Monday, October 12, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight review

    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.
    The premise of the game is it's been six months since the Joker's death at the hands of, well, his own stupidity. Gotham City has been surprisingly quiet with none of the supervillains rising up to challenge our hero. This changes when Scarecrow returns for the first time since the original Arkhan Asylum game and proceeds to gas a restaurant with his new fear toxin.

    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.
    I was looking forward to a game without the Joker since after three games in the series, I felt the Joker had been overexposed. Arkham City was, in my humble opinion, the best of the Arkham games and there the Joker was a supporting Big Bad versus the main antagonist. Unfortunately, neither Scarecrow nor the Arkham Knight have the gravitas to pull off the role of the Big Bad.

    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.
    This is wholly unnecessary since I figured out who the Arkham Knight was within five minutes of meeting the character. I suspect all comic book fans will do the same while those familiar solely with the games won't get anything out of it because he hasn't been well-established in prior games. It doesn't help the Arkham Knight sounds childish and petulant throughout the game whenever Batman is tearing up his army yet insists he's the biggest threat ever.

    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.
    It doesn't help the plot is hurt by the absence of Paul Dini from the writing staff since every female character in the game but Harley Quinn is kidnapped and held hostage, waiting for Batman to rescue.

    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.

    Now before you think my opinion of the game is wholly negative, I will say there's a lot of positives. The game is gorgeous, easily one of the best-looking I've seen. The developers have truly managed to capture the Gotham City of Tim Burton's Batman and brings it to life in ways both big and small. It is a neon-filled industrial maze full of amazing skyscrapers and disgusting slums. The number of in-jokes and references scattered throughout the game is staggering from the Gray Ghost to Superman.

    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.
    There's also the fact a large portion of the game is vehicle combat with the Batmobile against the Arkham Knight's drone tanks. Aside from the fact the Arkham Knight knows Batman would have be seriously impaired strapping a couple of innocent hostages to the tanks, it just doesn't feel like Batman.

    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!
    The bugginess of the game includes some clip issues, crashing, and a few places where the graphics weren't entirely there. The biggest bug for me, though, is a poor design flaw. If your internet connection is intermittent, then the game stops in the the middle of play to tell you this. This includes for the tiniest interruptions and it meant my game was randomly pausing every few seconds at one point until I finally stopped playing the game online. Then it worked perfectly but it affected my opinion of the game overall.

     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.



  1. Another fine review Charles, many of the points on the game is what I feel, though I didn't really encounter much bugs on my ps4 verison.

    Though compared to the pc version which had to be recalled I imagine we got off lucky compared to those who had the pc version.

    I think overall the game suffered from too much time in development like Bioshock infinite, it's clear at points where the developers threw things in without thinking of if it added something to the game like some of the side stuff like firefly's mission or deathstroke that felt not done so well.

    Plus as you said they overused the batmobile and it was weird to see batman destroying stuff, though some of it I will put down to him losing his grip on his sanity during and before the game. You Roxy Rocket would have been an interesting addition, considering how entendre a lot of her lines were in TNBA.

    The game also raised some uncomfortable facts, like how batman pretty much now runs the GPSD.. I mean this is fiction but when a vigilante is running the police, you know there is very serious problems and questions have to be had on how Bruce is handling his war on crime.

    Though the game to it's credit uses this to show how Bruce is slipping away from his purpose overall.

    The arkham knight stuff was just such a blatant copying of the red hood storyline by Judd Winick that it made the twist so obvious even from a mile away. That and the fact a certain character is mostly responsible for it didn't help when that character has been so overused by the arkham series that it feels they don't know how to use other batman villains.

    Plus the twist late in the game suffers from someone who hasn't been in the other arkham games nor mentioned very much if at all. Plus the actions of the arkham knight with Scarecrow make the very late turn feel very unearned.

    That said the game is beautiful in it's graphic, no loading times part from when first loading the game. Some great stuff like professor pryg side plot and the Harley level. The asylum song being one of the funniest and best moments of the series. Another fab performance from we know who and overall closing out the series pretty well and tying most things up.

    I also liked how the GSPD filled up with mooks and villains as you completed the game, it gave you such a sense of progressment and feeling like your actions were having a little impact.

    I felt apart from how women characters were used, the plot was more coherent compared to City where it felt all over the place. Granted Dini's presence was missed at times in knight, the man is that good at writing batman when he is at his best. Other times I'm not sure if city's storyline problems (namely overuse of joker when Strange was supposed to be the villain, too many villains in the game and the map being too big overall to feel interesting to explore) were down to him or the other Arkham writers.

    The dlc was too short overall, Harley's one was like ten minutes long and added nothing other than why ivy is in the game. Red hood one was same, a real shame since the dlc could have had much potential to fill in the timeslot between City and knight, something they have put to the comic's too many times overall when it would be nice to play those scenario's out.

    But overall I'm going to miss the series if this is the last one, it has been a wonderful mix of BTAS, comic's and film series stuff. along with getting to hear Hamill and Conroy again as their iconic voices. along with other actors like wilgrat as riddler and Noble as scarecrow make their mark on the characters. Plus this series has taken some villains and really done a great job on them like riddler and others.

    All the Easter eggs that really added to each game. Some being some of the cleverest ever done in video games.

    So kudos to Rocksteady for all their work on Arkham series and hope their next project yields them the same success as the Arkham series has.

  2. I'm debating doing a "spoiler-filled" review of the game's story the same way I've done for other games. It seems there's still plenty more to talk about in Arkham Knight, even though this is a pretty long review by comparison.

    Personally, I hope this isn't the last of the Arkham games even though this is the last of the Rocksteady Arkham games. While they did their absolute best to wrap up everything, honestly, there's nothing TO wrap up with Batman. The point of Batman is that he's serialized fiction and I wouldn't mind either another Prequel or even a sequel.

    Though how they'd fix the ending is anyone's guess. I do think they need to take a break from the games for awhile, though. The obvious next ones to do being Superman.

  3. I would say do a spoiler filled review, since it is hard to talk about the game without referring to some of the characters that affect it. Plus it would allow you to go deeper into what you felt didn't work for the story or the characterization.

    Oh I have no doubt that WB will do more batman games, how they do them and if they can match or exceed Rocksteady's games will be the biggest challenge for them. Origins showed that there is potential for EB's own studio to make it's mark.

    A superman game by Rocksteady would be interesting to see, since the mechanic's of batman can be tweaked to fit superman in a few ways, though how powerful they would make superman would be a challenge in itself.

    Also superman can involve plots and abilities that can make it separate from batman like using Darkseid maybe on his own world. I wonder if they would set it in the Arkham universe. There's much possibilities they could do with it. Though hopefully they can avoid doing a Superman 64.

    Plus hopefully they won't rely on Luthor as they have with the Joker for Arkham.

  4. If I wanted to play World of Tanks, I would of purchased World of Tanks.....