The best thing about the latest, and last, Batman game from Rocksteady is that it feels final. That feeling is not one that we get very much with superheroes and it provides an unexpected and welcome feeling of weight and finality to Arkham Knight that few games have ever been able to provide. While there are all sorts of things to do in the game, the core story is Batman taking the fight to the Scarecrow and his newest ally, the Arkham Knight. With the help of just about all of his major allies, especially Oracle (Barbara Gordon), Batman must once again protect his city from the evil that seeks its destruction. The story culminates with some of the best Batman moments I have ever seen.
Being such a lush and humongous game, it’s hard to know where to start, but I think that talking about the sheer size of the game is a good place to start. The city of Gotham is easily one of the biggest, most densely built maps I have ever played with. There are three large and robust islands that Batman must explore and in some cases, retake from the Scarecrow’s army. Not only is the length and width of the game impressive, but its depth is simply delightful. Zooming from the sidewalk all the way to the very top of the tallest skyscrapers is so much fun. Normally, a map of this size would mean a lot of boring traveling from one end to the next, but for the most part that’s really not true. The big addition to this game, the Batmobile, is an excellent mode of transportation that handles really well once you get the hang of its admittedly odd control scheme. Batman can also grapnel his way around town with such speed and ease that he basically can fly anywhere in minutes. Combined, both avenues of travel offer a wonderful sense of speed, scope and control of the city as a whole that really works well; you really feel like Batman. It adds a bit of believability that Batman really could move around town so quickly all in one night. On a related note, the game looks amazing. I am not a graphics hound, I don’t usually care what a game looks like, but the visual power and presentation of this game is undeniable. I found my self watching the rainfall or just looking at the city from a rooftop more then a few times. I played this game on my PS4 and it’s the first game that really feels next gen.
Moving right along, the combat and tactical movement around and through bad guys is as refined as it could be by this point. Having three games to work on a system makes for a ridiculously smooth and robust combat system that has probably never felt better in a game of any kind. Whether it’s sneaking around a defended point, or just punching your way through an angry mob of soldiers, Batman moves, fights and counters just like you think Batman would. The game makes the wise choice of simply giving you most of the gadgets that in past games you would have to either find or get airlifted to your location, which always felt silly and a bit too “This Is A Videogame” for me. While there certainly are different styles of combat for a third person action game, so you mileage may vary with this one, I really can’t think of a game that does combat better. I don’t want every game to feel like Arkham Knight, I don’t want all games to be any one thing after all, but none do it better then Rocksteady. They might have not done such an excellent job with the Batmobile combat, but ultimately I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. When entering combat, your car turns into a spider like tank that can shoot other tanks down, launch missiles and even hack other vehicles and have them fight at your side, something I highly recommend as it’s a quick and effective way to turn the tide of battle. The tank fighting has gotten a lot of complaints, and I will grant that the game makes you use it a bit to much, but I found the vehicular combat to be fun and a nice change of pace from the rest of the game. I think that the complaints that it doesn’t feel like Batman are simply false; Batman can rescue a little girl who was kidnapped one day and fight on the moon the next against an alien horde. There simply isn’t anything that doesn’t feel like Batman; the very nature of the character allows him to experience just about any situation.
All of that is well and good, but the game would be quite lacking if the story and characters don’t live up to the high standards of the presentation and gameplay. Well, yet again Rocksteady has kind of nailed it. All the characters and their voice actors are very well done. From a stoic Batman, an enraged Arkham Knight to an incredibly scary and thought-provoking Joker, the cast really nails it. Kevin Conroy keeps saying that his time as Batman is drawing to an end, and if this time he really means it, I can’t imagine him going out on a higher note. Mark Hamill is given some of the most enjoyable and interesting material that he ever had as the Joker but more on that later. Of the supporting cast, Ashley Greene and John Noble as Barbara Gordon and Scarecrow are particular standouts. Greene brings youth and vibrancy to a character that all to often can just be an information and exposition dumping machine while Noble takes on a chilling and emotionless tone for a character that often doesn’t feel that scary or weighty. There is a whole host of supporting characters that I could talk about but wont; just rest assured that the whole cast really does an excellent job.
Additionally, the story hits some pretty wonderful peaks that really resonated with me. The structure is nothing new, it’s an invasion story with some added twists, but there are moments throughout the game that really stand out. When you fight with Oracle against a large pack of bad guys, it’s very exciting and engaging and you can really feel the emotion in her voice. Poison Ivy’s fate is unexpected and very fitting to how DC has been presenting her character lately and both Nightwing and Robin add some nice depth to Batman’s character. Early on in the game, Batman gets infected with some Fear Toxin and the Joker shows up in his subconscious. The game handles this by having him simply appear visually on the screen both randomly and in some very specific instances. This Internal Joker is one of the best features of the game; I don’t know how they do it, but the way he just pops up on screen where he wasn’t a second ago is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a game; it’s the smoothest visual trick I’ve ever seen in a video game. It really is unlike anything I think I’ve ever seen in a game before. Add all that to one of the most satisfying culminations to a game or Batman story, and I think you have one of the more effective narratives that a video game has ever delivered. Video games have some pretty severe limitations to their ability to tell a story, since the speed and ability with which you play a game can disrupt the story telling in so many ways, but Rocksteady has found a way to overcome those challenges on every level.
The shortcomings of the game are few but notable. All the Riddler stuff feels way off from the character; is the so called smartest man in the world really going to just build giant Mario Kart courses for Batman to traverse? I don’t think so. And having to collect all of his trophies across the city is a truly thankless job that nobody should ever be forced to endure. Also, some of the women are given short shrift. Poison Ivy wears a silly costume of a red shirt and plant underwear and every moment of her time onscreen is clearly designed with the male gaze in mind while Harley Quinn gets so much disservice by her costume. I think that Quinn living in a post-Joker world could actually be very interesting and fun, but the game doesn’t go anywhere near that. The story, if you are a Batman veteran like I am, is not all that surprising. I thought I knew who the Arkham Knight was from the get go and was not drawn off that guess for even second. I understand the complaints about the tank fighting, but I enjoyed those quite a bit so I was never upset when I was forced into it.
That being said, the good far outweighs the bad in this game. Batman: Arkham Knight is about as good a game as you can hope to play. It offers a wonderful story, a sprawling city to explore and some of the best moments in the history of a character that has been around for seventy odd years and it shouldn’t be missed by anybody who enjoys games or Batman.