The rain was coming down hard. Hard enough to wake me from my sleep. And in those first few moments, I was genuinely unsure if the rain was real or if it was simply the downpour in Gotham that was still buzzing in my head. Staying up until four in the morning gliding through the skyline will do that, I guess.
So as not to bury the lede, I’ll just start by saying this: I’m loving Batman: Arkham Knight. There are some issues, but overall this is the kind of game I was hoping for.
We’ll start with the story, because that was my biggest concern during my pre-release anxiety stage. I’ve been struggling with how to talk about the story, though, because it’s a little difficult to explain why I like it and why it works so well without going into spoilers.
And while I thought about throwing up a big ol’ SPOILER ALERT warning, the unexpected reveals were just too fun, and I don’t want to contribute to stealing that experience from anyone. There were a number of times I told the TV, “No fucking way!” and that’s going to be the best way to experience it. Plus, the ending is broken into three stages based on how many of the side missions you’ve completed, and since I’ve only seen the ending to the main story campaign, I could be missing things. So I’m going to keep it vague.
After the incident at Arkham Asylum, Scarecrow has returned with designs for the city of Gotham. The experience has changed him, and he is more ambitious and terrifying than ever before. While his plan revolves around releasing fear toxin on the city, it’s really more about humiliating Batman and destroying the myth of the Dark Knight. Aiding him is the Arkham Knight, who has his own personal reasons for wanting Batman dead. For being a character fans have never seen before, the story does a good job in establishing how much of a threat he is. With his own army and knowledge of Batman’s tactics, he is a perfect foil to the more behind-the-scenes menace of Scarecrow.
The best Batman stories delve into the psychology of Batman, his rogues gallery, or both. Arkham Knight is all about the psychology of its hero, and the way it goes about exploring it is pretty exceptional. The story not only focuses on Batman’s relationships with the other characters, but his own personal failures in dealing with them. This is a great direction to go, especially since this is the last game in the franchise, and it keeps the greatest threat an internal one. Anyone who has played the other Arkham games knows how well these games can take internal conflict and make a more tangible experience, and they continue to amaze in that regard.
The combat is mostly unchanged from the earlier titles, with a few small changes. The addition of the Multi Fear Takedown is pretty fantastic. Dropping down from above and taking out a group of enemies in a moment is such a Batman thing to do and it never made me not giggle to myself. The environment is more interactive, allowing you to use light fixtures, fences, etc. to smash baddies into. Dropping an overhead light onto an enemy’s head just feels fun. The ability to switch between characters at various points and unleash Dual Takedowns is also extremely satisfying. There are few things in life better than ping-ponging bad guys between Batman’s fists and Nightwing’s feet.
Some other tweaks are less welcome. Whereas before selecting gadgets could be done in the game using the D-pad, Arkham Knight forces you to access a special menu to switch between them. It was a particular problem during the Predator sections of the game, where it had a tendency to kill your momentum as you pick off enemies. The map has gone through some cosmetic changes as well. This one comes down to personal preference, but I prefer the older map interfaces. For me, this new layout made it harder to see exactly where a Riddler Trophy was located in relation to the actual surroundings.
Arkham Knight is also the most challenging game in the series. As mentioned before, the Arkham Knight is already acquainted with Batman’s techniques. This mean that early on in the game, his mercenaries already know to check grates and plant explosives on the ledges you would normally perch. From the get-go, the game forces you to quickly adapt and adjust your strategies.
The Riddler Challenges also get some upgrades, mostly by requiring the use of the Batmobile to solve puzzles. Some of them swerve past challenging into just being frustrating, but it adds new wrinkles to the typical ways you can access trophies.
Oh yes. Let’s talk about the Batmobile, arguably the biggest selling point of the game. For the first couple hours of gameplay I hated the Batmobile. A lot of it had to do with the controls; it doesn’t handle like you normally expect a video game car to and it took a while for me to get used to it. The other reason is that the first couple hours of the game focus so heavily on the Batmobile I began to worry that this was all Arkham Knight would be. Eventually, the game gets the need to ram its new toy down your throat out of its system
Once that happened, I warmed up to the Batmobile. A little. It’s not that blowing away tanks isn’t fun, but every time I started on one of the Batmobile missions it felt like I had been dropped into a different game. I play these games to be Batman, goddammit, not engage in battle mech shootouts. It is by far my least favorite part of the game, and a bit of a misstep (the first real one) for the franchise.
The game also has to bend backwards to prevent you from going GTA with the Batmobile, since Batman doesn’t kill and all. The tanks and copters are unmanned drones, and the ammunition is automatically switched to non-lethal rounds whenever you target people. When you are cruising through the streets at high speeds, the Batmobile conveniently has an electric force field that shocks and sends bad guys flying away from the vehicle. We don’t want any road kill in the streets of Gotham, do we?
Even with my mixed feelings on the Batmobile, the game is great. I get why they added the Batmobile. It does shake things up and it is an integral part of Batman lore. It just isn’t as much fun as the rest of the game. The story more than makes up for any shortcomings its inclusion brings, and the rest of the gameplay is as spot-on as ever. After a week of playing Arkham Knight, it’s still all I really want to do with my free time (sorry for missing your graduation party, little sis). And while I am sad that this will be the last game, I am happy they are choosing to go out on a high note rather than ride the franchise to death like Assassin’s Creed.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a city to scour for Riddler Trophies.