Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4) Review

Last September I got a PS4 and thought “why not review games as well as movies”! You can read my review of Destiny here, my review of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor here, my review of Assassin’s Creed: Unity here, and my review of Grim Fandango here.

It must be hard to make a good superhero game, probably because most are invincible or so “super” that there’s not really any tension or threat. Batman is the only hero who’s ever worked as a video game character, and 2008’s Batman: Arkham Asylum – the first of a trilogy continuing with Arkham City and concluding with Arkham Knight – gave gamers a more-or-less unbeatable portrayal of the Dark Knight. Arkham Knight builds on the other two games to give the trilogy a fitting send-off, though it makes some (big) mistakes, and isn’t quite as perfect as some might have you believe.

Set some time after the shocking final scenes of Arkham CityArkham Knight sees a relatively peaceful Gotham upended by Scarecrow’s plan to unleash a new, deadly fear-toxin on Halloween. With millions of civilians conveniently evacuated, Batman and a number of allies seek to take the city back from Scarecrow and the other villains, with a mysterious new antagonist taking the form of the Arkham Knight.

The story is absolutely brilliant – I haven’t spoiled any of it and wouldn’t want to – with new and returning characters adding to the series’ drama and intrigue, and the plot taking some incredibly dark and ambiguous turns. The ending will piss plenty of people off, but at the end of the day the rest of the story (bar some strange decisions) is engaging and entertaining, and so is the gameplay. As they should have with Mass Effect 3, gamers should just enjoy the experience, and not complain bitterly about the conclusion (in my opinion)!

As with the other two games, you’re able to use Batman’s gadgets and fighting prowess to take down goon upon goon – but here you also get to use the Batmobile. With three separate islands making up the city, you need it to get around quickly – but you do lose a bit of the atmosphere Arkham City’s moody, Gothic buildings offer as you bomb past at road level. Despite this, adding the Batmobile makes for some amazing moments – you can blast through buildings and street furniture, fire yourself out of the roof and into flight, and generally enjoy the panic of the street criminals as you plough through them (Batman doesn’t kill, obviously, so they’re somehow electrocuted and thrown to the side. A lot of what he does would seriously incapacitate you for life).

However, the game’s major flaw comes from the Batmobile’s tank mode. This is something forced on you throughout, and it’s tedious to say the least. You want to glide between buildings, ambush criminals and spread fear taking down villains. Instead, you end up shooting drone tanks, weaving to avoid attacks (sometimes from up to 50 at once), or – in the most stupid, pointless set of missions – avoid bigger tanks, and sneak up on them before destroying them. The game could have stripped this out and just had the Batmobile as a mode of travel, but developers Rocksteady have instead saddled the player with disappointing and very out-of-place war game nonsense.

Batman-Arkham-Knights-Poster-jpgMost of the remaining gameplay is familiar – you take down a group of criminals/henchmen, who may be armed or whatnot, through either brawls or stealth. Both work just as well as before, and some new gadgets (a voice imitator for example) give hilarious and creative ways to whittle down the number of goons in your way. With the PS4 operating at a much higher capability, there’s more of everything: more people to fight; more hilarious criminal commentaries on the events (overheard through Batman’s communications); much more space to explore around the city; and much more depth to character animations. The combos during brawls are still as keypad-mashingly satisfying as before, and you actually get to do some detective work, which really ties into the idea of Batman as “the world’s greatest detective”. Some of the fight scenes also allow you to team up with an ally, which adds a really interesting angle to otherwise button-mashing conflicts.

On the PS4, the game also looks amazing – one particular moment that stood out was driving the Batmobile, ejecting out and gliding through the air, lightning illuminating Batman against the sky and the rain trickling off the edge of his cape. The characters are incredibly well-developed from a technical point-of-view, which really helps the story out as it descends into darkness (this is a Batman game after all), and the voice-acting is great, with returning voices from main characters (most of whom were on the animated cartoon show in the 90s) giving the characters, well, character.

Unfortunately, if you like completing games 100 percent, I have to say that this is one game for which this is pointless. The side missions are fun to complete because of the work that goes into them – you’re after foes such as Two-Face or the Penguin, and many are fun and different enough that you’re motivated to complete them. The Riddler’s nonsensical “collect all my trophies” task however is something I’ve always ignored – but in this case, you only get the “proper” ending to the game if you’re sad enough to spend weeks looking for all 243. Why games punish you for not being a sad bastard is anyone’s guess, but I thought this was poor – having to watch the ending on YouTube soured me on the game a little bit, and made me realise it isn’t quite as long, complex nor rewarding towards the end as Arkham City was.

It’s not all bad – the game is still excellent, it looks amazing and is worth buying – but all told, the fact that sometimes the previous game felt longer and more of an experience isn’t great. Don’t let this put you off though – the game is very, very good and deserves much of the acclaim. It’s a fitting conclusion to the trilogy, and I loved playing it, but focusing too much on the Batmobile’s tank mode, and on rewarding people for wasting time at the expense of less obsessed players, left a bit of a sour taste.

 

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