The Arkham series of games, which started with Arkham Asylum, showed audiences a gameplay experience that truly made you feel like "The Batman". The combat system allowed you to brawl with surgically accurate strikes and acrobatic maneuvers. Players had the entire wealth of Batman's technological tools (and then some) at his full advantage (each new sequel added even more gadgets). Staying true to Batman's comic origins as a detective, players also employed both tools and skills in order to figure out crimes and solve puzzles. And of course, the entire game was populated by the who's-who of the Dark Knight's rogues gallery.
Who is the Arkham Knight?
The game opens with a playable cinematic that quickly explains why Gotham has been suddenly evacuated by civilians and why goons and thugs are running around. And this sets the stage for the game (and for Batman), Gotham has become open season for all the baddies and it is up to the caped crusader (and his allies) to clean up the plagued city. Coming into the fray is an all new nemesis: the Arkham Knight. Who, with his inexplicably well funded army and villain alliances, seems to have a serious vendetta against Batman.
The irony of the game's main question: the identity of the Arkham Knight, has a pretty mundane answer. For those completely unfamiliar with the Batman mythos, it is a nonsensical bit of information. For those who love the comics, it is predictable. It would have been far more rewarding for the game to explore the background of the character in depth and for him to be present and palpable in the previous chapters for the impact to have any true meaning.
Video game sequels should always follow a golden rule: don't change what isn't broken. Rocksteady knows this well and Arkham Knight has kept many of the key factors that made the series so fun to play. And in this case, it's the combat. Batman dives in an out of hand-to-hand fights like a boss, and yet the controls are incredibly simple. There's a single attack button that you mash for combos. Visually, it's a joy to watch. Each of Batman's strikes are context-sensitive, his punches and kicks will vary depending on the direction you are facing and what his enemy is doing. AK turns this up a notch by adding even more animations than before. Combat sequences are something to marvel at and never get old, but of course, the process of just pressing one button over and over is repetitive. Thankfully, the game requires you to make full use of the controller.
Watch: Batman Fighting Gameplay in Arkham Knight
A well timed press of different buttons assigned for dodging, countering, and stunning turns your striking attack combinations into dangerously unstoppable onslaughts (for your enemies that is). Batman seamlessly switches from kicking one foes face in to intercepting another onrushing thug and quickly punishing him with a grab counter, enjoy the satisfying sound of cracking bones. After that, you can resume beating the living daylights out of the rest of the goons without breaking the combo. Thankfully, the game shows an onscreen prompt for timing your counter button press. As if that was not cool enough, you can even deploy most of Batman's powerful weapon utility tools mid-battle -everything from the Batarangs to the spray explosives, and our favourite, the grappling hook.
While most fans of the Arkham series love the combat, our favourite mode is "Predator mode". Unlike most superheroes, Batman has no superpowers. And this means that against heavily armed targets, a more stealthy and careful approach is appropriate. In previous Arkham games, Batman spends a great deal of his time jumping from one high vantage point to another. While Arkham Knight still has a lot of this, many of the predator encounters now have large portions that should be traversed on the lower level. Grates, fake walls, and a ton of other environmental elements all fall into play as Batman slowly picks off one enemy after another.
Arkham Night Augemented Reality Challenges: Predatory Stealth Takedowns
It is in this mode that a lot of Batman's special tools truly shine -like the hacking and firearm jamming device which either disables enemy weapons or completely sabotages them. New to the game is the "FEAR" system that allows Batman to do multiple takedowns of several targets. Players build up this meter by eliminating enemies. When used, you can easily bring down 3 or 4 enemies in an instant (which is useful for securing many objectives or thinning down a huge group right from the start). While the FEAR system can also be used for regular combat, it shines the brightest in Predator mode.
Nice Set of Wheels
The second star of Arkham Knight is the Batmobile, which, not surprisingly, players will be spending a lot of time riding. The entire game is set in the whole of Gotham City, which is a huge expanse to travel. This means that players will be doing a lot of driving and cape gliding. The batmobile, however, is more than just a means of transportation. It helps Batman out in combat (there are a couple of special moves that involve the car), and if need be, it can switch into a tank mode for combat.
The batmobile-tank has its own set of in-story battles to face, usually involving the heavy armor vehicles of the Arkham Knight's army. These battles are savage - some instances limiting your mobility to within a very small range while swarming you with hostiles. It takes a bit of practice to fully master the tank (as well as the dynamic of switching between car and tank), but once you get the hang of it, it pays off. The car also does a lot of cool stuff too. The chase sequences are exhilarating and there is a whole set of Riddler challenges that involve being able to race and maneuver the car in the most insane situations.
Not All Perfect
As amazing as Arkham Knight is, it is not without its' flaws - most of which find their roots in the delivery and narrative. Take the Riddler challenges for instance - they are fully integrated into Gotham City as actual things. It makes us wonder if the Riddler has some superpower involving engineering and infrastructure because "how on earth did he build all those giant underground race tracks?". Also, much of the involvement of many iconic series characters (especially Two-Face and Penguin, feel tacked-on); thankfully, Oracle, Robin, and Nightwing's presence have been written in better, especially Catwoman (whose presence in the game provides a great balance). Poison Ivy's character on the other hand, gets the worst story treatment.
Cat Woman Gameplay in Arkham Knight
Room for Improvement
Putting aside the issues with the Steam release of the game (which is a hit or miss for PC users, with some running the game perfectly and others with no luck), Batman: Arkham Knight is the penultimate Batman game. The voice acting is incredible, the comic tie-in is smoother than many other adaptations (they even managed to squeeze in Azrael), and it really makes you feel like you are Batman. So my only real complaint here is that this is, apparently, the end. And that just sucks since the world needs more games like this.