Batman Arkham Knight Review: Gotham’s Finest

Rocksteady have single-handedly negated the stigma associated with video games based on cross-media intellectual property.  There’s a continual expectation these games games, based on movies, books or comic are typically terrible, yet with the Arkham series Rocksteady has shown us just how to handle these properties, and transition their qualities into a terrific video game. Batman Arkham Knight is no different in this regard, as we see Batman make a triumphant outing onto current generation hardware.

Arkham Knight begins a little more spectacularly than is typical for the series this time around, as you’re very quickly introduced to the games mechanics, both old and new. Combat is as viceral and Batman-esque as ever, as Batman dispenses his foes with seemlessly flowing close quarter combat manuvers, however it’s the games vehicle that comes as the gameplay highlight in Arkham Knight. Vehicle gameplay is integrated to the very core of this game, and that provides a rather stark contrast to the rest of the series. The Batmobile is the fastest means of navigating the city allowing you to thunder around Gotham’s criminal ridden streets destroying just about anything in your path. Equipped with various lethal and non-lethal weapons the Batmobile is a little more destructive than fans may be accustomed to from Batman, however the vehicles more destructive properties reserved only for unmanned vehicles and environmental destruction.

Once again another supervillianous threat plagues Gotham, but this time around you get the sense that much more is at stake. While I won’t spoil anything, Batman Arkham Knights plot is masterfully written, keeping you in engaged with thoughtful and deliberate integration of narrative and gameplay. This is a crucial component to why Batman Arkham Knight works so well, it has a phenomenal narrative focus and when combined with the diverse gameplay styles there’s little to no opportunity for the experience to lose your interest.

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Gameplay is comprised of a blend between puzzle solving, navigation (either with Batman’s natural agility or via the Batmobile), vehicular combat, stealth and hand to hand combat. Puzzles themselves are almost always unique, requiring that you solve the particular predicament in a novel, and usually interesting way. For instance there was a segment where I had to use the Batmobile as a counterbalance for an elevator, allowing Batman to be lifted to one of the upper floors of a building. While hand to hand combat sequences often feature novel environmental aspects providing visually spectacular combat arenas, or direct interaction through environmental attacks.

The Batmobile is introduced as a means of ‘evening the odds’ and considering the heavily armed forces (including an arsenal flying assault drones, and unmanned tanks) there’s it’s quite easy to see the Batmobile’s use explained within the context of the games narrative. Gameplay with the Batmobile is perhaps a little more than you would expect for vehicular based sequences, as the Batmobile is demonstrated to be very versatile with its integration throughout action, puzzle and traversal sequences. It’s mostly intelligently integrated, feeling like an asset to Batman’s arsenal rather than something that’s been forced in the developer is short on ideas, but some may not like how stark a departure the Batmobile offers from the traditional Batman Arkham series gameplay sequences.

Using the Batmobile in its tank mode is a particular pleasure, as Batman is bombarded by unmanned drones and must take them down with an arsenal of weapons onboard the Batmobile. An interesting feature of these gameplay segments it he manner in which Batman can visualize the expected trajectory of enemy projectiles in order to perform preemptive evasive maneuvers. This mechanic enables you to deal with large amounts of forces without feeling overwhelming or unfair, allowing these sequences to feel like truly large scale battles as the Batmobile is often pit against over 20 or 30 tanks at any one time.

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Gameplay unfolds to some degree as the game progresses, but perhaps not as significantly as some would have liked. While a small number of new gadgets are introduced there are very few that truly change the combat style, with many of the upgrades for Batman merely offering flashier alternatives to certain combat manoeuvres rather than progressively evolving these gameplay sequences. Additional characters are also playable alongside Batman, throughout the campaign, but unfortunately these offer no variation in gameplay styles. Whether you’re playing as Robin, Catwoman or Batman you can hit the same pattern of attacks and you’ll achieve the same end.

Batman’s hand to hand combat itself is remarkably fluid, as you may have come to expect from the Arkham series of Batman games. Pressing attack repeatedly allows Batman to chain attacks from one enemy to the next, in a manner that feels very natural. Counters can be performed with triangle, and there are a number of extra abilities enabling you to perform other feats on foes, such as stuns or disarms. Occasionally, contextual takedowns are available that enable you to dispense with a foe in a manner unique to the particular environment or battle. These range from dual take-downs with Robin or Catwman, to environmental takedowns as Batman utilizes environmental hazards. These are all very flashy but require very little input from the player.

The flowing combat goes a long way to making you feel like you’re Batman, as you chain attacks across every enemy in the entire room, it truly feels as though you’re playing as the Batman you know from the comics or movies. Unfortunately the free-flowing combat system comes with a sacrifice of control. Sometimes it’s difficult to target exactly which target you want to attack within a crowd, and as Batman performs any number of animations from any attack button you press, it can be hard to predict his movements on-screen at times. Occasionally I would found myself failing a counter simply because Batman decided to perform a longer-than usual animation, or getting hurt because Batman decided to attack the guard next to the guard I had hoped he would. It doesn’t offer the tact or precision that slower paced or more methodological combat systems offer (e.g. Devil May Cry, Legend of Zelda), but it does go a long way to making you feel like Batman with the pacing and feel of the combat systems being suited to batman’s style of fighting fans will be familiar with the comics or other media.

Gameplay segments are interceded and woven together by the games narrative, and Rocksteady have done wonders to keep each of these segments interesting to ensure that you don’t spend too long partaking in any one particular task. If you place your focus on side missions then some of these can seem a little more on the repetitive side, with less narrative to pace these segments of the game. However these site quests still manage to offer terribly entertaining diversions from the core experience when taken in smaller doses.

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Unlike previous Batman games produced by Rocksteady, Batman Arkham Knight also features considerably more freedom with regards to how you manoeuvre around the city. Depending on your preferences you can spend more time on foot, in the batmobile, or gliding and grappling through the skies and with each style of movement you get a completely different experience of gotham. Each of these movement options blend together as you learn to transition seemlessly between Batmobile, aerial traversal, and on-foot combat sequences and really begin to feel like Batman as you experience the game.

Depending on your preference you can choose to avoid the vehicle or aerial segments of the game. I personally really enjoyed driving the Batmobile around the city, not only because it’s faster, but because it’s a hell of a lot of fun tear up the streets. The batmobile can quite literally tear up Gotham, as you’re able to career through just about anything littering its streets, ranging from lamposts and fences to concrete pillars and even gas stations. Rocksteady have added considerable amount of destructibility to the game and it not only makes vehicular sequences look visually spectacular but provides you with plentiful freedom when traversing with the car as you’re able carve your own path through the city.

The only truly disappointing aspect of Arkham Knight is found in its final hours. Like other Arkham games, Rockysteady just haven’t grasped the ability to wrap their games up with a satisfying conclusion. While the journey has its share of twists and turns, the final moments find themselves  turn out to be terribly predictable and cliched. Rocksteady largely avoid creating boss fights throughout the game, favouring more cinematic instances of traditional gameplay, but unfortunately this just doesn’t cut it in the games final moments. From without providing any spoilers, from both a gameplay and narrative perspective Arkham Knights conclusion is dull and predictable, failing to live up its build up and leaving you with an ‘is that really it?’ feeling.

In all however, Batman Arham Knight is a terrific end to Rocksteady’s Arkham series of Batman titles. While the games conclusion is notably weaker than anticipated, Arkham Knight offers truly thrilling gameplay that makes you feel like Batman more so than any of his previous outings. The freeflow combat, gadget based puzzle solving and batmobile do a tremendously good job keeping gameplay diverse, while providing that authentic Batman experience. Narrative is carefully intertwined with these sequences and will have you eager to press on up until Arkham Knight’s final moments and for those who want to spend longer in Gotham, a plethora of side quests are present, each with an intriguing narrative that will make you want to pursue their conclusion. Overall, Arkham Knight is a brilliant action game and perhaps the best in its series.

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Author: Jozef Kulik

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