Well… Here goes.
For full disclosure, I have completed the main campaign of the game along with a number of side missions, all of which equal around 70% completion. I’m also a huge DC Comics nerd.
Batman: Arkham Knight was set to be a Game of the Year frontrunner – and the explosive climactic chapter of Rocksteady’s Arkham Trilogy (we’re not counting Origins, since neither do Rocksteady). This game delivers on so many levels, but for each triumphant step forward it takes, it repeatedly shoots itself in the foot.
Lets start with the positives, because where the game succeeds, it really comes into its own. The game excels at the hand-to-hand combat aspect, with punches, kicks and takedowns feeling more effective and brutal than ever before in the series. Rocksteady do little tampering with the combat for Arkham Knight, cause if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and the result is an adrenaline soaked ride that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat.
The voice acting is arguably the best of the series, with newcomers Jonathan Banks, Ashley Greene and John Noble in particular doing fantastic work with the characters of Gordon, Oracle and Scarecrow, respectively. Kevin Conroy is once again on the ball for the role of Batman, all of which combine to make the characters feel more realised and emotional than ever before. This is the only game since The Last of Us where I’ve wanted to go and find other work the actors have done – it’s that good.
*SPOILERS* – The plot hits the ground running – Scarecrow threatens Gotham with his fear toxin, causing the entire city to evacuate. To make matters worse, the mysterious new Arkham Knight has emerged to lend Scarecrow a hand, and has a particular vendetta – and an entire army of militia, tanks and drones – to bring against Batman in particular.
The plot starts out strong, and keeps trending upwards, with minimal petty tasks and fetch quests. However once the fear toxin begins to affect Batman and the resulting hallucinations of the apparently deceased Jason Todd come into play, the mystery surrounding the Arkham Knight quickly dissipates, leaving a gaping hole in the plot that the main villain can do little to save.
Speaking of main villains, Scarecrow only gets three encounters with Batman throughout the entire plot, and while they’re dynamic, he is confined mostly to TV screens throughout the game. While John Noble still does an amazing job making Scarecrow menacing and demented, I couldn’t help feel that the characters could’ve done with a little more screen time, particularly as he is reduced to arguing with the Arkham Knight in the latter stages of the game.
All through the game, Batman is plagued by visions of the Joker, who was killed at the end of Arkham City. Whilst being a nice twist, and showing Batman loosing some of his humanity, the endgame for this really doesn’t pay off, as the final ‘boss fight’ of the game is merely Batman defeating the Joker within his mind, which means he could mentally beat out an infection? Yeah, I’m still a bit stumped on that one.
Whereas the plot disappoints slightly in the latter stages, the gameplay itself disappoints throughout the entirety of Batman: Arkham Knight. Rocksteady were understandably keen to implement the Batmobile in the game, however this is done extremely heavy-handedly, with the majority of the game itself being devoted to driving around in the vehicle and taking out the Arkham Knight’s drone tanks.
This really bothered me, as doing this really undermines what the series has been about so far – close quarters, fast paced combat. Instead of this, we get hours of tank battles, and I’d even go so far as to say we probably get more tank orientated combat than actual hand-to-hand combat, which clearly shows that the game isn’t playing to the strengths of the series. We get predator situations very rarely in Batman: Arkham Knight, another example of how the game puts far too much focus on the Batmobile.
The side quests, although largely entertaining and once again filled with DC Comics characters, continue to wrongly place the focus of the game on the Batmobile. For example the entire side quest storyline with Firefly involves pursuing him in the Batmobile – and not much else. It’s unfortunate that Rocksteady would place the focus of the game on the car, as it handles particularly poorly, and the tank combat really isn’t much else apart from repetitive and boring.
What should have been a Game of the Year contender and climactic finale is a disjointed mess of a disappointing plot and a poor, forced focus on tank combat. Batman: Arkham Knight fails to play to the strengths of the previous entries in the series, placing a focus on the Batmobile and not much else. While the voice cast is stellar, the script tight and emotional and the hand-to-hand combat as good as ever, these can’t save a game that forces the Batmobile in at every opportunity, and a disappointing plot that fails to capitalise on mystery and intrigue.