Review: Batman: Arkham Knight

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Note: Elessar first played this game when it came out, but he’s been too busy to review it up until now. Also, he is aware that the PC version of this game launched in such a hilariously awful state that they eventually had to pull it off Steam but…he played it on the PS4, so that won’t really affect his review.

Batman is an odd concept when you think about it. Fans of the older comics love pointing out to me that they were much more kid friendly than most modern interpretations, but when you unpack the concept, it’s always been pretty dark. At it’s core, Batman is a concept about an 11 year old boy who sees his parents get gunned down, snaps and decides to dress up as a bat to fight crime. That’s pretty dark.

Still, the character has remained extremely popular, with the last two movies starring him both grossing over a billion dollars. And more recently, the Arkham games have been selling like gangbusters and racking up acclaim. And while I skipped Arkham Origins due to middling reviews and a lack of funds, I was pretty stoked about Arkham Knight.

The plot picks up after the end of Arkham City and the death of the Joker (of don’t give me that look, the game is nearly 4 years old). As the story opens, Scarecrow has threatened to gas all of Gotham, causing the entire city (aside from thugs and his henchmen) to flee. Scarecrow you see has a master plan to finally take down and unmask the Batman, like ya do, and to that end he has enlisted the mysterious Arkham Knight, a figure who seems to know Batman’s every trick and…look, they telegraph who he is pretty hard, but I’m trying to keep it a secret.

If that plot summary seems kind of light, it’s because there’s not really a whole ton I can do to summarize the plot in a manner that won’t make me seem like I’ve forgotten my point. Since Arkham Asylum the franchise’s plots have been getting gradually more and more unfocused, which naturally reaches it’s nadir here. It was only after I’d finished that I realized that several of the biggest villains didn’t figure into the main plot at all.

Scarecrow looks a little like a Mortal Kombat character in this. Just...roll with it.

Scarecrow looks a little like a Mortal Kombat character in this. Just…roll with it.

Still, when it does calm down enough to focus on one thing, the plot can be pretty compelling. It’s difficult to do an examination of Batman’s character, but while it does slip up occasionally, this game is trying its hardest. The plot is at its most interesting in the middle segments, when they’re trying to explore what makes Batman tick and show us the inside of his psyche. They have a fairly interesting device for that, which I won’t spoil, but is probably the best aspect of the plot.

Unfortunately the goodwill towards the story can’t last forever. After the unique and intriguing second act, the game bogs down into a fairly standard third act, which undoes some of the darker and more interesting moments earlier and finally wanders into a fairly anti-climactic ending. Of course, given the amount of effort required to get the final ending (IE, you have to do ALL the side missions) I’m not certain there was an ending climactic enough, but still, the ending feels like a let down, both to the game alone and to the series as a whole.

Though, if I’m being fair, the writing and character has always been on the shaky side for this series, so I don’t think that’s what’s been selling it (even at its best, this series has never been The Last of Us). No, what’s kept the Arkham games selling so consistently well is the gameplay, and that’s still pretty excellent.

Does he look like he's in a clothing ad to you? He looks like he's in a clothing ad.

Does he look like he’s in a clothing ad to you? He looks like he’s in a clothing ad to me.

The combat and stealth meld together beautifully, which is a lot rarer than you might think. The combat flows fantastically with gorgeous animations and a great sense of impact through some truly excellent sound design. And the stealth still works amazingly, hopping from gargoyle to gargoyle, swooping down to knock somebody out before scampering away into the vents to do it again.

Of course, being the third (4th maybe? They don’t acknowledge Origins on the back cover, but they reference stuff that happened in it) game in a series, there are some minor irritations in the core gameplay brought on by adding in too much stuff. Both the combat and stealth feel overloaded by having too many gadgets and too many alternate enemy types (the guys who could revive knocked out enemies being a particular irritation to me). And maybe I’m imagining it, but it seems to me like I spent more times in time in the stealth screwing up, punching a dude out before his buddies arrived and bolting (and it’s not that I’m more impatient; I’ve been playing Bloodborne recently, so my patience is intact).

The big new addition to gameplay is the Batmobile, which comes with its own set of pluses and minuses. In car mode, it’s supposed to be for getting around the city faster, but hookshotting and gliding is still there, and while it is technically slower, you don’t need to follow the city streets, so the time difference winds up a wash except when traveling long distances. Still, it handles pretty well, and the odd car/Firefly chase liven things up nicely.

Harley isn't actually in the game all that much, but she's been in the marketing a lot. I wonder why...?

Harley isn’t actually in the game all that much, but she’s been in the marketing a lot. I wonder why…?

What I’m not so big on is the tank mode. For starters, having to hold down the button to keep the car in tank mode is a bad idea, especially given that the tank battles vs. the Arkham Knight’s drones go on for-f***ing-ever. It also has some wonky handling, but you’ll probably get the hang of it by the end of the game, and there are a couple of moments where it gets pretty fun.

The biggest issue with the Batmobile (aside from the really frustrating moments where it winds up being used in puzzles) is that it feels less like a natural addition to the gameplay, more like an element from a completely different game stapled on. The map is large enough that the Batmobile does wind up being useful sometimes, but that seems to be the point of making the map that large, which is a little bit like putting the cart before the horse.

Still, those are all minor irritations, and at its core Arkham Knight is still a pretty good game. The gameplay, despite all its flaws, is fun and the story is engaging, if structured poorly. If you’re hankering for a solid action game, grabbing Arkham Knight would probably be in your best interest.

…Unless you’d be playing it on PC. Then you might want to wait for the patch.

Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’d bump the rating up a notch if Kate Kane had a proper cameo rather than just a voicemail.

Pros:

– solid stealth and action gameplay

– large and entertaining sandbox

– fantastic voice acting

Cons:

– unfocused story

– Batmobile feels like a forced addition

– gameplay is a little loaded now with add ons

Rating: 4/5

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Elessar

Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile with an obsession with Nicolas Cage and a god complex. His favorite movie is Blade Runner and his least favorite is The Condemned...which probably says more about him than he wants it to.

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Elessar

Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile with an obsession with Nicolas Cage and a god complex. His favorite movie is Blade Runner and his least favorite is The Condemned...which probably says more about him than he wants it to.

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