When I was a child and obsessed with Pokemon (I even started a Pokemon club at school), I renamed everything in accordance with the Pokemon universe from pokeclub to pokepopcorn. After a while though I realised this was a mistake; popcorn couldn’t be pokepopcorn unless there was something uniquely pokemon about it.
Batman: Arkham Knight, the third and final chapter in the Arkham series is just like my attempt to rebrand everything under the rubric of the game. The phenomenally animated Batman and his Gotham City attempt to make everything a Batman-themed adventure. Batmobile, batarang, batwing, batsuit… it goes on, not only in the stuff that makes up the game but in the way that the game uses them to create a unique and powerful experience.
That’s because in a large sense Arkham Knight is the combination and agglomeration of different games that by themselves are epic in scope and potential.
What you get in this one package is Assassin’s Creed: Batman, Need for Speed: Batman, Uncharted: Batman and a few others thrown in for good measure. The genius of Rocksteady Games then is not in the individual components (with the potential exception of the Batmobile, which I’ll come to in a second) but how well they’ve been put together into a continuous and interconnected game world.
The meat of Arkham Knight isn’t so different from the rest of the series.
Batman, in a direct sequel to Batman: Arkham City, is again faced with a terrifying evil against which only he can stand up to, by beating people up, sleuthing against one of the many super villains in the Batman universe and generally growling at people he loves and people who will soon get a Batmobile-assisted beatdown.
In addition to the story there are the usual side quests, AR challenges from Alfred and Riddler challenges, far too many of which centre on the Batmobile. There’s a good amount of content to get through, and if you want to get the real ending of the game you will, annoyingly, need to do so.
That said, racing through the umpteenth Riddler challenge doesn’t feel so much of a burden when Gotham has never felt so real, with top-notch graphics in the PS4 version of the game. Unconstrained by last-generation hardware the graphics have taken a large turn upwards for the better as rain glistens convincingly off Batman’s suit and every 3D model is stunningly rendered. The game even includes a gallery section to show these off.
It really feels like the first true “next-gen” games for graphical fidelity and accurateness.
Further, the 3D beat-em-up combat is still a joy, and is easily the best out there. It feels very similar to last year’s Shadow of Mordor, which itself leant heavily on previous Batman games. Just like that game, there are a huge number of unique and weighty fight moves you’ll need to remember to make sure the Bat survives each encounter.
New to Arkham Knight is the ability in some fights to team up and switch between Batman and his allies, including Catwoman, Nightwing and Robin. Most of the allies feel very similar to Batman, but it makes for a nice variation in style if not in tone.
Combined with its stealth mechanics, fantastic open world traversal (including now being able to call on the Batmobile at any time by simply pressing L1) and compelling story Batman Arkham Knight feels like a mature, considered end to the series.
I was constantly amazed at the number of tiny, incidental details that the game threw up, from grunts reactions to seeing Batman to almost unnoticeable elements on textures and 3D models.
One major caveat to this game, which is otherwise more polished than an army recruit’s boots, is that the world of Gotham totally lacks internal consistency. An important person is kidnapped and needs immediate rescuing? Never mind, there’s time to infinitely play the Riddler’s challenges, let alone that the game is meant to take place over a single night that lasts well over 12 hours of real-world time.
Other Missions call for you to use a specific tool where others would suffice – in particular too often the Batmobile is called for; seemingly to exist to justify the time, expense and introduction of the Batmobile into the game.
Also, the idea that Batman doesn’t kill strains the very edge of belief after seeing dozens of men run into at speed by what is effectively a high-speed armoured vehicle.
These examples of ludo narrative dissonance (the difference between the narrative and the gameplay) may not worry most players but sometimes jar what otherwise might have been one of the best games ever and so it is disappointing these addressable concerns weren’t more fully considered.
That so many games have been put together so well is one of the greatest feats of Arkham Knight, but it necessarily entails a certain level of complexity.
It is a sign of slightly unfocused design that the game feels the need to remind you of what button to press almost every time one of your combos is needed. There are at least four distinct control schemes, from fighting to travel to mobile Batmobile and the Batmobile tank mode.
I found myself sticking to a core group of abilities and techniques that worked for me almost all the time.
While this game was reviewed on PS4 where the frame rate was a locked 30FPS, I would be remiss to point out that the PC version has been removed from sale due to the number of issues that the port faced.
The developers have publically stated that they are committed to fixing the bugs and the first in a line of updates is already out, but for now only time will tell whether that commitment is codified into real action, or whether like Assassin’s Creed Unity the game is never really brought into a playable state. So if you are planning to buy this game right now, your only option is the console version.
Also, prepare for your eyes to water at the $60 Australian price tag for the game’s season pass, which is fast approaching the cost of the full game itself.
Batman: Arkham Knight is an achievement on so many fronts. One of the must plays of this year it is already a strong contender for game of the year 2015.
Other games will have a struggle to match its looks, its storytelling and sheer determinism to be great. Truly an achievement, the game is a bittersweet end to the series, not only because the story is (definitely) closed, but there is no more of this game left to play and unlike my pokepopcorn of early primary school, Arkham Knight has earnt the right to call everything by its, indelible, bat-shaped mark on all it touches.