The Rocksteady Batman games have a history of quality, being some of the best games on the previous generation of consoles, setting the bar for superhero action games. Now after a four year wait Rocksteady is here with the first Batman game on the current generation of consoles, but does this Batman own the night or is it a disappointment?
On the presentation front Batman: Arkham Knight is one of the most stunning games I have ever seen. It has this dark gothic art style, but it never feels like it’s trying too hard to be dark or edgy; it just works and fits into the Batman mythos. Because of this Gotham feels like a real place you could visit reminiscent of cities like New York or Chicago. Small touches like being able to listen to thugs talking on the street and the story impacting the city go a long way in furthering immersion. Then on the technical front this is the best looking game I have ever seen on a console. The lighting is fantastic and there are tons of effects and tiny details like damage to Batman’s suit over time to bigger ones like how the rain falls realistically. The frame rate stays at a rock-solid 30 FPS even during big action set pieces with lots of effects and enemies on screen. Not to mention the draw distance where you can see literally the entire city if you grapple up to the highest point. Everything about Arkham Knight’s visuals is outstanding.
But that’s just one part of the presentation the other part is the audio which is equally impressive. Music is ominous and tense during action scenes or the more taxing stealth bits, while it calms down when roaming around the city or during exposition. The music was never out of place and some tracks were so good I wanted to listen to them outside the game. Voice acting follows suit; with most of the cast from previous games reprising their roles and doing a superb job, my only real complaint with acting is that almost all the thugs sound identical, same thing with the Arkham Knight’s militia. However this is a minor complaint especially considering the thug dialogue is normally pretty entertaining and in a lot of cases hilarious. Arkham Knight’s presentation shines in every possible way and is easily the most technically impressive console game of this current console cycle.
Now the story does benefit from this fantastic presentation, but that’s not to say the story doesn’t stand on its own. The game takes place one year after the events of Arkham City. Scarecrow is launching a massive attack on Gotham trying to pump the city with fear gas, with the help of the Arkham Knight. So of course it is up to Batman to stop him, while this is going on most of Gotham’s most famous villains decide to all strike against the city at the same time. So not only must Batman take on Scarecrow and The Knight in the main story, he must contend with some of his famous and not so famous members of his rogues gallery in the side quests. Finally there is a subplot that involves the remnants and legacy of The Joker that almost steals the show from the main plot especially during the main story parts when you run into Harley Quinn. The vast majority of the writing is great with the occasional bit of cheesiness or a predictable twist, but that never hindered my enjoyment of one of the better Batman stories out there. It has humor, suspense and while some of the twists are predictable some come straight out of left field and blow your mind. Finally for long term Batman fans there are tons of references and Easter eggs. Things like posters of “The Gray Ghost” in Oracle’s clock tower, references and call backs to “The Killing Joke”, and “A Death in the Family”. Long term Batman fans will find tons of stuff like that to love, but even people who have never got involved with anything Batman can enjoy the story thanks to a strong main plot and sub plot, great acting, and pacing that never gets old.
Now this near immaculate presentation and superb story telling would be all for naught if this game didn’t play great. So I am happy to say no other game has come this close to making me feel like The Batman.
The way the main mechanics all interact with each other and how you can use the gadgets for all the different styles of gameplay. These styles include stealth or predator challenges, hand to hand combat, car combat, detective crime solving and or hacking, and finally puzzle or riddle solving, all of it set on a big open map with tons to do. The stealth is the strongest it has been in the Arkham series with more tools available to you then any other game, but each encounter truly feels like a puzzle testing your wits to not get caught and take down all the thugs. Nothing is quite as satisfying as hacking a drone to take out a few thugs, then doing a couple of inverted take downs, before straight up doing a chain takedown known as multi fear to clean up the last of the crew. When you finally figure out the pattern to a stealth section and how to take it down with the right combination of gadgets you just feel like a total badass.
The same can be said for the combat sections. You can now use almost every single gadget in combat, not only that but in certain sections of the game there are environmental takedowns where you can use lights, explosives, or pipes to your advantage, very similar to Sleeping Dogs. The last new addition to combat is partner takedowns. Occasionally in side quests or the main story you will be partnered with Night Wing, Catwoman, or Robin and can switch between Batman and his partner mid fight or chain combos together. So Batman can knock a thug into the air and Robin can keep the combo going or take out the thug with a brutal hit. The combat system at its core is still the same simplistic counter based system the Arkham games have always had, this time with some new twists. That said those new twists really bring life into what could have been the same old same old, and it just feels so cathartic when you use an environmental takedown, then chain it into a multi-hit combo, followed by using the batarang to knock out a charging thug right before he hits you. That feeling of flow you get when you start chasing long combo strings together and effortlessly using gadgets mid combo is just unbeatable by most other action games.
Opposite the combat is the detective parts of the game where you must use Batman’s detective vision to recreate a crime scene, figure out exactly what happen, and then chase after the criminal or go help the victim. These parts don’t happen often but they are fun little bits that help break up the core gameplay.
Then there are The Riddler’s challenges and trophies spread all over Gotham City’s three islands. These vary from clever word puzzles, difficult challenges that require the use of good timing, multiple gadgets, and the Batmobile to the other end of the spectrum Riddler trophies that literally will be sitting in the middle of an easily accessible room. No clever riddle, no puzzle requiring gadgets or even combat, just sitting there. It’s almost like when he was setting these up and for a couple of them he just said screw it I’ll give Batman a freebie. My other issue with The Riddler challenges is they are required to get the games true ending and due to the size of the city it is near impossible to find them all without a guide. Asylum and City had just as many trophies but in a more condensed space so getting all of them didn’t feel like as much of a chore. That said these bits are still entertaining just needed a little more work.
Finally we have the brand new mechanic to the Batman games, the Batmobile. In Arkham Knight you get to finally pilot the Batmobile in two different modes. The first is car mode which you will use for Riddler based time challenges on track designed for the car, chase scenes with militia APCs, chase scenes with thugs, side quests taking out villains in chase scenes like Firefly, and just driving around Gotham at super high speeds. The other mode is tank mode where you will fight the Arkham Knight’s tank drones, fight his super tanks by stealthing around sneak attacking them in the back and solve pretty basic puzzles with the tow winch. All of this is actually pretty entertaining, except for the puzzles which feel shoehorned into the game to add another reason to use the Batmobile. Chase scenes are visceral and have this great sense of speed, basic tank combat is fast paced action, and the stealth tank sections are a mix of fun intense action and super frustrating depending on the fight, but more often than naught it was on the frustrating end of things. Now the biggest issue is there is just way too much of the Batmobile content even when I was having fun with it like during The Riddler time trials. I wished there was less of the Batmobile in favor or more of this other styles of gameplay. The Batmobile gameplay is by no means bad, it’s just a case of two much of a good thing.
Batman Arkham Knight is an incredible game in every aspect. The visuals are the best on either console, the story is entertaining from start to finish, voice acting is top notch, along with the music. Gameplay is the best in the franchise and if it weren’t for a little too much of a focus on the Batmobile and some quirks with the Riddler trophies, I wouldn’t have had anything bad to say about this game. If you are a fan of quality action adventure games you need to play Batman Arkham Knight.
Final Score: 9.5/10