Be a superhero they said, it’ll be fun they said. After beating dozens of thugs within an inch of their lives, fiddling with countless gadgets and mastering the art of a Batmobile handbrake turn - we can safely say that yes, being The Batman is indeed fun, his story is always marred with tragedy, and this game is no exception.
The Knight himself comes across as a disappointingly one note character, intensely hating Batman for some past, unknown hardship - which you find out about later in the game. His knowledge of Batman’s fighting style equips enemies with a few new tricks which make sneaking around more difficult, but ultimately the reveal of the Knight’s identity is fairly inconsequential, which is a shame after all the secrecy and build up, not to mention the final encounter being more of a cut scene than an all out battle.
...the Batmobile is both a nice change of pace and a frustrating experience which becomes essential once too often to remain endearing...
On the friendly side, Jim Gordon is back with daughter Barbara (a.k.a Oracle) to back Batman up, though largely they just end up being caught up in the danger.. There’s also Robin, Catwoman and Nightwing swinging around, who can be controlled briefly on a few occasions in a new duel fight mode, which allows you to switch characters and execute team takedowns at the same time.
Generally this implementation of characters seems a lot more natural than Catwoman’s stint in City (providing you had the DLC…), which felt far removed from Batman and saw you going to certain places on the map to swap to the character - leaving Batman standing around in the meantime. Here there’s a strong sense that all the characters exist with their own motivations rather than being at Batman’s beck and call.
The gadgets and moves remain mostly unchanged from City, in a great example of not fixing what isn’t broken. The sheer variety of enemy types can be a bit overwhelming at times, leading to a few frustrating deaths, and there’s more fun to be had in picking people off silently than engaging in a bigger brawl. Random encounters on the streets of Gotham seem both less frequent and less significant this time too, thanks largely to the game’s newest and most obvious mechanic - The Batmobile.
The introduction of a vehicle which is indestructible to standard enemies is a double-edged sword. How can you make it feel like Batman is in danger when he can simply knock out dozens of thugs at press of a button from behind inches of armoured plating? The answer is escalation. The Arkham Knight’s arsenal includes a vast army of unmanned tank drones (which all have their own operators, presumably cooped up in a dark building somewhere playing something like a tank simulator game).
Tank battles call for the Batmobile’s tank mode, which boasts a 60mm cannon and other countermeasures which you can upgrade over time. When you get to a certain point in the story you find all the upgrades you’ve been teased with - forced to choose one of two to unlock periodically by Q-alike Lucius Fox - are instantly unlocked anyway, making the whole thing a little bit of an empty choice.
From a gameplay point of view the Batmobile is both a nice change of pace and a frustrating experience which becomes essential once too often to remain endearing. Encounters with the virtually indestructible Cobra tanks are a real lesson in patience, since their attacks are pretty devastating and a single hit can cut down your health by 50%, and the Batmobile’s awkward controls can make getting moving to escape particularly challenging.
One odd design choice from Rocksteady was to have the tank mode mapped to the left trigger by default - the natural place for the break - making mastering the vehicle a struggle on default settings. Luckily after the first mission to introduce it, you can change the toggle in the options which makes everything much easier, but there’s no way to know about that option without hearing about it outside the game or stumbling across it in the options menu.
The plot is probably the most grounded of the three Arkham titles, emptying the city with a massive public threat at the beginning of the game. Those that remain are thugs ripe for beating, or electrocuting if you’re using the Batmobile. Their moments seem a bit random and unfocused compared to City, where they at least seemed to stand around in groups and wore their various bosses’ colours proudly.
Some of the nicest moments in the game are short but sweet. One mechanic which sees you recreate a car crash digitally and scrub through the footage is the time when you feel most like the world’s greatest detective - similar to analysing Deadshot’s bullet holes in the last game - but these elements are few and far between compared to the out-and-out action scenes.
Another element is the flashbacks and hallucinogenic moments, where you are a passenger moving through the game for the most part, but the style with which these parts of the game are executed is excellent.
Despite being an open world game, the way the plot is framed makes it feel urgent to the extent that you don’t want to get drawn into the side missions (of which there are many), making any peril not handled by the main plot seem a little superfluous, since there is no consequences to leaving kidnapped characters in jeopardy or areas of the city undefended, for example.
Arkham Knight set out to let you ‘be the Batman’ one more time, with this developer at least, and the team have hit all the notes they wanted to - you feel like Batman playing this game. It’s unfortunate that the PC release has brought down what is otherwise a very positive impression of the title.
Those who haven’t jumped into this world will find everything they need here, and a lot of content on offer to keep them occupied. While there are umpteen DLC bonuses on offer which you may feel like you are missing out on - don’t worry, you aren’t missing anything important.