Batman: Arkham Knight - Review

http://invisiblekidreviews.blogspot.de/2015/07/batman-arkham-knight-review.html

This is it - the final chapter. Rocksteady is back, and they brought Batman with them.
With Batman: Arkham Knight, Rocksteady wants to finish the franchise that they originally started. And with the new villains in the forms of Scarecrow and the mysterious Arkham Knight, this screams for a new weapon - a bigger weapon: the Batmobile.
For the first time, Rocksteady lets us steer the famous Batmobile in an open world Gotham City. Trailers and gameplay demos already showed how much the half-car/half-tank hybrid is able to do: from reaching high speeds to taking out several enemy tanks at once and more. The Batmobile sure enough has what it takes to be the main selling point of the game.
But is this really enough? Or has Rocksteady also a great story to boot for Batman's final adventure?
Let's find out how the supposed ending to Rocksteady's successful Arkham saga ends...   



Story

The plot:
Set one year after the events of 2011's Batman: Arkham City, the game's main storyline follows Batman as he confronts the Scarecrow, who has launched an attack on Gotham City, causing a city-wide evacuation. Aided by the mysterious Arkham Knight, the Scarecrow unites Batman's greatest foes in a plot to finally destroy Batman.
(source: Wikipedia)



Arkham Knight stands as a direct sequel to Arkham City and thus continues the Rocksteady-Batman-timeline.
Much like previous Arkham games, Arkham Knight cuts right to the chase: Scarecrow is on the loose in Gotham City and teams up with several other Arkham villains to take out Batman once and for all and take over Gotham as a whole. To achieve this, Scarecrow, being the mastermind and main villain in Arkham Knight, threatens the city with his trademark fear toxin, forcing the entire city's population to be evacuated out of Gotham - only leaving empty streets full of criminals behind. It is now up to Batman to stop Scarecrow's plans.

What's immediately most striking about Arkham Knight, is its significantly darker atmosphere even compared to the previous Arkham games. Arkham Knight definitely has what it takes to present itself as a final chapter to a great franchise that tries to end with a big bang. Yet the game's story, despite being satisfying overall and actually pretty long, is "only" good at best and lacks impactful enough story twists and punches (like Joker's death in Arkham City) to make it truely stand out as the best and most memorable of the series.

"I love the smell of toxin in the morning. Smells like...fear."

Especially the titular Arkham Knight, a mysterious villain in charge of an entire army who seems to have a personal grudge against Batman, is mostly a big disappointment. Though he certainly looks cool, aside from he himself feeling not that much like a bigger threat and being way not as present or important to the overall story as it might seem at first, it's the reveal of the Knight's true identity that marks the biggest letdown in the story. Without spoiling anything, the Knight's identity is something that everyone with the most basic knowledge about Batman comics and story archs will INSTANTLY be able to figure out. What's even worse though is that Arkham Knight's story simply throws so many blatened hints at you, that player's will actually feel like "No. His identity can't possibly THIS obvious...right?"...well, sadly yes. Players, whether Batman fan or not, will see the identity of the Arkham Knight see coming from miles away. Needless to say that this sadly pulls the teeth out of a villain that could have otherwise been a very great driving force for the story.

They should've called the game: "Batman: Captain Obvious".

Yet still, there are many redeeming factors in Arkham Knight's story that make playing through it still a big joy. Most importantly, there are two aspects that pose as the strongest ones for the whole storyline: 1. a certain very important twist that we won't spoil here but whose effects become a huge part of the entire game and how the story plays out, and 2. Scarecrow's mindgames and illusions through his fear toxin.
If you thought that Scarecrow's nightmares induced on Batman were freaky, just wait what Batman will have to face this time around. And even though Arkham Knight does go a bit of an easy route with its themes that by now have become very standard tropes of comic superheroes, it's the way the game visualizes and presents them that makes them nevertheless appealing to experience. Sure enough, questions like "Is Batman really a hero?", "Is Batman's existence actually causing super villains to exist?", "Is putting your family into danger really worth fighting crime for?" are all nothing new by now and have all already been answered numerous times already. Yet seeing how seemlessly Arkham Knight's story connects and blends reality and illusion into one, always making you ask yourself what's real and what's not, this new narrative style to the franchise does a solid job of somewhat balancing out the story's other shortcomings.

All in all, Arkham Knight's story is a satisfying Batman story that definitely presents itself and plays out like the definitive final chapter but sadly suffers quite a bit from the wasted potential of some of its most intriguing villains. Arkham City therefore storywise still marks the highpoint of the franchise, yet Rocksteady nevertheless gave Batman's story an ending that fits the Dark Knight's character despite feeling a bit too safe and predictable most of the time.

"Get ready to get gassed, Bats."


Gameplay

Missions and Side-Activities - "Let's Clean This Place Up"

Rocksteady might have found yet again a reason to clear off the streets from any civilians, making only criminals and cops roam the streets, but that doesn't mean that going around in Gotham and doing your thing as Batman is any less fun. Despite a huge evacuation having taken place, there is still a lot happening in Gotham.
To keep track of all the mayhem, objectives will pop up on your map if you discover them or you can simply check the wheel of progress giving you a good overview and summary of your missions inluding the main storyline.
Side-activites once again mostly focus on a series of objectives dedicated to tracking down and capturing one of the many villains of the Batman universe. Side-activities can range from tracking down and taking out enemy APCs in high speed chases or even can take place on a more unique level like for example teaming up with Catwoman, Nightwing or Robin to take down a villain in a series of different objectives with multiple check points. While some side-missions are immediately marked on the map, others can only be completed or activated by finding certain clues that give intel to the next step of the mission.

Another firefighter rescue? Sounds like a typical friday night.

Side-missions overall are given much more care and thought this time around (especially in comparison to Arkham Origins). Not only are the more complex side-missions presented way better but they are also somewhat more satisfying to complete due to a healthy dose of variety between them. Furthermore, Rocksteady gave completing all side-missions an additional motivation by including a bigger and more definite ending to the entire game that can only be unlocked by clearing out all criminal activities in Gotham. And even though this at first might seem like a cheap way to force players to invest more time into the game, clearing out all bad guys in Gotham to get the definitive final ending sequence actually makes sense in terms of the game's story. While it might still come off as a mean move by Rocksteady, it will definitely make you feel like you accomplished and deserved the final ending as soon as the credits roll.

Some side-missions have you team up with Robin, Nightwing or Catwoman.


Core Gameplay Mechanics - "Uber-Batman"

Mechanically Arkham Knight feels like a big composition of pretty much every tool, move and mechanic the Arkham series has introduced up to this point, which have additionally been spiced up with improvements now.

Most obvious of all, is the fact that getting from A to B has been drastically improved in terms of flexibility that grants players a feel of constant dynamic and neverending momentum when done right:
the Batmobile can catapult Batman higher than ever into the sky, you can pre-determine the next grappling shot making scaling buildings incredibly easy, you can now even perform takedowns on thugs standing at a grappling point or ledge, you can graple directly into an airduct, glide kick straight through windows, take out multiple enemies at once when their current mental status is "fear", and more.
On top of that, Batman's arsenal is also the biggest the series has seen up til now. Granted, there aren't too many new additions to the gadget roster this time around, but seeing how impressively huge Batman's arsenal of tools already is when only counting the ones from previous games, makes it easily forgivable. However, among the new gadgets, the voice recorder sticks out as the most unique new feature. With it, you are able to imitate villain's voices and resultingly are able to command and send their thugs to any position you want - making taking them out one after the other pretty easy.

New villains - new armor.

Looking at the combat and stealthy predator sections of the game, there also have been made quite some improvements to make encounters more interesting. This comes in the form of more enemy variety with enemies that can actually affect your fighting- or stealth tactics quite a bit. For example, the medic is a new enemy type that is able to revive fallen comrades and place electric charges on them that will stun you when you hit them directly.
Yet despite its bigger variety of enemies and abilities, Arkham Knight isn't really a difficult game. This is mostly due to the fact that Batman's arsenal and abilities have reached such a staggering size, that it's actually very easy to feel quite a bit overpowered playing as Batman. To be fair though, being overpowered and always able to outwit your enemies with gadgets and superior fighting skills has always been somewhat of a staple of Batman and might for many gamers be actually a big part of the fun itself. And while this is totally okay, even with all the fun being had, one cannot deny that with more tools at your disposale than you will actually need or regularly use in the game, Rocksteady caused a bit of a gadget- or ability overkill in the game. (The most obvious indicator for that: it is actually possible to miss certain optional gadgets in the game if you don't spot them and pick them up).

Pro-tip: kill the medic first!


The Batmobile - "Rolling Thunder"

The big star of the game though is undoubtedly the newly added Batmobile that has only made brief appearances in previous Arkham games. This time though, the Batmobile is completely in your hands.
Gotham being the game's open world playground is completely free for you to drive through with your Batmobile. Being a half car-half tank hybrid of some sort, much like Batman himself, the Batmobile is a hyper powerful tool that seemingly is able to crush everything in its path from thugs (which are electrified and bounced back by the car's shield) to other smaller cars. What's most surprising though, is how well the streets of Gotham are designed, giving the car enough space to move without having to crash into everything in sight, resultingly making driving the Batmobile through the city actually a great joy. Even though flying still remains the fastest form of transportation, the very responsive and arcade-like Batmobile controls make steering this behemoth of a car way easier and way more satisfying than expected.

A car? Or a tank? Why not both?!

The Batmobile takes up a huge part of Arkham Knight's overall gameplay activity. Being utilized as a means of transportation, combat and even puzzle solving, makes the Batmobile be an important part in almost every level, making it feel like some kind of "ace in the hole" for Batman in many tricky situations.
Whether it is used to disarm certain mines throughout the city with the batmobile's power wrench, in many of Riddler's puzzles where you race through a variety of obstacle courses, chase down thugs in cars, pull down concrete walls with your grappling hook, or anything else, the Batmobile seems to always play a part in it.
Yet the Batmobile isn't only a car -  as a matter of fact, it is actually more of a tank than a car: by holding the left trigger, the batmobile switches to battle mode, in which the movement of the Batmobile is made way more specific since the car automatically turns into a tank to battle other enemy tank drones.

Certainly didn't expect any wall climbing to be done with the Batmobile.

The omnipresence of the Batmobile in the game is a very polarizing affair though.
Despite being definitely a very cool and fun addition to the game, the Batmobile feels very overused in the game's mission designs. Puzzles in Arkham Knight overall are without any doubt very clever and fun to solve, especially with the help of the car's tools, many missions in Arkham Knight simply feel a bit too focused on wanting to show you what cool stuff the car can do. This results in many missions feeling like they lose focus on the story and are simply there for the Batmobile to have more drones to shoot. And speaking of shooting drones, while it already will make some players feel a bit alienated playing pretty much some sort of tank-battle-simulation in a Batman game, drone fighting sections appear way too often in the game's main story, making some drone fights (especially towards the end) feel quite a bit uninspired and monotone. Worst of all, is that drone- and tank fights almost entirely seem to replace traditional boss fights in Arkham Knight, of which there already are very few in the game!
And while it may sound that the entire inclusion of the Batmobile in the game was a bad idea, it is definitely not. The seemless inclusion of a Batmobile that is always just a button click away and which is able to assist you in combat, puzzles and even in some tank-stealth-sections (!) is a big achievement alone and a huge leap towards a perfect Batman simulation. It's just a pity that Rocksteady felt the need to force the Batmobile into seemingly every mission, when a healthier balance between the mano-a-mano Batman mechanics and the Batmobile would've probably resulted in a much more appealing and varied experience as a whole.

But for what it's worth, the Batmobile truely a huge and very impressive and mostly very fun addition to the franchise, which has never been done in such a scale in any superhero game.

"Damn it, Batmobile! Give me some personal space, okay?!" - "...Nope."


Graphics
 

Arkham Knight is the first Batman game on current gen consoles. Thus, Rocksteady took full advantage of the consoles' new graphical capabilities...and it shows!
Rocksteady doesn't play it subtle to showcase what a graphical powerhouse Arkham Knight is on consoles. Impressive lighting- and particle effects are everywhere: from constant rain beating down on Batman's new armor, over his wet cape waving realistically in the wind, to sparks and smoke flying out of destroyed tank drones, Arkham Knight is a game with a big eye for details.
Additionally, some places in Gotham's big map may greatly change their appearance over a specific amount of time in relation to the story, while other more devastating effects during the main story will have your jaw drop.
The icing on the cake though aren't really the graphics but rather the very creative ways of presentation, which regularly peak when Batman is suddenly caught up in one of the many nightmares Scarecrow is torturing him with.

Yet of course we also have to adress the horrible PC port of the game:
By now, you probably already heard the news of the various problems with the game's PC version. From random crashes, over stuttering framerates, to a large number of various graphical bugs even on high-end monster machines, it is (at least as of now) to be advised that you absolutely avoid the PC version of Arkham Knight at any cost.
None of the many problems of the PC version seem to appear anywhere on the console versions though, which is why you should definitely stick to those if you want a flawless experience. 


Sound
 

It is nice to see that the Arkham series for the most part does a good job keeping their voice actors together and delivering the same high quality performances that we are used to.
Though the soundtrack of Arkham Knight could've been a bit more memorable, the music does a solid job of delivering the right mood at the right time.
And once again, the game's open world is full of various conversations between thugs on the streets that are interesting to listen to, not only for clues, but for getting hints and teases regarding other DC characters or even possible sequels to the Arkham franchise.

The rain and the game's lighting effects make for pure visual eye candy.


The Verdict

To sum things up, Batman: Arkham Knight is a satisfying and entertaining albeit not perfect conclusion to Rocksteady's Batman saga. Though it definitely does a tremendous job in presenting itself as the definite final chapter in the series, in which scores are getting settled and sacrifices made, the game's story is far not as impactful or full of surprises as Rocksteady itself thinks. With that said, Arkham Knight's theme of Batman getting continuously tortured throughout the entire game by Scarecrow's fear toxin induced hallucinations makes way for many great moments that impressively blend reality and illusion into one with seemless (and thus scary) transitions.
It's therefore a shame that Arkham Knight's general storyline rarely reaches the same level of quality as its presentation, due to the fact that the story utilizes way too many familiar and predictable story beats that pull the teeth out of the game's potentially biggest twists, turning them into duds. The result is a servicable and still entertaining story, that just could (and should) have been much better.  

Mechanically, Arkham Knight poses as a big amalgamation of everything the Arkham series has introduced in terms of gameplay mechanics up to this point. Whereas improvements like more flexible movement, a bigger enemy variety and some new gadgets are welcome usual suspects, the new big star of the game is the Batmobile. Being able to be utilized for transportation, combat, puzzles and even some specifically designed stealth sections, the half-car/half-tank Batmobile is the definitive multi-purpose weapon.

And while the Batmobile's various abilities make for quite some fun to be had throughout the game, there is no denying that the Batmobile feels quite a bit overused in the game. Rocksteady's attempt to force the Batmobile into seemingly every mission in some way prevents the game from obtaining a healthier balance between the Batmobile and the original on-foot stealthy/hand-to-hand Batman gameplay. It makes the Batmobile a cool but ultimately heavily polarizing addition to the franchise, that is equally able to amaze players as much as it might alienate them with constant tank fights and its general omnipresence.

Let alone being able to get behind the wheel of the famous Batmobile for once is worth playing Arkham Knight for. 
It surely isn't the expected huge bang of a Batman game that fans expected it to be and partially even might overshoot its goal with its gameplay mechanical overkill, yet Arkham Knight still holds up as a good final chapter to the Arkham saga. And with an ending that offers just as much in terms of closure as it does in leaving doors open for a possible future, who knows if this is really the last that we've seen from Batman within the Arkham universe.

          
  
 Final Verdict: 7 out of 10 

Status: Good



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