Review: Batman: Arkham Knight
An excellent third installment to an excellent franchise.
For this playthrough, I was on the Xbox One, but I originally completed the game on the PlayStation 4. Playing it on two different systems has given me the opportunity to compare and contrast the same experience, so please keep that in mind when reading this review.
Graphics – 5
Great graphics do not always mean the world of a video game needs to look 100% realistic. Depending on the engine and system, there are a lot of variables that go into grading a video game’s graphics. Let’s say the game itself takes place during times of war, like “Call of Duty: World at War.” That’s the type of game where we, as the players, expect the graphics to generate a sense of realism and immersion. It’s a fictionalized version of a real event, yet it needs to look as close to the real thing as the engine will allow. A game on PlayStation 4 and a game on PlayStation 2 could each get a “5” rating on graphics, since they are two completely different systems with different capabilities.
When it comes to a game like “Batman: Arkham Knight,” it’s expected that it will have more cartoonish caricatures of “real” people, just like its comic book counterparts. Rocksteady does so with their third installment in the Arkham franchise. Upgrading their already stellar graphics from “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and “Batman: Arkham City,” this game demonstrates the full capabilities of the latest generation of consoles. From Batman’s suit to Scarecrow’s mask to the streets of Gotham, this game is breathtaking and destructive. Driving through the city in the Batmobile only gets better when you cut a corner too close and end up going through it instead of bouncing off an invisible wall, which allows the game to feel authentic and realistic while remaining cartoony and fun.
Rain is the main type of weather during your time in Gotham, with the exception of the Cloud Burst ruining that late in the game, so the amount of memory and space needed to keep a fully organic city running while it’s raining is insane. I never experienced any lag, so I applaud Rocksteady for making sure every experience with “Arkham Knight” was a smooth one.
If you’ve ever dreamed of diving into your Batman comic book and fighting as or along side the dark knight, then the graphics of “Arkham Knight” will help immerse you in one of the most famous cities in the comic book universe. With exceptional lighting and small but crucial details, like the fluttering of Batman’s cape when gliding, there’s no doubt in my mind that “Batman: Arkham Knight” was one of the best-looking games of 2015.
Gameplay (Mechanics, Style, & Difficulties) – 4
The Arkham Series is now famous for many things but two particulars especially. Those two are the combat system and the flight system. Other than being Gotham’s greatest detective, Batman is a renowned fighter, taking out countless bad guys year-round. What’s now called “The FreeFlow Combat System” allows you to take the reigns of the dark knight and glide, punch, kick, swing, takedown, and brutalize your foes around the room. Seriously, for those who have never played an Arkham game, this is one of the best things to come to video games in a long time. The way it allows you to create and paint your own comic book-style battle with its impressive takedowns, environmental advantages, and wide variety of foes is nothing short of impressive and genius. For those who have played an Arkham game before, get ready for more of the same, but there are several improvements with the system’s fluidity and strategic options, and not to mention the introduction of fear takedowns. Fear takedowns allow you to catch your enemies by surprise, inducing fear and taking out three to five enemies at once.
The flight system never allows you to hop in the Batwing, sadly, and it never allows you to truly “fly.” What it does is use real physics to make Batman’s ability to glide seem like you have complete control over the air. Momentum and speed are keys to getting quickly around Gotham, often times being much quicker than the Batmobile. When in flight, if you feel yourself slowing down, then you have the option of either grabbling to the edge of a building and re-launching yourself off of its edge or diving at an incredible speed and pulling back just before you hit the ground, granting you the perfect amount of speed and momentum to keep you in the air.
It’s a pretty sweet system, especially now that we’re in a much larger city than Arkham City. “Arkham Asylum” had some of this flight system, but since that was at a smaller location there weren’t as many opportunities. For all the avid Arkham fans, if you’re worried about the flight system being exactly the same as “Arkham City,” with no real new features or diversity, then your worries will be satisfied because you still fly exactly the same way. The only way I can defend it is by telling you that Gotham is more fun to fly around in, and there are also new takedown and gadget options while in flight. Gotham has underground tunnels, several skyscrapers, and bridges that help create a fun open-world obstacle course to fly around in.
Having two excellent but complicated mechanical systems does not come without their problems, though. These problems slide along the lines of the “User Friendly” aspect of a video game. Since there are so many variables and options flashing around during both fight and flight systems, there were several times I found Batman not following my exact commands. I’d be aiming my analog stick to the left, and for some reason he glides straight ahead or goes completely behind where I wanted to go. While flying, I’d be trying to escape the bullets of my enemies, aiming at a nearby building’s edge, but then when I press the RB button, Batman grabbles to the wrong building and sends me straight into my pursuers or off the edge of the building. I believe the system is designed to take advantage of the closest enemy or option, and if you don’t direct Batman right before hitting the button, then that’s the option he heads to. In many situations, that was my fault for not directing Batman correctly, but after I tested it by going back to earlier parts of the game, I found there were inconsistencies with Batman following my orders and not following my orders.
These errors and inconsistencies didn’t occur all the time, but they did occur during some of the most hectic and panic-inducing moments of the games, causing the difficulty to go from Hard to “What in the hell?” For this playthrough, I played on the hard difficulty. When I originally played the game on PlayStation 4, my dad and I went with the normal difficulty. Since we were tag-teaming the game, he’s not as inept at video games as I am anymore, so we had to find a balance for both of our skill sets. We beat the game, loving it the entire way, but I did find it a little too easy at times.
All of that changes when one switches to the hard difficulty, which is the way to play the game. If you’re looking to only have fun and complete the story, then by all means go with the normal option. If you want a real challenge that makes you truly strategize and figure out the best plan of action and utilize every gadget and upgrade, then go with the hard difficulty, which adds the perfect amount of difficulty over all aspects of the game. Sure, you may rage at times, but don’t think it’s going to be like a “Dark Souls” game. You won’t pull out your hair, but then your hair won’t feel a breeze either. If you find that the hard difficulty is still too easy for you, then by all means try out the New Story + option and let me know how it is.
A new addition to the Arkham series is introduced quite quickly in this third installment. The Batmobile is your horse through the wild west of Gotham. You cannot complete the game without it, unless you figure out some glitch that allows you to by pass all of the tank fights and races. Some players have complained about the Batmobile being very difficult to drive, while that can be true, especially with the rain, the driving mechanic feels realistic more than broken. Its difficulty, at times, occurs because it was designed that way. You’ll never feel stuck or absolutely flabbergasted if you can’t get by a certain fight or puzzle with the Batmobile. You just have to reorganize your strategy and head back in there, attempting to beat the section or complete the puzzle. That’s what games are all about in the end. They are games, and they are designed to be beat. If it takes a few tries to do it, then so be it. That’s what makes it fun!
Story & Side Missions – 5
I won’t spoil any details about “Arkham Knight’s” story or its major twist, but I do have to spoil the ending of “Arkham City” in order to talk about one key aspect of this story. At the end of “Arkham City,” Joker dies due to a fatal illness. It’s an excellent ending to a great game, but it’s an even better ending to one of the greatest rivalries of all time, with a very touching image of Batman carrying Joker’s dead body. This little spoiler is important to the story of “Arkham Knight,” because while Joker might be dead on Earth, that doesn’t mean he’s entirely dead.
From “Arkham Knight’s” surprisingly violent opening to its 100% completion ending, the game’s story and side missions keep you entertained and riveted the entire time. Since the Clown Prince of Gotham’s demise, Scarecrow has taken the reigns as head honcho. Many had their speculations about Scarecrow being the main villain, but he hits a home run in evil fashion. I absolutely loved him as the main villain, especially since he always seemed to be one step ahead of Batman the entire time. Scarecrow and his fear toxin are also huge factors in Batman’s external and internal journey. On the outside, the fear toxin threatens the entire city of Gotham. On the inside, the fear toxin brings out the infection that breathes inside of Batman, the same infection that killed Joker. When Joker died, his blood was used in five blood transfusions, one of which being Batman. Adding the fear toxin allows a mixture with the infection that creates an almost schizophrenic Batman, who is now cursed with a mental projection of a taunting and hilarious Joker. I’ll expand more on Joker in the next section, but just know he and his opinions, which are trying to manipulate Batman, have substantial effects on the story.
Sidetracking from the main story, where your main mission is to take out Scarecrow, many popular characters and villains appear in the side missions. As Batman, you’ll get the chance to take on Penguin, ManBat, Two-Face, Professor Pyg, FireFly, Deathstroke, Deacon Blackfire, and The Riddler. There are a few other villains you get to take on as Batman in one of the DLCs, but we’ll get to that later. The side missions are a great way to take a break from the main story and take out some of your favorite villains.
Speaking of villains, a new one is introduced early in the main storyline. The Arkham Knight is the general of a heavily armed militia that has occupied Gotham. They follow the orders of Scarecrow, but that’s not the scariest part. The scariest part goes to the fact that the Arkham Knight seems to know quite a bit about Batman and his skills and tactics, keeping him two steps of Batman every time. The mystery of the Arkham Knight’s identity is one of the many subplots of the main story, but it’s honestly the most satisfying one.
I absolutely love this story because, with the M-rating, it’s the most violent, emotional, and satisfying Arkham story out of the series. It has the same fun, family-friendly elements that “Asylum” and “City” had, but this M-rating allows it to go the extra mile and tap into the stories of Frank Miller and Alan Moore. The story can be relentless with its emotional resonance, particularly with Oracle, who’s actually a wheelchair-ridden Barbara Gordon, who became paralyzed after Joker shot her. There are some tear-jerking moments with her story, but those are not compared to when you find out how the Joker killed Jason Todd, who is the second Robin that Batman still grieves over.
The story is a roller coaster of entertainment, emotion, and peril. It’s good enough to entice me to restart the game on the easy difficulty just so I can play through it again. Add in the exceptional side missions that have you chasing villains all over Gotham, “Arkham Knight’s” storytelling division has enough creativity, variety, and brutality to make you want to replay it over and over again.
The only qualm I have with the game and its side missions comes when referring to completing the game 100%. Yes, the last thing you’ll most likely have to do in the game is solving all of the Riddler’s riddles. They are fun and quite challenging, but if you’re dying to see the third and final ending, which you need to complete the game 100% for, then I’d say solve all those riddles, but don’t do it for the ending. Do it for the experience. The final ending isn’t worth the trouble, but the experience is. Trust me on this one.
Characters & Voice Acting – 5
Instead of going in-depth about every single character in this game, I’ll expand on a few of my favorites. With that said, all the characters in the game are fantastic. From Tim Drake as Robin to Mr. Freeze in Batman’s DLC, every single one is compelling and empathetic. You will love everyone. I guarantee it.
I’ll talk about Batman first. One of the first pieces of dialogue in the game comes from a voiceover by Commissioner Gordon, who says, “This is how it happened. This is how The Batman died.” It’s the perfect way to start off an M-rated Batman game, and with that piece of dialogue it’s evident we are going to get a different but still familiar Batman. He’s not an absolute recreation of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, but he’s a great adaptation while being the same Batman we’ve played as since “Arkham Asylum.” With him getting older, which isn’t touched on in the game but kind of known to the player, and his grief for Jason Todd, you immediately get the sense that Batman is a little darker and more brooding. He’s an excellent protagonist with a character arc mirrored by his internal battle with Joker along the way. You start to see the struggles he goes through because his old ways and beliefs always leave him two steps behind his enemies. That’s when Joker tries to manipulate him, trying to push him to his psychotic level that will apparently mean victory in the end. As the game comes to a close, Batman has a few moments where he says farewell to some of his greatest allies and enemies just before the final mission, making his death seem more like a soon-to-be reality rather than a cheap way to draw emotion. I won’t reveal what happens in the end, but Batman’s journey in “Arkham Knight” is one of my favorites in video games. And being voiced by the great Kevin Conroy doesn’t disappoint, either.
Moving over to Joker, I’ve told my friends time and time again that this is the greatest iteration of Joker ever to be created. Now that I’ve finished my second playthrough, I firmly believe this version of Joker is one of the greatest creative endeavors… ever. Seriously, it’s nothing short of brilliant. It’s absolute genius. His witty dialogue and psychotic exterior are all there, but the fact that its Batman’s subconscious talking to him rather than the Joker gives their whole relationship an extremely dark beauty. Voiced by Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill delivers another exceptional performance as the Clown Prince of Gotham. He’s always been the best at displaying the evil within Joker’s soul, but this time he wasn’t dealing with Joker’s soul. Well, not entirely. Since Joker’s blood is inside Batman, I guess you can say a piece of his soul is there as well, but regardless of that fact, Mark Hamill takes this game’s beautiful dark character and brings him to life, a life worth studying and critiquing by all aspiring and professional storytellers out there. Even when you’re not on a mission or solving a riddle, you’ll find Joker randomly pop up and start talking to Batman about anything from his current situation all the way to the death of his parents. He’s not an annoying burden, but a necessity to Batman’s character and arc. I’ll stop praising now because I can go on and on, but if you play this game, then just wait until Joker starts taking over Batman’s mind, showing him things no grieving man ever wants to see.
Video games are still on the come up, especially with the wonderful developments in the storytelling aspect over the years. But it’s safe to say that video games are still not on the same level as television and film, still being looked at as a waste of time and a “hobby.” One day, when the clouds open and reveal heaven, video games will be up there with the two top dogs, and non-gamers will be asking for great examples of stories and characters in video games. “Heavy Rain’s” story will be on there, and “Arkham Knight’s” Joker will be as well. Trust me on this one.
The next character I’ll talk about is Scarecrow, voiced by John Noble. I said before how some were skeptical about his promotion to head honcho and also how I thought he was absolutely perfect for the role. What I’d like to expand on is how his presence and being the main antagonist doesn’t hurt or jeopardize the DC Universe or the Arkham series in any way. Scarecrow, in the first two games, used to be the villain of a couple side missions or nightmare sequences, forcing you to navigate through his nightmares to defeat him. They were fun sequences but never really surmounted to anything. Now that he’s on the throne, the creators at Rocksteady were able to pull out everything that makes Scarecrow a great villain. It’s a nice breath of fresh air to see Scarecrow be more than just a sideshow. It’s also a nice breath of fresh air to see someone else up on the pedestal other than Joker. I love the Clown Prince to death, but diversity and variety is healthy for any creative endeavor. With the creators at Rockstready doing their job of defining Scarecrow the way he deserves to be, it feels like Gotham and Batman are in even more peril than ever before. That’s extremely tough to do, especially when we’re dealing with a Batman story deficient of Joker.
Soundtracks are just as important in video games as they are in other visual mediums. Music evokes emotions, and if used right, they can exploit the right emotions and overpower one’s psyche. While I wish the soundtrack was more of a dominant factor during “Arkham Knight,” its underlying presence throughout and appearances during key moments helped push this great game into the status of being an incredible game.
Bugs & Glitches – 3
Before I begin this section, I never experienced any kind of glitches or bugs when I played this on PlayStation 4. So all my proceeding words are my opinions based on my playthrough on the Xbox One.
There were a few times where I had to restart the game because it froze. Unfortunately, I wasn’t streaming on Twitch.tv when this happened, but I was able to capture a few moments where glitches caused some deviation from normal play. Those moments are located below.
Overall, there weren’t enough occurrences for me to deduct a whole lot of points. There were enough for me to deduct some, though. Usually bugs and glitches like these are evident during the games first few couple months, when patches are still working out the kinks. Now that the game is a year old, I was expecting to see none, but nothing is perfect in the end. I mean, just look at the PC version and its crash and burn. Apparently that whole fiasco has been fixed, but at least the Xbox version allows you to get through the entire game with only a hitch here and there.
DLC – 3
“Arkham Knight” has lots and lots of Downloadable Content (DLC): character skins, Batmobile skins, AR challenges, races, and story packs. Some of the character skins are pretty cool, but in all honesty, most of them you’ll play with for about 10 minutes and then you’ll decide to change it back to your favorite. For this playthrough, I spent most of the time playing with the 2008 Movie skin; the one Christian Bale wore in the “The Dark Knight.” There’s also the Adam West costume, Michael Keaton costume, Batman Beyond costume, and the Ben Affleck costume, plus much more. There are a few skins for Catwoman, Robin, Nightwing, Harley Quinn, and the Arkham Knight, but most of those are only worth nostalgia purposes. They are still fun to have though.
What’s truly important, at least to me, about the DLC are the story packs. Batgirl and Harley Quinn’s take place before the events of “Arkham Knight,” Batman’s takes place during the main story, and Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, and Red Hood’s take place after the main story has concluded. With the exception of Batman’s pack, which lets you take on Killer Croc, Mad Hatter, Ra’s Al Ghul, and Mr. Freeze in incredibly fun fashion, all of the DLC story packs are short. You can beat each of them in about thirty minutes on the hard difficulty. Catwoman’s took me the longest because it was the most difficult, and Nightwing’s was the most unsatisfying pack out of all of them.
I’m not asking for anything extensive, to be honest. If DLC adds to the game instead of being absolutely pointless for it, then I’m happy no matter how long or difficult they are. That’s coming from me, though, someone who paid $25 for Arkham Knight and ALL its DLC. The game was originally $60 and the “Season Pass” was $30. While “Arkham Knight” is worth $90 on its own, the DLC is not worth $30. Sure, the character skins are cool and the story packs are quick bursts of fun, but its not enough for me to truly say I got my money’s worth… that’s if I originally spent $90. With my $25? Oh yes, I got my money’s worth, plus I’m going to play through them all again.
Entertainment Value – 5
From reading this article, I hope it was evident that I had a blast playing this… again. Even though it was my second playthrough, it has been a year since I played it. I might’ve remembered some stuff, but most definitely not all of it. If the game is still on sale, grab it with the DLC. If not, then I most definitely advise you to drop $60 on the main game and then decide on the DLC after your first playthrough. Batman’s story pack is the best DLC, so please kept that in mind.
Replay Value – 3.75
This score is based off of two variables. I gave replaying the main game a “5,” but then replaying the DLC got a 2.5. This is the average of the two scores, so since I’ve got everything, yes I will replay through it all again, but the main game will be a priority over the DLC.
- Gameplay (Mechanics, Style, & Difficulty)
- Story & Side Missions
- Characters & Voice Acting
- Bugs & Glitches
- Entertainment Value
- Replay Value
"Batman: Arkham Knight" is an incredible third installment of an incredible series. It's M-rating gives it the extra edge it needed to be vastly different from its previous predecessors. Is it still Family-friendly? For the most part, yes it is, but there are several moments throughout the main story and side missions that you may want to turn your kids' heads away. After those moments, enjoy the incredible voice acting, gorgeous graphics, and perfect story inside the grand city of Gotham. Oh, and take a the Batmobile out for a spin as well, just remember to return it with a full tank.
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