The story steals the spotlight, diving deep inside the Dark Knight’s mind for a cerebral and terrifying journey.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a narrative juggernaut crammed to capacity with excellent heroes, villains, battles, drama, humour, fan service, and the mother of all plot twists (you won’t see this one coming, folks).
Arkham Knight is easily the most engaging story in the series – a tale that caters just as much to people seeking a high-octane, rock ‘em sock ‘em superhero war as it does those cerebral storyphiles looking for a jaw-dropping narrative.
Outside of one of Batman’s wonderful toys having a flat tire for a significant chunk of this experience, Arkham Knight is a welcome assault of comic-book bliss and stunning new-gen visuals.
Most of the videos and information shared prior to Arkham Knight’s launch are from its introductory moments and side content. Rocksteady Studios, WB Games, and everyone involved in the project kept the majority of the story under lock and key.
Once the secret plot developments take root, just looking at the TV or hearing the game for a few seconds can ruin one of the coolest twists I’ve seen in a Batman story.
It happens within the first hour or two of this adventure, and remains a constant for most of the experience. Through that wild development and others, we see Rocksteady at the height of its game for visual and aural storytelling, going to great lengths to find the best perspective for a shot, whether it’s from first-person, third, panned, or through the eyes of a different character.
Without giving away any spoilers (of which there is an exhaustive supply), this chapter picks up nine months after the events of Arkham City, showing how Gotham has healed itself after the death of one of Arkham Asylum’s perennial guests.
Peace has returned to the city’s streets, allowing people to leave the safety of their homes to enjoy the nightlife and arts in boroughs that were once only for people with a death wish or sinister intentions.
That’s when Halloween night brings a grim reminder of the past. Scarecrow resurfaces, and he wants to destroy Gotham with a fear toxin. The citizens have until the next morning to leave. Of the 6.3 million people that call Gotham home, not many remain when Batman begins his hunt for Scarecrow.
A mysterious character named Arkham Knight complicates matters and unleashes an army against the Caped Crusader. It’s a cheesy videogame setup that is used to quickly establish an axis and – to a lesser extent – explain why the city’s streets are free of ordinary people.
Gotham is a beautifully realised playground for Batman, ranging from a borough filled with century-old architecture to another glowing with a bombardment of Times Square-like advertisements and light.
Batman can glide overhead with ease thanks to an increase in speed and refinement in the controls. He can also take to the streets in his iconic Batmobile, a vehicle that controls remarkably well and is almost as fully featured as any lead character in a game.
For roughly three quarters of the game, it’s the equivalent of Robin – a sidekick that does some cool stuff, but is mostly annoying.
I love how it’s used for puzzle solving and specific environment navigation, but its combat applications disappoint for the majority of the game, and they are called upon often.
The Batmobile doubles as a tank that glides across the ground effortlessly in 360°. Its opponents are usually rival tanks, which are a part of Scarecrow and Arkham Knight’s ridiculous army (which must have cost them billions).
The Batmobile packs a satisfying punch with its cannon, but is slow on the reload, making the battles chug along. Batman’s hand-to-hand combat is instantly satisfying (and always has been), and ramps up in difficulty as the game progresses. The Batmobile’s combat eventually becomes intense and twitch-worthy, but you spend a significant amount of time slogging through easy fights to get there.
When he’s not lollygagging in his car, Batman is a force to be reckoned with. And he isn’t alone; Catwoman, Nightwing, Robin, and Azrael are all playable for certain combat sequences.
The player can switch between Batman and one of these allies, or can call upon them for stylish tag-team finishers. I found combat to be much easier than previous entries, as the timing window for counters appears to be longer.
Batman can also freely beat the snot out of downed foes with standard punches (although the somewhat slow “ground takedown” is still an option).
Batman’s gadgets are used in ways we’ve seen before, but not as frequently. Yes, he rips the covers off of vents, hacks security doors, and needs to use his grapple line to zip across vast chasms, but these familiar navigation elements are tapped sparingly.
Most of the story mission environments are loaded with variety, or play off of that excellent plot twist to sew in unexpected sequences or dramatic shifts in visual design.
Batman unveils a couple of new toys (which I won’t spoil) that bring interesting diversionary tactics to stealth combat and more.
Detective vision finds new life through a nicely designed murder mystery involving a villain that is a deep-cut for Batman fans, but is used largely for the same song and dance from the previous Arkham titles. It’s a necessity for studying enemy formations and searching for secrets.
While many of Batman’s iconic foes get face time, there aren’t many traditional boss battles against them. Two-Face is a standard enemy in a stealth sequence, and he can be taken down just like any other foe. Other battles against characters are tied to cinematic moments, which may or may not require input from you.
All of the final exchanges with villains are well thought out, and you never know what to expect from them. The Batmobile unloads ammo against bosses with health bars, but most hand-to-hand boss conflicts are free of repeating the same tactics numerous times.
Call it a Knight
At the end of it all, Batman: Arkham Knight delivers a great sense of closure for this series. Rocksteady leaves a few plot threads dangling to tease and taunt us, but the grim tale that started all the way back in Arkham Asylum is done.
I walked away from Arkham Knight shocked, satisfied, and in dire need of someone to discuss the story with.
Rocksteady built a special experience that dazzles with its cleverness, intelligence, and ability to shift from kick-ass Batman moments to emotional gut punches to scenes stripped straight from some of Batman’s greatest comic book stories.
Lock yourself away, avoid social media and friends, and finish this game. You won’t want this one spoiled for you. — Tribune News Service
Batman: Arkham Knight
(WB Games/Rocksteady Studios)
Action game for PlayStation 4, PC
Price: RM209 on PSN; PC sale suspended temporarily