Note: This Review is for the PS4 version of the game only.
It was hard to see where Rocksteady would be taking the Arkham franchise after the closing act of Arkham City which lead**SPOILER ALERT** to the death of the Joker. In a lot of ways they have managed to create an impressive narrative, driven from your actions in the previous two games while adding more bombast to the gameplay to keep things fresh and innovative. In this foray you’ll follow The Dark Knight on an adventure across three large boroughs of Gotham City to defeat the Scarecrow one final time.
The core gameplay doesn’t change too much in Arkham Knight. You’ll be swinging from bars to gargoyles and taking down your enemies silently to thin their numbers and then finally dropping down and battling droves of goons. It becomes more frustrating as the crowd gets denser and complex as the game goes on. Put simply -you’re still managing your strikes with counters and learning the way new enemies attack so you can include them into your attack plan. The traversal mechanics have been completely overhauled to allow a quick and pain-free method of getting from one end of the city to the other and effectively allowing you to glide across the entire island quickly. The addition of the much advertised Batmobile adds another dimension to travelling through the city and while I ended up enjoying the sections that are enforced throughout the game, this was only after a number of hours of frustration in the beginning. The Batmobile is unwieldy and often gets squirrely in the tighter sections that require speed and precision and as this was obviously a point of pride for the developer as you’re often faced with small sections.
You also get the chance to fight alongside some of your favourite allies in specific sections such as Catwoman or Robin. These fights feel fantastic as you build a meter up and perform brutal looking dual takedowns with your teammate. Each character feels slightly different in the way they move and control rather than a simple new texture on Batman’s body. Although these fights often feel unfairly weighted in your favour with near constant takedowns and seamless switching of characters, I actually felt it fit pretty well into what I would presume would happen when Batman fought alongside allies – the odds would be stacked heavily against their adversaries.
The story is by far the more emotional and evocative of the series. Rocksteady go a long way to have you make a connection with Batman and while some of the scenes you face early in the game feel unnecessary and ruthlessly barbaric it goes a long way in conveying to the player exactly how Batman is feeling. Although the majority of the game is an exercise in brutality this is the first time Rocksteady has tried to convey the quieter, more human side to Batman’s universe as he deals with the consequences of living this life. The manifestation of Batman’s broken psyche in the form of the Joker is a fantastic companion throughout the game who aims only to send Batman finally spiralling into the madness he has been holding off for so long and, effectively, becomes colour commentary to Batman’s usual dull inner monologue.
The big mystery surround the Arkham Knight’s identity is the worst part of the story and is not handled well at all. As a long time reader of The Batman I had a list of who I thought would be the Arkham Knight and my first choice turned out to be right. Not surprising though, as they couldn’t have made it more obvious if they had written his secret identity on his armour. It’s a shame though, as at no point was the mystery teased or were you fed any misinformation to lead you down the wrong path.
As expected there is a myriad of side quests to keep you busy and its obvious the amount of work that has gone into each and every little mission. Unlike other Open World games where you’re faced with a silent protagonist who moves from one map marker to the next, Arkham Knight always gives you a little backstory to keep you going. You’ll talk with Alfred or a number of your associates that will refresh your memory on where the side story has been so far and will make it feel a necessity rather than something that’s simply a throwaway mission.
Gotham City has never looked so sharp and colourful in the darkness and, more than ever, feels like it combines the world of Michael Keaton’s Batman to Christian Bale’s portrayal of The Dark Knight with perfection. The world, however, feels stunted with the lack of a civilian population, as the game quickly contrives a way of getting rid of the people at the start of the game. This takes away some of the charm of the city and simply feels less lived in. The goons patrolling the streets provide some levity with their offbeat commentary of the situation as you hijack their communications and listen in while floating above the city.
Although the PC version of Arkham Knight is taking up most of the headlines (And rightly so) the PS4 version of the game isn’t without its problems. One of the most fun and lasting features of the Arkham series has been the ability to post your challenge scores to a leaderboard to have your friends try and beat it and, as of writing this, the leaderboards worked on launch day but I’ve been unable to connect to them since. While this isn’t a major, game breaking bug, it does take away some of the competitive edge to the challenges and makes them tedious fight for the 100% completion mark.
I was never the biggest fan of the Arkham series prior to this game, I always struggled with the third person viewing angle and the traversal systems in place. Arkham Knight has improved things in almost seamless ways to streamline these tasks and make your life less stressful when you get caught out by an enemy or are being swamped by a whole host of goons. By far this is the most approachable game of the series and players are quickly caught up on the story from the first two games to open up to a new audience. The main story is fun to see and with the addition of the side content you’re effectively seeing what is a greatest hits collection of Batman stories rolled neatly into one package. The promise of the Arkham Knight never truly met its potential and almost rightly so as the shoe horned explanation feels more an excuse to use the character than something that has been building for three games as is implied. The sections where you finally face him are the games most tedious and often needed repeating which breaks a lot of the momentum that had began to gather towards the end of the game. Arkham Knight does a great job of making its side content worth the time you’ll need to invest to see it all and not simply something to be forgotten about and ensures every part of the game is worth seeing. Although some minor technical issues hold back the challenge levels it didn’t truly hurt my experience with the game itself.