Note – I’m going to try to avoid putting any spoilers in this review. unfortunately, that means glossing over some big parts of the game. So… sorry about that…
Also, I’m not going to talk too much about the absolutely appalling PC port. I don’t really have enough information about what happened there for me to give any good and useful opinions about that. But yes – it’s terrible that a port that bad was released by such a well-respected and liked studio. I only hope this doesn’t come back to haunt them in later years.
I was excited about this game. I Preordered it over a year before it eventually was released, and was so quick to defend it when I heard complaints, and so quick to turn off any doubts I had in my mind that this game may not be as good as I had hoped. If you’d asked me what games I was excited about back in January, I’d have told you GTA V, The Witcher 3 and most of all Batman: Arkham Knight. That order has changed somewhat after having played all three of these games.
Before I begin, let me cast your mind back to 2009. Seems so long ago. I would have been about twelve years old at the time. It was only the year before when Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ had been released and we were all feeling a bit Batman-ey. That year my brother got Batman: Arkham Asylum for his Christmas present. That was the first game I remember really, genuinely loving. I’ve since played that game a billion and three times and can get through the main story in about five and a half hours (which is impressive for me).
Jump forward to 2011, when Batman: Arkham City was released. My brother and I had been following this game for years – ever since it was announced. We were lucky enough to actually receive our copy a day early. My brother enjoyed it so much he actually completed the game that day and I’ve also played that game a billion and three times.
My nostalgia about the previous games in this post is to express how much this series means to me, how excited I was about Arkham Knight – and how disappointed I was with what it turned out to be.
To understand the failures of Arkham Knight, we must explore the successes of the other games. The best game in the series was Arkham Asylum. That’s not opinion, that’s a scientific fact. The world is very small, but it was still somehow big and complicated, with quite an impressive amount of detail. Around every corner was something to find with some reference to the Batman universe. A lot of what I know about Batman has come from that game. This made exploring the Asylum quite a bit of fun. The world was small but the Asylum felt vast because there was so much to explore in every building and around the gardens – you simply had to stop in every room to have a look around. There was also something very cool about exploring an island where you’ve completely lost control and things are getting progressively worse at every step. It seems the more you progressed in that game, the direr the situation became. The story simple and very easy to understand, which meant that you completely cared about what happened, enough to get through even the most irritating of battles.
Arkham Knight, on the other hand, has quite a large world, which can be explored, but the player doesn’t really have much of an incentive. Gotham is not a very interesting or detailed world. I certainly didn’t care to wander into the buildings and have a look around, mainly because you can’t enter most buildings. The buildings you can enter aren’t very complicated, mostly consisting of one or two rooms, and a fight to do. Gone are the many subtle references in the main campaign to various characters in the Batman universe. Arkham Asylum had a nice little fact file section which popped up when you discovered a new character. It was fun to read and learn more about the characters in the Batman world. It would seem that most of the extra features of the previous two games have been trashed to make this one more serious and epic. It feels a lot less like a game made by people who are big fans of Batman, and more like a game made by fans of The Dark Knight. There’s a big difference.
The story of a game is normally what holds it together. As I have previously written, the stories of both the previous games have been very interesting, fun and compelling. This is because of one main factor: simplicity. Neither story was complicated. They were a bit convoluted, certainly, but that was to keep you guessing and wanting to progress. I can honestly say that at every moment in both previous games I knew what was going on, and could explain it to a five-year-old – which is actually a very good test. In Arkham Knight, I still couldn’t tell you what was actually happening in the game. The story lacked any kind of logic or sense, to the point where I found that I was doing what the game was telling me to do, but I wasn’t entirely sure why it wanted me to do it. All I knew was that it was getting a little bit serious and a little bit dark for it to hold my interest for very long. Stuff was going on, and I wasn’t sure if the story had properly started or was just about to begin. I didn’t feel that Batman was in any danger, or that he didn’t have control of the situation he was in. I was waiting for things to really start, but they never seem to. He seemed to be handling the situation pretty well. Some stuff happened which sort of felt like it could have been a problem, but then never really amounted to anything. The story lacked a lot of much-needed substance.
Rocksteady were very excited to be introducing their own character to the Batman universe: the Arkham Knight. The whole game featured characters asking each other “Who is the Arkham Knight?”, as if their curiosity would rub off on me or something. Truth be told, I didn’t really care who he was, I was mildly surprised when it was eventually revealed, but I never really cared. He was a boring villain. Here is a run down of his profile:
- He hates Batman (like every other villain in the world)
- He has a lot of cash and military training
- He knows stuff about Batman that some other people don’t know
- He’s very angry (like I was when the PC port turned out to be terrible)
That would be about it. That is all the character development we got for him. It meant that I really didn’t care who he was, all I knew was that I was wishing the villain was Joker; he’d bring a bit of life into the game.
The other Main villain of the game is Scarecrow. “Oh! That really fun and interesting guy who was in Arkham Asylum!” You ask . No. He’s grown up and become boring. In this game he is all serious and deep, but not in a good way. He spends the entire time being all sensible and calm, and the game desperately tried to make him come across as scary or super intelligent or something like that. Not the Scarecrow we all loved the first game, who was just completely metal and was going after Batman just for a bit of a laugh. They’ve taken Scarecrow and made him even less interesting than the Arkham Knight – and I can’t imagine that was an easy thing to do.
This means that all the villans in this game just weren’t very interesting. I mean, there was this whole introduction about how all the villans had joined forces to take down Batman, but that’s something I forgot about until someone in the game mentioned it. This really didn’t feel like it really had much to do with anything. The other villans are much more interesting than the main ones, but there was next to no interaction between them and Batman. Think back to City, the main story was written in such a way that you had to go past every other villain in the City to eventually get to Joker. That was a thing about City which I really liked. It provided a bit of separation in the story between who you were dealing with, and added interesting breaks. It ultimately made the game longer. This was also prominent in Asylum, but almost non-existent in Knight. There was simply not enough of the cool, interesting villans for me to really care about their evil plan – or even remember it.
The game heavily hints that you should get on with some side missions in-between bits of the main story, and I would suggest that you do that – even if you just want to get on with the story and find out what happens next. This is because I feel that some of these side missions should have been slotted into the main story somehow, in order to make it more of a satisfying ending when you eventually do get to the end and defeat Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight. I completed the main story and felt a bit empty and dissatisfied with the outcome. This prompted me to just go on. To do loads of the side missions to completion. Let me tell you, they are boring as hell when you are just doing it all together in a big chunk. Take the fireman mission as an example. At the start of the game Batman is informed that the fire crew of Station 17 have gone missing and that he needs to go and rescue them. This basically means predator mode in various places in the city. You go in and sneak around, knock everyone out and rescue a fireman. Sounds fun, right? Not after the sixth fireman, and especially not when you realise that there are ten more to find, sneak around, knock everyone out and rescue the firemen. The game simply stops being fun and becomes repetitive. I don’t feel like I finished the game. I feel like I got bored and left it, because the ending to the main story was so vague and unsatisfying I was left feeling like the game hadn’t actually ended. Nothing changed when I completed the main story, everything kept on going as if I had done nothing.
I can’t belive I’ve come this far without at all mentioning the Batmobile. This was hyped though hell and back by the Rocksteady and Warner Brothers marketing teams. It seems like it was all they were talking about. I wanted to know more about the other aspects of the gameplay. After playing the game, I now know that the Batmobile is in fact the only aspect of the gameplay in Arkham Knight. You spend more time in the Batmobile than out of it in Arkham knight, whether you want to or not. Quite a lot of the missions either involve or entirely take place within the Batmobile. And while the Batmobile is quite fun (I mean, not the best thing ever or anything like that) it does get a little stale a little bit too quickly into the game. The car doesn’t handle very well and is quite difficult to drive, the controls aren’t the standard controls for driving, and this is irritating to get used to, especially with no custom button mapping. The battles in the tank involve shooting and dodging. That’s it. It requires a bit of skill and a good reaction time. At first my thoughts were, “This is quite a cool thing in this game, I quite enjoy this.” My thoughts changed quite a lot by the tenth time I was doing it. It just became boring. The variation in the fights is simply controlled by the number of drones you are attacking. It became very repetitive very quickly. And for the final boos battle to be a tank fight was just disappointing. I wanted to fight some people with my bat-fists, not sit in a car and shoot a cannon at things. That’s not what being Batman is about.
Okay, I think I’ve bashed this game enough. Let’s discuss some of the things I like about it. Belive it or not, I think there are some really cool aspects to the game. I’ll start with Dual Play. People have been asking for CO-OP in these games since the beginning. This is not it. This is something I think is really cool, and better than CO-OP. Batman has quite a few allies, at points in this game one of them will come along and help him out a bit. The player (you and I) has the ability to play as either Batman, or his ally. You can actually switch between them during a fight, and this something which can be used strategically. Picture this: you’re Batman and you’ve just started beating up a brute – this takes a while and you can only knock them out if you complete the beat-down – when in the background, oh no! Some other guy is breaking into a weapons box. They’ll get a gun and ruin everything. Don’t worry; Nightwing is here and with a tap of a button you can switch to him and take down that pesky man who is trying to obtain weapons, while Batman completes the beat-down at the same time. The day is saved. It can also be used as a special combo take down. It’s not the most game-changing feature in the world, but I enjoyed it.
Another great new feature is the improvements made to predator mode (I know that doesn’t count as a feature but just roll with it). Remember those floor grates in the previous games which you never bothered using unless you were forced to? Well in Arkham Knight, you can very easily access them from up high. With a button press, Batman with getting from his high vantage point to under the ground without alerting anyone at all. When I was playing the game, I spent a significant amount of time under the floor and leaping out at people unexpectedly. In fact, it changed the whole way I treated predator mode. I used to rely on inverted take downs, but in Arkham Knight, I used silent take downs from inside the floor vents for ninety percent of the time. They’ve also added a new kind of takedown, useful for dealing with a room of three or four armed thugs. It’s called the Multi-Fear Takedown. Basically, you sneak up on a group of people and press a button, then the game goes into slow motion and you take down each of the thugs using surprise fear tactics. These two things combined have changed predator mode quite a lot and made it much more varied – which is what it needed to be.
For my honor, I should also mention the general improvements made to general combat. Combat is largely the same, but Batman can use many more of his gadgets to deal with some of the most annoying enemies, like the stun-stick people. You can use the bat claw to grab them and they’ll drop their sticks. This is different and in some cases I’ve appreciated it. Although it’s not world-changing or anything.
So, I think that’s about all I had to say on Batman: Arkham Knight. I want to stress that the game was fun. I did enjoy myself while playing the game, it was just not nearly as good as the previous games. I would recommend it once they have finished the PC port fixes, and when the game is a little cheaper. In the mean time, go play Asylum and City. Both are excellent games.