I have been a fan of the Arkham series of Batman games from the outset. None have proven perfect, but they have all been exceptionally enjoyable, allowing the player to swoop through parts (or all) of Gotham catching bad guys, saving those who need it, and just generally being The Bat.
The newest entry into the series, Batman: Arkham Knight, is without a doubt the franchise’s high point. As with the other entries there are things that could be improved, but it definitely comes the closest yet to perfection.
Those familiar with the earlier entries in the franchise will feel well at home here with Arkham Knight as, essentially, the mechanics haven’t changed all that much. Defeating enemies is still built entirely around one’s ability to chain together attacks, dodges, and counters in order to both strike with more powerful attacks and gain extra XP to level up and unlock new moves and weaponry.
The main storyline this time out, which I won’t get into great detail on here as it is worth experiencing, is a continuation of the earlier tales, with Scarecrow as the primary villain. Not surprisingly, he has a plan to takeover Gotham for all time and it is up to Batman to stop him.
It actually plays out rather well. Sure, it’s utterly foolish and wholly unrealistic, but Arkham Knight takes place in a world of superheroes and supervillains, so those looking for realism should probably go elsewhere.
The title succeeds wonderfully not just with the main storyline, but with the side quests as well. Perhaps the biggest change from other games in the franchise is its not requiring players to go after one Gotham supervillain and then another and then another in the main story. For the most part the supervillains exist as side quests, with the game asking you to destroy Penguin’s multiple weapons caches, to stop Two-Face from robbing banks, to free Catwoman from the Riddler’s latest bit of foolishness, etc. And, yes, unfortunately the Riddler trophies are back. One can’t get 100% completion in the game without capturing them all, but they are still probably worth ignoring.
That is not to say that all the side quests are perfect, but they are where the best bits of the game lie. The most unfortunate thing about them is that while one can start many of them early on in the game, they cannot be completed until later — many parts of multiple side quests only unlock as one progresses in the main story. More than once, I found myself only doing the main storyline so that I could get further into a side quest. Additionally, at least as presented to me, one of the side quests prior to completion of the Scarecrow storyline is not a side quest at all, but rather an essential portion of the game, one without which the main story cannot be completed.
No matter the side quest upon which one embarks, they are all exceptionally fun and relatively varied. There is a wonderful sense of accomplishment the game imparts as the progress bars on the side quests (and main quest) go up as each individual task within a quest is accomplished. Completing each portion also offers the player points which, just as with leveling up, can be used towards unlocking more upgrades.
One of the biggest downfalls of Arkham Knight is its incredible love for the newest item it adds to Batman’s arsenal, the Batmobile. Do not get me wrong, the Batmobile is fantastically fun to drive around and to use to blow things up, but too many missions require its use. The developers almost use it as crutch, it is as though they repeatedly paint themselves into a corner in the way they structure a task and can see no way out except with using the Batmobile. And, if one isn’t sure how to get past a certain point the answer is, invariably, with the Batmobile.
On the other side of things, perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the title is the graphics. The Gotham we are offered here in Arkham Knight is, hands-down, the most beautiful, most fully-realized one we have gotten yet. Players will absolutely want to just spend time gliding through the environs. The level of detail is stupendous and as there is always something to do, some bad guy to beat up, flying around the city is a worthwhile endeavor as well.
The voice work, too, is top notch, particularly Mark Hamill as the Joker. Wonderful doesn’t begin to describe the way in which Hamill makes the character come alive. It is not just Hamill who excels though, outside of the masses of generic enemies who exist solely to meet with Batman’s fist, every voice offered in the game is delivered with gusto and a verve appropriate for such a dark comic book title.
We have been told that this is Rocksteady’s last Arkham game (they made three of the four), or, at the very least, that this is bringing their trilogy to its conclusion. I am not sure where, exactly, they might be able to go from here if this wasn’t the end, but I certainly hope that it is not. In a world where games based on characters from movies/comics/TV shows/etc. regularly fall flat and feel like cheap cash-ins, the Arkham tale has excelled. Its one true failing is its need to run us down with the Batmobile at every turn.
Batman: Arkham Knight is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox One and PC.*
(*the PC version had notable problems at launch and is no longer available for purchase on Steam, although it is due to return once the bugs have been ironed out, bugs that do not exist on the console versions).[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00IQCRKT8]