Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed) | Playstation 4 | PC | Mac
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
I’ve been playing Arkham Knight pretty solidly since it came out and it’s only now that I feel ready to write a review for it having finally convinced myself that I’m not actually Batman. There aren’t many games that can force me to drag my Xbox One across the country and back again just so I can play them on release day, but this is one of them. I think that shows how the Arkham series has grown over the years, going from a game that came out of left field and blew us all away with Asylum to one of the most eagerly awaited games on next gen with Knight.
The story sees Batman trying to come to terms with The Joker’s death and the gap his arch nemesis’ absence has left in his complicated double life. As if that wasn’t difficult enough Scarecrow decides to attack Gotham City, accompanied by the enigmatic Arkham Knight, causing a wide spread evacuation that allows the Knight’s militia and a collection of other villains to take over, all of whom are united in their desire to finally kill The Caped Crusader.
I’m not going to go into the plot any further because I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I’ve had an absolute blast battling my way through it; this is as good as crime fighting gaming gets in my opinion. The main story twists and turns in droves as it fully explores and puts Batman’s relationships with friends and foes alike to the test. Rocksteady have really given fans a treat with all of the side quests too, which are just as rich and entertaining, putting the choice of who to deal with first squarely in your hands.
Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight aren’t exactly shy when it comes to their antics so finding them usually proves easy enough, all you need to do is select their story thread and you’re guided straight to them. However, the side quests don’t hold your hand in the same way, instead you’ll need to keep your eyes and ears open, as well as doing a bit of digging around, which certainly deepens the experience and helps you feel like The World’s Greatest Detective.
The islands Gotham City is made up of are a wonder to behold; they’re vibrant, polished, and even the minute details look like works of art, which is all the more impressive when you consider how much larger than Arkham City it is. A word to the wise, like previous installments in the series, one of the most entertaining things to do whilst you’re going from place to place is to listen in on all the unsupervised goons’ conversations.
The gameplay shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who have jumped into an Arkham game before, it’s just a lot smoother, particularly the combat, which has always been one of the series’ biggest strengths. Dispatching henchmen has been made easier with the welcome addition of fear takedowns, which allow you to get rid of up to five men in glorious slow motion once you’ve fully upgraded the useful technique.
Advanced hand-to-hand training isn’t The Dark Knight’s only weapon against Gotham’s criminals, his utility belt comes fully loaded as well, although you’ll have to put a bit of work in to find all of the gadgets, some of which are hidden in the environment rather than being handed to you on a silver platter. Most you’ve seen before, but there are a couple of first time appearances too, one of my favourite of which is the voice synthesiser, a handy little tool that allows you to lay traps by copying super-villains’ speech and issuing orders to their men.
Now, street thugs with little professional training are Batman’s usual prey, whereas the militia the Arkham Knight’s brought with him are experienced mercenaries, who respond accordingly. Once they discover their unconscious team mates they’ll re-evaluate their movements and take precautions, partnering up with a friend, activating sentry guns, and tossing explosives into grates, so you’ll need to keep your wits about you and vary your tactics to defeat them.
It’s worth noting that Batman collaborates with his allies a lot more than we’ve seen before as well, brawling alongside them in near seamless combat as you switch between characters and perform spectacular bone crunching dual takedowns.
Travelling about has never been this much fun! The glide mechanics are wonderful, granting you the ability to freely soar above the rooftops without having to stop here and there thanks to the lift you can now generate with a little help from the grapple gun.
Of course there’s one very important part of Batman’s arsenal that’s finally at our disposal and provides us with another mode of transport. If you’ve not guessed by now I’m referring to the Batmobile! The iconic car has heavily contributed to Batman’s legendary status over the years and this version seems to borrow from various parts of his extensive history whilst throwing in a few surprises too. Tearing through the streets becomes more and more enjoyable as you level up, but nothing beats calling the Batmobile to you and dive bombing into it from high above the city, or launching yourself into the air when you need to.
A simple button click quickly converts the car into a formidable tank that’s easily capable of dealing with the toughest opposition. Sadly it’s not all good news, the vehicular combat becomes tiresome after a while despite its obvious attempt to add a bit of variety to the proceedings.
Once again the Batwing features in the game, providing additional support or dropping off useful items when needed. Unfortunately, you don’t have the option to pilot it, but to be fair that doesn’t really take anything away from the overall experience.
My only other criticism is that you’re not standing guard over a fully functional Gotham City, protecting ordinary citizens from low level street crime whilst also preventing more ambitious criminal master plans, but that’s a very small quibble with this outstanding title.
Rocksteady have given us something that’s hard to fault and provides an excellent fan service to even the most committed fans of Gotham’s dark protector. The game’s drawn smiles out of my that The Clown Prince of Crime would be proud of, left me speechless on other occasions, and filled me with satisfaction whenever I’ve thwarted a difficult foe. If this really is Rocksteady’s last Batman game, it’s a pretty strong note to go out on!
I’ll leave you with what I think could be an exciting prospect; there are a number of Superman references dotted about Gotham City, could this be where Rocksteady are heading next?
- A story that tries to add something to the Batman universe
- We finally get to sit behind the wheel of the Batmobile
- Wonderful combat
- Tank battles quickly lose their appeal
- Some of The Riddler’s racetracks are a little bit ridiculous
- It has to come to an end!
The Short Version: Rocksteady’s last entry in the Arkham series is a marvellous thing, and at this point in time it’s without a doubt the best thing I’ve played on a next gen console.