In 2009, Rocksteady changed the world of superhero games when they released Batman: Arkham Asylum. In one fell swoop they managed to change these types of games from cheap movie tie-ins, to fresh, original, and incredibly fun experiences. This first installment led to a sequel: Arkham City, which was even bigger and better. They mysteriously handed off the reigns to another studio to make the prequel: Arkham Origins.
Why the change in talent (and quality)? It turned out they were working on a next generation finale to their Arkham series. Now in 2015, the journey they started in Arkham Asylum comes to an end in Batman: Arkham Knight. Is this the send-off that the Dark Knight deserves? Or did he fall short when grappling up to the PS4? It’s time to find out!
It goes without saying, but I am going to do my best to avoid what anyone would consider spoilers. I’ll avoid mentioning specific character appearances as well to keep the surprises as fresh as possible.
Putting the “Dark” in Dark Knight
From the moment the game begins, the tone is set to dark. We’re talking like Ozzy Osbourne’s shadow dark. A violent and intense opening sets the stage for a story that will have you questioning all kinds of things you thought you knew. Without going into too much detail, the setup is that Scarecrow is threatening to unleash his fear toxin on Gotham and after the opening scene, people have seen what it can do.
Gotham City is evacuated, leaving only the lowest of the low and the superheroes like Batman left to stop the attack. Those who have played the previous two games know what Scarecrow’s toxin can do to Batman from both a visual and gameplay perspective and that is used to great effect throughout Arkham Knight.
The game’s namesake, the Arkham Knight, makes an appearance early on in the game and his identity is a major focus throughout the story. He’s a menacing character, no doubt, but his reveal could have been more grandiose, seeing as how the build-up was so intense. Small nitpicks aside, the story doesn’t mind getting dark with plenty of twists and turns and some very emotional moments.
It’s Batman in his toughest challenge yet, and it shows. Kevin Conroy reprises his role and does a great job of nailing the feel and tone. Scarecrow receives top marks as well, thanks to an eerie and spine-tingling performance from John Noble who plays Walter in the television series “Fringe.” These performances are bolstered by other solid appearances from characters that I won’t spoil here.
Arkham Knight is voiced by the ever-present Troy Baker and he certainly does a good job of sounding like he really hates Batman. It also does a nice job of pulling together the events from previous games, giving it a true “finale” feel to the proceedings. What else can I say? It’s a dark, extremely well-paced story that keeps the action high and the emotions all over the place. It’s a grand and epic finale if this is indeed the end of Rocksteady’s tenure as Batman game developers.
Perfect? No, it’s not perfect. I don’t completely agree with some of the twists, and a few of the side missions feel anti-climactic, but other than that it’s an adventure worthy of both the next generation and of Batman himself.
Bring on the Batmobile! Oh, and the Other Stuff Too!
If you’ve seen any trailer for this game, then you know that Rocksteady was absolutely pumped to bring the Batmobile into this open-world adventure. A lot of time and effort went into making this thing look its best. In fact, the developers said that this one vehicle is composed of more pixels than the entire Arkham City map!
The first time it appears in the game, they make you watch as the camera pans and slides around it. Yep, it’s about damn perfect looking and detailed as all get-out, but we’ll discuss graphics momentarily. A lot of challenges and combat relies on this new vehicle, which has been a point of contrition with some gamers. There’s still a healthy dose of the good old free-flow combat that Rocksteady is known for, but you’ll never go too long without being in the driver’s seat.
Controlling the iconic vehicle is a little loose at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. Seeing as how it’s a billion dollar tank, the Batmobile rightly smashes through just about anything that gets in your way. Don’t worry though, enemies are thrown away from the car by an electric charge when you try to hit them. Batman doesn’t kill people, but he does destroy a whole lot of public property over the course of the game.
This freedom of movement is a boon to the driving though in my opinion because you’re not constantly trying to dodge the ridiculous amounts of trees, light poles, benches, plants, fences, and columns that get in your way during a chase. You just smash right through them, which I found to be immensely satisfying.
Now, the Batmobile also has a battle mode where it transforms into a tank. You’ll do this to navigate with precision and also to fight Arkham Knight's army of unmanned drones and tanks that he sends after you. These bombastic encounters showcase a level of explosions and damage that Batman isn’t typically known for.
They are fun enough, but there are a lot of them. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with these encounters, they just don’t pack the variety of the on-foot combat. Speaking of, the free-flow combat returns in top form with this sequel, except now you’ll fight more enemies and more types than before.
Familiar moves like the counter, beatdown, and special combo takedown make a return, but new enemy types and gadgets keep the fun alive. Also, when you’re teaming up with other superheroes whose names I will not mention because of spoilers, you can do dual-team takedowns that are just as awesome as they sound. Grappling and gliding around the city feels just as good as ever, with upgrades to really get you moving around quickly a little ways into the game.
The predator sections offer new methods of sneaking around and a phenomenal multi-takedown move that you’ll eventually get that is just amazing. I won’t say any more, you just need to see it for yourself.
The only real complaint I have here resides in some of the challenges where Batman is forced to glide into tight spaces or around tight corners. Listen, the gliding is fine when you’re in open spaces, but it is not designed to be precise. I had some real frustration come up with the game thought I could easily turn a tight corner and navigate through and even tighter tunnel.
The Batmobile is also put through some race/obstacle course challenges are part of 100% completing the game, and these can also be an exercise in frustration, mostly because you’re controlling the course while driving on it.
Yeah, it’s confusing. These are elements of side activities though for the most part, so you could avoid them if you really wanted to, but completionists will have to push through the pain.
I Can See the Rain on His Cape!
Let’s talk graphics, shall we? WOW! Just when I thought The Order: 1886 was the best we could do, this game comes in with some stellar visuals that really speak to a next generation title. I kind of wish it wasn’t constantly raining as that gives the game a film grain-esque look, but that’s a small complaint.
Remember earlier when I mentioned how many pixels the Batmobile has? Yeah, I don’t mind them zooming in on it every chance they get when it looks THAT good. Just sticking to the car for a second, this thing has enough detail to see every winding gear behind the wheels, every scuff on the body, and every gadget housed within.
Zooming out, the rain-soaked streets of Gotham are peppered with all manner of objects and flying debris as you drive through them. Lights splash color against the darkened world, reflecting on wet surfaces as the starry night looms above. Everything has a great level of detail which speaks to Rocksteady’s ability to handcraft environments in their games.
Soaring over the city presents you with an incredible view as Batman’s cape reflects and shines with drops of rain running off of it. Up close, the characters still hold up with realistic skin, eyes, and facial animation. When you think of next generation gaming, this is what you should be thinking of. It has all the right things going for it and enough horsepower under the hood to make even the Batmobile blush.
The Dawn Approaches
I loved that line from the second Christopher Nolan Batman film: “The night is darkest before the dawn.” Indeed, in the final chapter of Rocksteady’s Batman trilogy (not including the one they didn’t make) Batman finds himself in the darkest story yet shown to the mainstream audience. I know the comics probably have done worse, but this is the darkest we’ve seen the Dark Knight in a mainstream product.
If this is indeed the end for Rocksteady’s Batman games, then I raise my glass to them. It’s a polished, emotional, and fitting farewell to one of the greatest superheroes ever created. It’s not without it’s flaws mind you, but like Batman, it rises to the challenge. In reaching for perfection, it ultimately achieves greatness.
Final Score: 9.0/10
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 7/3/15