Rocksteady has finally put the conundrum they themselves created to bed. Their new Batman game, Arkham Knight, proves that there can be too many Batman games. Granted, they have been on a steady decline quality-wise ever since the original, fantastic Arkham Asylum, but the series is far from being considered anything remotely close to bad. But Arkham Knight makes a case for there being too much of something originally unique is also a tiring way of handling a franchise.
Arkham Knight picks up from where the last game left off, with Arkham City shut down and Gotham City back to its former self; that is, a haven for criminals to running amok and do their dirty business. Among them is Scarecrow, who’s back in action after his plans failed horribly in the ol’ asylum, and is now cooking up a new batch of his fear toxin. He sets the citizens violently loose on each other, forcing everyone — but the bad guys — to flee the city until Batman (and to a much lesser extent, the police) can figure things out.
Things aren’t that simple, though, because as the title suggests, there’s a new baddie in town who apparently knows a whole lot about Bruce Wayne’s alter ego. Anyone with at least a little bit of a background with Batman lore won’t have much trouble figuring out his identity right away, which speaks volumes about the overall quality of the writing in this game. Unfortunately, the mysterious identity of the Knight is about as deep as the story goes, with the rest acting basically as an excuse to glide around town, beating up thugs and doing more of the Riddler’s many, many challenges.
And there’s also, of course, the Batmobile. Fans have been on Rocksteady’s case about there being very little of Batman’s iconic set of wheels in the Arkham games, so they’ve finally delivered it, for better or worse. Bruce’s wonderful little ride plays a paramount role throughout the game, especially at the starting bits, working as the key tool in most of the “puzzles” you’ll come across during the story and side quests. I quote “puzzles” because they don’t get anywhere close to provoking a whole lot of thought in figuring them out. Set a ramp here, make a huge jump there, power a gate, drive through, that sort of stuff.
The biggest part of having Bats’ monstrosity of a ride in the game is vehicular combat. Whether you like it or not, you’ll be force fed various encounters with unmanned enemy tanks throughout the city, many of which cannot be skipped if you hope to get through the main game’s story. Now, these fights aren’t that bad, considering the fairly generous window of time you have to dodge incoming shots, conveniently represented by AR-like lines on screen that turn red when you get in range of a shot.
On the other hand, this is a Batman game, and at least in my mind he’s more of a stealth guy. When it comes down to fighting, the dukes manage to speak louder than any cannons. And while there’s very little to actually be stealthy through the main portions of the game, the parts that do work in that mechanic do so for the sake of plopping the tank back in. Say, in more than one part of the story, Batman is exploring sections that are closed off by gates, thus forcing him to step out of his car and go hit heavily guarded switches. These usually employ heavily armed tanks with which Batman has absolutely no chance of facing off on his own, thus rewarding you for the clever use of his gadgets.
The gadgets themselves are mostly what Batman got to use in the previous Arkham games. The few notable omissions like the electrified gloves are cleverly teased, but never used. Weirdly enough, Batman doesn’t start off with everything he needs in his possession, and unlike Arkham Asylum, the introduction of extra pieces of gear doesn’t occur very naturally — you just ride off to meet with Wayne Enterprises’ Lucius Fox, who gives you whatever you need, or ships it to you via Bat Wing, for you to pick up. There’s never the sense of discovery that Asylum developed so well when out exploring, it’s just a matter of asking uncle Lucius for whatever tool gets you out of the current jam you are stuck at.
And while their introduction is rather weak and a tad uninspired, their upgrades via experience points awarded through your progression in the game help give them a little bit of depth. Among the many slots you can invest points in, be it tank upgrades, the Bat suit’s features or combat moves, you’re also able to give Batman’s tools new features as well. There’s an overabundance of upgrades (that I personally didn’t bother spending points on) for just about every aspect of gameplay. For instance, his electromagnetic scrambler’s functions can be extended to disable different tiers of the enemy’s technology, from the lowest of all, the guns, to their drones and tanks. I stuck with giving my tank more armor in order to make the the vehicular mayhem a little more forgiving, and because I wanted to give myself more of a challenge during the hand-to-hand sections of the game.
Fighting is probably the Arkham series’ biggest contribution to recent games, and it makes a pretty satisfying return in this game. Batman is a beast when it comes to beating baddies up, either by simply punching and kicking the ever crap out of them, but also by countering every one of their tricks, if timed correctly. Throughout the game different enemy types are introduced and added into the mix, thus varying what you’ll be up against. Some of these guys are a little bit of a design department overkill, like the bigger brutes with electrified swords, but it’s nothing Bats can’t handle. The most annoying of them are the medics who can bring back any foe who’s been KOed and that should naturally be the first fools you take out.
Speaking of taking out, you’ll be facing off against many of Batman’s greatest foes during the side portions of the game. Without going into detail for the sake of keeping spoilers out of this review, it’s safe to say that in order to keep tabs on all of the villains in game you’ll have to check out the entirety of the mission list, not just the main story. There isn’t a moment in Arkham Knight where only one baddie will be out looking to get even with Batman. It’s neat that they don’t take turns in the spotlight, even during the many crisis the city faces during the story portions of the game.
As aforementioned, the writing in the game isn’t as strong as what was seen in the previous entries. It’s a little disappointing to see how badly Batman as a character is treated by the writers, who turn the world’s greatest detective into a grunt throughout the game. Still, they’ve managed to add an incentive to keep playing well beyond the main story and locking away every super criminal, not just giving you a platinum trophy or 100% achievement, but actually delivering an extra layer to the ending of the overall story.
All in all, Arkham Knight is a game with a dual nature. It’s a fun Batman game that expands the franchise and adds some cool bits of gameplay. At the same time, though, it shows how quickly fresh ideas can turn stale if they are done over and over again. Fans of the series who were asking for more will find it in this game, but for those that grew a little tired of the tried-and-true Rocksteady Arkham formula, well, they’ll find it in this game too.