In 2011, Arkham City came out. And for about 2 years I played that game constantly. There was so much to do within it that I just couldn’t put it down. And for as much as I could remember, and still to this day, I regard that game as a perfect game. It had an engaging story, a lot of characters to play as, and as much content as anyone could hope to have. With as high of a regard as I held that game, you can imagine I was very excited to play the next chapter of Rocksteady’s Arkham franchise. My review does contain spoilers to the game, so please refrain from reading below if you don’t want the game’s story to be ruined. It will start out with mild ones and then when I hash out the bigger spoilers I will mention once more.
The game picks up immediately at the end of Arkham City, with the Joker being dead. Unlike most comic book stories, the character is actually 100% dead. The first task you do in this game is press the X button to incinerate the clown.
When Arkham Origins came out and the trailers showcased Black Mask as the main villain, I was excited. Why? Because I had played two very good games fighting the Joker, and I was stoked to spend a game chasing down a different rogue. I was beyond disapponted when it turned out to be another game fighting the Joker. Arkham Knight doesn’t play the ole bait and switch trick that Origins did with having you think the villain was one guy and switch it to be the Joker. No, Scarecrow is terrorizing the town and is going to make damn sure he follows through with his plan. As a Batman fan of both comics, TV and video games, I was beyond pleased with this. I had only seen Scarecrow in the movies and the Animated Series, and he wasn’t a big threat ever, but in this game, he has some nasty plans.
Scarecrow wants to engulf the entire town in fear, that’s his gimmick as a Bat villain, and it’s what made me think he couldn’t carry an entire game. The Joker is about chaos and mayhem in his stories, and the Scarecrow has a plan and he executes it very systematically. He’s proposed his threat to the city, and it freaks everyone out and they vacate the city. Scarecrow has hired a mysterious figure with military training and plenty of cash to aid him in taking over Gotham. That character is a new one to the series, named the Arkham Knight. The Arkham Knight knows an awful lot about Batman, and it helps emphasize the aspect of fear the game is trying to talk about so heavily. It compliments Scarecrow’s character and his plot in a way that almost feels too perfect. Scarecrow wants to break Batman’s will, and Arkham Knight wants to torture Batman. The Knight is essentially the muscle while Scarecrow is able to perfect his execution of fear gas. As stated, Arkham Knight has a lot of cash, and he spends it on hiring thugs trained to take down Batman. He teaches them how to hurt you and where your armor is weakest. He knows that the Batmobile is a force to be recokend with and has bought a lot of drone tanks in varying ferocity. He literally has funded an army, and it’s not one to take lightly.
The game has two main focuses of play. There is Batman play, and Batmobile play. Batman play behaves the same way as previous Arkham games and combat has been refined since then. If you’ve played the other games, you will drop in without missing a beat. The game is not as educational as previous games with teaching you how to play fresh in this mode of play, which is a shame for newer users. Batman mode has two types of play, combat and predator. In combat mode, you just beat down on guys, with a mixture of punching, countering, dodge rolling and gadget usage. There’s a lot more variety than previous games with how you can fight as well. For instance, in Arkham Knight, there are several opportunities where one of Batman’s allies can assist him in combat. If you fill up a gauge, you can perform a special team take-down which is excellent. The flow between the two fighters feels smooth. It makes you wish there was more than the handful of times there were to fight this way. Another fun thing added in, is environmental take-downs. If you’re near an object that can hurt an enemy, the game will notify you by highlighting the object and the enemy in blue. Towards the end of the game there’s a lot of great ways to use this. In the predator play, which is my personal favorite, you hide in the shadows and pick off guys one at a time. In this mode, if you perform one silent takedown, you fill up a Fear meter and it allows you to take down multiple guys if you can plan the move right. It definitely makes you feel more like the character when you have more of his trademark personality in his fighting style.
The second mode of play is in the Batmobile. It is a very well thought out and a very precise vehicle. It has two forms, a driving form and an assault form. In driving form, you race around and drive. It feels like Mario Kart with the ability to drift and cut corners sharp and you get an afterburner ability to launch off ledges. Assault mode is where the majority of the Batmobile play is, and in it, you have a machine gun, a heavy gun and other good stuff to take down bad guys.
The earlier entries in the franchise were all built without the Batmobile, and in this game, the majority of the game feels like it’s in the car. Arkham Asylum had like 3 boss fights (Bane, Ivy, Joker), Arkham City had a significantly higher number, Arkham Origins had over 8. This game has about 4-5 and the majority of them are in the car which I feel is a bummer. There’s a side quest where you have to stop Two Face from robbing a bank and when he walks in to the room to help finish, he’s not even in the challenge. In Arkham City, he had a flamethrower and you had to sneak up on him to beat him up. This same behind-the-curtain approach is used on the Penguin and Harley Quinn as well. It significantly discredits the threat of these characters when there is no real conflict besides snatching the guys or seeing them finished in the next scene.
The game has a good amount of side content, or so it appears to but none of them really feel fun or fulfilling. In Arkham City, you had to recreate how Deadshot murdered people before finding him and facing him in a fight. Half of these side missions require little to no skill beyond being in the right place at the right time. I’ve made my own Batman game, and the extra character I squeezed in was the Manbat, as he is my favorite villain. He’s this awesome were-bat. In this game, you fly around town, pounce on him, and that’s it basically. You do that three times and he’s done. That’s a huge let-down considering it could have been fun to grapple around the city and fight him. You at least chase down Firefly in the Batmobile before he’s finished, but even then, it feels cheap and unsatisfying. The Riddler challenges of Asylum, City and Origins were all excellent and I am pleased to say that these are just as wonderful. He has built race tracks and special challenges that utilize both Batman and Batmobile. The racing tracks do feel very unforgiving most times and some of the precision needed for other trophy collecting feels entirely too difficult.
My favorite parts of the old games, and where I sank all of my time those two years, is in the Challenge Maps. Arkham City had Batman, Robin, Nightwing and Catwoman, and each one could play ALL of the maps with their own set of requirements for success. It upsets me greatly that this is changed for the worse and seems to be sacrificed for main game detail I suspect. The game has several instances where you play as other characters, and they are fully figured out characters. Why did they waste all of that time on them if you can’t use them more than that? Arkham Knight has Batman, Azrael, Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Red Hood as playable characters and yet we can’t do anything with them outside of their brief areas? Maybe I am the only one who loved those challenge maps, but it feel like a huge loss to not have them as they were before with the same options. To waste 7 characters like this just feels disrespectful to the player and the characters themselves and the brief times we use them feel like teases. I downloaded new costumes for Robin and Nightwing and I have no clue when I will be able to use them. In City you could use the new skins in the Challenge Maps and it was fun. With a character like Harley Quinn, who has had 3-4 looks throughout the franchise, that in itself would be fun for players to play as all versions of her character. There is a Batgirl DLC coming soon, and I suspect it will be just as forgettable as the Harley Quinn or Red Hood stories. Without using her in the Challenge Maps, it feels like a complete waste of money to having committing to the season pass.
This next three paragraphs will contain spoilers.
Anyone that has seen the animated movie “Under the Red Hood” or is slightly familiar with the character of Jason Todd will recognize that the identity of the Arkham Knight is him. Jason Todd, was Batman’s 2nd Robin, who the Joker murdered. In his comic story, he was killed, and brought back to life in a Lazarus Pit and then trained by Batman’s ex-sweetheart, Taila Al Ghul to get revenge. In this game, Arkham Knight is basically brainwashed and tortured by the Joker. The Joker even takes it upon himself to brand a J on the side of his face. At least when Jason was dead, it made sense for why he wasn’t around. But in this game since he’s been alive the entire time, his prescence now makes no sense. Was he biding his time? Where did he get his fortune to fund the tanks and the militia you must fight? The game’s story is great, but it’s because it borrows so heavily from a great story and doesn’t serve the character the justice he deserved. The Arkham Knight’s final battle is a cross between an actual fight and a predator encounter. It’s about like fighting Two Face (Arkham City) or Deadshot (Arkham Origins), but overall the fight feels weak and relies too much on the emotional build up to the fight itself. Once Jason Todd is finished, there’s another two hours where the game feels a little bit directionless and it never really builds up the momentum leading to this fight.
Scarecrow’s plot is quite good, and at times, it seems to be the biggest thing that could happen to Gotham and it makes you respect him as much as you do the Joker or even Bane. It is a huge shame that Scarecrow does so much and even convinces Batman to reveal himself to the world as Bruce Wayne and he doesn’t get a single boss fight or anything. The whole game is resolved by a simple choice to just… surrender. Why didn’t I get to fight Scarecrow in one of those hell-ish scenes from Arkham Asylum that I thought from the start of this game that I would? He, like Penguin and Harley, goes down behind the curtain.
The best part of this entire game, beyond the massively detailed open world and the smooth Batmobile is the appearance of the Joker. Earlier on, I went ahead and said that I was let down in Origins that the Joker was the bad guy. The Joker is in this game, but not in the capacity of other games. In Arkham City, the Joker kidnapped Batman and injected him with his infected blood with the Joker virus from Asylum. It’s what was killing the Joker and Batman had to find a cure, well, the cure he thought he took in Arkham City is false, so the mixture of fear toxin and the Joker blood in Batman has created these horribly excellent hallucinations. The Joker is everywhere and talking to you and guiding you around in an obnoxious way that works really well. The Joker blood has probably the most rewarding closure of the entire game’s many plots. Through this Joker haunting, you learn about what he did to Jason Todd, and it’s through that, that you accept why Batman is cruel to his newest bird boy, Tim Drake. If the Joker were still alive or if he were the game’s bad guys versus Scarecrow, the story and game would feel cheap, and it’s nice to see the Joker thrive in a capacity that isn’t his standard one. It was a really clever concept that worked. It made the entire game feel like a deep psychological take on Batman as a character and definitely helped you feel like you were him, like the game’s promotions have advertised.
Overall, the game is just okay. It’s hard to say this because it’s made by the same crew that made City, which is one of my favorite games, but it seems this game is the weakest game in the franchise. Too much of what made the franchise great is compromised to make room for the Batmobile and the heart of the series has been lost. If you’re new to the franchise, you’ll have the most fun if you play the games in the order they were released. I can’t recommend this game to anyone except for people that just want more of a Batman experience without actually getting something satisfying. I’m not even sure if I feel up to going for new game plus knowing this game is so immensely lackluster and mediocre. I’d have gladly paid the costs of this game to just get the other Arkham games in HD for PS4.