Touted as the finale of the Arkham Trilogy, for Batman: Arkham Knight Rocksteady tried to truly craft the quintessential perfect Batman experience. With a larger city to explore, more gadgets and techniques, a higher stakes story, and the playable Batmobile, Arkham Knight is the closest players will ever feel to really being the Batman. Unfortunately, there are certain additions that hinder rather than expand the on the gameplay, keeping Batman: Arkham Knight from being a perfect game.
Batman: Arkham Knight follows nine months after the events of Arkham City, with the repercussions of the last game very much still being felt. As Gotham is adapting to these new circumstances, Scarecrow takes advantage of the uneasy time of peace by using threats of his notorious fear toxin to evacuate the city and dedicating Halloween night to finally breaking Batman. He’s of course joined by a number of the familiar rogue’s gallery as well as a mysterious new player, the Arkham Knight, who seems to share both an intimate knowledge of the Caped Crusader along with a burning hatred for him. Alongside an Arkham Knight-lead militia and the now free criminals of Gotham, this is the night that may finally prove to be Batman’s undoing.
Ultimately the story is grander and more cinematic than any previous iterations of the series. It’s supplemented by great writing featuring tons of fun and shocking twists, as well as a stellar voice cast with the likes of Kevin Conroy returning as Batman alongside newcomers Johnathon Banks as Commisioner Gordon, John Noble as Scarecrow, and more. Though not every twist pans out exactly as I’d hoped, it’s still very engaging throughout and boasts some incredibly memorable moments up until its remarkable ending. As this game very well may be Rocksteady’s last foray into the Batman universe, I’m glad it ended on a high note story-wise and can’t help feeling saddened knowing it may be the last of its kind. Conversely, I can’t defend the decision to have not one, but two progression walls put up before the final scene of the game. The first being that the scene only becomes available after completion of all the side quests, which is understandable, but to have the scene actually stop midway through and request players to first obtain every single Riddler trophy to see the entire sequence is incredibly confusing and jarring. There’s no doubt many, if not most, players will give up entirely on the quest and simply view the cutscene on YouTube, begging the question of why Rocksteady would put up an arbitrary wall to the end of the game. It might not mean much to those who felt resolution without this scene, but I felt it was crucial to the story being told and found no closure without it, and the hours spent between the climax and the finale getting every collectible completely took away from the game’s sense of pace.
Fortunately, the time spent travelling throughout Gotham is more fun and rewarding than ever. Gotham City is said to be five times larger than the previous Arkham City and it feels like it. With three giant and distinct islands to explore, Gotham feels more alive than ever with its immense skyscrapers and underground pathways beautifully illustrated. Arkham Knight’s graphics can’t be glossed over, they are simply some of the best these new consoles have to offer, and the game manages to thankfully run well (on consoles at least) as Batman traverses the world that never fails to look less than stunning. Despite the larger size, players can move across the city with as much ease and speed as ever with increased grappling mobility that has the Batman practically shoot across the islands, gliding, dive-bombing, and grappling at a pace and fluidity that still feels fun hours after finishing the game to completion. Along with this however, it truly wouldn’t be the best way to be the Bat if Rocksteady didn’t include the Batmobile. A mix between the classic and Christopher Nolan interpretations of the vehicle, the Batmobile plays an incredibly large part in the game. This time around the roads are much wider to accommodate the vehicle, and it can be very satisfying driving the Batmobile effortlessly through pillars, fences, and other obstructions as it roars through the city. Outside of missions, going between driving the Batmobile and gliding through the city to reach destinations is entirely up to you, and this fluidity between the two forms of transport is greatly appreciated.
For most of the game’s mission structure, gameplay takes four forms. The classic well known combat and predator missions, and the Batmobile driving and tank sections. The combat feels better than ever, a noticeable upgrade from Arkham Origins, with small tweaks to add just a bit more to an already perfected system such as the environmental takedowns and counter throws. It’s the combat we all know and love so much that it’s steadily implemented in other games like Sleeping Dogs and Shadow of Mordor, but it’s truly at its height in Arkham Knight. Even when it grows more complicated towards the later portion of the game, with different enemies requiring different tactics to defeat, it still feels smooth and tactile and reminds why this combat is so influential in the first place. Further supplementing some of these sequences is the introduction of partners in combat. Partners such as Nightwing and Catwoman join Batman in certain combat situations and are fully playable, either through simply switching or dual takedowns, which have the pair team up to deliver an impressive cooperative attack that never fails to entertain. While these aren’t as common as I would have hoped as they can be much more fun than solo combat, they are an awesome addition that help implement more of the Bat-family in a very cool way.
The predator missions also receive some small tweaks through new gadgets and enemy encounters to deal with. The ability to perform fear takedowns is perhaps the most simple, and best new addition to the game. Having Batman quickly eliminate each foe in rapid succession without chance for retaliation is a very useful skill and great representation of the prowess he’s known for. New tools such as the voice modulator are fun and interesting to play with, and the number of options at your disposal ensures there’s always creative and efficient ways to eliminate each threat. Alongside your new tools are some slight changes in enemy encounters, such as drones and time limits that help these missions from feeling stale so far into the series. The only concern is that it feels there aren’t as many of these sections in the game and they come a bit farther into the campaign than expected, a trade-off for the new Batmobile mechanics.
And it’s these mission-based Batmobile segments that have been the root of most of the criticisms made against Batman: Arkham Knight. To begin, the Batmobile chases and racing missions are fine new additions. Chasing cars and APC’s around Gotham firing missiles can grow a bit stale after some time (and I can’t help but wonder why the Batmobile is so much slower than some enemy vehicles), but they can still provide fun and exciting moments. Side-smashing a car off the road or throttling forward to deliver one last missile can be very satisfying and does still fit that feeling of playing as the Batman. Even the Riddler racing challenges, which admittedly I was at first very apprehensive about, proved to be fun and challenging and not at all too intruding upon the main game being entirely optional. Furthermore, much of the game’s puzzles revolve around use of the Batmobile, whether it be to reach a Riddler trophy or progress with the actual story, you will be required to switch between the vehicle and Batman multiple times in order to achieve certain goals. These puzzles can sometimes feel a bit repetitive, as there really are only so many uses for the vehicle with its ability to shoot winches, rev up and power electronics, or fire its weapons, but the game still finds some inventive and amusing ways to use these.
The worst and most confusing new aspect of Batman: Arkham Knight however is of course the infamous tank combat. Notwithstanding the confusion notion that Batman would prepare a tank mode for his Batmobile despite a no-kill rule so deeply rooted in his character, this combat is entirely too present in the game for what it is. The Bat-tank transformation is sluggish and clumsy, and serves for a very mind-numbing combat experience. Between firing missiles and a machine gun at enemy tanks and drones, Batman will usually find himself in an enclosed area where enemies will surround him from all sides while you must slowly pick them off one by one. Though there are some upgrades that can help bolster your offensive capabilities; an EMP, a virus that takes control of enemies, and a missile barrage, all activated by growing your multiplier, these can’t sustain these slow and all too frequent sections. Much of the game will be spent with the Bat-tank in a closed off circular area, dodging between enemy laser sights, firing at each one. The process is fun for the first few times, but as the game goes on you’ll spend far too many missions doing this, and they can get very frustrating as the game progresses and more complicated enemies are added such as flying drones and heat-seeking missiles. Unfortunately the boss battles have been entirely stripped out, replaced with more Bat-tank combat sections against stronger enemy vehicles with life bars.
Alongside these are also the serpent drone enemies; larger, slower moving, and much more deadly enemy tanks that can only be defeated from a shot to the backside. These are the dullest segments of the game, as you slowly try to work your way around these tanks to destroy them, only to have to quickly maneuver around them as they become alerted to your presence and grow in speed. These segments sadly also take the place of some boss fights, making for some very disappointing lack of physical character conflict like the Mr Freeze or Deathstroke encounters of previous games. Alongside all these complaints, perhaps the worst of all is that it just doesn’t feel like Batman. These games have previously had you either quickly taking out enemies with swift, brutal precision, or quietly stalking the shadows, and the Bat-tank missions go against this entirely. In opposition with most everything else in the game, it never feels very satisfying or gives you that awesome Batman experience. It only begs the question of why Rocksteady decided to not only include it, but feature it incredibly heavily in the game. It’s a disappointing blemish on an otherwise impeccable game, and really makes you scratch your head at the silliness of thousands of unmanned drones taking over Gotham.
Despite Batman’s newfound reliance on the Batmobile, he’s still the world’s greatest detective, and outside of these four aspects gameplay is further broken up by some detective work. Though a much smaller portion of the game is taken up by this than the other factors previously mentioned, they’re always very entertaining and diverse. From returning gameplay like retracing DNA prints alongside the ground and rewinding through holographic crime scenes, to new mechanics such as scanning the layers of a deceased body for clues and emulating voice samples, there’s a huge variety of different detective methods and processes at Batman’s disposal. The assortment of these sequences never allow one to feel stale or overused, and allow for some nice breaks in the action that also serve to remind you that Batman isn’t all about punching and kicking.
Overall, Batman: Arkham Knight is an uneven game. The highs are definitely the highest the series has ever been with the best presentation, traversal, and combat, but they’re held back by also the lowest aspect these games have ever had with a disappointingly large amount of Bat-tank battles. I really wanted to love this game unconditionally, but the tank portions can’t help but detract from the overall game. Despite this, if you can get over these missions (and you will because everything else is just so great) the rest of the game will deliver extremely fun, engaging, and immersive gameplay and an unforgettable world. Nearing the completion of the platinum trophy on my New Game + playthrough and I still don’t want to stop playing in Gotham City, whether I’m soaring through the sky or beating up baddies. Regardless of any missteps, Rocksteady delivered a powerful ending to their trilogy that respectfully caps off the series.