|"You have failed this city," said no one ever to Batman because he's Batman.|
"Be the Batman." Rocksteady Studios' marketing campaign for its third - and allegedly final - Batman game recognizes just how much people loved being the Dark Knight in the other Arkham games. From the jaw-droppingly badass combat to the sheer awe experienced while gliding around an immersive Gotham City, the developer knows fans love stepping in the Caped Crusader's dark boots. Rocksteady also knows fans have incredibly high expectations for their latest project since the previous installments raised the bar for comic book video games. Thankfully, Batman: Arkham Knight is epic, appropriately moving, and full of fun.
The game's story really leaves an impression when it's focusing on delving deep into Batman's mind. Sure, this has been the focus countless times before and we all know the basics about who the Dark Knight is and what made him undergo such a drastic change, but that doesn't stop Rocksteady Studios from giving us brilliant and creative insight into the iconic hero. For example, when we're reminded of the death of Batman's parents yet again (for the gazillionth time), the scene swiftly goes in a different direction instead of trying to find new ways to make it emotionally powerful. The ending of Arkham City should be a big deal and thankfully it isn't ignored or just glossed over. The adventure's easily at its strongest when it focuses on Batman's psyche and how that event has not only impacted him, but also how others view him. Luckily for us, focusing on Batman's mentality is pretty frequent and there's some unforgettable sequences as the main story gets closer and closer to its end.
|Spoiler alert: unfortunately, the Arkham Knight isn't Condiment King.|
While I am impressed by the amount of love Scarecrow receives - I sincerely thought he'd be a secondary villain who's cast aside halfway through - the whole mystery surrounding the Arkham Knight is telegraphed pretty heavily. When Batman does finally discover who's behind the mask, it isn't nearly as compelling as it could have been and there isn't any major follow-up. There was a lot of potential there and once the reveal is made, it feels like one of the weaker points of the story. I wouldn't say it's bad, but it just isn't nearly as gripping or moving as it could have been. Also, for such a narrative-driven franchise, it is disappointing the final ending is so sudden and leaves so many questions. The desire to make gamers speculate is perfectly fine (I have 3 theories), but for that to be the final end (presumably) is a bummer. Perhaps that'll be fleshed out in the DLC, but having to pay extra money to fully appreciate an ending seems like a greedy decision. That said, considering the handling of Batman and a few other points (which I won't spoil, obviously), there's much more to this story than the identity of the Arkham Knight. All in all, I believe the story's strengths outweigh the material that's just okay.
Overall, the voice acting is solid. Hearing Kevin Conroy as the Dark Knight and Tara Strong as Harley Quinn is going to make any Batman fan feel all kinds of happy on the inside. There's plenty of dialogue that's pure fan service, too. Some of it is a little heavy-handed, but I'll admit it still made me smile. Despite having some bratty dialogue, Troy Baker's performance as the Arkham Knight does an effective job making you understand the characters blend of hatred, sadness, and confidence. John Noble's perfect as Scarecrow, delivering lines that match the villain's eerie appearance and his dark mission. Aside from a few of Poison Ivy's lines (and can someone please get her a new outfit?), it felt like a fair amount of characters have their chance to steal some of the spotlight and some have the opportunity to effectively land powerful material - a few bits of dialogue with Jim Gordon (Jonathan Banks) and Tim Drake (Matthew Mercer) immediately comes to mind. I have no shame in admitting I was shocked and emotionally moved at least twice during the journey as well. I'd love to elaborate about the few parts that left me stunned, but since it's an enormous spoiler, I'll just have to bite my tongue.
The following is a little spoilery (discusses a character who hasn't appeared in trailers), so skip this paragraph if you don't want any spoilers! Seriously, scroll down. Okay, I'll assume they're gone. So, for everyone else, I just want to say Mark Hamill's performance as the Joker manages to still be completely chilling and captivating. As someone who thought the franchise gave him a too much attention, I'm really impressed by the way the Clown Prince of Crime is handled in this one. I of course won't say how he plays a role, but it's a great way to enhance our emotional connection to Batman and it provides a little more twisted and clever humor. Speaking of humor, I absolutely love the conversations random criminals have as you explore the city. There's some seriously funny dialogue in there, especially after completing the main story.
|Dual team takedowns aren't common but they're worth the wait.|
To no one's surprise, controlling Batman in combat and stealth segments is such a rush. His melee abilities remain badass, fluid, and easy to use. Now there's something called "Fear Takedown" and using it honestly never gets old. They want you to feel like you're Batman and this is the perfect addition to making you feel like you're a gifted, imposing, and swift vigilante. Gadgets remain a joy to utilize in combat and they come in handy since enemies now have medics - characters capable of reviving downed enemies and even giving the recovered foes electric charges. Just like in the previous games, few things in the adventure are more satisfying than stalking criminals and having them walk right into your traps. Thanks to a few cameos, there's also the addition of dual team takedowns. When fighting alongside Catwoman, Nightwing, Robin, or even the Batmobile, Batman can join forces with his ally (or vehicle) to dish out an attack that'll immediately incapacitate the fiend - there's even one boss fight which relies on this.
While there are several boss battles to enjoy and you can tell when you're nearing the end because the game will throw larger and larger hordes of enemies at you, I'm glad the final run of the main mission decides to focus purely on story and character instead of a potentially repetitive boss battle. There's plenty of combat to find and there's plenty more when the story with Scarecrow and Arkham Knight reaches its end, so the decision to deliver an imaginative way to sell the story is hugely appreciated. It really is a great way to really capitalize on all of the buildup.
|Now just $50,000 per month. 0% APR for up to 5 days, too!|
Seeing as the Batmobile is the franchise's big new feature, the vehicle obviously plays a pretty substantial role. As expected, speeding through the elaborate city is exciting and surprisingly enough, it's used to make some puzzles even more interesting. The combat mechanics are solid and they do give the game more variety, but when the regular melee combat, predator scenarios, and detective elements are all so good, I can't help but feel like they went a little overboard with the amount of times you need to fight waves of tank drones. As entertaining as obliterating overwhelming amounts of enemy vehicles may be, using Batman to glide below the cloudy skies or stalk henchmen is way more thrilling.
The visuals are stunning. They did a tremendous job creating a fitting atmosphere for Gotham and I've yet to get tired of staring at all that the city has to offer as I perch on a rooftop or race to my next objective. There's just so much variety sprinkled throughout the city and the framerate never took a noticeable drop (while using a PS4). It really is impressive just how much attention went into crafting this place and filling it with easter eggs. There are so many times I found myself simply rotating the camera around Batman so I could admire the view.
The score plays an equally big part in pulling you into this fictional city. It's downright epic at times - sometimes even overshadowing what's going on - and there's one track that felt beautiful and tragic at the same time. I believe the first time it plays is when Batman's doing something especially heroic and putting himself in a fatal situation. Even though you know he's not going to die that early in the game (totally not a spoiler), it still manages to give the scene so much more weight.
Since I pre-ordered my copy for the Playstation 4, I had immediate access to the Harley Quinn, Red Hood, and Scarecrow missions. Harley Quinn's is the most elaborate mission and it includes exploring, predator sequences, melee fighting, and a boss battle. I didn't keep track of the time, but it was likely 10-15 minutes long at most. Playing as Quinn is pretty fun, especially since she has the ability to go into a frenzy which increases her speed and allows her to knock people out with one swift and oh-so-harsh combo. She may be lighthearted, but her extra vision mode reminds you just how frightening and unpredictable she can be. I imagine fans of a certain Robin won't be too pleased with the mission's outcome, though!
As for Red Hood, the former Robin has 3 challenges: a direct brawl, a predator scenario, and a boss battle (Black Mask). The ability to use his twin pistols is a blast - totally unintentional pun - and his snarky responses are amusing, so this Jason Todd fan (I just lost some of you, didn't I?) is very pleased. Just like with Quinn, his content only took about 10-15 minutes, but their fighting styles are noticeably different.
The Scarecrow missions are just 3 races followed by boss battles (while you're still in the Batmobile). Each race takes roughly a few minutes (assuming you aren't a total disaster at driving) and the boss sequence is just a few more. While the scenery and challenges a giant Scarecrow throws your way are cool, nothing is really done to make each race feel different than the other one. The only noticeable variation is the track. Aside from that, it's the same obstacles and the fight against the giant Scarecrow never undergoes significant changes. Unless you really love driving, it's unfortunately repetitive and doesn't seem to be as creative as it could have been.
|I believe I can Batman. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)|
It's a shame there isn't much replay value with the DLC - why can't I use Harley Quinn or Red Hood in other challenges? - but if you really love these characters and can afford it, then it's worth experiencing. Based on this, I can only assume Batgirl's upcoming story mission will also be 10-15 minutes long. Considering her role in the game, I'm very motivated to see her beat up a ton of bad guys. Here's hoping the extra content in the season pass justifies the whopping $40 price tag. I'm hoping it includes more combat and predator challenges, because as far as I can tell, there's only 4 of each (and they have pre-assigned characters!) yet there's at least 12 Batmobile challenges. Not cool.
Look, I'll be complete honest here: I've got a bit of Bat bias going on. Not only is he one of my favorite DC heroes, but I really, really enjoyed Rocksteady's Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. If you didn't spend a bunch of hours having a good time with those games or don't care all that much for the Dark Knight's world, then this one obviously just isn't for you - the fan service will be lost on you and feeling unstoppable in a Batmobile isn't going to suddenly win you over. However, if you even kind of consider yourself a Batman fan and like the previous games - even just a little bit - then I absolutely recommend playing Arkham Knight. It's a must-buy if you loved the previous games and a rental for casual fans. Sure, a key story element didn't blow me away and that feels like a missed opportunity, but this game is one hell of a ride. Whether you want to think that's a terrible Batmobile pun is entirely up to you.
For the "too long; didn't read" crowd:
+Fighting and exploring as Batman.
+A ton of focus on Batman's psyche.
+The graphics and the way Gotham is brought to life.
+Lots of fan service.
+Plenty of content.
+/- Batmobile's fun but plays too big of a role.
-Arkham Knight's story.
-Only 4 combat and 4 predator challenges. Characters pre-assigned, too.
-Final ending leaves way too many questions.