Knightfall

Editor’s Note: Because of the issues I had with the story, I will be referencing several major reveals from the game, as well as the prior game’s ending. If you wish to remain spoiler free, consider yourself warned. 

Whenever a modern, story-driven action game transforms into a successful series, particularly a trilogy, it starts to suffer from Star Wars syndrome. The middle game is always the best, and all the prequels aren’t nearly as good as the originals. We’ve seen this with Gears of War, God of War, and even Uncharted. Well, we can now add one more trilogy to that list: the Batman: Arkham games.

That’s not to say that Batman: Arkham Knight is an awful game. It’s just inferior to its predecessors (except for prequel Arkham Origins). Instead of bringing everything to a natural conclusion and tying up all the loose ends it left open from previous games, it tries to cram too many new conflicts into this final title in an attempt to needlessly raise the stakes—which were plenty high enough as they were. The results feel like a narrative mess, and I think a large part of this is the result of developer Rocksteady writing the script in-house instead of having it done by a veteran Batman scribe like Paul Dini, who also happened to pen both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.

Taking elements from some of the more epic Batman stories over the past three decades from various forms of media—including Death of the Family, Death in the Family, Under the Red Hood, and Batman Beyond: Return of the JokerBatman: Arkham Knight sees the Scarecrow filling the criminal void left by the Joker nearly a year after his demise in Arkham City. With his most potent Fear Toxin formula yet, Scarecrow threatens to detonate a bomb that would blanket the entire Eastern Seaboard in the stuff, sending every man, woman, and child into a state or perpetual terror.

This, in and of itself, would’ve been a fine conclusion for the Arkham series, revolving around Batman having to constantly overcome his fears. Also along for the ride, however, is the Arkham Knight—a “new” character whose identity Batman fans should easily be able to deduce based on his taunting dialogue and how well he knows the Dark Knight. But even those who don’t immediately uncover the Arkham Knight’s identity will surely notice the cavalcade of clues, because Rocksteady wanted to make sure they really spelled it out before the big reveal.

Easily the worst narrative decision stems from the fact that Rocksteady and/or Warner Bros. wasn’t brave enough to make a Batman game that didn’t feature the Joker as a major player, though. For some reason, the Joker’s spirit lives on inside of Batman and several other of Gotham’s less fortunate citizens through his contaminated blood (I guess that cure in Arkham City wasn’t good enough), and Joker’s personality is trying to assert itself over those bodies in an attempt to cheat death. As time goes on and they become weaker, the Joker’s personality emerges more and more.

At that point, even as a comic book fan, it was too much. To have three major villains vying for attention in your main story—one in an incorporeal form—left a bad taste in my mouth. At the very least, the game’s ending felt like a fitting conclusion to the series, but I just wish it weren’t such a mess of an adventure getting to that point.

Instead of trying to shoehorn so many foes into the main story, maybe Rocksteady could’ve just added more side villains to allow the primary plot a chance to breathe. Those that are included—referred to as “Gotham’s Most Wanted” in-game, since you have to actually drag them back to GCPD after defeating them—provide a nice respite from the muck that is the main narrative. I could’ve easily done with more, especially Hush, Man-Bat, and Deacon Blackfire—or at least some longer missions involving them. The game does feature more than a dozen side missions in total built around a double-digit amount of classic Batman rivals, which helps to take some of the focus off of Scarecrow, Joker, and Arkham Knight. It’s a testament to the size of the world that it never felt like any of Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery encroached on each other’s turf, and I still had to search long and hard at times to uncover my next set of clues.

That’s definitely one of Rocksteady’s most impressive achievements with Arkham Knight. Gotham City is absolutely massive and comes alive like never before. Whether it’s ACE Chemicals, Port Adams, the GCPD, or Wayne Tower, the game includes every building and street that Bat-fans want to see, and you can seamlessly explore them all with no loading times while you hunt down your enemies as Batman.

Plus, Detective Mode has been expanded to help you on those hunts. With new elements like deep-tissue analysis on murder victims, security camera footage reviews, and fingerprint reconstruction, along with the addition of crime scene reconstruction from Arkham Origins, prowling Gotham for clues is as rewarding as ever.

Combat remains the high point of the Arkham series here, though. The smooth, free-flowing battles return, meaning that you’ll pull off 50-hit combos with regularity, but the game also adds new throw counters that help with crowd control, and instant environmental takedowns that can immediately remove the toughest thugs from a fight. Arkham Knight even offers special missions where you’ll team up with Robin, Nightwing, or Catwoman and can take control of them mid-fight instead of Batman as seamlessly as you do a counter, or perform team-up moves for some truly epic action. With these added nuances to combat, no encounter ever plays out the same way twice.

Predator Room combat has also seen a drastic improvement. The new Fear Takedowns allow you to remove as many as five enemies from the field at once when you’re fully upgraded. This will have you planning out your knockouts well in advance in an attempt to get enemies to bunch up together so you can swoop in and wipe them out in a single flourish. New devices like the Disruptor also lend a hand in planning strategy before jumping into the fray, since its special bolts will jam any gun—and, when upgraded, it can even short out enemy drones.

I wish that every element of Arkham Knight’s gameplay were so stellar. On the whole, all of these additions and improvements almost make you forget about the muddled plot. Then you get in the Batmobile. This was one of Rocksteady’s most touted features leading up to the game’s launch, and at times, the Batmobile is everything it was supposed to be: a dual threat fast enough to chase down fleeing enemies that still packs enough firepower in combat mode to take on dozens of Arkham Knight drones. The Batmobile even helps with ground combat by unleashing rubber bullets that incapacitate enemies in the streets.

But Arkham Knight relies on Batman’s ride far too often—and in far too many missions. The car’s deficiencies easily become evident, and it’s revealed to be one of the least enjoyable aspects of the game. I get that it’s supposed to be this monstrous vehicle, but trying to control the Batmobile in pursuit mode is a chore; it pinballs all over the road. Even after putting 30 hours into the game, with more than half of them in that damn car, I still never felt like I was in complete control.

And the Batmobile’s tank mode is even worse. While it features a strafe ability, I still felt like I was a sitting duck most of the time during an enemy missile lock-on, since the strafe only moves you a short distance in a particular direction. Then you have to try to dance between the two Batmobile forms to sneak up on certain tanks. They wanted me to be stealthy? In the Batmobile?! I just wanted to hang up the cape and cowl at that point.

The problems don’t stop with the Batmobile gameplay, though: Arkham Knight includes its fair share of bugs. I played on Xbox One and didn’t experience all the glitches that make the PC version unplayable, but the Batmobile still fell through the world in several instances where I had to drive up walls. And the bugs weren’t limited to the car, either. Several times I had to restart checkpoints when necessary button prompts wouldn’t appear, and I couldn’t advance unless I reloaded.

As much as I loved Arkham City and Arkham Asylum, Arkham Knight is nothing short of a disappointment. Two things are clear: Sefton Hill and his team of writers pale in comparison to Paul Dini, and Rocksteady should stay as far away from car combat as possible in the future. The excellent gameplay foundations, however, still shine. The fighting, side content, and stealth are as polished as ever, and considering the massive world fans have to explore here, they should still find something to enjoy with Arkham Knight, even if it’s not the conclusion we all hoped for.

Developer: Rocksteady Studio • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 06.23.15
6.5
The main story is a convoluted mess, and the Batmobile gameplay is a serious detractor on the fun factor—especially since the Dark Knight is forced to use this clunky vehicle far too often. The combat outside of the car is better than ever, though, so exploring the game’s bountiful side content remains a bright spot in an overall disappointing conclusion to the Arkham franchise.
The Good The combat might be better than ever, the world is absolutely massive, and the story provides a fitting end to the Batman of the Arkhamverse.
The Bad There’s too much reliance on the Batmobile, the Joker aspects are unnecessary, and the game has a fair amount of glitches.
The Ugly Every Batman fan will be able to guess the identity of the Arkham Knight from his dialogue long before the big reveal.
Batman: Arkham Knight is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review.
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