Batman: Arkham Knight is an incredibly hard game to review. When its good, it's very-very good. It's like Batman firing his grappling hook at the tallest building in Gotham and sending him sailing upward into the sky. When it's bad, well, it's pretty damn bad. This is the buggiest game I've played since Assassin's Creed: Unity and there were a couple which threatened to make it unplayable for me. Thankfully, I managed a workaround for the game but the fact I did meant the game took a serious hit for me. There's also some serious issues I have with the storytelling and characterization.
But, it's Batman.
Batman forgives a lot.
|You, finally, get to answer the Bat-Signal this game.|
As a result, they evacuate the city. While this may be a bit of an overreaction, it frees up the city for Batman to patrol in the Batmobile as he attempts to deal with Scarecrow. It turns out to be harder than it looks since Scarecrow is accompanied by a high-tech PMC armed with drone tanks and spy-bots. The PMC's leader is a mysterious Bat-themed soldier named the Arkham Knight.
The introduction to the game is surprisingly effective with the player character taking the role of the police officer manning the incinerator that burns the Joker's corpse in a crematorium. This is meant to signify the Joker is not only merely dead, he's really most sincerely dead. You then play the role of the police officer as he's, unfortunately, the first to be exposed to the Scarecrow's new toxin. The developers do something clever here by briefly turning the game into a first person shooter but, given all of the things you're seeing are other patrons, the best thing to do is just lie down and ride it out like the bad trip it is.
|Gotham City is a combination of every era of Batman's existence.|
John Noble does an excellent job as the Scarecrow, being terrifying and well-acted, but we don't have any of Jonathan Crane's usual ticks which elevate him from being a generic doomsday villain. The Arkham Knight, played by a synthesized Troy Baker, is a schizophrenic character who hates Batman and just wants to kill him outright versus all the usual supervillain plots.
The thing is, the Arkham Knight knows all of Bruce Wayne's secrets, so there's no real reason for him not to straight-up murder him. The Arkham Knight could just send his tank army to Wayne Manor and kill Bruce while he's getting some shut eye. Likewise, his backstory could easily have been the basis for a strong emotional arc throughout the story but is hurt by saving the identity of the character for a final-act reveal.
|Comic fans will figure out who the Arkham Knight is very quickly.|
The other Batman villains get ignored for the Arkham Knight and Scarecrow, which is a shame because while they're present in the game, you don't encounter them until well into the major story. I would have appreciated Harley, Two-Face, and Penguin having the supervillain team-up promised by the trailers. I will say, at the halfway point, I was VERY glad for the arrival of a character who provided some much-needed energy to a plot which was otherwise rather dull.
|Poison Ivy is weirdly friendly to Batman this game.|
Batman needs to rescue Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and Barbara Gordon as three primary motivations of the game. Likewise, he has to stop the release of a city-wide fear toxin not once but twice. I can't help but think the developers only had room for a much-shorter storyline and decided to spread it out far-far more than it should have been.
The combat in the game is expanded and improved upon as well. In addition to the already near-perfect Arkham Asylum combat system, there's now the ability to use your environment as part of your fights as well as the ability to hit your opponents while their down. Batman can also take down multiple opponents when he sneaks up on them, which has its ups and downs. Nearly all of the gadgets are available from the beginning as well, which is something that I find to be a cool gift from the developers.
|You can re-skin yourself to be 1989 Batman. Squee!|
The side-quests are really fun too. Detective Mode has been carried over from the previous game and there's a number of mysteries to solve around the city like the existence of the Man-Bat (encountered by Batman here for the first time), a serious of mysterious genderless featureless bodies crucified around the city, and a number of arsonist attacks around the city. I would have liked more of these and earlier since they really would have livened up the game and feel just a bit too spread out.
Which brings me to the most controversial element of the game: the Batmobile. The Batmobile is something which is at the heart of Arkham Knight's heart-monitor-like ups and downs. I love driving around the Batmobile, don't get me wrong, but there's just way-way too much Batmobile. I wasn't aware it was possible to have too much Batmobile but this game manages to achieve it pretty early. Part of the problem is the Batmobile is shoe-horned into just about every single stage in the game as well as all of the puzzles. The Riddler has even built a bunch of Super Mario Kart-esque races across town for the Batman to participate in, which is just, well, weird. I mean, surely, there's a better villain for that? I dunno, Roxy Rocket?
|Edward Nygma: race-car enthusiast.|
He shouldn't be doing urban combat against a small army with machine-guns and cannons. I want to punch colorful villains in the face, not blow up Skynet's robot forces. It doesn't help that gliding around the city with your grapple gun is much-much more fun than smashing away people with the Batmobile's electrical charge as well.
There's some truly great moments scattered throughout the game. Scenes like Jim Gordon learning Batman has been lying to him all these years about his daughter, Batman's struggle to keep it together when everything is falling apart, and the genuinely affecting moments where you're racing against the clock to keep the city from being destroyed with fear gas. I also think the game has some of the best jump-scares outside of Dead Space. Overall, though, the pacing for this game is all off.
|Nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh TANK MAN! TANK MAN! TANK MAN!|
I have a few other minor nitpicks but nothing which really stands-out. I appreciate the game taking the time to give you a bunch of Batman skins from a variety of the character's media interpretations. The chance to be Michael Keaton's Batman is awesome because he was the one who introduced me to the franchise. Indeed, my biggest regret about this game isn't the bugginess or off-storytelling but the fact I can't drive THAT Batmobile around during the game. If I had been able to do that, I would have said "screw everything else, 10 out of 10."
In conclusion, I think Arkham Knight is a fun game which has a lot going for it. I'm certainly inclined to finish the game and play around with it for hours and hours. However, the game isn't up to the same standard set by the previous volumes. I think it's a step down from Origins as well, at least in terms of storytelling. The gameplay is top-notch, however, and even the tank-segments are addictive. I just hope any future installments of the game have a tighter focus on storytelling and more Batman being Batman versus Tankman.