So I only relatively recently reviewed Arkham Origins, deciding that it was something of a low point for the Arkham series of games. Which is actually still pretty good when one takes a broader view of things, definitely still fun and amusing and full of Batman-style punchy-goodness. However, everyone was excited for the release of Arkham Knight because A. this was the series now back in the hands of Rocksteady instead of Warner Bros. Montreal, which is one of the major reasons that everyone provided for the rather poor experience of Arkham Origins and B. it was the first Arkham title on the new gen of consoles, so it would be all pretty and dolled up.
Interestingly, it is also the LAST Arkham game, on any gen. Or at least that is if Rocksteady are to be believed, saying that it is the final instalment in the Arkham trilogy. Of course, with the existence of Arkham Origins, it is as much of a trilogy as the Hunger Games films are a trilogy… I.e. they aren’t (and it’s extremely stupid to somehow try and claim that four things are really just three). It really is a somewhat optimistic view that if they stick their hands over their eyes and pretend it didn’t happen then we will as well (and I worry that we might see more Warner Bros. Arkham games soon enough, to try and beat more money out of it). It would be a shame, I think, if more Arkham games were made as well, because the series has made every advance it could by now and is starting to stagnate somewhat and so it ought to go out with its head held high. You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain (yes I did practically make this whole point so I could put in a Batman quote).
It IS still an Arkham game though, and so the usual rules apply. Yes, it is still fun, yes the combat is still tip-top and yes the stealth-based predator missions are still my absolute favourite part of the game and are as excellent as usual. It also is evidently an Arkham game by the way its story is really so full of plotholes and requires just quite such a high level of suspension of disbelief that you do have to keep reminding yourself that you are playing a comic book superhero in order to make yourself accept it.
My experience with Arkham Knight was actually one of the most varied I’d had with the series thus far in that every time I encountered a new feature it would never be consistently good or bad, but rather jumped rather dramatically from one to the other constantly and without pause.
For example, in the combat, which is by now widely accepted as outstanding to a degree that many other games try to “emulate” it. One of the first new additions that I can recall is that there are now medic thugs, equipped with a number of defibrillator packs with which they can haul their unconscious mates back to their feet (let us ignore, for the sake of our sanity, that using a defibrillator on someone alive would kill them, and that no amount of electricity is going to fix a broken leg). They can do this both during the predator missions and during combat and are a genuinely excellent addition that fits so seamlessly I can’t believe we didn’t have them sooner. In the predator missions, if you aren’t paying attention, a previously downed enemy can suddenly catch you unawares, and in combat it means that if you want to keep all of the thugs on the ground then you have to keep an eye on the medics trying to keep them in the fight. Then, just as if the game wanted to prove me wrong, a later mechanic was introduced in combat by which medics can “electrocute” one of their comrades, making him untouchable and if you hit him it stuns you backwards to the same degree as getting hit by a stun baton. And for some reason the game seems to have trouble distinguishing when an enemy is safe to hit or not, so I cannot tell you the number of times I ended a freeflow combo because I launched myself into a fizzle of electricity. It was an exercise in the worst sort of frustration and irritation.
And this is an pattern oft repeated throughout the game. Every positive new aspect seemed counterbalanced by a negative one, some of the new things themselves even provided both. Around halfway through you are given the use of a voice-synthesizer so you can order guards around by pretending to be their bosses, and while it sounds OP as fuck it also was such an awesome addition. Then there are people during a freeflow who can charge you and knock you off your feet, so you have to spend the majority of every fight actually avoiding being hit rather than going on the offensive. Combine that with my previous complaint as well and you end up having to rely on a very small core move set to actually progress through some of the absolutely stupidly cluster-fucky fights.
Then again, the cluster-fucky-ness of the fights actually allows them to introduce another different mechanic where you can occasionally team up with Catwoman, Nightwing or Robin where one of them or Batman will be controlled by the AI and you can swap between them in the middle of a fight, allowing for really awesomely cool co-op takedowns.
There’s the new fear-attack which can be used to initiate fights and take down up to five thugs in the space of second, regardless of whether they are armed, which is another fucking excellent addition (despite, again, being OP as fuck) and so to offset it they have made actually targeting people both in and out of combat seem that much harder, with Batman sometimes going for the wrong person or being unable to do the right thing to the right person. The sheer amount of times I tried to do an ariel takedown on a guard with a riot shield, only to flip over him and off in the wrong direction actually beggared belief.
The new GRAPHICS which have been used to prettify Gotham are actually rather stunning and the whole game looks pretty incredible. I’ve heard some complaints about it being a bit dark and dingy, but I also think that it just looks awesome. The rain glistening on Batman’s armour as you wing over the city, lights shining from below and from helicopters and attack drones. It might be something I say about a lot of games, but frankly Arkham Knight is a new game on a new gen, it couldn’t NOT look outstanding. Then one hits the downside of it which is that apparently “next-gen” also means “over-designed as fuck”. Every SINGLE location across the entire game is strewn with debris and litter and wreckage of one sort or another, to an almost fanatical degree. It’s actually genuinely off-putting just how cluttered some of the environments (and even some of the characters) are.
“What about the big new thing though?” I hear you ask. Well, once again, the “big new thing”, I.e. the selling gimmick of Arkham Knight, the Batmobile, has both good points and bad points. Lets go for the good first, because it is actually the easiest and most-straightforward thing to say.
Because you are not just given a portion of Gotham but rather ALL of central Gotham to play in, you need a faster method of transport and the batmobile is there to fill that roll. However, because it would be utterly pointless to just have the batmobile present as a method of transportation it also is involved in missions and combat (and even Riddler trophies to some extent). The big thing there is that the batmobile is armed to the teeth with not only crowd-control devices but also explosives and machine-guns, weapons ideally suited to take on the literal army of drone tanks that are sent after you. So, not only do you drive about, but also you engage in ferocious tank-to-tank combat, rocketing to and fro as you blast one drone after another. And you know what… It’s just SUCH good fun. I’m sorry, it may be childish but honestly it really was just quite amusing to jet about the place in your rocket-propelled tank and then fight a demolition derby against a dozen enemy tanks, with everything exploding all around you. It also brings out the good of the next-gen again because a good portion of the stuff at ground-level is destructible and so gets absolutely leveled during the tank fights. So there you have it, at it’s very heart, it’s simply just good fun!
Then we come onto the bad… And very first up is the fact that you are playing TANK WARFARE in a Batman game. It’s just so out-of-place in a game about stealthy takedowns and intelligent fisticuffs that one can’t help but gawp. Then one is constantly, and I mean ALWAYS, aware that the reason you are fighting drones is because of Batman’s “no killing” rule. So you are fighting a literal army of remote-controlled tanks, just so that Batman can have these tank fights to justify the existence of the batmobile, but without killing anyone. The no-killing anyone rule actually extends further as well. For example, it is possible when driving your tank around the streets (where it slides over the roads like its on ice in a totally satisfying manner) to just drive headlong into a sea of thugs and watch them get shocked by electricity and thrown clear of the path of the tank… “Saving them from being killed”. On the other hand, I doubt a little force-field will stop complete and total death from being hit by a fucking TANK travelling at 100 miles per hour. Oh, and even if that somehow didn’t kill them, then when you reverse over their stunned bodies and sit the massive vehicle right on top of them… That probably finishes the job.
The drones provide another plothole as well actually in that at several points it is mentioned that the cost of the army sent to Gotham to kill Batman costed the villains $3 billion. Frankly, no matter how evil I was, if I had $3 billion I think I just would have stopped caring about Batman at all. I mean, dude… You have Three BILLION dollars… You don’t need to be a villain any more. And the plot holes do not stop there, not by a long shot. For example I have to admit that the reason Gotham has been evacuated (the threat of a gas attack on the entire city, even even Eastern Seaboard) seems really contrived so that, like in every other Arkham game, the streets are only populated by Gotham’s resident population of thugs and ne’er-do-wells. Also, despite being chased by enemies who profess nothing but a desire to kill you, the amount of times which you are held literally at gunpoint and then DON’T get killed is quite ludicrous.
The story itself is also not exactly the most imaginative of ones. In fact it feels quite a lot like the plot for the Dark Knight Rises, I.e. a threat over the whole of Gotham which Batman has to stop while anarchy reigns. The supposed primary antagonist, Scarecrow, is also not quite as exciting as I feel he could have been, just once again drawing on the film version of Scarecrow. If anyone remembers the Scarecrow from Arkham Asylum then you’ll remember him as being one of the most stand-out and exciting villain encounters in the game, whereas now he has been transformed into just another monologuing BBEG.
And “monologuing” is something else the game seems determined to overdo to the worst possible extent. You can’t fucking go three minutes without some villain or another spouting nonsense that you simply COMPLETELY IGNORE from massive screens around Gotham. It’s something I think ought to be taken to heart by the developers here. Surely you should only include dialogue you actually want the player to pay attention to. If the purpose of these monologues is for us to ignore them, why are they even HERE?!
In fact, this kind of extends towards Scarecrow himself. For almost the entire game he refuses to attack you or go after you specifically because “it isn’t time yet” and you “haven’t been fully destroyed yet” which, as we all know, is simply the writers stalling so that they can actually have time for Batman to do all the various other things he is supposed to do. Despite being yelled at by him for almost the entire game I just never really felt any sense of urgency in trying to stop Scarecrow and nor did I ever really feel like he was any sort of creditable threat.
The other two primary antagonists, the titular Arkham Knight, and one whom I will not name for the sake of avoiding spoilers, are actually rather the opposite from Scarecrow. The Arkham Knight is a mysterious figure from Batman’s past, and while he may never really seem like a threat considering how inept him and his men seem to be at killing you (very much exactly like Scarecrow), the mystique of who he is actually kept me a lot more interested in his “arc” rather than his partner’s. The third antagonist, and I really am desperately trying to avoid spoilers, is actually the most interesting part of the game as well, so I’m glad he was introduced.
The rest of the time is spent conducting a variety of side missions to arrest other major villains, but what is quite frustrating is the necessity of completing every single villain before you are actually allowed to see the full, complete ending of the game (and that includes the bloody Riddler trophies). I can understand in games like Halo providing just a tiny bit extra upon completing the games in Legendary difficulties, such commitment should be rewarded. But completing the villains is not a matter of difficulty, but simply a matter of frustration and perseverance, and so it doesn’t feel all that wise to gate a chunk of the ending behind it. Worse of all is that the ending was confusing, unclear and really not at all worth all the hassle of getting all those damned trophies (and yes, yes I did…).
I honestly had a good time in Arkham Knight, and I feel that even while I may have been saying the good was balanced by the bad, in the end I think the good still just outweighs the bad. After all, I not only completed the game but 100%’d it, which is no small thing really, meaning I didn’t really get bored until right at the end of the game. I still think though that even if I wasn’t frustrated by all the various small grievances I had with the game, what really prevents the game from being anywhere near as good as its predecessors is that the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept so much of the story elements means that if you approach it even slightly more seriously than I did then you will never be able to get into it properly.