June 27, 2015
Batman: Arkham Knight seemed too big, too ambitious. We were worried that the Batmobile might shift focus away from the core Arkham experience that we'd end up with a game spread too thin across its massive rendition of Gotham. Fans of Arkham Asylum didn't really dig Arkham City's open-world, so surely an even greater expanse would end up simply being Batman does GTA, right?
Granted, much of Batman: Arkham Knight is designed around the Batmobile, but it never detracts from the overall experience of delivering on Rocksteady's core mantra of 'Be the Batman'. In a nutshell, Batman: Arkham Knight is a towering achievement: the perfect marriage of narrative, open-world and hero fantasy, giving The Witcher 3 a serious run for its money in the game of the year stakes. Yeah, we went there.
Initial concerns that Arkham Knight's Batmobile might shift focus too much soon fade away once you're let loose in Gotham, as you realise that for the most part it's simply another weapon in Batman's arsenal, enabling you to swiftly traverse the city's decaying streets, ejecting from the seat to glide across the world at incredible speed. Gliding is still how you'll get around for the most part, and Rocksteady has been sure to lavish plenty of attention on expanding the Dark Knight's traversal and combat prowess.
Arkham Knight's core narrative is a fascinating yarn in which Scarecrow holds Gotham City to ransom with a potent fear toxin he's threatening to unleash. The eponymous Arkham Knight, meanwhile, is a military expert well-versed in combatting anything Batman throws his way, and his head-to-head encounters with the caped crusader are among some of the most tense and enthralling you'll experience. Batman has his work cut out putting the menagerie of villains out of action once again.
Beyond the exemplary story component in Arkham Knight, you'll find a variety of side-missions that can be tackled at any time you see fit. If you want a break from chasing down Scarecrow, you can veer off-piste to rescue captive firemen, attempt to apprehend Firefly, bring a serial killer to justice, foil a series of bank heists, destroy The Penguin's weapon caches and systematically uproot Arkham Knight's military forces piece by piece.
That's just for starters. You'll still find hundreds of Riddler trophies to collect, riddles to solve and a host of Riddler Trials that go far beyond just conquering subterranean race tracks. Only a handful are proper races. Some involve using the Batmobile's battle mode to solve puzzles without time constraints, while others are more traditional conundrums that require a little lateral thinking. Batman: Arkham Knight is full of surprises.
Perhaps most surprising is the sheer amount of detail that Rocksteady has managed to cram into every dark and foreboding corner of Gotham. From the most towering skyscraper right down to the tiniest crack in the pavement or scratch and scuff on Bats' cowl, Batman: Arkham Knight is one of the most remarkable looking games we've seen yet on current hardware, pushing the envelope to another level entirely. It's quite remarkable and changes throughout the story. Perpetual rainfall soon gives way to other environmental changes as you progress, ensuring that Gotham City remains an immersive place to inhabit.
Narrative twists and turns also send huge ripples through Batman's world during Arkham Knight, as Rocksteady wraps up its trilogy in the most devastating way imaginable. As the concluding chapter, anything can happen during Batman's manic, freewheeling quest to stop Scarecrow at any cost, and invariably it does, pulling the rug out from under your feet at a moments' notice.
Nothing is ever quite as it seems, as Rocksteady scratches away at the veneer beneath the cowl and bat ears, exposing the mental disturbance that runs deep within Batman's fractured superhero psyche. The Dark Knight is forced to reflect on past failures, contemplating his role as Gotham's saviour. It's heavy stuff.
Bats isn't alone on his quest to stamp out Scarecrow, however, as he's joined by Robin, Nightwing and Catwoman during certain side-missions that make good use of Arkham Knight's new Dual Play feature. This means you're able to temporarily assume control of Batman's allies mid-combo, stringing together some awesome Freeflow moves that can clear a room in minutes. Another string to Batman's bow, the whole thing is just an unreserved joy.
Arkham Knight sees the series polished and refined to within an inch of its life, its best-in-class combat feeling even meatier and more effortlessly gratifying than ever before. Not only is Batman even more versatile and brutally uncompromising at the very height of his powers, but the whole gameplay experience simply feels smoother, with counter attacks seamlessly flowing into rhythmic martial arts moves, as Bats takes on multiple foes with bone-crunching grace and style.
If we were to level a criticism at Arkham Knight, it would be the repetition of skirmishes against seemingly endless battalions of tanks using the Batmobile's battle mode. They're perfectly fine and not objectionable to play, but these sections prove to be a weak link in what is otherwise an almost perfect game. Blasting waves of tanks becomes increasingly commonplace as you progress, but doesn't manage to detract from the story and side objectives.
As for optional stuff, there's plenty of it to soak up, although Challenge Rooms have been nixed in favour of AR Challenges spun out across combat, predator and Batmobile-based objectives. Leaderboard bragging rights and trophies are at stake, so there's no doubt you'll want to get swept up in them all once you're finished with the core Arkham Knight campaign, which in itself conservatively offers a solid 15-20 hours worth of play time.
As such, the trophy list has an excellent spread across this massive wealth of content, rewarding completion of every Riddler Trial, bank heist, fireman rescue and so on, as well as collection of every Riddler trophy. Most of the trophies are hidden away as secret, and cover every milestone reached during the story, so simply completing the narrative itself reaps a nice complement of trophies. Overall, this is a strong list that's not too hung up on achieving perfection, but rather covering all of the ground it should.
An outstanding accomplishment, Batman: Arkham Knight is the culmination of everything Rocksteady has been working towards with its Arkhamverse. That it's the end is lamentable, but it means that this is a game to be utterly savoured and cherished. Alongside The Witcher 3, Arkham Knight feels like the beginning of an open-world renaissance that we hope doesn't go away any time soon. Batman: Arkham Knight is a brilliant game that encapsulates everything that makes Batman, Batman. A work of unbridled genius.
A brilliant score that's subtle at the right moments and ramps up when it should. The voice acting is also exemplary as always, showing exactly how it's done. Perfect.
Utterly jaw-dropping, Batman: Arkham Knight is not only a faithful, living, breathing rendition of crime-ridden Gotham, but one of the most visually accomplished games we've ever seen.
Refined and expanded in meaningful new directions, Arkham Knight's combat and traversal is superlative. Less convincing is the Batmobile tank battling, though zipping around the city in pursuit mode is good fun.
A generously proportioned story component and a stack of side missions that make good use of Batman's rogue's gallery of super villains, there's plenty to do in Arkham Knight, and more than adequate replay value.
AR Challenge stars to be earned, story bits to be completed and trophies for every stage of the super villain based side missions, this is a list with excellent spread that ticks all of the right boxes.
An uncompromising, visionary conclusion to Rocksteady's Arkham trilogy, Batman: Arkham Knight is the world's greatest detective in the world's greatest superhero game. Even the presence of an overused Batmobile doesn't dampen the experience. It's simply incredible, hitting you like a batarang square in the face. Be the Batman? Yes, please.