Batman: Arkham Knight
It is rare for a comic book storyline to come to a definitive end, but it is even rarer for video game franchises. Perhaps this is why Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Knight is such a bold undertaking; it not only strives to put a cap on the Batman story the developers have been telling for years now, but it also presents itself as a clear conclusion to the franchise. Given how much of a leap forward both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were, this weighed down Arkham Knight with ridiculously high expectations before it was even launched. Has Rocksteady been able to meet these expectations, or does Arkham Knight prove that even Batman can get old?
The final moments of Arkham City left Batman in an especially dark place. The Joker is dead, as is Talia al Ghul, and things have never looked bleaker for the city of Gotham. Now Scarecrow has returned, united the worst criminals against Batman, and put the city in a state of seige with a brutal army under the leadership of an enigmatic villain calling himself the Arkham Knight. The city is evacuated as the violence escalates, and it is up to Batman to stop Scarecrow and set things right once and for all.
|Such a downer, Alfred|
At the same time, Batman, with the help of Robin, is getting close to curing a lingering disease that affects a hundful of people who managed to survive exposure to Joker's tainted blood during the events of Arkham City. These survivors are slowly going psychotic, sporting green-tinted hair, pale skin, and a twisted sense of humor. In other words, they appear to be turning into new versions of the Joker. The Joker returns in other ways as well, as Batman, after exposure to Scarecrow's new and improved fear toxin, begins having frequent, taunting hallucinations of the clown prince of crime. Indeed, in terms of sheer screen time, the Joker gets more while being dead in Arkham Knight than he does while alive in any of the previous Arkham games.
Still, Scarecrow holds his own as the primary antagonist, especially as the story draws to its close. He has undergone some pretty extreme physical changes to make him even more terrifying, and he manages to cleverly exploit Batman's weaknesses and fears to get what he ultimately wants, which is not to kill Batman, but to discredit and humiliate him. He certainly turns out to be a bigger threat than Hugo Strange or Ras al Ghul ever was.
He is overshadowed, however, by the Arkham Knight, Rocksteady's unique creation. Unlike Scarecrow, the Arkham Knight wants to see Batman dead, and he appears to have the training, skill, and knowledge to succeed in that goal. He seems to know Batman on an intimate level--even teasing early on that he knows him to be Bruce Wayne--and his mission is a personal vendetta for wrongs Batman has done to him. I will not spoil the Knight's identity here, but sufficed to say, when he was unmasked during my playthrough, I had narrowed him down to two possibilities and he was one of them. It does not disappoint.
|Scarecrow is pretty damn creepy|
With all these plot threads in the air--plus the clean-up of other villains like the Penguin and Two-Face who are running amok--it's hard to see exactly where the story is going, but one thing is made abundantly clear throughout: this is Batman's last night of crime-fighting. He is battling for his soul this time around, and he has been driven to a much darker and more desperate place than ever before (which is saying quite a lot). He is hounded by regrets and the lives that have been lost, and he faces the very real possibility that he is more responsible for the current state of Gotham than any of the baddies he has faced. He is old, tired, and trying to prove that his efforts have been worth it, even as the city lays abandoned and overrun around him.
It all comes together masterfully, with plot twists that are both clever and thematically resonant. It's difficult to play through the final moments of the game, because your dropping jaw keeps hitting the controller.
[STORY: 10 - Fantastic storytelling that manages to tie the entire series up in a nice, poignant bow.]
Arkham Asylum redefined the rules in many ways, introducing an amazingly intuitive and subconsciously rythmic fighting system alongside the easily-abused detective mode scanner and a wealth of wonderful toys. Both Arkham City and Arkham Origins ironed out and fully refined most of the wrinkles in these mechanics, leaving Arkham Knight little to do in that regard. While the controls are slightly tweaked here and there (including a frustratingly altered slide mechanic that will throw off veterans of the series), almost everything is left intact.
|Prepare for a lot of mayhem in the Batmobile|
The game starts without any tutorials and with most of Batman's familiar tools already in place, leaving room for the developers to show off their one brand-new addition: the Batmobile. While the Batmobile is certainly fun, both as a fast car and as a tank, the game focuses on it a little too heavily, forcing players to rely on it more than most otherwise would. Like everything else, it can be upgraded, but the upgrades never feel particularly great, especially if you waste your leveling up points on faster ejection seats.
Many parts of the game turn into a glorified tank simulator, with gameplay no more complicated than dodging incoming shots while aiming your cannon. It gets tedious after a while, and it becomes the game's biggest burden by the end. This is especially notable since the predator sections of the game--where Batman stalks a group of enemies and can pick them off using a variety of tools and environmental hazards--never seem quite as epic or as varied as they do in previous games. It almost feels as though everything that made the Arkham series great takes a backseat in the Batmobile, and that's pretty disappointing.