Batman: Arkham Knight closes out the series on a high note, providing players with the best gameplay experience the series has to offer. Though not entirely perfect, anyone who enjoyed the earlier titles shouldn’t miss this opportunity to dawn the cape & cowl one last time.
Being one of the most anticipated games of 2015, my expectations for Batman: Arkham Knight were riding pretty high. 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum came out of nowhere, emerging as one of the best superhero games ever made. Now two games later, (leaving Arkham Origins out of the conversation) and the expectations placed on Rocksteady Studios to produce something amazing for Batman’s final act are incredibly high. Thankfully they’ve mostly nailed it, giving us the best Batman experience in the series.
Arkham Knight sets a dark tone early and sticks with it throughout, using Halloween and the Scarecrow’s methods of fear to send Batman on a psychological roller coaster. Gotham city has remained devoid of crime since the events in Batman: Arkham City. Halloween night however, things quickly take a turn for the worse when Scarecrow unleashes his fear gas on the city causing panic and an exodus for Gotham’s citizens. Assisting Scarecrow is the militarized villain known only as the Arkham Knight, whose true identity is one of the central plot points of the storyline. With the looming threat of a massive chemical attack on Gotham, Batman is forced to hunt down Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight before the night is over.
The Arkham series is known for it’s gripping narratives and well depicted representations of DC’s most iconic characters. Arkham Knight is no exception and further shows that Rocksteady not only understands these characters better than anyone else but has perfected their craft with probably one of the best Batman stories ever told. Focused in it’s execution, the storyline is gripping from start to finish. While several available side quests provide for a good distraction from the main story missions, you’ll be hard pressed not to get swept up in the riveting plot. It’s just that good.
Rocksteady’s first title on next-gen hardware is a sight to behold. With Arkham City, they teased us with a cast off derelict portion of Gotham City. Inevitably though, Rocksteady knew they would have to create a fully fleshed out Gotham city free of barriers, turrets, and barbed wire. The result is a stunning representation of the notorious fictional city. It’s density is only matched by it’s verticality not yet seen before with this sort of detail in a game. Though the citizens are absent during the events that take place, Gotham is very much alive. Rioters run amok in the streets, Arkham Knight’s militia patrols the roads and sky, and other villainous ilk remain in the city giving Batman plenty to do on top of his already daunting task of defeating Scarecrow. It’s an incredibly immersive environment due to the city landmarks and characters involved, and exploring it from top to bottom is very entertaining.
Character models are gorgeously rendered and stay consistent with previous games in style, giving the DC characters we know so well a darker, harder edge. The selection of the featured villains and their respective design seems to have a lot to do with the events taking place on Halloween. Scarecrow returns more frightening than ever before, face disfigured, a noose around his neck, and wearing a syringe like claw device to administer his fear toxin to would-be victims. Other characters such as the the Man-bat and Dr. Pyg further contribute to the very spooky Halloween element of the game. A sequence involving the Man-bat had me seriously on edge as I investigated the origin of this bizarre creature. You’ll fight side by side with Robin, Nightwing, and Catwoman using the new Dual Play feature which allows for switching between characters during combat. Oracle, Alfred, and Commissioner Gordon also return in their supporting roles and play significant parts in this final installment.
Arkham Knight continues to refine the already near perfect combat and predator sequences that made the rest of the series so great. The fundamentals remain largely unchanged, but Rocksteady has made small adjustments and additions to both modes to keep the core gameplay fresh and fun a third time around. Predator sequences receive the most interesting addition with the Fear Takedowns that allow you incapacitate several enemies before they can ever react. The result is an incredible slow-motion “Matrix” like effect that’s a lot of fun to pull off.
The biggest new feature is the much anticipated Batmobile. Several puzzles require it to solve them, and all of the Riddler’s death traps involve driving through a course of what I can only describe as an “Evil Hot-Wheels track.” It also doubles as a tank with it’s battle mode in order to engage the Arkham Knight’s drone army in armed combat, seemingly out of place for Batman, but the gameplay is solid and fun. It follows the same idea as the combat sequences, score successive hits while avoiding enemy fire, and unleash huge special attacks. Tearing through the streets at a high speed while chasing down criminals is an exhilarating treat. In their attempt to introduce something new however, Rocksteady ultimately pushes the tank moments far too much throughout game. Several sequences would have have been more preferable had you just been able to control Batman, instead you’re forced way too often into tank battles and even moments when you have to move undetected while piloting the batmobile. Yes, seriously.
Most of the complaints are minor but feel warranted since this is supposedly the last entry in the Arkham series that Rocksteady will develop. Several of the side missions pertain to the Arkham Knight’s militia forces. All work very well in the context of the main story and are unique from each other, but consolidating them into fewer missions would have given room for other oddly omitted characters from the game. Build ups to mission finales are fantastic, the climax themselves however are not always as satisfying. The Dual Play feature was pushed hard in marketing but not used nearly enough during the game, which is unfortunate since these are the few moments you’ll have to play as anyone else besides Batman. And if you were hoping to have more moments with Dual Play in the Challenge modes, you’ll be disappointed to hear that there are hardly any Combat or Predator challenges relative to the number of Batmobile challenges available.
All in all Arkham Knight is the best game made with a comic book license to date, and probably one of the best games ever. It’s minor shortcomings, which hopefully are addressed in future quality DLC, don’t detract from the grand experience on display here. The main campaign offers upwards of 12-16 hours on your first play through, and an extra incentive to finish the side missions exists for those that want the complete ending. A New Game Plus mode and the aforementioned Challenge modes is also there for even more extended play time. It’s bitter sweet that the series comes to an end, but anyone who enjoyed the earlier Arkham titles shouldn’t miss this excellently crafted masterpiece from Rocksteady Studios.