Goodnight Dark Knight…
Licensed games have a tendency to be mediocre at best and that rule is no exception to superhero video games I’m afraid. The licensed superhero department is unfortunately riddled with movie tie-in video games and these rarely stray from anything but fair. They’re rushed, uninspired excuses of a game and are, quite frankly, just a movie tie-in cash grab, nothing more, nothing less. Original games based on licensed superheroes weren’t necessarily bad at the time, but there was nothing particularly special about them either. Unfortunately this trend was the standard for what felt like an exorbitant amount of time; that was until Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009. Rocksteady handled the Batman license with the proper respect and treatment that it rightfully deserved, which resulted in the best Batman game (later series) ever created, and arguably the greatest superhero game of all time. Its sequel Arkham City upped the ante significantly; it featured a larger open world, ripe with new locales to explore, more iconic villains to add to the existing roster, and a riveting narrative that somehow managed to top its phenomenal predecessor. In short, it was better in nearly every way and quickly became the definitive Batman and superhero game. Four years later and Rocksteady’s trilogy has come to an end. However, no matter how hard Arkham Knight tries, it just can’t fill the immense shoes of its predecessors. The story is probably the most generic and predicable of the entire Arkham series, the Batmobile tank combat is criminally oversaturated and contradictory to Batman as a character, and the mission structure is surprisingly shallow. Despite my personal qualms with Arkham Knight, however, I still truly believe that it’s a great game. Every signature staple of the Arkham series’ core foundation is still here and better than ever. Arkham Knight may be the weakest in Rocksteady’s trilogy, as its ambitions and potential are neither fully realised nor cohered together successfully, but it’s still one hell of a ride and a fitting conclusion to one of gaming’s best.
To make this abundantly clear, I played Arkham Knight on the PS4 so I didn’t have to deal with the technical monstrosity that is the PC port. On the PC, Arkham Knight is littered with awful frame rates, which somehow struggle to keep up with the locked 30 frames per second, extremely poor textures in some instances, mediocre graphical fidelity, and an abundance of game crashes. Arkham Knight on the PS4, is exceptionally beautiful, with such vivid detail and is arguably one of the greatest looking games on the PS4 (I still hold my opinion on The Order 1886 being the best looking console game as of now). That presentational quality that Rocksteady has made a reputation of is pleasantly reflected through Arkham Knight as the city of Gotham is eerily atmospheric and truly encapsulates the direness and dread of the Dark Knight universe. The voice acting is superb as always with Kevin Conroy reprising his iconic role as the Dark Knight and Troy Baker doing exceptional work as the newly introduced Arkham Knight. Batman: Arkham Knight is technically sound in almost every way, but it does have a few technical hiccups under its belt. The game did crash on me occasionally and in its earlier moments, cutscenes would freeze for a couple of seconds; it’s not the most pressing issue but it did break the immersion for me. None of these, however, are the reason as to why Arkham Knight is disappointing; that true problem arises with its narrative. Arkham Knight’s opening is such an invigorating and intriguing moment as it differs from the normal Arkham formula and strays heavily from the familiar. It’s moments like these that make Arkham Knight truly feel like an evolution over its predecessors and show just how far Rocksteady’s interactive story-telling abilities have come. They’re haunting, riveting, and truly pay homage to the comic’s dark nature. However, these moments are few and far between; I can only collectively think of two other moments that truly mirror this sense of narrative quality and for a 10-12 hour main story, that’s fairly sparse. Another problem with Arkham Knight is its banal villains; the main villain this time around is Scarecrow and unfortunately he just doesn’t have that alluring nature that made the Joker so iconic and beloved. He’s a rather boring character that’s not properly fleshed out and for some reason you rarely actually see him as you two communicate primarily through technological mediums. Another qualm of mine is the Arkham Knight himself; if Scarecrow is boring then I don’t even know the adjective to describe the Arkham Knight. He’s a typical, one-dimensional character and his so called “mysterious identity” is painfully obvious and truly hinders what could’ve been an incredible reveal; his story is not as original as Rocksteady may want you to think. As abrupt the ending may be, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t truly at the edge of my seat, contemplating how it would all wrap up. One ending segment in particular, is quite honestly one of my new favourite moments in gaming; it was unpredictable, nerve-wrecking, extremely dark, and truly questioned the sanity of certain characters. Getting into any further detail would rid you of the surprise, so let’s not delve into spoiler territory. However, the overall story was never able to surpass, let alone reach my expectations and felt rather shallow in comparison to the grand scale of Asylum and City.
So let’s not beat around the bush and deal with the elephant in the room shall we? Batman: Arkham Knight’s most infamous new inclusion is none other than the Batmobile. If you’ve been following any media coverage whatsoever on Arkham Knight for the past couple of months, you’ll find that the Batmobile is unanimously criticized for its oversaturated use, as Rocksteady try their hardest to justify the existence of this new gameplay mechanic. Now the actual point-to-point driving of the Batmobile is extremely smooth and satisfying and mechanically, it might actually be one of the most responsive driving mechanics in a non-driving simulation game. Cruising along Gotham’s streets of peril and satisfyingly drifting around every sharp turn while chasing after an enemy patrol car truly encapsulated the vigilante aspect of the dark knight. However once your Batmobile transforms into its “battle mode”, that’s when the true trouble arises. The combat is fairly simplistic; you fire your machine gun and 60mm cannon at enemy drones, and once you’ve damaged enough enemies without taking a hit, you can unleash a missile barrage and take down multiple drones in one swoop, all while strafing left and right to dodge enemy fire. Now this is fairly engaging and fun for the first couple of times, as it’s something truly different from the typical Arkham formula and adds a layer of variance that is incomparable to the past titles. It helped fluctuate the overall pacing of the gameplay and story, or so it would have seemed. After you transform into the battle mode for the umpteenth time, the mechanic quickly gets stale and incredibly monotonous; it’s extremely repetitive, as nothing truly changes with each battle, and you’re just tasked with destroying more and more drones which unfortunately prolongs each battle. Yes you can unlock new upgrades for the Batmobile to change the flow slightly, such as upgrading your weapons to do more damage or hacking enemy drones so they’ll turn on their allies and fight for you, but none of this negates from its over-used tendency and triteness. Everything is good in moderation and must adhere to a tasteful disposition and I just wished that Rocksteady stuck to this rule as the tank combat was initially fun, but it doesn’t evolve throughout the game and is used way too frequently; I honestly felt that over 50% of the game had me mindlessly decimating drones ad nauseum. The Batmobile is also shoehorned into unnecessary puzzle sections and is, for some reason, used in a plethora of iconic Riddler challenges; Rocksteady desperately tries to justify the Batmobile’s existence but no matter how hard they try, it just comes off as a forced gameplay element that is ultimately not fun.
Now, the combat that you’ve come to expect and love from the Arkham series is still here and it is most definitely at its prime. Arkham’s signature freeflow combat is as satisfying as ever with new enemies and abilities to spice up the formula ever so slightly. Each combat scenario will require a little more inquiry as specific enemies must be defeated in certain ways or with certain gadgets which is excellent as it prevents players from mashing the attack button and requires a minute amount of strategy. Along with the typical freeflow combat, given certain scenarios, you can switch between Batman and one of his trusted sidekicks adding to the fluid movement of the addicting combat. You can even perform dual takedowns for some immense gratifying action and to switch to the corresponding character. The predator gameplay segments are still as tense as ever, and this time around, I feel that there is a heavier emphasis on using the grates for enemy takedowns. However, typical enemies are significantly smarter in Arkham Knight; if you constantly take down enemies using the grates, they’ll toss a thermal grenade down there and burn you to a crisp, mirroring the intelligent mannerisms of the Mr. Freeze boss fight in Arkham City, adapting and learning from the situation. Certain enemies are also equipped with tools to prolong their imminent demise; whether it be defibrillators to revive fallen enemies or special suits that make them invisible while using detective mode, they’re all there to make your objective all the more challenging and engaging. Enemy drones also play a prominent role in standard combat; they can be remotely hacked and used to your advantage, helping you pick off their operators, or can be disabled if your nimble enough and quickly make your way to them, adding an additional layer to the welcomed challenge of the predator sections. Also certain story segments and side missions truly capture the essence of the caped crusader and in lack of a better explanation, make you feel like the world’s greatest detective. Unfortunately, these instances are fairly rare and barely make an appearance in the latter half of the game. My biggest complaint in the gameplay department, aside from the Batmobile combat, is Arkham Knight’s repetitive nature. Story missions will constantly implore you to activate or deactivate ‘x’ number of things to advance the narrative; this archaic example of game design is done so frequently that the shallow mission design sticks out like a sore thumb. Yes this design is archaic by nature and many other amazing games are guilty of having the same structure, but they’re better at seamlessly weaving this structure into the overall experience so that it’s not abundantly clear. I’m not too sure if Asylum and City were guilty of this practice, if so I never did notice it and everything was so well paced and neatly put together that whatever repetitiveness that could be found at its core was left unnoticed. Lastly, side missions are extremely shallow and are only a fragile shell in comparison to the likes of Asylum and City. One of my favourite side missions of the entire Arkham series was Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. It was psychologically demented, extremely immersive, visually stunning, unpredictably haunting, and simply amazing to descend down the madness that is the rabbit hole. Arkham Knight has absolutely nothing that can even hold candle to this beloved side mission. To say the side missions of Arkham Knight are repetitive would be a severe understatement. Regardless of your current progress in a side mission, you will be doing the same thing over and over again; whether it be chasing down an insane arsonist, destroying the vast number of checkpoints run by the Arkham Knight’s militia, ministering a cure on a deformed, mutated creature, or gunning down drones with the Batmobile as you defuse explosive devices scattered across Gotham, you’ll be doing the same thing repeatedly for each side mission. So unfortunately, most, if not all, post-game content is nothing more than a chore; and if that wasn’t bad enough, to experience the true ending, you need to 100% complete the game, that means completing every last banal side mission and all 243 riddles. Good luck.
Batman: Arkham Knight is great game, even though I’ve been constantly criticizing its shortcomings, it’s still a fantastic, albeit flawed game. I’m just extremely critical with Arkham Knight because it has a legacy to live up to and as a swan song to Rocksteady’s phenomenal repertoire, it’s fairly hard to not be disappointed. Rocksteady tried so hard to fluctuate the traditional formula and reinvigorate Batman into something new, trying to do so many different things at once, but ultimately underwhelming expectations. The Batmobile also completely contradicts Batman’s psyche; it’s fairly hard to take his “one true rule” seriously while he’s firing machine guns and rockets at criminals and their convoys. Yes you can argue that he’s not using lethal rounds and when he slams into criminals, they’re given an electric shock that knocks them unconscious, but these are just trivial excuses that beat around the fact that you’re practically murdering these criminals. However as a game mechanic, all of this just fundamentally works, it’s simply fun and exhilarating and even though it clashes with everything that Batman stands for, there’s no denying the facts. In comparison to its brethren, Arkham Knight is undoubtedly the weakest link, but as a standalone superhero video game, it’s great. If it didn’t have to live in the shadow of Rocksteady’s previous work, I feel that I would’ve enjoyed it significantly more, perhaps we’re all just spoiled from the impact of the previous Arkham games. Overall Batman: Arkham Knight is a great game and any fan of the Arkham trilogy owe it to themselves to finish the legacy that Rocksteady started. The Arkham series will undoubtedly go down in history as the greatest superhero video game series of all time, any other attempts to mimic the magic that Rocksteady has created will be a challenge like no other. Batman: Arkham Knight may not be a perfect game nor is it the finale that we needed, but it is ultimately the one we deserved.