I think we can all agree that Batman: Arkham Origins was a bit of a misstep. It was decent, yes, but it did nothing for the series, and the content that what there was simply so-so. This is clearly not lost on original developer, Rocksteady, as the ‘trilogy’ is now at an end with the latest, and fourth game, Arkham Knight. Origins isn’t counted, either due to its prequel status, or the fact is just wasn’t as good. Whatever the case may be, here we have the culmination of Rocksteady’s Batman vision, and possibly the best entry into the series yet.
H-bomb on wheels
Much has been made by Rocksteady of the major addition to Arkham Knight, and that’s the Batmobile. With a world much lager in size than the previous games, Batman now has the chance to hoon around the city in his sleek, high tech wheels, and the Batmobile seen here is the most powerful, and flexible incarnation of the car we’ve seen thus far. It’s a transforming mobile fortress that can zip around at high speeds in car mode, and can transform into a manoeuvrable battle tank complete with canon, machine gun and other useful gadgets. Batman can call upon it whenever he wants when outside, and in many ways it’s much more of a co-star than a simple set of wheels.
The Batmobile is not only used to travel quickly, or engage in the new vehicular combat the game features, it’s also used extensively in puzzle solving and as a constant aid to Batman, becoming more of an extension to the Caped Crusader than a mere car. It can even be used to perform Batmobile-assisted take downs when in the midst of hand-to-hand combat if it’s in close range. Rocksteady’s attention to the Batmobile has produced one of the most useful cars ever created, it’s a veritable Swiss army knife, with an afterburner attached.
This fact forms one of the game’s strongest points, or it’s more damaging weaknesses, depending on which side of the Bat-fence you fall on. You see, Arkham Knight doesn’t give you the Batmobile as an optional gimmick. If you were worried the Batmobile would be shoved in for the sake of it, don’t be. It’s an integral part of the game, and is always there. This is the reason many fans may actually dislike its inclusion, as Rocksteady has taken steps to insert the Batmobile into the action as much as is humanly possible, and this does come to the detriment of the existing Arkham gameplay we’ve come to love.
Many situations where Batman would previously have to use his head, or engage in challenging confrontations are now simply blasted wide open, sometimes literally, by the Batmobile, and some challenges have been radically adapted to it, such as the Riddler’s tasks, which often now include the Batmobile, and less grey matter. At times, it feels as though the game has been painstakingly constructed around this one, singular element, and this hurts the excellent balance the previous games had. Whereas Asylum and City always felt perfectly constructed around a couple of staple pillars, Knight‘s Batmobile is often overkill, and actually pulls the game away from the stealth predator we’ve enjoyed playing as.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Batmobile itself. Driving around in it and blasting enemy tanks is just plain fun, and on the whole, I really do welcome it’s addition. It controls well (after some practise), makes you feel more like Batman in some ways, being able to use it to chase down other vehicles and to transport innocents and criminals, and the puzzle elements using it are wonderfully woven into the whole, I just think the game could have used it more sparingly and been more balanced in terms of on-foot and behind the wheel action. Oh, and be sure to heed my advice – go into the options menu and enable the Battle Mode Toggle. This removes the need to hold down the left trigger to change into tank mode, returns it to brake, and let’s you tap a button to toggle the Batmobile’s form. Much better.
When not sat in his armoured bucket seat, Batman hasn’t lost any of his previous skills. In fact, he’s only gotten even more formidable, and yes, he’s voiced by Kevin Conroy again – hoorah! The new Batsuit looks excellent, and some new abilities are enabled by it, including the addition of a cool multiple stealth takedown where Batman can quickly takedown multiple foes in quick succession.
Batman’s detective abilities are also enhanced, thanks to the inclusion of one of Origin‘s only real high points, the crime scene reconstructions. They return here in an enhanced and more interactive form, and there are other extra crime fighting tools, such as a side mission that involves scanning the various layers of victims bodies (skin, muscle, and bone) in order to identify them. As with so many of the details Rocksteady puts in, these all add up to a game where you really do feel like Batman, and it’s great. As fans know, Batman is much more than a hard case who can fight and throw Batarangs, he’s a genius, and is just as concerned about solving actual crimes as he is beating down evildoers.
Despite the overuse of the Batmobile, Arkham Knight does still feature all of the details we’ve come to expect from the series. There’s still plenty of predator moments, and these have been enhanced too, in some great ways. Batman can now use wall vents to slide down into underground vents unseen, and new enemy medics can actually revive men Batman has taken down, adding even more tactical, predatory elements, as you have to prioritise targets more than ever before, not just those with guns. This makes predator sequences more challenging, and even all-out fights are more difficult, as you have to keep a close eye on the kinds of foes you’re fighting, and make sure the more dangerous, or tricky enemies are dealt with first.
I get by with a little help
Another new addition is the ability to fight alongside allies during the story, and this is another element where Rocksteady has succeeded in integrating it beautifully and naturally. There’s no build up or interruption in flow, both characters simply go at it, and you can switch to them using L1, seamlessly taking control of the other fighter, complete with their own abilities. You can perform double-team takedowns, which also switch control, and there are clever two-person puzzles, where you need to use both characters to bypass conundrums. This also surfaces with the Batmobile too, as you can control it remotely, and this forms plenty of puzzle challenges.
This is how the Batman died
The game opens with above line, so don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything. Indeed, there are many great moments here, including plot twists and reveals that really do make this one of the best Batman adventures yet. Admittedly, the acting and dialogue aren’t up to par with the previous games, but it’s still great, and the events that unfold are undeniably cool, and one of the reasons why, even as a long-time Batman fan, I find Rocksteady’s universe to be amongst the best. The team’s take on both Batman, and his roster of psychopathic villains is brilliant, and Gotham is a great mixture of Tim Burton-style, ultra dark Gothic, and neon-soaked comic book flair. The end result is a Batman world that’s just too much fun to play around in, and a main character that’s endlessly fun to play as.
Rocksteady has also made sure to cram the world with plenty to do, and there’s a ton of side missions, super villain quests, collectibles and much more, including the chance to play as more characters than before. The world here isn’t as flawlessly crafted or densely populated as the one seen in Arkahm City, but you’ll never be bored, and even racing around in the Batmobile gazing in wonder at the gorgeous city as it’s drenched in rain whilst listening to the constant radio chatter is enjoyable.
World’s Greatest Detective?
I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of Arkham Knight, and I’m glad to say that on the whole, the wait has been more than worth it. With its third Arkham outing, Rocksteady has delivered yet another classic superhero tale, and in many respects, this is the best game in the series, or at the very least, equal to the superb Arkham City. It’s a shame the Batmobile’s incorporation leans towards overkill, even to the point of taking away from some of the game’s other elements, but it’s still hugely enjoyable, and the sheer number of moments in the game that cause to to grin from ear to ear makes it worth it. It’s cool, plays brilliantly, and has a great story to boot. Oh, and unlike the god-awful PC port, which has actually been taken down from Steam, it also runs perfectly well, so don’t worry about performance issues.