Review: Batman Arkham Knight
Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham franchise has undoubtedly marked the previous console generation with a perfectly paced adventure, cleverly combining gameplay and a brutal combat system with subtle infiltration mechanics, all carried by an impeccable story production. With Arkham Knight, the British studio intends to close their trilogy with a bang by taking advantage of the new generation to to bat-slap us with enhanced graphics.
A direct sequel to Batman Arkham City, this new episode could have been the story of a peaceful Gotham City and its reconstruction after Batman beat Joker’s plans, left to have his burned by cremation. A little carefree and serene starting scene if I may say so. But like many stories, peace is never meant to last, especially in the unluckiest city of the comic world. While I thought that I got rid of him at the Arkham Asylum, the Scarecrow will make a thunderous return to the city by spreading a toxic gas that pushes people to kill each others, and will push the authorities to evacuate the three main Gotham islands. Only a few policemen and firemen remain courageous to stand above a mob of bad guys and armed militia which are seriously equipped. In other words, our masked friend will have much to do to bring the peace.
Like in Arkham City, Rocksteady has found a smart story to empty the city of its population and make it a open world game without any constraints. A little regret for those who hoped to play the vigilante saving women assaulted in a dark alley or fetching a cat stuck in a tree, but the story takes us so quickly in a whirlwind of action that we soon forget Rocksteady’s trick. As usual, the studio took the opportunity to unpack a whole collection of recurring villains, and thus results in a story packed with surprises and twists. Not always very subtle, some plot twists are certainly a little cheesy, but whatever. We really embarks on an adventure that never holds your attention for granted and that cleverly mixes viciously clever staged fights with explosive and epic sequences.
Broadly, Batman Arkham Knight fits perfectly in the tradition of its predecessors, including Batman Arkham City. At first, you might feel like you already played this game, but Rocksteady really knew how to boost every aspect of the game to refresh its flavor. It’s a bigger, brighter, and longer game as a whole. One has only to perch at the top of a building to be convinced. Shattered by a heavy rain, dive in through the city torn by blinding lightning, Gotham is spread out to your our feet, bustling, bright, lively (even with the lack of citizens). Although it did not really surprise us as much as the 2011 release – even though the city five times larger – you never get tired to glide between buildings and monuments that still draw inspiration from the architectural side of the 50s, one of a futuristic Gothic theme, perfectly fitting the Batman universe. The characters are not left without an attention to detail and expressiveness that score well. Scarecrow’s face is morbid, Penguin is as humorous as ever, and the incredible textures of the Dark Knight’s brand new armor. Rocksteady once again proves its impeccable mastery of the Unreal Engine, and there is hardly a hint of aliasing and frame rate drops during certain passages. But frankly, nothing embarrassing in general.
Not surprisingly, the game design therefore follows the same logic by following the foundations already established by its predecessor, but taking them even further. Batman Arkham Knight takes the formula of the open world by providing access to main tasks that place you at the central plot of the game, but also a myriad of side missions that will inflate the lifespan of the game while expanding the background story of the adventure. While destroying enemy strongholds, stalking Firefly or the Riddler Trophies hunt will feel like copy-pasted tasks, others have more consistency and interest as dismantling Penguin’s weapon trafficking or Two-Face’s robberies.
I enjoyed picking my path in the game as I want by accessing a click on the D-Pad with all the proposed missions. You might hurry and run head-on into the main missions while others will flutter at their pleasure by tasting all Rocksteady’s surprises prepared in parallel with, to gain valuable experience points to be then used and unlock performance and gadgets skills. So it will take you roughly 8-10 hours to get to the end of the main story. But you can easily add a big 20-30 hours to complete all the side missions and challenges that will be the only way to discover the true end of the game (good luck on that part, as I can’t be bothered to finish Riddler’s endless trophy hunt).
Always perfectly balanced, Arkham Knight brutal action oscillates between phases with punch fights, to the well made infiltration instances as well as some fun detective parts like crime scene analysis and video surveillance. As with every chapter, clashes have become even more vivid (yes, that was possible). In the first part, we also tend almost to regret this development as they become speedy. Gradually, the game pits enemies in more numerous amounts and some require different challenges in fighting techniques and become more interesting. Something new this episode, is the duo-fights with other characters of the Bat-family (Nightwing, Robin, Catwoman). A fun idea, but quite underutilized.
On the other hand, the infiltration sequences as always are based on observation and overuse of gadgets to eliminate one by one the guards. I should note the arrival of surveillance drones, machine gun turrets, motion detector and optical armorspice things up a bit. From Batman’s end, traps can now reach some guards through a voice synthesizer, hacking drones or automatically spin in the underground ventilation ducts located on the walls. In short, Rocksteady didn’t rush to overuse its winning formula and simply refined it, enriching it notably by proposing a wide range of gadgets to allow more creativity and to express themselves to the full.
Even after pushing all knobs of their game to the max, Rocksteady feared that the player was eager for a big change. Whatever the reason, one wonders what Rocksteady were thinking when they designed the Batman Arkham Knight’s Batmobile. Closer to a military design of Nolan as the sober and efficient version of Burton and Bruce Timm, there’s so many ideas in one vehicule. Its wild roars, the sheaves of flames that spit each acceleration, the way Batman ejects from it… The first time you use it is downright exciting. The problem is that Rocksteady wanted to make it almost the co-star of the game where it could’ve clearly stay in its simple luxury vehicle room in the Batcave.
First problem is the lack of driving sensations. Of course, the Batmobile roars perfectly, and everything becomes blurred once we use the boost. But developers have voluntarily restrained the controls to make it easier to drive. The result sadly is as soon as one gives the car a boost, the car decelerates automatically. It’s subtle – hard to see at first, even – but the sensations take a serious blow. Note also that to cross Gotham, it will be much easier and faster to go via the air with the grappling hook and cape gliding combo rather than relying on this kind of automated car disguised as a dragster.
But the worst idea remains by far is the tank function. With a click on the left trigger, the Batmobile is transformed into a small ultra maneuverable tank with four wheels, armed mainly with a vulcan cannons and 60mm gun. To justify this “genius” idea, the game will pit us against an army of armored drones that roam Gotham in order to knock us. Alas, some main tasks in the story exploit this absurd concept by throwing us into fights, certainly spectacular, but they are above all particularly painful. Simply put, the Batmobile that becomes a tank, is probably one of the most idiotic ideas that we have seen in a video game since Sega’s hedgehog transformation into a werewolf in Sonic Unleashed. It’s totally irrelevant and breaks the rhythm of the game. Fortunately, throughout the adventure, these passages remain relatively sporadic and are quickly forgotten once “on foot”.
A final word to point out that if this test was performed without any problems on the Xbox One version that runs great, it is quite different for the PC version outsourced by Rocksteady. Between the frame rate that need to be unlocked in the .ini files, and the many stability problems encountered, the game is still waiting for an enormous patch to solve the many problems that affect it.
Batman Arkham Knight was reviewed using an Xbox One retail copy of the game purchased by the author. More than 86% of the game was finished, leaving many Riddler’s trophy and fireman to be saved The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC in both retail and online store releases. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Gotham, better than ever
• Batman, more powerful than ever
• Gameplay perfectly balanced and varied
• A great execution
• The adventure grows in strength
• Some great surprises in the story
• Plenty of perks and side mission to unlock
• Overdone and pointless Batmobile
• Fighting drone tanks
• There's a feeling of resting too much on its laurels
• Character design is still debatable