Welcome once again, to anther first from me, as I branch into my second endeavour on Badly.Productions with my monthly video game review. I’ll be starting off my work covering the world of video games, as I talk about a controversial entry in a franchise I have enjoyed thus far, but have been worried for it’s final installment. With a great series behind it, but much talk over it’s problems on release, is Arkham Knight a final flop, or a great game smeared by a poor release week, let’s find out if Batman was a Critical Hit, or Miss?
Batman: Arkham Knight
Reviewed on PS4, also available on Xbox One and PC
Developed by Rocksteady
Published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
The Batman Arkham franchise from Rocksteady surprised many of us back in 2009 when Arkham Asylum was released to not only be a great game, but a great superhero game, a feat sadly rare back then, and not that much better today honestly. The premise loosely follows the plot of a similar story taken from the Batman comics, where Arkham Asylum, the insane asylum for many of Batman’s villains, is overtaken by said baddies and Batman has to stop them one by one to save the day. This was a genius idea on Rocksteady’s part, as it not only allowed them to test the waters of a heavily story and character driven Batman game, but allowed us to play around with so many aspects of the lore the comics set down beforehand. In a surprising feat, the game was pretty damn amazing, and set down the road blocks for one of the better tightly story driven superhero game series that’s been made to date.
Arkham City and Arkham Origins (which they don’t like to talk about) followed suit, with City in particular expanding on the story from Asylum, introducing us to new and old villains, and hitting us with some really great storytelling while it was at it. Does any of this matter to Arkham Knight? Well yes, it is the third and final installment of the Arkham franchise’s story from Rocksteady (since they pretend Origins never happened) so I feel a little history doesn’t hurt. More importantly however, is the question of whether or not Batman’s final adventure in Arkham (well Gotham, but you know) lives up to it’s past, because in many ways this game is really a story about concluding events of the past, and truly wrapping up the whole series in one last venture into the rainy nights of Gotham.
Sadly I feel I must address the controversy of the final tale of the Dark Knight being released to initial hype, and then having a very fast decent into outrage as the PC version of the game is…well….how to put this nicely….is a complete mess. It was so bad in fact that it had to be pull from stores while Rocksteady set about fixing it, and in my personal experience, they never did. This put off many from the game as all together, and with the quality of the franchise as a whole, that’s a true shame. So I took it upon myself to sit down and see how this story ends, because unless the game itself takes a massive nosedive, it deserves to be played if only for it’s past. So without further ado, let’s talk about Arkham Knight.
(Spoiler warning – I don’t intend to spoil the events of Arkham Knight for people who also truly enjoyed the Arkham franchise but have either taken their time picking it up, or those simply turned off by the PC port events, but I will be talking freely about events of the past games.)
Arkham Knight follows on from the events of the past two games, more so City than Asylum, as Gotham experiences an unexpected lull in crime after the death of the Joker. With the many factions of gangs, psychos and serial killers waiting for the bubble to burst, the police and Batman having been waiting for someone to take the Jokers place as the new main villain of the story, and with Halloween approaching the city of Gotham, who better to step up to the plate of the new big bad than Scarecrow. I don’t think anyone was particularly surprised by this development as Rocksteady’s version of Scarecrow was not only one of Arkham Asylums best elements, but he was sadly missing entirely from Arkham City after being attacked by Killer Croc. A few Easter Eggs pointed to his return in future, and with the Joker out of picture he upgraded from side villain, to primary antagonist. With a sweet new look and now voiced with deep gravitas by the great John Noble, this promised to be a great start to the end of a good trilogy.
This isn’t called Arkham Scarecrow however, and it doesn’t take long for the titular Arkham Knight himself, voice by Troy Baker, to show up and devote the game to making life miserable for Batman and his friends. While working directly under Scarecrow, the Arkham Knight takes a lot of focus as the center stage villain as he literally commands an army of militia trained specifically to take down the Bat, and he wastes no time or effort in this campaign as he locks down Gotham, and does everything he can to drive the player into a corner. Sadly I felt like the Arkham Knight himself was just…less interesting as a character. Both through early gameplay and teased before release, the Knight is presented as a character from Batman’s past come back to haunt him. While yes, I was initially curious as to his identity, I honestly guessed who it was long before the reveal, and the story of the Knight felt more in the way of the plot then part of it at times. It was like Scarecrow showed up with a new plan and grand redesign only for the Arkham Knight to push him around for a spot on the podium. None of this is to say I disliked the plot, or the Knight himself even, but I do wish they had made the Knight more of a strong side character, and really given the stage to Scarecrow instead of the poor guy getting his toes stepped on over lead nemesis.
Putting Scarecrow in the shoes of the new big bad was great for several reasons, one of them being it gave a sense of change. With the Arkham series being so character and story driven, it was important to give the reigns to a new villain instead of just being the Joker again, not only that but they make it clear the game isn’t afraid to be its own story, doing things that left last effects on both the characters and the world that carry on through the franchises arc. The other thing is continuing with why Scarecrow was so great in Asylum, fear gas. The fear gas lets the game completely flip out and really do what it wants, with such a heavy focus on Batman’s psyche and just what is going on under that cowl, it’s not afraid to point out that Bruce is getting older, and has been through a lot in the franchises run. If anything Arkham Knight is about ending the Arkham story, and not being afraid to explore its own lore, it’s only a shame the actual Arkham Knight kept jumping in front of Scarecrow completely letting loose.
The Meat of it
Fans of the past game will know that Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight aren’t the only villains you will be facing however, as a whole gaggle of Batman’s foes return for their time in the spotlight. United in a fragile alliance by Scarecrow, many of the bigger names are now working together, with the exception of a notable few. I won’t spoil who exactly does turn up, but suffice to say some of the easy guess’s will probably be on point, with a handful of villains making a surprising appearance, some for an Arkham first, while a few are disappointingly thrown in for a quick side mission to wrap up previous stories, or not explored as long as would have been nice. Aside from the villains themselves, there are once again plenty of side missions, and returning Riddler challenges, to occupy Batman’s time when you need a change of pace. Sadly most of these are fairly repetitive, focusing on taking control of the city back from the Arkham Knights forces through either combat, predator missions or Batmobile fights. The whole thing felt very “Ubisoft open world”, complete with towers to capture and bases to take down. That isn’t inherently bad, the game loop works well for a reason, but I would have been happier to see some of the fat trimmed from this part of the game and given some more time to the existing villains running around, or even a few extra ones.
It’s not all enemies for Batman however, who make a return to the series, as a small team of allies work with the lone defender in his last venture, as parts of the game will see you teaming up with Catwoman, Robin and Nightwing as a new ally mechanic is thrown into the mix. I was personally really sad this wasn’t explored further, as surely the ridiculous amount of Batmobile content could have been trimmed down for a bigger focus into this mechanic. Each character has a specific mission arc they will show up in to give Batman a hand with either puzzles, combat or predator missions. Robin and Catwoman have both been playable in City, and as before, each bring a few signature gadgets of their own to the fights, as you are given free reign of both Batman and his Ally during each ones respective moment in the light before being shunned away. However it feels like the system as a whole was added as more of an extra toy, and less a full mechanic. It would have been great to expand on this more throughout the story, even if only while roaming around in “free play”, similar to the system used in “Spiderman: Web of Shadows” where allies could be summoned around the city for an extra hand in combat.
Combat remains the same for the most part, with a simple yet now iconic combat style that has been mirrored in other games since Arkham Asylum made it a hit. Usually referred to as simply “Batman combat”, Arkham Knight retains the simple yet satisfying system of attack, counter, stun and dodge. The system is very basic on the surface, but throw in gadgets and take downs, along with your new sidekicks and various combo effects the combat system quickly becomes its own beast. Besides some basic tweaks, there are also new enemy types and abilities to avoid, or exploit. One enemy in particular is invisible to detective mode, which has long been hailed as somewhat overpowered, often leaving players feeling like there’s no point even using their eyes. It’s a few things like that, that give Arkham Knight just enough change to keep things fresh, without changing the old system.
Gadgets and Controls
Speaking of new mechanics, if you’ve listened to anyone talk about Arkham Knight in some capacity, you’ve probably heard them talk about the Batmobile, and not in a good way. The car itself, the term car being loosely used here, can be summoned most of the time with the left trigger as it zooms out of the video game oblivion to goes to when you get too far from it. This feature is pretty cool in of itself as it makes the Batmobile and Batman feel seamlessly linked when everything fits together just right, and only once in the whole game did the car have any sort of trouble finding me across the city. That all said however, Batman can fly, or at least glide, so does he really need a car? People familiar with Arkham City will remember being able to boost your grapnel launcher and fling yourself across the city like some kind of missile guided Spiderman. This is further developed with the bigger city of Gotham now open to explore, and you can fling Batman around as if being shot from a railgun. While the air is often the best way to get around, that’s not to say driving, or the Batmobile itself, isn’t fun to do. In essence the Batmobile is fairly enjoyable as a gadget in my opinion, but the key word here is gadget.
Batman has a bunch of different gadgets to play with throughout the game, some a constant friend, some more of a one off use, but regardless Batman and his gadgets go together, without all his tricks and toys he’s not really Batman. The Batmobile should have been exactly that, a tool in his arsenal to get around the city, provide firepower and mobility in tough situations, and be used in some events like chasing down a certain villain or helping him out of a tough spot. Instead Rocksteady tried their hardest to cram the Batmobile into EVERY god damn interaction in the game, even the Riddler decided he was now more of a car junky that half the cast of Mad Max put together and set almost all his puzzles around the damn thing. It’s honestly a shame really, in good moderation it could have been a great tool under his utility belt to add some new variation to the gameplay, but they just took the spice and poured the whole jar into the mixing pot instead of going for a balanced dish of gameplay.
On the topic of gadgets, this brings me to maybe the biggest issue I had with the game, the controls. Most of the time the game felt…fine, especially after some time getting the hang of everything, but during the entire experience I always felt like the controls spoke of the biggest problem with Arkham Knight, it had too many things and felt confused by itself. It felt like Rocksteady tried to make a burrito with extras on all the fillings and it just erupted when they picked it up. Ok maybe that’s a little too mean, but it did feel like there were too many choices and not enough buttons, with some of the layout feeling out of place. I kept expecting the left trigger to open the gadgets menu and ended up summoning the Batmobile, which is replaced in team combat as the character switch. Driving the Batmobile wasn’t bad per say, but the left bumper was tank mode instead of reverse, a mistake a keep making for much of my play through. I won’t nitpick every issue I had, but to me, it felt cramped and overstuffed, and I never felt this way in the previous games. Am I just terrible at Batman? Maybe, but regardless it was a feeling that stuck with me for the experience.
But did I like it?
Perhaps the only question that matters at the end of the day is, did I have fun? Yes, I definitely did. Arkham Knight is a good game, is it the best of the franchise? Probably not, but it’s a solid game all the same, and ignoring the end of the series would be doing yourself a great disservice. That said there were some problems that I went over, but also a great deal of good things I simply can’t talk about with spoiling the story. The experience on a whole was definitely a good one, it’s just a shame it felt slightly confused about what it wanted to be at times, and the Batmobile content really could have been shrunk down.
The voice acting is great all round with Kevin Conroy returning as Batman, Troy Baker as the Arkham Knight, John Noble as Scarecrow and Jonathan Banks as Commissioner Gordon. There are a few more great voices in the cast, but sadly I’m afraid to spoil who actually shows up in the game beyond those four. While the PC port remains a mess, the game looks and plays great on the PS4, with few to no issues I found personally during my run of the game.
Beyond that, Rocksteady have created a truly great story with the Arkham series completed, and shown other developers that yes, you can actually make a damn good superhero game. I just hope we can see more of it’s like with other characters and franchises in the future, who knows, maybe Rocksteady have plans for another story in the works. Just…don’t outsource the PC port to the same guys again.
Going out on a slight tangent giving the subject matter, I can’t help but look at this game and feel even more disappointed with the recent Batman vs Superman film. Rocksteady really understood their subject matter and took the story and lore of Batman head on in this franchise, coming out of this game and watching the movie it seemed like their take tried to hint a history in some regards, but showed half the intelligence with his character, mostly by halving his intelligence. I didn’t hate the movie as a whole, but if you want to spent time with a Batman story, take the games.
As before you can find me around the network if you feel the need to say hi or leave feedback on any of my work, I’ll be streaming some of the Critical Hit, or Miss? games and others on Twitch under drenik74 as I take my time giving each one a fair go. Thanks for taking the time to give my work a read, I’ll be here same time next month, and back next week with a new anime.