Batman’s greatest strength isn’t his keen intellect, his impressive array of gadgets, or his vast wealth. No, it is his allies, his family, where his real power comes from. While he may see himself as a lone crusader on a solo mission to rid Gotham of the criminal element which took his parents from him, Batman wouldn’t have gotten very far if not for his allies. This theme permeates Batman: Arkham Knight, the final chapter in the epic trilogy from Rocksteady Studios.
Nearly one year has passed since the events of Arkham City. Gotham has enjoyed a period of relative peace since that tumultuous time and many have come to see Batman as their true protector and not just some freak in a mask. However, since this is Gotham things don’t stay serene for long. Scarecrow makes his return in a big way by releasing the most potent version of his fear toxin onto the streets. This causes the authorities to lock down central Gotham to stop the spread of the toxin.
The ones who stay behind after the evacuation are the criminals, super villains, and of course Batman who must stop this madness before the night is over. However, things get more complicated thanks to the appearance of the mysterious Arkham Knight who brings with him an army of trained mercenaries who are in the city to assist Scarecrow and take down The Bat. The Arkham Knight isn’t just another soldier of fortune however and appears to have a personal grudge against The Caped Crusader.
The size and scope of Batman: Arkham Knight has been greatly expanded from before. The city of Gotham itself is absolutely massive in scale and the game has more characters in it than ever before, and not just villains. Most of Batman’s allies appear and can help him out during specific parts of the game. The crowds have grown in size as well, and there can be as many as fifty ne’er-do-wells on screen at any given moment. Even Batman’s array of gadgets has been expanded, with the most notable one being the much asked for Batmobile which helps Batman navigate through the gargantuan, labyrinthine streets and much more.
Batman’s signature vehicle is a natural thing to include in the game but it isn’t perfect from a gameplay standpoint. The car takes some getting used to as it can be a bit slippery on the roads. Yes, it is constantly raining in the game, but you would expect something that is essentially a four-wheeled tank to handle better. However, once you nail down the controls, you will feel like an absolute unstoppable bad-ass as you race down the streets, destroying feces, walls, trees, and pretty much anything that stands in the way.
The Batmobile isn’t just for racing however. With the press of a button, you can initiate the vehicle’s Battle Mode which lets it attack enemies, destroy barriers, or even help to solve puzzles by attaching itself to winches. There are a multitude of unfriendly attack vehicles on the streets which have to be taken out and there are plenty of opportunities to engage in vehicular combat. This aspect is easier to acclimate to than driving and becomes second nature. Firing missiles and machine guns while strafing from left to right and dodging incoming attacks is something that is thrilling and never gets boring.
Combat outside of vehicles remains largely the same as it has been in previous entries. Batman is still a force to be reckoned with and can take out large group of thugs with little effort with a flurry of kicks and punches, along with some of his gadgets. The only real difference is that now players can hit enemies who are about to strike and aren’t limited to only countering these type of attacks. During certain segments, Batman can even fight alongside allies who he can do combined attacks with. While combat isn’t much different, it feels a lot smoother and more intuitive than before.
Batman is a master of stealth and can also take out enemies without being spotted. This aspect is much the same as before as well. Using perches, vents, ducts, or even plain old sneaking up on unsuspecting foes are all things The Bat can use to catch his enemies unaware. Let us not forget how gadgets can also be used to hack enemy turrets and equipment in order to make things less dangerous for Batman. The game no longer has mandatory stealth segments as it did in previous titles and players are free to approach situations as they see fit. While Batman can actually take being shot at by multiple bad guys now, the stealthy approach is always more satisfying, especially when the final couple of enemies completely lose their cool over having all of their buddies incapacitated.
The open-world approach taken with this game is a breath of fresh air in this genre. Though this is the biggest game in the series, it isn’t as massive as it is in other games. It is more dense than it is large and this lets Rocksteady cram many things into each corner. As far as gameplay goes, I was pleased by the fact that the various side missions didn’t weigh the game down with unnecessary elements just to fluff up the amount of content. This game has just enough activities to keep you engaged for longer without making you feel overwhelmed with having too many items on the map to clear out.
Gotham City has never looked this good before. It’s incredible to think that this game is still using Unreal Engine 3 and not the latest version. Though this is a third party game, this is easily the most impressive and “next-gen” looking thing I have ever seen. The fact that the world is so dark just accentuates the colors which are present throughout. More so than the neon lights, towering buildings, and surrounding water, are the small details. Rain is constantly pouring down and it can be seen hitting everything on the streets. The characters are also affected by the rain. This can most notably be seen on Batman’s new suit which itself is composed of a lot of different parts and minute details. This game is a marvel to behold.
More than anything however, what makes this game so special are the characters. Even without longtime writer Paul Dini, the game’s script is one of the best out there and one that has a full understanding of its setting and characters. Like the previous games, Arkham Knight is a perfect distilation of the Batman franchise; surpassing that of even its comic book origins. These games are basically a bible for what makes Batman so popular and why he has endured as a pop culture icon for decades.
The voice acting in this series has always been of the highest quality but it has been elevated once again in this game. I will go as far as saying that this is the best incarnation of Scarecrow ever seen in comics, television, film, or games. He is truly menacing and a believable threat to Batman and Gotham. There are other characters as well (which I can not talk about due to spoilers) that completely steal any scenes they are involved in.
There is more that could be said about the game but it really is something that must be experienced firsthand to fully appreciate. To say that Batman: Arkham Knight is one of the greatest comic book based video games would be an understatement (even though it is true). This is a fantastic video game which mixes in many different gameplay elements and creates a perfect synergy between them all. If this is Rocksteady’s last foray into the Batman universe then this was one hell of a send off. Minor flaws aside, this game is a true masterpiece.
This review of Batman: Arkham Knight is based on a digital copy for the PlayStation 4 which was purchased out of pocket.