It is Halloween. Gotham is under siege. Its people have fled. The police have but a foothold left in the city. There are drones patrolling the roads and the sky, armed mercenaries dug in, rioting thugs, and supervillains running amok. Only one man has the power to stop this. The Batman!
Arkham Knight is the fifth and final chapter in the Arkham series. Rocksteady, the developer, has pulled out all the stops, giving us the biggest and boldest incarnation of the Dark Knight to date. And it succeeds—enough.
Picking up nearly a year after the events of Arkham City, The Batman finds himself struggling with his inner demons over his failure to save those he loved. His friends and allies worry about him as his inner conflict is slowly coming to a boiling point. At the same time, The Scarecrow has gathered The Batman’s greatest supervillains together in one big swoop to take over Gotham, with aid from a new mysterious figure known as The Arkham Knight. Batman is in for a long Halloween night.
Arkham Knight is huge! Four years of work shows, as Gotham is massive and beautiful. The audiovisual presentation is stunning with incredible animations, great voice work, a haunting soundtrack and fine detail, down to individual buildings and characters. Seeing the rain pour down the Batman’s cape is quite a sight. There are all kinds of Easter eggs, dialogue events and overwhelming amounts of fan service even including references to the Justice League.
Narrative-wise, the game has one of the most intriguing narratives of the series, maybe even the most intriguing. While not giving away anything, Batman’s inner conflict comes to the surface in some very literal ways. There are some incredible moments that are among the highlights of the Arkham series. The story is separated into the main mission and many side missions. The main mission is facing off against The Scarecrow and The Arkham Knight. The side missions involve a whole host of often interesting and fun quests, from rescuing firefighters to taking down militia checkpoints, and solving The Riddler’s various riddles and puzzles. Arkham Knight is packed with things to do.
Unfortunately, the plot does suffer from a number of problems. First and foremost, is how heavy- and ham-handed it is. Aside from a couple of good twists, you can pretty much see everything coming. The game is insistent upon its themes, overly so. The Batman not being able to kill is very much a core part of his persona, but Arkham Knight is constantly beating you with this fact. All around you characters are continuously reminding you about who you are, what the stakes are and it oftentimes comes off as unnatural and excessively expository. The structure is not much better. Whereas the first half of the game takes its time to build up and flesh out the story, the second half’s execution of all that buildup comes off as rushed and forced. This also applies to the side missions, where many of the outcomes are anticlimactic, particularly one mission that really disappointed me as a fan of the villain involved.
The one big elephant in the room though, is the Batmobile. Advertised as the new gameplay mechanic in practically every trailer and interview, the car is meant to be the hammer against the various nails your foes represent. Sadly, you end up hitting your thumb more often than not. When The Batmobile is working with you (changing the control scheme helps tremendously), it is a blast! Blowing up drones, chasing down thugs and just being an unstoppable tank cruising down Gotham is a mighty fine feeling. Yet again, though, the game’s insistence bleeds over, forcing you to utilize the Batmobile in nearly every instance you encounter. Numerous scenarios have puzzles that require you to use the vehicle to solve. Some of these are quite creative and fun, while others come off as annoying and even frustrating. The most egregious use of the Batmobile, however, has to be the Riddler challenges, particularly the racing sequences. The ridiculousness of the challenge on top of the Batmobile’s unstable nature leads to some of the most anger-inducing bits of trial and error I have had to deal with in a video game. The second half of the main plot also suffers from having various Batmobile encounters that come off as tedious and groan inducing. Frankly, it seems like while Rocksteady was designing the game, someone who really liked the Batmobile was over their heads, insisting (there is that word again) that they put it there and there and there.
Fortunately, when not in the Batmobile, the rest of the gameplay is solid. Rocksteady has done a fantastic job streamlining the combat and predator missions without dumbing it down. There are new gadgets, methods and exquisitely designed levels to bring justice down upon foes. The environment is now part of the action. In combat, you can electrocute foes against power generators or bring down lanterns upon them. In predator missions, you can overload a generator to incapacitate an enemy or sabotage a weapons crate and trick an opponent to check it out, only to electrocute them. The creativity displayed in the predator missions especially is among the best of the Arkham games. A particular favorite tactic of mine is the FEAR Multi-Takedown, whereby you ambush a group of men and take them down in slow motion before they have time to fully react. It never got tired, and I wished there were more of these encounters instead of being constantly behind the wheel of my bat tank.
Arkham Knight is not the best among the Arkham series, though its moments rank among the best. It is a very well-made, mostly well-executed game, with just enough stumbling blocks to keep it from being great. If you are a fan of these games, you have no reason not to pick it up. Just be prepared to some heavy duty frustration as you are cruising the streets of Gotham. You may just elect to fly and admire the beautiful world Rocksteady created, instead of watching it pass by in a blur.