The Batman: Arkham series has in many ways laid the foundations for what a modern videogame adaptation should be, as well as what a modern open-world action-adventure game where you play a single extremely powerful individual should be. It is distinctly possible to say that a new game is “Arkham-esque.” But when it comes to a 4th title in the franchise, what is there left to do with the character, concept and gameplay form that hasn’t yet been done?
Arkham Knight is chronologically the sequel to 2011’s Arkham City, and it is also the next title developed by Rocksteady since then, as 2013’s Arkham Origins was developed by Warner Bro’s in-house department. The series has felt like it’s shown us all the major angles of Batman that could be viewed in this universe, and so, Arkham Knight takes the very sensible route of feeling like a form of closure to the Arkham Universe’s Batman. To that end, it’s bigger and more expansive than ever before.
A year after the events of Arkham City and the death of the Joker (4-year-old spoiler), Gotham seems to have entered a new period of calm and peace. However, a terror attack by Scarecrow causes the city to be evacuated by all except the criminal classes and supervillains. Joining the police in trying to reassert control is Batman, who must not only contend with these known enemies, but with a powerful new militia run by the mysterious figure known as the Arkham Knight.
In regards to the Arkham Knight himself, he’s a more interesting character at the start of the game than at the end, as it soon becomes incredibly easy for any Batman fan to guess who he actually is, and even for non-fans, the game doesn’t exactly make it difficult to work out. As his mystique is diminished, so too is his effectiveness as a driving villain in the story. He does, however, have some good moments, and occasionally works well as a Batman parallel figure in terms of how you must combat him, but his status as Scarecrow’s subordinate does, in fact, point out who the real power is in the story.
The story as a whole is competent, but not as skillfully handled as Arkham City’s. There’s a good feeling of “anyone can die,” unusual in a comic book setting of any kind, and various plot points are handled well as themes. The best of these is probably the declining mental state of Batman himself, represented by Joker, who exists as a figment of Batman’s subconscious and follows him around, offering commentary and popping up at random points to act in completely unexpected ways (after all, he’s not really there.) This was handled extremely well in my opinion, and I was constantly amused/bemused by the way he was written and presented. Anyone who was finally glad that the Joker was gone will, however, be a bit disappointed.
The setting itself is larger than ever, comprising the 3 islands of Gotham central, each with recognizable districts, designs and buildings of various shapes and sizes and depth. Travel is accomplished through Batman’s regular gadgetry, as well as the focal new feature of the game, the Batmobile. The Batmobile has two main forms, a driving, and a combat form. Both control smoothly and switching between them is quite simple and quick. Using it is very fun, but it can be felt that the game relies on the car very much, and an enormous amount of activities involve the car in some way, perhaps to the detriment of the game as a whole.
The remainder of gameplay is split into exploration, sneaking around, the use of gadgets, and combat. Combat is as enjoyable as ever with the FreeForm system that makes one feel so powerful while still being challenging, and the use of gadgets and clever ways to take down enemies keeps the feeling of being Batman quite well. The game is quite expansive, with a wide array of sidequests of complete, although personally I could have done without yet another array of about 250 Riddler trophies to collect.
Batman: Arkham Knight is in the end a very good game, and a very good sequel, although that was perhaps to be expected. It’s not without its flaws: it feels a little less “wow” then the series did a couple years back, and perhaps after this it’s time to move in a new direction. Other minor issues like the Batmobile and the sometimes inconsistent difficulty detract from it in small ways, but never so much that the game is ruined irredeemably. On PS4 the game plays wonderfully and has a rich level of graphical detail, but on PC the game is often unplayable, so anyone thinking of buying it there should wait until it has been properly patched before doing so.
If Arkham Knight was the first entry in the franchise, it would have been my Game of the Year without a doubt. As it is, it’s an extremely fun jaunt into the world of being Batman that should keep most people happy for a good many hours.