaming’s best. The feeling when driving the Batmobile is one of ultimate power and general badass-edness – you can drive through most obstacles with destruction, much like in the Battlefield series. I can’t imagine the dollar amount of damage I caused to Gotham. The controls were not as tight as they could have been, but I still think Rocksteady did a fine job of adding such a big piece to the game. My gripe with the vehicle and possibly the only thing preventing this from earning a perfect 10 out of 10 is the frequency with which it appears. There are a ton of side quests that are necessary in achieving 100% completion – I have no qualms with that. My issue lies in the amount of story missions I needed to utilize the car. There are some mega fun chase sequences where you rip through the streets in order to catch one of the Arkham Knight’s commanders. The Batmobile also turns into a tank – which is completely anti-Batman and everything that he stands for. Fortunately, you are generally fighting drones. There are some cool weapons like homing missiles and hacking drones that you can use to your advantage, but there was more than a handful of these segments throughout the game when I would have been more than happy to just fight at the caped crusader himself.
The tank missions also feature a tad too many stealth sequences – yes, you read that correctly – where you are forced to sneak around street corners and between buildings in an effort to destroy your given target from behind. How can a tank be stealthy and so many times to boot? By the third sequence, I was questioning to myself “this again?” The tank is also used in acquiring certain Riddler trophies through vehicle platforming, something very few developers have attempted previously. Though frustrating, I knew it was my fault if I failed and had to start a portion over. I liked the challenge. The last usage of the Batmobile comes during small races throughout tracks and deathtraps constructed by Riddler. I was shocked how much I enjoyed these races and would even consider purchasing the future DLC where there will be more tracks available. You need to not only dodge and swerve, but you also need to manipulate the environment via gates and bridges over gaps to succeed.
The combat is as satisfying as ever, while adding a few new components to make things interesting. One of my absolute favorite moments in Arkham City was playing as Catwoman in the early portions of the game. She had her own unique fighting style that truly felt tailored to her persona. Batman is a well-balanced, powerful fighter while Catwoman is extremely quick and ferocious. In Arkham Knight, you can fight with a friend in certain moments throughout the game. As you come across certain allies, you have the option to perform a dual takedown, which is simply awesome. When your combo meter is full, one press of the button and you switch to Batman’s partner for that given battle and take down the targeted baddie. You have the option to switch back and forth between the two characters throughout the fight. I always tried to play as the other character as I really enjoyed each one’s unique feel. Robin is enjoyable and feels much like Batman does. Nightwing is a little more martial arts-like and utilizes his two electrified batons. Catwoman is playable during certain Riddler sequences, as he is holding her hostage and is taunting Batman to come and free her by performing challenges and beating puzzles.
Depending on if and when you pre-ordered the game, you also get access to playing as Harley Quinn in one portion of DLC in a side story and one as Red Hood, where you face off against Black Mask. I particularly enjoyed playing as Quinn, as she has been one of my favorite characters from the very outset of the series. To finally play as her was a treat and to see things through her perspective was interesting to say the least – it felt like I was in her head. Utilizing the button for Batman’s Detective Vision enables the player to see chaos and general craziness everywhere. In the debut trailer for the game, you see Harley dodge gunfire from a cop before taking him down. In the DLC, you can perform the same move. As Batman, it isn’t easy to avoid bullets, but that is one area that Quinn excelled in. How many times have you played a game after watching a trailer and not be able to perform a given stunt or move? That was immensely satisfying.
After the juggernaut that was Arkham Asylum’s storyline and then the even-better Arkham City, Arkham Knight had massive shoes to fill to remain competitive and close the trilogy out with respect. Kevin Conroy returns as the Dark Knight himself and delivers an award-winning performance. While Roger Craig Smith performed admirably as Batman in Arkham Origins, there just isn’t anything like Conroy’s presence, dating back to Batman: The Animated Series. To me, he is the definitive Batman voice all time. One aspect that I liked was that Conroy made Batman sound just a little bit older and at the end of his line, essentially ready to retire. Mark Hamill returns to voice some flashback sequences as The Joker and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. There are even some iconic scenes from the comic books such as The Killing Joke and Death In The Family. To see them acted out was genius on Rocksteady’s part. Some might think she is over the top, but I always enjoy Tara Strong as Harley Quinn. John Noble delivers a chilling performance as Scarecrow. Frequently throughout the game, you’ll hear the squeaking pitch of a microphone over a PA system that covers the entire city. Shortly after, you hear the smooth, haunting voice of Scarecrow. His presence was vital after such big performances from Hamill in the previous games.
The story feels totally unique from the first two games yet is certainly apart of a greater story. The sense of finality in Arkham Knight is evident from the very start, not totally unlike The Dark Knight Rises film in 2012 as it closed out Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. The Arkham Knight is introduced to us very early after Scarecrow’s threat is issued. Nothing is known about him other than the fact that he must have some combat experience. Rocksteady never overplayed the Knight’s identity in either promotion of the game or during the actual game and I was ultimately satisfied when the identity was finally uncovered late in the game. I had a few guesses as to who he or she really was before the game began and as time went on, the process of elimination pointed nearly directly to the perpetrator. It didn’t necessarily fizzle out, but many long time Batman comic fans will likely come to the conclusion quickly. The story even tries to throw you off the scent at one point. One thing is clear: Scarecrow is the main focus, the one behind it all.
A wide range of villains make appearances whether through the main story or through side missions. The Riddler has yet again hidden his trophies all across the city, with the fun Catwoman plot tied in. Poison Ivy plays a more prominent role and is always exciting when on screen. Penguin and Two Face have lesser roles than we were originally led to believe and this was disappointing to me. Quinn’s role becomes larger as the subplot emerges, but you might even place her in this category too. They are relegated to more minor plots relative to Scarecrow.
The story wraps up in a manner that I felt was more than satisfying. As badly as I want to go into a spoiler-full detail, I can assure you that Rocksteady took things in a very thought provoking direction. The ending ties up multiple plots right at the last moment and doesn’t necessarily leave an opening for a future sequel, should the studio decide they want to continue on, though it throws teasers via a few Easter eggs that eludes to what their next game will be. I won’t say much else, but I was very happy with how it ended. This was very important and something that could have easily been messed up. As I sit here and write the review, a hundred thoughts float through my mind for a spoilercast followup article.
What’s interesting is that there are actually three endings to the game, but not alternate endings like you would see in a game like Mass Effect or The Walking Dead. Rather, I view them as three separate parts of one big ending. The first part is earned upon finishing the main story’s quest. The second is earned after completing 7 of the 14 side quests, or better known as apprehending 7 of Gotham’s most wanted. The final part is unlocked after completing the other half of the 14 quests, which equals 100% completion of the game. After you lock up a criminal, you can visit the GCPD and view them in their cell, along with loads of each criminal’s thugs. Another part that I loved was going to the evidence room, where you could view weapons and other key pieces of evidence from primary villains from the Arkham series, such as Black Mask, Mr. Freeze, and more dating back to Arkham Origins. I am happy that they included Origins and tidbits from it throughout this game, even referencing it during certain encounters as the true starting point for Batman meeting some of his key enemies.
In Arkham Origins, the big addition to that game was the crime scene investigations. They were done extremely well and introduced a new segment to Batman that was really appropriate. After all, he is an investigator. Arkham Knight carries this facet over to this game and they are an integral part of the story. I was pleased to see this return and it helped to make Origins feel more important. It should be noted that Origins was developed by WB Montreal so that Rocksteady could completely focus their efforts on Arkham Knight, hence the reason that Knight is considered the final part of the “trilogy.”
Arkham Knight puts a bow on the trilogy and concludes in an extremely satisfying and exciting way. The game is pure fun, whether you’re clobbering thugs in hand to hand combat or ripping around the streets in the Batmobile. Whether you are an Arkham veteran or a newcomer looking for an exciting adventure game, this is a likely game of the year contender that you can’t afford to miss.
+ Combat is once again an A+ and though seemingly impossible, feels even more polished than past entries.
+ The story concludes in more-than-satisfactory way. It leaves a lasting impression and has a sense of finality.
+ An incredible twist provides for a truly thought provoking experience, especially towards the end.
+ Superb voice acting featuring an all star cast mixed with a gorgeous, massive Gotham City help make this an instant game of the year contender.
– While the Batmobile is a fun addition, it is overplayed and pops up just a little too frequently. It was as if Rocksteady felt pressure to add something new.
Josiah LeRoy is The Geekiverse’s Senior Editor. His fingers are crossed for an Arkham Collection on Xbox One & PS4.