[Apologies for the lack of images, the new blog editor is really, really terrible when it comes to sizing them and everything was coming out blurry, with the instructions on how to change it being clear as mud...I never thought I'd say this, but I miss the old editor!]
I’m going to make this abundantly clear: I did not play Arkham Origins. As far as I’m concerned, it never happened. On that basis, going from Arkham City – my personal GOTY at the time – to Arkham Knight was a serious shock to the system. Not only is Arkham Knight awash with plot-related problems, hack writing and shitty Riddler puzzles – which are required for the 100% ‘true ending’ – it’s the epitome of what happens when you take the nucleus of a good idea from a writer who knew what they were doing (Paul Dini - who was shamelessly ejected from the series without proper notice) and hand it off to people who only really understand what made the series great on a surface level.
Pretty basic really; Scarecrow has a new form of toxin that makes everyone get scared and violent, he clears out Gotham City, and it’s up to Batman to hunt him down and stop him, to bring order back to Gotham. Well...that’s not entirely the story, and here’s where things get overcomplicated: there’s also an individual called the Arkham Knight: a man who has seeming intimate knowledge of Batman’s skills and plans, who’s working with Scarecrow in order to kill the Bat. But wait, we’re not done yet: there are also several underlying and equally mismanaged and uninteresting stories involving the Man-Bat, a serial killer, the Militia led by Deathstroke, arson via Firefly, gun-running with Penguin, and a dual-tale of Joker’s blood winding up in five separate people who Batman & Robin are attempting to return to normal, and Batman being gassed by Scarecrow and hallucinating his greatest fears. Oh, and the Riddler makes a return too, capturing Catwoman – a character you literally played as in City – and turning her into a damsel in distress. Not only is the story disjointed, full of not-at-all surprising ‘twists’ and ‘turns’, but the side-stories are pathetically padded out over an ‘unlock ‘X’ percentage of main mission to access ‘Y’ percentage of side mission’ path which ultimately ends in a limp wristed fight with ultimately nothing of value happening. Now the story can sometimes show glimmers of hope, there’s a particularly interesting set of scenes late-game which change up the formula, but nothing that lasts long enough to really make an effective and lasting impact on you in terms of story. By far, this is the weakest story I’ve played in an Arkham game ever, there are surprises but they don’t last, the game attempts to mess with your perception of reality through psychological moments but does it so often you just stop caring from the pure boredom of using this one-trick pony over and over again – the thing that’s meant to entice you into playing actually smothers your enthusiasm given how often it’s employed.
Combat is more refined in Arkham Knight. Everything feels faster and more connected, there are fewer moments when combos or counters feel disjointed or lock up, which was a serious problem in both Asylum and City, so it’s nice to see that they’ve tried to polish it as best they can. However, problems still exist: some enemies will require you to use a series of different moves in order to defeat them, one larger enemy will require you to stun them, attack them using a double jump move (which the game will often take as a ‘jump over them’ move given the buttons are exactly the same) and beat them down. It becomes more hassle than it’s worth to deal with these enemies, and the combat was meant to be simplistic-yet-elegant, so adding additional movesets to already existing combat mechanics tends not to work. You can upgrade your batsuit, your gadgets, your skills and your Batmobile by levelling up – which is stunningly simple given the sheer amount there is to do in Gotham, with 14 different missions to complete. There are also new tag-team combat situations with Robin, Nightwing and Catwoman, but these never last long and only really add a ‘team-takedown’ and a one other, underused stealth mechanic with Robin that never returns again. You have the signature Detective Vision, which is utilized in many different ways throughout the game to track individuals and reconstruct crime scenes, along with scanning victims, but is criminally underused in a game where you’re meant to be the world’s greatest detective. Despite the staggering amount of content, however, there lies a serious issue bubbling under the surface: quality has been replaced with quantity, and quantity shoves the god-damn batmobile crossways up your asshole every chance it gets. Moving around the city in the Batmobile, despite the fact that you have the grappling hook and up to three-times the additional boosting power, can sometimes be fun – of that there is no doubt. Getting used to the driving and making seamless turns around corners, handbraking and shunting enemies cars you’re pursuing feels amazing, it feels like the Batmobile has always looked like it should feel. Yet it’s utterly and completely shattered by the ‘Dark Knight Returns’-esque ‘battle mode’ used for literally fucking everything in the game, from puzzle solving to excruciating races and limp-wristed attempts at ‘boss battles’ throughout the experience.
This isn’t a joke; the Batmobile is employed, sometimes for the most arbitrary of the already arbitrary of reasons, for pulling down a random doorway, for using via remote control so you can get to the next area or solve a very basic physics puzzle. What was designed as a vehicle to chase criminals throughout the streets of Gotham becomes a sluggish, slow lump of shite used for painfully awkward puzzle sections and horde-mode drone battles. Yes, drones. Because Batman doesn’t kill, they had to introduce about 4-5 different variations of annoying drones to the mix in order to pad out the game’s vehicular combat sections. The camera is also pretty awful, as it refuses to alter the controls in any way while putting you in increasingly more difficult positions that you could deal with, but the camera wrestles control away from you to make things that much more awkward. What should be an interesting and amazing experience turns swiftly into an awkward and jarring idea you’re being bludgeoned across the head with, given half the chance. To top this all off, there’s no real ‘boss battle’ situation throughout the game, you don’t fight enemies one-on-one outside of the Riddler, and even that’s not really impressive. When the stealth sections appear, they’re short and well designed, but far too easy, because if you’ve played any other game, you know how to approach any given situation. You can employ some specific gadgets to disable medics should they try to revive downed allies, and if you get close enough to an enemy using a drone, you can download the drone info and utilize it against the enemy. When you manage to do this just right, it’s a fantastic feeling, you honestly feel like the Batman, much like when you’re tearing through the streets of Gotham in the Batmobile, but it never truly lasts. The illusion quickly shatters as you’re forced to wait for the game to arbitrarily lower bridges to get to new areas, which gives you a brief respite from the batmobile, only to utilize it the moment the game deems it necessary to fight drones. It’s depressing and overused, and it makes me sad to think that what should have been an option was forced down our throats so mercilessly.
Arkham Knight is, by far, the best looking Arkham game to date. It makes full use of next-gen technology, bringing the crude and dark streets of Gotham to life. Regardless of the weather, rain or clear, moonlit sky, it looks visually stunning. There are a few hiccups in the visuals though, with lip-syncing being off by a fraction of a second, and some clipping which seems amateurish when enemies are being held down during interrogations. Despite that, the movements are fluid and dynamic when it comes to combat, everything is aesthetically pleasing and flows well together and there really isn’t much to say other than: this is Gotham, perfectly detailed, filled with Easter Eggs from other DC characters, and looking fucking amazing. The lighting is excellent, the city is painstakingly detailed and it just works. There really isn’t anything more to say about it.
Sound design is par for the course, the voice-acting is excellent, if not overused for some characters: I’m looking at you, Arkham Knight, shut the fuck up you miserable turd. The music compliments the atmosphere perfectly, with swelling orchestral scores hitting all the right notes at the perfect moments, and creepy opera music playing to aid you in locating a serial killers’ victims making the whole affair thoroughly atmospheric. This is, of course, when you’re outside of the Batmobile, whose sounds range from: ‘Brrrrrrrrm-squeeeee-brrrrm’ to ‘BOOM-*generic reload sound*-BOOM’. (as you can probably tell, I’m not loving the Batmobile). However, there is yet another problem; the game seems to misunderstand what directional sound is, sometimes preventing you from hearing certain characters clearly unless you’re facing them at just the right camera angle...which is annoying and offputting. Overall, the voice acting is excellent, the music is fantastic, the Batmobile essentially harms it, coupled with the poor directional sound design.
What Arkham Knight does right, it does well; fluid combat and intense driving, along with the very rare detective and stealth moments remind you of the previous titles in the series and how far it’s come. Ultimately though, the game falls short in too many aspects to garner anything above an average grade. The sheer amount of content was seemingly intended to mask and simultaneously justify the overuse of the batmobile and the simplicity of the main story and side missions. For the end of a series, this game doesn’t live up the standard the previous games have set – and has rightfully come under fire for hiding the ‘true ending’ under 100%-ing the game, which means collecting all of Riddler’s thought-jizz, which really isn’t worth doing. The pedigree of the series required something more extensive than what we got, it feels rushed, the quantity betrays the lack of quality, and because of that, it won’t ever reach the pinnacle of Arkham City.
WTF? Moment: Batman doesn’t kill, but he’ll threaten to crush the skull of a random militia chap under the wheel of the Batmobile, showing that he’s really losing his touch and that nobody on the enemy side actually read that Batman doesn’t fucking kill. Christ.