It says a lot about the quality of Rocksteady’s previous Batman games that, despite not really being a fan of comics or superheroes, I consider them essential to any self-discerning gamer.
Combining open world gameplay with stealth, a unique combat system and investigation elements, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are exemplary examples of the action-adventure genre and so I eagerly awaited the next entry into the series, excited to discover just what Rocksteady could achieve on new hardware. Well, the wait is finally over, and whilst Arkham Knight is another fantastic entry into the series, I just can’t help but feel that Rocksteady have placed a few missteps along the way that somewhat dampen the experience.
Firstly, it has to be said that Batman: Arkham Knight looks absolutely stunning. With the power of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Rocksteady have been able to deliver a representation of Gotham that is exceptional in both scale and detail. It feels like a real city, albeit a largely deserted one, and to explore it is a pleasure whether by land or air. Character models are also exceptional, showing off their well-executed animation that makes them uncannily realistic, especially the faces that show every nuance of detail. Rounding off the package is high quality voice acting and a rousing musical score which means that your eyes won’t be the only things being pleased during your crime busting escapades. Running at 1080p on PlayStation 4 and 900p on Xbox One, it’s nice to find that the game runs ever so smoothly too, with the only noticeable hiccups occurring when you hop into the Batmobile to take it for a spin.
Yes, you read that right. Batman: Arkham Knight finally allows you to jump into the seat of the Batmobile, and while this is a welcome addition that builds on the gameplay that has largely remained unchanged for three games now, it’s also the element which caused me the most frustration and disappointment with the game. At your beck and call pretty much whenever you’re outdoors on the streets of Gotham, the Batmobile has multiple uses that nicely complement the series’ staple gameplay systems. Aside from racing around Gotham at breakneck pace, the Batmobile can also be used to alter selected areas of the environment via the use of a winch and even change into a tank in order to engage in battle with an army of tank-like drones. The problem is, as much fun as it is to go for a joyride in Batman’s signature wheels, it just doesn’t feel quite right due to a combination of awkward controls and iffy handling.
Things are better when the Batmobile is in tank mode, but the gameplay segments that require it are perhaps the dullest moments of the game, being either all out battles with waves of lightly armoured drones or stealth-like instances where you must negotiate around the environment to destroy highly dangerous tanks without being spotted. If there was more enemy or weapon variety in these parts then it wouldn’t be quite so bad, but using the same old cannon to destroy an army of drones with only four vehicle types and seemingly no attack variations gets monotonous pretty quickly.
Apart from the inclusion of the Batmobile, there’s little else here that won’t be familiar to those that have played any of the previous titles. The combat system remains unchanged bar a few tweaks and a couple of new features such as the new team takedown, available on the few occasions where you fight alongside one your buddies. The stealth segments also receive a new move in the form of the Fear takedown, which allows you to string a chain of takedowns in quick succession providing you acquire your next target quick enough. There also remains a vast amount of equipment to acquire and upgrades to unlock in order to boost your capabilities and grant you access to new areas, although I was quite pleased to find that Batman begins the game already with a good number of gadgets. One new feature of particular note though, is that you can now change the difficulty on the fly, enabling newcomers to the series to get to grips with the combat easier whilst allowing those with experience to up the ante if they so choose.
With a plethora of side missions to complete, you can’t say that Arkham Knight is light on content. Sitting alongside the main story, some of these side missions offer an immersive diversion when you want to break away from the trodden path and increase Batman’s repertoire of skills, but many are fairly dull and repetitive. While I particularly enjoyed tracking down and subduing the Manbat, and discovering a trail of corpses left on display by a demented serial killer, for example, I did not enjoy the myriad of instances that required me to beat up bunches of goons or fend off waves of drones with the Batmobile.
It’s not that these missions are bad per se, it’s just that they outnumber the interesting ones by a wide margin, and having to complete them eventually becomes a chore. Luckily, that’s one thing you can’t say about the main story missions. It may be a bold statement to make, but I believe Arkham Knight is Rocksteady’s strongest campaign yet, with a story that constantly kept me glued to the screen despite some fairly obvious twists that probably didn’t surprise as intended. Perfectly paced, the campaign never affords you a chance to get bored, and that’s quite an achievement considering it’ll take you around 10 hours to see it through to completion. For those that want to see the true ending to the game however, they’ll have to complete all the additional side missions which will prove to be a gargantuan task.
While Batman: Arkham Knight has its fair share of issues, such as the slightly disappointing implementation of the Batmobile, some dull side missions and the occasional glitch, what it does right makes it arguably the best entry in the franchise yet. Rocksteady has successfully crafted a believable Gotham, providing hours of absorbing and rewarding gameplay alongside a captivating storyline that is surprisingly daring. Newcomers may find the experience to be a little daunting due to the game’s assumption that players are already familiar with its gameplay systems, but nevertheless, this is a joy to behold for open world and action adventure fans. There’s never been a better time to “be the Batman!”