NOTE: The following review is based on my experiences with the game on the PS4. Xbox One players should have a similar experience, sans the Scarecrow Nightmare missions found in the AR Challenges section of the main menu. As of this date, it’s been widely documented about the issues plaguing the PC port, with many being unable to play the game at all. Others have been successful by turning off certain elements to help the game run. WB has currently suspended sales of the PC port until they can fix the issues.
Rocksteady made their mark on comic book games with 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum. Using a solid story, some great voice casting, a wide selection from Batman’s rogue’s gallery, and terrific gameplay utilizing free-form combat they set the bar high for all superhero games to reach. They topped themselves with 2011’s sequel Batman: Arkham City, expanding the environment beyond the confines of Arkham Asylum and giving us an epic plot with an incredible ending that involved the death of Joker. Rocksteady then stepped back from the franchise, turning over the reins to WB Montreal for the prequel Batman: Arkham Origins in 2013. The prequel, while returning the look and most of the feel of Rocksteady’s work, fell short of the mark. While it was by no means a bad game, its story just didn’t measure up, and the game itself was plagued with technical issues (WB fixed them to an extent and then inexplicably dropped support for the game). Now in 2015, after two delays, Rocksteady has delivered their finale to their Batman saga. So did they succeed with saving their best for last? Read on and see.
I won’t spoil the story here beyond the basics that are widely known. The game opens as you cremate Joker’s body, and with the Clown Prince of Crime dispatched, Gotham seems to be able to rest easy. But the peace doesn’t last long, as Scarecrow comes forth threatening to unleash his fear toxin on the city. Along with Scarecrow comes another menace, the Arkham Knight, who leads a military unit into Gotham and takes the city over. The Arkham Knight has a grudge against Batman, and Scarecrow uses this to his advantage, making him his pawn to aid in the destruction of Batman. The Knight has also been backed by some of Gotham’s other notable villains- The Penguin, The Riddler, and Two-Face- and they do their best to thwart the Dark Knight’s efforts to retake the city. Batman isn’t alone, however, as Robin, Nightwing, and Barbara Gordon (aka Oracle) provide aid, along of course with Batman’s faithful butler Alfred and police commissioner Jim Gordon. Plaguing Batman as he tackles the multiple threats are visions of a departed enemy, and he needs to fight not only to save the city but his sanity as well.
The plot serves the game well for the most part. Have the three islands of Gotham to jump around in gives Arkham Knight the series largest environment yet, with plenty of side tasks for Batman to indulge in while working to take down Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight. Some of these tasks prove interesting, like finding the culprit behind the bodies being found around Gotham that are displayed along with opera music for a backdrop. Other tasks, like taking out militia bases, APC commanders, and finding firefighters are a mixed bag. The main story involving Scarecrow delves into psychological horror, and it truly is a shock once the visions of Joker (once again, voiced fantastically by Mark Hamill and delivering the game’s best lines) begin. Joker’s presence serves both as comic relief and a source of uneasiness, as Batman knows he always is just a step away from becoming his nemesis should he let the violence overwhelm him. This battling for Bruce’s sanity continues for the bulk of the game, and is one of the game’s greatest strengths. It keeps up the suspense throughout, and provides some of the game’s funniest scenes along with its most unsettling. The resolution is suitably thrilling, and Scarecrow’s story makes the game well worth your time on its own.
The Arkham Knight, on the other hand, disappointed me with his reveal, even though it made logical sense. That may stem from the fact that Rocksteady said he was an original character, except I guessed the identity long before the actual reveal. Long time Batman fans will most likely also guess the character’s identity, which the game practically gives away during certain sequences, never bothering with any real red herrings to throw you off. As a result, the titular character’s story felt a little underwhelming. That’s not to say it was a bad story. But it had the potential to be so much more. The other villains are more regulated to side stories and often don’t figure into the overall plot other than to be a thorn in Batman’s side. While Penguin and Two-Face have reduced roles from Arkham City, Riddler has been expanded, capturing Catwoman and challenging Batman to a series of trials. These trials tend to be glorified race tracks with some devilish traps, and then there are 243 Riddler trophies to find. Inexplicably, and frustratingly so, you’ll need to find all of them to apprehend Riddler. It smacks more of padding out the gameplay, since you’ll need to wrap up all side cases (labeled Gotham’s Most Wanted) to achieve 100% and achieve the full ending. You can initiate the end sequence after solving eight of the cases, which rewards you with an ending that’s while partially satisfying, it’s also lacking in some respects. Fortunately there are a few players who have succeeded in the endeavor, and should you feel frustrated and just want to end it after the eight cases, you can always view the ending on YouTube. Sadly, I think many will choose this option, as some gameplay element can prove frustrating enough to make you want to shut the game off and throw the controller.
The problem here begins and ends with what is the game’s greatest addition as well as its biggest flaw. I’m speaking here, of course, of the Batmobile.
The Batmobile is a beast, and is awesome to use when getting from Point A to Point B in Gotham. It’s ability to transform into a tank (which can be upgraded) to take on foes and solve environmental puzzles is a nice addition. Using the Batmobile to aid in taking out an enemy or helping to traverse an area works well, and it come sin handy in tackling Riddler’s puzzles as well. The Batmobile packs a nice amount of firepower, despite Batman’s aversion to killing. The body will shock rioting thugs on the street as you drive past them, and works in tracking other vehicles. Where things begin to fall apart is whenever you need to get the Batmobile up to speed, as its handling is very slippery and during chase sequences very easy to wipe out, while for some reason enemy vehicles that should be clumsier stick to the road. A late game stealth sequence that involves the Batmobile stalking a trio of tanks that can only be taken out from behind is more exhausting than fun, as is trying to evade a massive excavator in an enclosed tunnel system where you need to lead the enemy into explosives. Such things should have been thrilling but poor handling mars these portions of the game, leading to many cheap and unnecessary deaths. Riddler’s racetracks can also prove to be frustrating due to the Batmobile’s slippery control, and makes getting higher scores on the Playstation exclusive Scarecrow Nightmare missions more of a chore than it should be. We should feel like Batman while driving his car, not like a rank amateur. And this is where the game falters. It’s a case of an awesome idea, but less then optimal execution. The Batmobile feels shoehorned in and over utilized in some portions, rather than being a natural extension of Batman and his gadget filled utility belt.
Fortunately, the game’s signature free flow combat returns and it’s better than ever. The combat always did work well, but for the finale it’s been refined to near perfection, and if you mess up here it feels more like your fault rather than the game failing you. Added in are environmental takedowns where Batman can put a thug’s head into a utility box or throw them through a table, as well as in a couple of spots working in team takedowns with an ally. These are fun and easy enough to pull off, and it felt great to be working with Robin or Nightwing in taking down a room full of bad guys. Combat is even fun when extended to other characters like Joker or Harley Quinn in her own mini-story (a pre-order bonus). Using the Batmobile as an ally also works well. Combat never got old for me, and proved as much fun towards the end of the game as it was in the beginning. It helps greatly that this feature is one of the game’s biggest strengths, and aids in making your forget (at least until you have to again) the more frustrating Batmobile combat sections. You earn experience points throughout, and can then upgrade your combat abilities along with your suit, gadgets, and the Batmobile. These all carry over to New Game + where things get a bit more challenging. The Detective mode also returns and is used well here. It’s also reined in, as you can’t just keep it on during Predator sequences as some enemies have a sensor to find you should you remain in that mode for too long. This adds some tension to taking a room full of armed enemies down, and makes you feel even more like the Batman when you accomplish the task.
Overall, Rocksteady has succeeded in delivering a rousing finale to their Arkham trilogy, despite some flaws. It will take you 10-12 hours to finish the main story, and maybe another 10-12 to achieve 100% for the full ending, depending on your skill. The Scarecrow portion of the main story works well, delving into some psychological horror that truly proves to be unsettling and even contains a couple of jump scares. The darker subject matter accounts for the Mature rating on the game, though in truth I don’t know how much darker it is than the previous two titles. The Arkham Knight portion proved to be more of a letdown to me, as I guessed at the villain’s identity long before the reveal. The identity thankfully made logical sense, and saved Rocksteady from coming up with some convoluted backstory to explain a brand new character’s motivations, but it still underwhelmed. There a nice selection of Batman’s rogues to deal with, though there are some notable absences (perhaps being saved for DLC to fill up that 40 dollar season pass?). For the most part, the game runs smoothly, though Playstation players as of this writing still can’t connect to world wide leaderboards to see where they stand. It seems to be a minor thing, but it may be holding players on the PS4 back. Whether getting the exclusive Scarecrow Nightmare missions is a fair trade off only time will tell (especially if the exclusivity is timed). WB needs to get some fixes in place (especially for the PC port) in a hurry. I did have one issue where the game gave an error while saving, and had it crash once, making me unplug the PS4 for a hard reset. Nothing was game breaking, however, and things ran well with only a bit of framerate stutter. Graphically the game looks beautiful, with varying weather and particle effects. The music and voice acting are top notch, with John Noble proving to be a terrifying Scarecrow and Mark Hamill giving his best performance of the franchise as Joker. Kevin Conroy as always is solid as Batman, and the other cast members are also very good, including Jonathan Banks (Jim Gordon), Ashley Greene (Oracle), Tara Strong (Harley Quinn), Troy Baker (in multiple roles), and Nolan North (Penguin).
The game is not without its flaws, as the Batmobile proved to be both an asset to the game as well as a frustrating aspect. Technically the game runs well, though some players on consoles may encounter a few issues, none of them game breaking. It’s an ambitious finale attempted by Rocksteady, and while most parts work, others feel shoehorned in just to pad things out. It’s a strong ending to the best videogame trilogy dealing with a comic book superhero to date, even if it falls short of the excellence that was Arkham City. It provides us with a rousing and thrilling conclusion despite not matching the pinnacle of the series second game, and is certainly worth playing and adding to your collection. The full ending is worth beholding, regardless of how you achieve that, and with AR challenges and future content the game is sure to occupy for some time to come. The Arkham franchise got the finale it deserved, even if it wasn’t the best of the series. But in being on par with the first game makes it good to be the Batman again, taking out the bad guys over a long night.
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