Batman: Arkham Knight is the long awaited final part of Rocksteady Games’ Batman trilogy. The follow up to Arkham City (2013’s prequel Arkham Origins being developed by WB Games Montreal instead) it had already been delayed from a planned release late last year leaving players very eager to see how the story ended.
Picking up on Halloween several months after Arkham City and the death of the Joker, Gotham is initially the most peaceful that it has been in years with crime at a record low. That doesn’t give Batman much to do though, so in short order the Scarecrow attacks and unleashes his fear gas on the city leading to a mass evacuation and the villains taking over.
The rest of Batman’s rogues gallery then decide to also get up to no good at the same time, with well known enemies such as Two Face, the Penguin and Poison Ivy all appearing throughout the game for Batman to defeat as well as the titular newcomer, the mysterious Arkham Knight. And of course the Riddler is back, with another selection of puzzles and collectible trophies scattered around the city to drive completionists mad.
Arkham Knight is split into the main story missions that follow Batman in his mission to take down the Arkham Knight and Scarecrow, and you could focus entirely on this if you wanted to. As you progress through the story, Batman will periodically overhear police radio transmissions or be contacted by Alfred to let him know about other crimes occurring in the city and many of these will open up new side missions, which is where the majority of the remaining villains appear.
It’s difficult to really talk too much about the events of the story without spoiling things massively, and I had to be very careful to avoid discussion of the game online before finishing it. There are a number of surprises and mysteries throughout as well as number of callbacks and continuations of some dangling sub plots from the previous games, and as Rocksteady’s final part of their Batman trilogy it wraps up a lot of this quite nicely.
For the most part, Batman moves the same as he did in Arkham City. The grapnel gun can be fired at any tall building around allowing Batman to move quickly to the rooftops or catapult off of them into a glide. Combat is also pretty much unchanged, aside from a few new moves thrown in it’s still the same basic attack and combo combination with some of Batman’s gadgets thrown in for good measure once you unlock them.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t a number of new gameplay elements, however. The first you’re presented with, and the most significant, is that of the Batmobile. The most well-known of Batman’s various vehicles, the game and Gotham City itself have been built around its use. Traditionally just a really fast car to get Batman where he needs to be, Arkham Knight’s Batmobile does that and more as it can be switched between two modes.
In pursuit mode it drives much like any standard racing game but can transform almost instantly into battle mode where it moves very similarly to the Wraith tank from the Halo series. In keeping with Batman’s non-lethal philosophy, the battle mode features a number of incapacitating weapons to neutralise but not kill enemies, while the Batmobile itself is also surrounded by a shocking field that electrocutes and knocks out any enemies that get too close. Luckily, it’s mostly used to fight unmanned drones, where Batman has no issue with using heavy weaponry so you do get to blow loads of stuff up.
The default Batmobile controls are a little odd, using X on an Xbox pad as break/reverse while the left trigger is held down to transform into battle mode. There is an option for battle mode toggle however that swaps the controls around so that reverse is on the left trigger that I found a lot more intuitive.
The other noteworthy new addition is the ability to swap between characters in some sections, known as dual play. At various points in the game Batman will team up with one of his various allies to take down enemies and in these sections you’re able to switch between the two characters seamlessly during a fight. It’s pretty cool and allows Batman to do some impressive co-op takedowns with however he is fighting with.
I’m not going to talk too much about the technical issues the game was reported as having, as I’ve already done so at length elsewhere. I’ve obviously played a lot more of the game since then though, and in over 48 hours of gameplay I had one crash and one section where the framerate dropped into single figures and required me to quit the game and go back in to fix it. Additionally there were a number of times that it took a bit longer than it should for high resolution textures to fill in on items or enemies, but I don’t really hold this one against Arkham Knight too much as this is a known issue for the Unreal Engine that even Epic’s own games suffered from.
Outside of this and the already established occasional framerate drops it was all pretty much fine for me and certainly nothing that made actually finishing the game an arduous task. At the time of writing there’s not yet been a significant patch for the game, and the PC version is still withdrawn from sale on Steam, with the upcoming downloadable content being postponed until the game is updated and available again.
Technical woes aside, it’s a very pretty game. In each Arkham game, Gotham always seems to be suffering extreme weather and Arkham Knight is no exception. For the majority of the game it’s raining heavily, which leads to some very nice rain and water effects, from splashing puddles on the floor to light shining through the rain. The character models are largely very well made and animated and the Batmobile looks ridiculously good with tons of moving parts and shiny surfaces. It also picks up a lot of dirt through the game with mine being noticeably caked in mud towards the end.
As with previous games in the series, Batman’s costume gets slowly ripped and beaten up as the game progresses and it’s never looked better than it does here. I did notice that my game kept reverting randomly to the clean version of the suit from the beginning of the game and then back again which I chalked up to a minor bug that they’ll hopefully fix in a future patch.
Gotham itself is a huge standout as the city has a high level of detail throughout with tons of shop faces and smaller inside areas, but given the size of the map you’re likely to miss a lot of them.The playable part of the city is split up into three islands with different styles. The starting area is quite run down and an older part of Gotham, with a lot of industrial and dock buildings while the next island is more the central city part and features lots of huge skyscrapers. The final island is mostly a construction site, with new and even bigger skyscrapers being built. The huge size of the city means that mission locations can sometimes be quite far apart but that never really seems like much of a chore since navigating the city either over the rooftops or in the Batmobile is a lot of fun.
I was also quite happy to see both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City still visible in the distance, and even the hotel from Arkham Origins which I expected to be ignored given that it was from a different developer. If I was being picky I could gripe about how the city layout (not even the buildings, just the actual shape of the islands) doesn’t tally with what you could see from Arkham City but I understand the logic of Rocksteady not tying themselves to what was little more than a skybox for their game structure.
With the number of other characters playable throughout the story, I was hoping that finishing the game would unlock them and allow you to roam around the city as someone other than Batman to find collectibles specific to the character similar to how Catwoman worked in Arkham City, but unfortunately they’re restricted to the parts of the story they show up in.
Gameplay wise, it does suffer a little compared to the first two games in some ways. The Batmobile is perhaps too heavily featured – while very fun to drive it feels at times like you’re forced into it far too much especially as a large chunk of both the ingame challenges and story bosses are also in the Batmobile. The bosses themselves are also largely a letdown with no really complicated ones that require lots of strategy like we’ve seen before (such as the Mister Freeze fight in Arkham City) and the few bosses you do fight hand to hand go down too easily. I’d say there were also a few too many side quests, particularly since some of them are pretty repetitive. I’d have been quite happy with half as many quests but with more steps and variety in each.
Finally, the main quest is very oddly paced. Towards the end there are a few missions that you run through very quickly with events escalating with each one and then suddenly after a boss fight you’re turfed back out into the city again to fight some random minions for a bit before getting back to the story instead of just carrying on. It wasn’t enough to stop anything from making sense but it really put the brakes on the momentum that the plot had been building.
Veteran Batman writer Paul Dini’s absence is noticeable on this entry as well. While the story itself is perfectly fine and had me very interested in how it was going to turn out, the actual dialogue seemed very flat in comparison to the first two games. Worst of all were the various conversations that Batman overhears from criminals while he travels around the city. Not only are they very repetitive and badly written, they also seem to just use the same two voice actors which really started to grate after hours of gameplay, and an option to turn off Batman’s radio scanner would have been greatly appreciated.
Not too much to say about the rest of the voice cast, with the vast majority of actors reprising their roles from previous games in the series. I don’t know if it was just down to the less polished script, but Batman legend Kevin Conroy seemed a little off form for many of his lines which was a bit of a shame, and Nolan North’s inexplicable Cockney Penguin returns once more – although this is actually addressed in some dialogue in game so I guess someone else noticed too.
While I managed to get through the game without severe problems, it’s not hard to see that a little more polish is needed, on the PC version at least, to make it the game that it should have been. Which is a shame, because it’s a very fun game in spite of this but just not as good as would have been hoped. Rocksteady are reportedly hard at work on patching the game, with future DLC for the PC version now delayed indefinitely so it’s not looking too good for this version at the moment and that makes this the second WB Games release in a row where attention has been severely lacking for the PC version. WB Games aren’t the only culprit as the PC version of many major games over the last couple of years have tended to have more issues than the console editions, but the new Steam refunds service will hopefully make developers try harder in future to prevent massive numbers of copies of the game from being refunded.
If you have the option of playing one of the console versions I’d recommend it wholeheartedly, the PC version currently being unavailable would make it difficult to do so (unless you’re getting it as part of the Nvidia promotion or from elsewhere) and the potential performance issues might be a problem for some people so it would be another one to hang on until it’s had more work done on it.
Batman: Arkham Knight is out now on PS4 and Xbox One and will at some point eventually be available again on PC.