Developers: Rocksteady Studios
Publishers: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Plot: Scarecrow gets his hands on a fear gas bomb that can destroy Gotham, while his militia army lieutenant, the mysterious Arkham Knight, uses his scheme as an excuse to finally kill the Batman.
So this is it! The final chapter in one of the most innovative and revolutionary superhero games of all time. The pitch: what if superhero games were actually good? The result: four incredible games that threw you into the control of Batman and let you feel like the Caped Crusader for four incredibly, well-written stories. And now, we sadly come to the Arkham hero’s close, his swansong. The pressure was on for Rocksteady to come up with the Batman games to end all Batman games.
The gameplan, it seems, is to stretch Arkham City’s open world that little bit wider and create a Gotham city even more complex for Batman to play around in. However, we tried this with Arkham Origins, the prequel that Rocksteady took no part in (thankfully, Arkham Knight references Origins enough, making the last game feel more intricate to the overall saga), and the result was a little unsatisfying to say the least. Therefore, Arkham Knight looks to other places where it can extend its gameplay and bring new things to the table. It is the smaller details that Arkham Origins neglected, where Knight excels. Small additions to the combat and rogue gallery. The Fear Takedown is one of the more exciting new weapons the Batman has to offer. Get three (or up to five if you focus your upgrades correctly) thugs in the same area and you can take all of them down, before anyone has a chance to react. It further highlights that powerful feeling that you are the Batman. Other changes come in the form of gadgets (a tool that allows you to mimic the voices of your enemies, an improved Disrupter gun), or types of enemies you face. Any enemy now has the ability to charge you with a rugby tackle, only blocked by a sudden batarang throw. Other enemies can revive their fallen comrades. It is a vital part of the game, because with Arkham Knight you are taking on trained soldiers, rather than simple-minded Blackgate goons. The stakes need to be raised, which makes it even more glorious, when you reduce them to the same scared bad guys that everyone else devolves into, when faced with the silent, all-knowing Dark Knight. The other big change is a bigger emphasis on your partners. Catwoman and Robin have featured in Arkham games before yet no one was sure what to do with them. Now, while sometimes a tad confusing, dual fights are a fun distraction, as you flit between two heroes as they punch their way through an army of enemies. Tap a button at the right time and you can even see Batman toss a stunned thug to Nightwing to finish off. It is an exhilarating new experience that helps Arkham Knight become a game in its own right.
But then there is the Batmobile. Arkham Knight ends up becoming a little personified by its Batmobile, the big change the series has made. It would have seemed a little odd if Batman didn’t make use of his most powerful weapon and Arkham Knight uses the vehicle to get Batman out of so many situations that its usefulness seems endless. I was worried that prolonged time in the car/tank would be troublesome for myself; I am a terrible video game driver. However, the vehicle controls for the Batmobile are incredible. It is so responsive to your touch and command that it never becomes a problem, when rocketing throughout the streets of Gotham. The only times you encounter complicated tricks are when faced with the Riddler’s challenges, designed specifically to make you struggle. The evasive mechanisms achieve most of the Batmobile’s success. It glides to the left and right simply, easily running rings around every other enemy vehicle in the game. Just like the hand-to-hand combat, fights are less about winning and more about winning without suffering a single loss of health. Arkham games are all about making you feel cool and thanks to a flawless design of the Batmobile segments of the game, the final game does not allow this side of things to lose steam. I do have a few problems with the Batmobile. There is a little too much of it. There are times when you wish that Batman had a few more tricks up his sleeve, rather than running to the Batmobile for help yet again. The game realises that, when gliding over rooftops, Batman is technically faster than his own car, so the story forces you to complete certain missions inside the car. By the end of the game, you might be wishing that you were back in the Asylum, where the story and gameplay was simplistic and straight-forward. Also, seeing as the game expects you to be hammering through the streets of Gotham in the Batmobile, I felt that less time was spent on the surroundings. There are some beautiful landscapes here (Queen Industries, Lexcorp, Black Canary all get a shout-out with their own buildings), but we are too busy racing through the map to really take them in. Arkham City painted every wall with a memorable feature – Arkham Knight is all about style, and less about immersion.
But while Arkham Knight won’t be able to beat City in terms of the finer details, when it comes to story, it is just as fantastic as ever. I was able to forgive Origins, because all I wanted from a Batman game is a story I could get behind. Arkham Knight delivers. No, it doesn’t quite have the heft of Joker’s ending in Arkham City, but it still reaches a richness in narrative tone that surpasses a lot of other games. Scarecrow might seem a second-rate nemesis, but his fear gas throws up a lot of complex plot points, which drive home some of the bigger themes. One plot point adds a fresh dynamic into the pot that makes Arkham Knight’s story so much better (you know what I am talking about!) While the Scarecrow terrorises Gotham, his henchman, the Arkham Knight offers a great subplot to tear into. Who is the Knight and why does he have so much hatred for the Batman? Halfway through the game, the story shows its hands slightly too early, so the big Batman fans will guess the twist, but it still carries weight. The side-quests are also well-written, Riddler’s challenges as engrossing as ever, as well as the return of some of the better villains of the past. The success of the Batman Eternal comic series also encourages Rocksteady to try out some lesser known villains which adds some new faces to the Arkham rogue gallery. A serial killer mystery has a terrific hook that earns a place next to Mad Hatter and Zsaaz levels of creepiness. But none of this holds a candle to the ending, which also abandons the main story completely to focus on the true battle: the one in Batman’s own psychology, as his code of never killing is pushed to breaking point. The surreal ending might annoy some, but I felt it perfectly concluded the Arkham games, bringing it back to the points that mattered, rather than some massive, sprawling set-piece.
Final Verdict: No, it’s not as good as City, but Arkham Knight is an impressive spectacle of gaming, which guarantees that the Batman will be missed.