I have something of an affinity with the “Batman: Arkham” series. Arkham City was the first game I reviewed, way back when I got to go to its launch event; it essentially set this whole “Reviewingfloor” thing into motion. Arkham Asylum was fantastic- it really shook things up in terms of superhero games; its detail, gameplay and care for the source material made it the new benchmark for the genre. Arkham City took that theme and ran with it, although it sacrificed a more tightly-focused story for an open world. I even quite like Arkham Origins, even though it’s pretty much just the same thing, with some incredibly convenient story hand-waves. So now we come to Arkham Knight, the last game in the series, and a game already infamous for a broken PC port that recalled by publishers Warner Brothers. It’s the first game in the series on current-gen consoles, its open world now encompasses all of Gotham City, and it was shown to be a fair bit darker and more grim than before. It piqued my interest, certainly, but how did it turn out? Is it a fitting end to the trilogy? Some light spoilers ahead.
After the genuinely surprising death of The Joker at the end of “…City”, Scarecrow has stepped in to fill the main villain role. He’s battered and maimed after his run in with Killer Croc in “…Asylum”, he’s got a somber new voice courtesy of John Noble, and he’s threatening to fill the entire city with fear toxin. In reality this is a slightly ham-fisted way to make sure there aren’t any civilians in the game, but I’ll let it slide. I’ve got bigger fish to fry anyway. Throughout the story the key theme is Batman finally failing to save Gotham; Scarecrow hammers this home every time he addresses you over loud speakers that apparently reach every square inch of the city. Helping him in this is the titular Arkham Knight, a mysterious new villain with training, a private army of mercenaries and intimate knowledge of Batman and his various weaknesses. Who is the Arkham Knight? Well, without giving it away directly; he’s exactly who you think he is. Yes, him. Yes the reveal is disappointing. It makes sense it’s him but it’s spoiled by how much they hyped him up as a whole new character when in actual fact he’s, well he’s him. Ahem. Navigated that minefield like a pro. He’s also responsible for one of the absolute worst gameplay elements, but I’ll get to that. Rounding out the cast is the Joker, or at least a persistent hallucination of him born from exposure to Scarecrow’s fear toxin. Now you might think that bringing the Joker back is cheating really; a case of having their cake and eating it, and honestly it kind of is. Particularly when the game (SLIGHTLY HEAVIER SPOILERS) makes the ending confrontation all about him (SPOILERS END). Having said that, I can’t deny they use him well. Having him be a figment of Batman’s imagination means he has access to all of Bruce’s private knowledge, and can use it against him. He’s also genuinely funny, though in a rather dark way that suits the game’s tone. So at least two of the three villains are well done, and for the most part the plot is pretty good. It hits the bleak marks nicely, and there are times when it feels like Batman may genuinely fail, just as Scarecrow insists that he will. However, there are two key failures in the game that end up being reversed, with no real consequence. That’s where the story fell down for me, again it’s them having their cake and eating it. They want Batman to fail, but obviously Batman can’t fail because he’s Batman. It’s frustrating; they already killed The Joker, you’d think this wouldn’t be too far, especially with it being the last in the series.
Gameplay wise, it’s pretty much the same, except for new additions that just get in the way. Chief among them is the Batmobile. The Batmobile is absolutely ridiculous, and outstays its welcome after about an hour or so. No matter where he goes, no matter how unlikely it seems or how much trouble it is to take the Batmobile, Batman always finds a way to drag it along with him. They seem to have thought “Well, the Batmobile is useable for the first time, we better make the most of it”. What starts as a cool addition that adds to the whole “I’m Batman” feel quickly becomes the gameplay’s biggest weakness. The aforementioned gameplay element brought in by the Arkham Knight is having to constantly fight unmanned drone tanks. They pop up all the bloody time- you’ll be going to or from a story bit and suddenly a load of tanks will turn up, as the Arkham Knight shouts “YOU DON’T KILL PEOPLE, THAT MAKES YOU WEAK. NOW FIGHT MY UNMANNED TANKS” because that plan makes sense and doesn’t waste my time in the slightest. Elsewhere Batman has a new suit that lets him move faster, which in practical terms means you can now chain together stealth takedowns, and boss fights have been completely replaced with you and one of Batman’s mates teaming up to beat the crap out of a load of goons. It’s a step backward from the Mr Freeze boss fight, but at least you don’t have to jump out the way of charging big lads anymore. Other villains have been relegated to side missions that you have to complete in order to get the true ending (which is shit by the way), and while it’s nice to see them, the missions themselves are forgettable. The detective elements follow Arkham Origins’ lead and add synthesising voice clips of people for various uses and reviewing security footage, and these moments are a welcome addition. The combat and stealth are still really good, you don’t need me to tell you that; it’s an Arkham game. The stealth definitely seems easier though, but I don’t consider that a problem really.
Overall, this is a step backward. The story doesn’t go far enough, the ending doesn’t do the trilogy justice, and the titular Knight is a complete waste. The Batmobile spoils the gameplay every time it pops up (which is all the goddamn time), but the core gameplay of beating the shit out of criminals, jumping on them from gargoyles and doing light detective work still holds up. There’s fun to be had here, but it’s easily the weakest of the trilogy.
By James Lambert