I am Vengeance. I am the Night. I AM BATMAN.
Believe it, son. I don’t mean son, like, you have to be male. I mean it in the rapper context as a term of purest endearment. Because I am endeared of you. To you.
A No-Spoiler Review of Arkham Knight
Arkham Knight is the third in the “Arkham series,” unless you count “Arkham: Origins,” which we don’t. No Kevin Conroy, no Mark Hamill, no Rocksteady, no count. It’s simple arithmetic, which I’m not very good at.
Arkham Knight takes you on another one-(k)night adventure, this time on Halloween, and pits the Dark Knight against creepy spookenmeister Scarecrow, and also the “brand new” character the Arkham Knight. You may have noticed the sarcastic quotes around “brand new.” That’s a good eye you have there. I know it feels like a spoiler, and you might get mad at me, but come on. Nobody really thought the Arkham Knight was going to be some new guy named Stevie Finnegan or something. That was never going to happen.
The Arkham games are world-renowned for being essentially Batman simulators, and Arkham Knight is (for the most part) the final crystallization of that concept. You are Batman, in this game. Never before has a game so perfectly executed on the feeling of sliding your feet into the rubbery batboots.
All of the abilities from the old games come back, and Rocksteady added a few more tricks to that old utility belt. You’ll glide, punch, counter, batarang, frost grenade, electrogun, spindash, grapplethingy, etc, plus you can do things like mimic people’s voices and play merry havoc with the minds of small, underpaid goons.
The combat is just as tight as the previous games, providing a smooth, rhythm-game like canvas upon which you may paint glorious bat-violence. It’s wonderful, for the most part, so take this small criticism with a grain of salt: as the game progresses, the fights get a little too difficult. Now, I’m happy to admit that as much as I love games, and as often as I play them, I’m not very good at them. But, to me, I feel like the purpose of this game is to make you feel like Batman. And, let’s be honest, Batman should feel unstoppable. Not like Superman unstoppable, but in hand-to-hand combat with untrained normies he should be a monster.
I played the game on Normal, and by the 2/3rds mark they were throwing huge crowds at you full of Brute goons (that require a special attack), electro-goons (that require a special attack), knife/sword goons (who require special defenses and attack), shield-goons (require etc), flying drones, auto-turrets, medics that revive downed enemies, every damn thing. It’s around this point that the fights stopped being fun, and started being tedious and frustrating. Because you can’t really take out a Brute goon with other goons around, and you can’t directly attack an electro goon until you’ve cleared the area a little, and the special attack to take out the shield goes doesn’t work most of the time, it becomes a case of “where the fuck do I start?”
I get what they’re going for – combat is a puzzle, and you have to think like Batman – but the problem is that I’m not Batman. I’m just Bobby. So while I did beat the game, and I was perfectly capable of defeating those goony assholes, it took me multiple attempts, made me feel like a dumbass, and, most importantly, wasn’t at all fun. I didn’t feel like Batman. I felt like Bruce Wayne, exhausted after a long fight and just wanting it all to be over. Which really isn’t why I come to these games. Maybe it was intentional, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.
Again, the combat system is fantastic. The encounters, at least on the Normal difficulty setting, could be rejiggered. Leave the super-hard fights to the “Hard” difficulty, where it not only suits the nomenclature better, but is already going to attract the kind of masochists that love that sort of thing.
I know you’ve heard a lot about the Batmobile this time around, and it’s for a very good reason. The Batmobile is used FREQUENTLY. Like, imagine how frequently that might be, and then double it. It’s way more than you think.
At first, the introduction of the Batmobile seems like a no-brainer – if you’re doing the ultimate Batman simulator, you gotta do the car at some point. Fans have been champing at the bit to drive the most famous car in fiction, and Rocksteady delivered. In fact, they delivered so hard that the delivery truck drove through your wall, into your living room, and then pumped round after round of non-lethal rounds into your family and loved ones.
The car looks cool, once again employing the “Arkham” style of ripping off all iterations of Batman and slamming them together into a delicious shepherd’s pie. The front of the car looks like the Dark Knight Returns riot tank – even the multiple headlights are placed almost exactly where they were in the comic. The silhouette and general function feels a lot like the Tumbler from the Nolanverse. The ass-end of the car has the general fin-sweep, round butt, and rocket-anus of the Anton Furst Batmobile from the Tim Burton flicks. The cockpit shape calls back to the Animated Series, and they’ve even included an optional skin that paints bright orange lines and an orange bat-symbol on the car, in case you’re hungry for some Adam West. Which, lets face it, everyone is.
The Batmobile is a Goddamn monster in this game – if you run into something, don’t expect the Batmobile to come screeching to a halt. Unless you run dead-center into a building, the Batmobile tears through lamp posts, trees, walls, and even the corners of Gotham’s fair buildings like the whole city was made of balsa wood and imported from a particularly cheap third-world factory. Which is incredible, honestly. You feel powerful in the Batmobile – you feel like Batman.
There’s some slippy-ness – the Batmobile doesn’t control great. However, it adds rather than detracts – you feel less like a race car driver and more like a force of nature, which is honestly fine.
Where it Fails
You see, that all sounds great. And sometimes it is. But the problem is that you can’t design a car system, roads, and a badass tank into your game if you don’t plan to integrate it into the central gameplay. It’s a waste of developer time otherwise, and so Rocksteady made sure they really got the most bang for their buck. Hardly a mission goes by where you aren’t required to use the Batmobile, and there are Riddler puzzles, Riddler races, and Riddler trophies that absolutely demand it.
Now, just driving around in the Batmobile, chasing cars, and launching out of the cockpit to soar through the skies all feel good, even late in the game. The real problem with the Batmobile is the inclusion of its alternate “Tank Mode,” where the car shifts into a battle machine bristling with cannons and automatic weapons.
Now, this somewhat liberal interpretation of Batman’s “no guns policy” isn’t Rocksteady’s fault – Batman has been bending that rule when it comes to his vehicles for a long time. Hell, in Dark Knight Rises, Batman literally fires the Bat’s machine guns at an enemy in a truck until they crash and die onscreen. Which seems . . . problematic. Anyway.
You can’t make a tank mode without something to fight, so the Arkham Knight throws what must be thousands of unmanned tank drones at Batman. Whole side-missions are devoted to these repetitive tank fights, and there are no less than three boss fights that are exclusively tank battles. All three of which are versus expert martial artists that would have made for interesting, you know, martial arts fights.
The tank fights don’t have a whole lot of variety, and all drag on about five minutes past the point of fun. They don’t really change as the game progresses, either, except for throwing a few more tanks at you. There’s a sneaky tank fight tactic you have to use occasionally, but it’s only really fun the first time, and it doesn’t change. And really, even when the tank fights are enjoyable (which is rare), you never, not once, feel like Batman during them.
Because Batman wouldn’t get in tank fight after tank fight. He’d hack their network or sneak into their base and shit in their breakfast cereal. He wouldn’t bring a warzone into the middle of Gotham unless he absolutely had no other choice. In fact, since the tanks don’t do anything other than shoot at the Batmobile, he’d be better served just mothballing the thing and gliding around the city. Yeah, the game includes a few justifications (like needing the Batmobile to rev its engine and hack a computer somehow), but it’s all kind of self-feeding and unnecessary.
By the end of the game, I kind of wished the Batmobile had never been included. Or at least, not the battle tank mode.
I’m not a graphics guy, but this is the first game I played on my brand new PS4 and it looks amaze-labes. That’s amaze-balls, but for the ladies. I’m inclusive, you see.
Gotham City is almost constantly raining, and I couldn’t be happier – water streaks off buildings, windows, and Batman’s unforgiving, kevlar face. It adds a lot to the setting, and makes the city just as depressing as it ought to be.
I don’t know about framerates, or really any useful metric for visuals, but the graphics were a hot Jacuzzi with powerful jets and my eyeballs sank right in. Which you should not do in a non-metaphorical Jacuzzi, because that’s how you get herpes in your eyes.
The Voice Acting
Please. It’s Kevin Conroy. Add to that a legendary list of costars, and you’ve got some of the finest voice acting work in the business. Sublime.
AHHHHHHHHHH SO GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD.
Seriously. Arkham Knight’s story is great, with a minor hiccup in the denouement. Sometimes the gameplay gets in the way of the story, but when it doesn’t it’s a damn good time. I don’t want to spoil anything, and there’s a lot to spoil, so I’ll just say this:
Arkham Knight tells an agonizing (in a good way) story about fear, and just how detrimental it is to our psyches. How much control it has over us. The reason why (paradoxically), we all should be afraid of fear.
If I would compare it to Arkham City’s story, it’s probably on equal footing, which is a tremendous achievement. There are some storytelling devices (that’s all I’m gonna say) that are way better than anything in Arkham City or Arkham Asylum, but the unsatisfying epilogue kind of knocks Arkham Knight down a hair or two.
I play video games for their story, and this game’s story is far and away its most shining aspect. It’s a dreadful, gothic tale, horrifying and depressing in equal parts. This is the “Dark Knight Rises” of the Arkham franchise, but I’m not talking about quality. What I mean is, this is the Arkham story where you really find out what Batman’s made of. It’s a brutal exercise in piling misery after misery onto the Dark Knight’s broad shoulders, and the audience (or the player) is begging for the narrative to stop. It’s a cruel story, told with a clever touch, and it’s absolutely worth experiencing.
The one caveat is that, in order to see the TRUE ending, you have to complete all of the side missions. Now, that’s not so bad, except for the fact that “all side missions” includes finding the Riddler trophies scattered around Gotham. All 250-something puzzles, breakable objects, and riddles. All of them.
Oh, you’ll get an ending without doing all that. The main story gets a climax, but it doesn’t answer one of the central questions introduced in the beginning of the story (and reinforced throughout). There are basically two epilogues after that ending. The first epilogue can be accessed if you do all of the missions except for the Riddler nonsense, but it raises far more questions than it answers. It’s kind of a cheap cliffhanger, one that basically forces you to find the true, second epilogue.
So, yeah. After completing the main story and beating all the bad guys, I then had to spend roughly two weeks tooling around Gotham, looking for the Riddlers question marks, enjoying not a single ounce of that game time. Reading online FAQS, trudging through this terrible design decision just so I could get a proper ending to the fucking story. By the end I was listening to Spotify while I played, watching walkthrough videos and following them step-by-step, for hours. An OCD gotta-catch-em-all type might enjoy the experience, but even the most stalwart gamer is going to balk at the idea.
And then, when you do get the second epilogue . . . it’s kind of a letdown. It leaves plenty for discussion, which is probably what Rocksteady was going for, but it still doesn’t really answer the central question of the game. And, most damningly, it doesn’t really give you the necessary tools to answer it for yourself.
I like an ambiguous ending when we’re talking about Mad Men or Drive, but in a Batman game that required me to tediously search all of Gotham’s deepest orifices for shiny bits and bobs just to see the ending, it comes off as unsatisfying.
Should You Buy It
Yes. There are some truly frustrating gameplay moments in it, the kind where I nearly bit my controller in half in nerdly rage. The tank fights are exhausting, and you’ll be tired of them after the first fight. The shenanigans you have to pull to get the game’s real ending are entirely crafted from high-grade bull feces, and you honestly might be better off just YouTubing the epilogue if you don’t have 15 hours to burn hunting down trophies.
But, it’s simply not a game you can miss. The good far outweighs the bad, and there are some truly stunning moments in the narrative that elevate the proceedings into official “art” status. If you’re a Batman fan, it’s required reading. If you’re a video game player, this is a AAA title full of juice. If you’re a casual gamer who doesn’t enjoy ripping their hair out in frustration, then you might want to find a skilled friend to either watch or to drag you along through the rough patches.
In short, you gotta play it. Be vengeance. Be the night. Always be Batman.