Editor’s note: This review was conducted on a PS4 version of the game. At the time of writing, the PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight has suspended sales due to severe issues including problems with the frame-rate and textures, and thus won’t be taken into account in this particular review.
Batman: Arkham Knight is truly an astonishing game. Not only is it beautiful, it expands on and strengthens nearly every aspect of his predecessors, and more than anything, just feels good to play. Accomplishing something many felt Arkham Origins could not, Arkham Knight manages to take what made the rest of the series great, but still introduced enough to feel like its own. The result is a fresh game and a distinct entity that can stand on its own.
With the introductions of new mechanics, including, but certainly not limited to the batmobile, and a heavier emphasis on story than any of the series’ other entries, Arkham Knight deserves plenty of praise. It is therefore unfortunate that a single massive design choice and a few questionable narrative threads actually manage to tarnish the entire experience, turning what is an exceptional game into possibly the weakest of the series.
Before getting into that though, there is a lot in Arkham Knight to like. The core gameplay the series is known for, the hand-to-hand combat and predator stealth segments have never been better. They are as tight and satisfying as ever and are even improved in multiple ways.
New enemies, like the medic, who can revive unconscious thugs, and new mechanics, like counter throws, environmental takedowns, and fear takedowns, add more complexity to head-on and stealth engagements alike. While simply mashing the attack button in combat, or simply hanging every thug upside down from gargoyles in predator segments are still an option, Arkham Knight does even more than previous games to reward precise strikes, careful thought, and skillful control of the situation. The counter throw in particular, moving the joystick in the direction of the attacking enemy at the exact moment you counter for a massive amount of damage, is a great addition to the gameplay, turning what was previously just a secondary defensive move into a potentially devastating second form of attack.
And then there are dual-takedowns. These satisfying and brutally gorgeous knockout moves are available whenever Batman is fighting beside one of his allies. Working much like any of the two-button super moves available once reaching a certain combo multiplier, a few seconds of flawless free-flow punches and a single button press unleashes a animation where Batman’s ally, Robin for instance, leaps over from where he was fighting and joins Batman for an acrobatic tag-team on a thug’s skull, after which, you then get to play as Robin. Overall, such fights stand out as unquestionable high points throughout the game.
With all the new things being thrown at the player, Arkham Knight, to the game’s benefit, seems to assume the player has experience with the now pretty familiar formula of Arkham games. Starting out with a fair number of gadgets and only doing a minimum amount of introduction and tutorial, the game throws the player straight into the thick of it. The sudden influx of new abilities to the game is actually handled remarkably well, all attributed to a new suit Batman receives early in the game, sidestepping the usual sequel trope of stripping a hero of everything just so he or she can find it all again throughout the game, ensuring you always feel powerful.
But in the end, of course, all the new tweaks Arkham Knight adds to the series come together in near insignificance when compared to the tank-shaped elephant in the room: the batmobile. Before anything else, let me say, driving the batmobile feels phenomenal. The combination of boosts, powerslides, and just raw power makes sure that ripping through the streets of Gotham fulfills every batmobile fantasy I ever had. With the environment destructible enough to give you just a little leeway when it comes to taking turns too sharp (or not at all) the driving actually manages to avoid the catch-on-everything clunkiness that could have easily marred the experience. So, even if you’re the worst driver in the world, you never feel it, which is an impressive accomplishment.
And if the use of the batmobile had stopped there, it would have been perfect. Unfortunately however, driving the batmobile is only a fraction of its use. From gathering Riddler trophies to mandatory transversal during the main story, the batmobile is pushed as a puzzle mechanic throughout the game. This however, boils down to a mere occasional buzzing of an annoyance when compared to the tank battles.
Every time I was forced to leave the batmobile behind for one reason or another, I cheered. No more tank battles! (At least not for the next few minutes.) While fun at first, a chaotic dance of dodging, strafing, and cannon fire(that all works beautifully), by the end of the game, the tank battles became a tedious, groan-worthy, unskippable, unavoidable, chore.
Putting aside the fact that in a game that is suppose to make me feel like a superhero who fundamentally hates guns I fired enough bullets to make a Call of Duty game proud, there just isn’t the same level of dynamic complexity in the tank battles as in the rest of the game. Instead of adding new mechanics, or even new and different enemies to consider and plan for, Arkham Knight ramps up the complexity with simple numbers. New tank enemies just fire more shots. And when that gets old, as the game goes on, you just fight more tanks, some engagements running anywhere from 30-50 enemies, all the while doing the same thing you did while fighting 3-4 enemies at the beginning of the game.
While there are a number of fun super moves you can use, you charge them up by destroying enemies, meaning you have to do a lot of the boring shooting to get to the cool missile barrage. This is of course made even worse in the slog that is the tank boss fight, because yes, there is one of those, where you aren’t destroying enemies, thus not charging the super, and are instead just sitting there, shooting at a single target for far too long.
What’s truly unfortunate however is that such a design blemish exists in what is hands down the best written of the Arkham games. Managing character complexity and interplay, drama and comedy, Arkham Knight starts off not simply as a game inspired by Batman stories, but a riveting Batman story in its own right, alluding to some of the great arks of the past, but telling a new and engaging story that explores the psychology of Batman and his followers like few things ever really have.
Sadly, near the middle, this too stumbles, revolving heavily around a new villain created for the game, the Arkham Knight. Nearly the entire span of the game is spent searching for his identity. This would have been fine of course, if his identity wasn’t painfully obvious only an hour or two into the game to anyone who even remotely knows anything about Batman mythology. Even worse, if someone had never heard of Batman in their life and picked up Arkham Knight with zero prior knowledge, the reveal is so heavily telegraphed it would be nearly impossible not to know, or at least not heavily suspect, only half way through the game, still many hours before the ‘great detective’ figures it out himself, completely nullifying the final actual reveal.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a fantastic game: an engaging story, save for the bits about the Arkham Knight himself, packed with satisfying action, save for the truly dismal tank segments. These elements just put massive black marks on the experience as a whole, even as the rest of the game is a shining example of what a superhero game can be, and should be.
More than any score, the only way I can think to express my feelings is the fact that, while in every previous Arkham game I was anxious and excited to jump into New Game+, I have almost no desire to jump into it for Arkham Knight, just knowing, as much as I would love to go through the game again, it would mean jumping in the tank again, and that really just isn’t worth it.