Batman Arkham Knight is one of the most hyped games in recent memory. Can it break free of its marketing shackles and deliver the experience we’ve all been waiting for?

I Am Batman

All photos copyright Rocksteady, via PS4 screen capture

I’m playing Batman Arkham Knight on my Playstation 4 – again (I can’t put it down).

I’m standing on a rooftop, high above the city, looking down impassively on a group of rioters as they tear up another shopfront, oblivious to my presence.

Calmly, I check the area for any other opposition and decide the time is ripe to strike. I could bring in the Batmobile now, but there are only about 20 assailants, so this will be easy. I pick out one of the tougher thugs and leap off my perch, setting myself on a trajectory for a long gliding kick, which will send my enemy flying, when it connects.

As I fly towards him, I quickly target 4 of the others, firing a quick explosive blast at one, and throwing my batarangs at the rest. They are all knocked to the ground, just at the moment I land the first blow and I set about the remainder, without hesitation. Some try vainly, to get up, but they don’t stay up for long.


A complex ballet ensues, while I dodge fists and baseball bats, returning each upon its source, with expert precision. One man makes a foolish attempt to fire off his gun, but I grab it out of his hands with the Batclaw, before neatly folding him in two.

A minute later and it’s all over. Unconscious bodies lie all around, including the few that tried to run away. I select the next mission from my wrist communicator and call the Batmobile. I hear the screech of its tyres as it careens around the corner, then jump into the open cockpit and drive off into the distance. Don’t accept cheap imitations, because for another night, I am the Batman.

Batman’s Finale

Batman Arkham Knight has been one of the most hyped up games over the past few months, with a huge advertising budget and all kinds of “show and tell” moments, to keep rabid fans drooling. In case you missed it, the strap line was, “Be the Batman”.

Contrary to my nature, I’ve followed much of the marketing and drunk in the new possibilities. With my love of the previous games in the series (I even called Arkham City the best game of all time), I was bound to be one of the early adopters of what the developers, Rocksteady, have called the finale to the Arkham Trilogy.

I must confess here and now, that I bought my PS4 at Christmas, with the express intent of playing this game, when it was released. I was looking forward to being the Batman and driving a tank, at the same time. I had to wait with bated breath for my birthday to come by, before I could get my hands on a copy, but I will say that it is absolutely worth it.

Arkham City (and Asylum, before it) was a bona fide Batman Simulator and certainly the best super-hero game I had ever seen, up to that point. Arkham Knight takes everything that made City great and turns it all up to the max.

To be sure, the introduction of the Batmobile is a huge change for the series and its impact cannot be underestimated, for good or bad. Whether you love this game, or hate it, will depend a lot on whether you enjoy this new addition, or find it overbearing.

Graphics – The Dark Night

It helps that the graphics are absolutely gorgeous. The scale of Gotham (reportedly 5 times bigger than the open world of Arkham City) is breathtaking, including a draw distance and level of detail allowing you to see street lamps and lit windows, from miles away.

The city is not only larger in breadth, but also in height, boasting towering skyscrapers, through to underground tunnels, with no hint of pop-in, that I can see. The vertical architecture and associated secrets, means that you are rewarded as much for exploration of the skies, as you are for driving at street level. Animation of Batman and other characters is superb, a standout being Batman’s cowl, blowing in the wind.

This being a Batman title, it’s always dark and it’s always raining. The quality of the rain, water and lighting effects is amazing, affecting a damp sheen on everything it touches. There seem to be different levels of rainfall, from light showers, through to torrential downpours. Lens flare plays into this too, in a suitably understated way.

On one occasion, I dived off one rooftop and into a wall of water and reflected light, which completely blinded my view, for a few seconds. This only abated when I pulled back into a more standard glide, flying between the raindrops, as it were, rather than straight into the wind. Beautiful.

The only possible criticism I can think of, is that since it is so unremittingly dark and wet, your eyes may eventually tire of it and you’ll find yourself wishing for brighter vistas around you. However, I have not had a problem with it yet, and my wife is already making comments about becoming a “Batman widow”. There’s a lesson to be learned there, I think.

And there is not one loading screen. You can happily run, glide, fly or drive throughout this world, without a single hitch, even when moving from external environments into buildings (or vice versa).

The only time you will see otherwise, will be when Batman dies and you need to reload. Here, I was delighted to see the return of the little cut scenes, where Batman is taunted by his enemies. Even the generic thugs get their turn, this time round and the one-liners they come out with, are often hilarious.

Arkham Sound

All the great sound effects and music from the previous games are back, plus some additions, related to the new gadgets and of course, the Batmobile. There’s nothing particularly new here, but there was never an issue with it, in the first place, so if it ain’t broke…

In the game menus, I would have preferred they stuck with the main theme from City. I loved that music and used to wait to play the game, just so I could listen to it. I sometimes still call it up on YouTube, when the mood takes me. In Arkham Knight, Rocksteady have instead settled for a low key, atmospheric piece, which does the job, but doesn’t quite deliver the same feeling (but I’m very much quibbling here!).

Arkham Knight Story

I can’t say much about the story, because I want to avoid spoilers. I’ve not finished it yet, but I have enjoyed it all, so far. I saw one of the plot twists coming, but was ok with that, and I love what they have done with a certain character who dogs your footsteps, through much of it.

I do feel that the main story feels better integrated with the side content (or perhaps it’s the other way around), when compared to Arkham City. Many of the side missions have their own story arcs, much like City, but I think they intertwine better with the core mission, giving them more reason to be there.

The fact that some of these side stories link in with other playable characters like Catwoman, mixes things up too and brings some much appreciated friendly banter to the tale.

Rock Solid Gameplay

If you’ll excuse the pun, the rock-solid gameplay from Rocksteady is back in all its glory. Whatever you’re doing, the mechanics are generally spot on – and there is a lot to do. Between the main story, the “Most Wanted” side missions and general exploration, you’ll find a variety of gameplay styles to keep your interest.

One minute, you’ll be chasing criminals through the streets in a car chase, the next, you’ll be rebounding from the latest shocking plot twist, then you might pause for a bit of detective work, before moving on to deal with one of Riddler’s fiendish challenges. As mentioned above, you can even team up with some of Batman’s friends, such as Robin and Catwoman, in certain missions and fight alongside them.

Knight Detective

Speaking of detective work, I’ve not seen anyone comment on it, which I’m  surprised about. Detective Vision has been updated in a number of interesting ways and while some of these are still of the simplistic “hold-down-a-button-to-scan-in-the-evidence” type, they provide a refreshing change of pace from the rest of the action.

In one memorable sequence, Batman is tracking a hostage, when the car they are being held in crashes. It’s up to you, the player, to find out what happened next. This is one of several places which pick up on the gameplay that debuted in Arkham Origins.

When you scan in the crime scene, you see a virtual 3D wireframe video playing out, in front of your eyes. You’ll have to reverse- and forward-wind the sequence, to discover new pieces of evidence. I won’t say any more, for fear of spoilers, but I really appreciate the way these sections tie into Batman as “the world’s greatest detective” and change up the gameplay, to boot.

The Batmobile

Some people (and a number of professional reviews) have complained about the sheer amount of Batmobile-related content. To some, Rocksteady have made a bit too much out of the iconic vehicle and have shoehorned it into everything, whether you like it, or not.

Personally, I love the interaction between Batman and the Batmobile. The car is essentially another gadget in Batman’s arsenal and not only when he is driving it. In fact, it’s more than just a gadget: it’s Batman’s Swiss army knife.

The Batmobile can change from (very) fast car, complete with afterburners, into a tank, at the press of a button. While in this mode, it can strafe from side to side and fire a cannon or a machine gun at unarmed drones (of which there are a lot). Just make sure you spend some upgrades on it, to deal with the increasingly difficult foes you will meet.

Batman can jump into or out of the Batmobile, at more or less any time and even has special options to call the Batmobile to a designated spot on the road (he will automatically fly down and enter the car), or to eject high into the air, straight into a glide.

And I haven’t even mentioned the remote control yet. Batman can call the Batmobile to his side and use it in the middle of a fight (with a special “Batmobile takedown” move), or in puzzle sections, often in combination with his other items.

For example, you might walk through a door into a building and find two gun turrets around the corner. Batman doesn’t do well with bullets, so you can’t just run out in front of them, but there doesn’t appear to be a way to get around behind the turrets, where you could disable them.

Spotting a button on the opposite wall, you pull out another tool to activate it from afar and voila, a large gate opens up, in front of the guns. Switching to remote control, you drive the Batmobile up to the doorway, go to tank mode and blast the turrets into so much smoking metal.

It sounds complicated on paper, but the beauty of it, is that it reuses all the standard button presses that are used elsewhere, so it is wonderfully intuitive.

Besides which, I love tanks.

Controls

And that’s what I have always loved about the Arkham series. The game and level design is such, that you are given all kinds of opportunities to think laterally and use the tools at your disposal to find a way through. All in a seamless manner, with controls that are simple, at their heart.

Arkham Knight ups the stakes further, so it’s all about seamless transitions: between Batman and his car, between Batman and his pals, and between environments (inside, outside, driving, tank play, combat and predator, puzzles, gliding, etc).

The controls for all this are simple and logical. Button presses are always the same, whether Batman is flying or on the ground. So, one button enters, exits or calls the Batmobile, the “eject from Batmobile” button press is the same as the one that makes Batman jump, the combo to grab an enemy weapon is the same as an environmental or Batmobile takedown, and so on.

In previous iterations, if you saw a predator room or a combat encounter up ahead, then you knew that you had to play it in a particular way. Now, it’s easy to mix the play styles together, such as starting a fight with a sneaky fear takedown, to whittle down the opposition.

There are some minor control changes on a console, if you’re coming from Arkham City to Knight. Although it’s probably not an issue for new players, veterans may find the move of detective vision from L1 (left bumper on an Xbox) to Up on the D-Pad a little confusing, at first. This is to accommodate the Batmobile enter/exit/call on L1, which you’ll be using more often.

Similarly, gadget selection is now done by holding Down on the D-pad, in the manner of the “weapon wheel” seen in other games. However, you can still use the quick fire gadgets, just you like you could in the past.

Ergonomics

The ease of control and the variety of gameplay, means that Arkham Knight holds up very well, ergonomically.

I have experienced a mild ache in my hands, the day after I have spent a lot of time in many large brawls (which is my favourite part, so I’m my worst enemy, in that regard), but otherwise have been fine.

My only real gripe is the strange choice of default scheme for the Batmobile, which is to press and hold L2, to keep in tank mode. Since you’ll be spending minutes at a time blasting drones in your tank, this can cause unnecessary wear on your fingers.

Thankfully, you can change this, by switching on Battle Mode Toggle in the options, so you can tap R1 instead and brake using L2. The odd part of this is that you can’t change it until you’ve done a couple of story missions, first (hint: check it out, after you’ve been to GCPD).

The only other problem I have come across, is in some Riddler races, which involves holding down R2 for Batmobile acceleration, while tapping other buttons with the same hand. Again, this can be quite wearing, over time.

Ace Chemicals gameplay (complete with my mess-ups)
Warning: mild spoilers

Difficulty

Despite being a veteran of the Arkham series, I started the game on Normal difficulty. I am about 45% of the way through the story and I am beginning to encounter stiff challenges in some of the fights. Part of this is new enemy combinations which I need to get used to, but I do think that Knight is a bit tougher – and from earlier on – than either City or Asylum.

Beginners would be best to stick with Easy, while die-hards can head straight for Hard, or Knightmare (unlocked on finishing the game).

Aside from the basic difficulty levels, Arkham Knight could be overwhelming for some beginners, due to the size of the world, the vast range of moves available and the breadth of content. They may want to try out Asylum and City, first. However, being open world means you can take things at your own pace and soften the learning curve with the huge variety of things to do.

Unlike some of the Ubisoft games (which I still like, but Assassin’s Creed, I’m looking at you), most of the optional side activities make sense for Batman and his enemies. Use of the Batmobile as a tank, is perhaps questionable within the official DC canon (excuse the pun), but it kind of fits, within Rocksteady’s take on the source. I’m biased though, because I love tanks.

DLC and Season Pass

Finally, I must make a mention of download content (DLC) and the Season Pass, that is available for this game, priced £32.99 in the UK. Many gamers have commented that with Arkham Knight’s season pass almost as expensive as a full game, Rocksteady (or rather, the publishers, Warner Bros) are extracting the Michael.

This continues an ongoing trend by the major publishing houses to deliver significant DLC at launch. A lot of people feel that publishers are deliberately “cutting games short”, so they can sell us extra stuff that should have been in it, in the first place.

On the other hand, I have never come across anything that could be regarded as essential to a game, being sold in this way. Is DLC a good thing, or are the publishers out to grab all our money? The truth is probably somewhere in between.

For Arkham Knight, various content packs were available with the main game, depending where you bought your copy. I received “Scarecrow Nightmare” challenges, exclusive to PS4, plus an extra story level for a secondary character, which I’m sure I’ll enjoy, when I get to it.

Rocksteady have promised that all exclusives are “timed”, so that each piece of DLC will eventually become available for all platforms. The Season Pass will therefore get you the complete set, over the next 6 months. You can of course, ignore the Season Pass and buy just the extras you want. It currently looks like the Pass will be better value, but it’s still early days to tell quite how big a discount this represents.

In terms of the core game, I feel there is enough content to get your teeth into, without feeling that anything major is “missing” from the retail copy. The only thing with the potential to hinder my personal enjoyment, mostly on replays, is the relative paucity of combat challenge maps (there are plenty of other kinds of challenge), compared to the previous entries. Here’s hoping they add a lot more of those into the mix.

Overall

As I stated earlier, whether you like Arkham Knight or not, could come down to whether you love or hate the Batmobile. I love it and would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the previous iterations.

Arkham Knight, like those that went before it, is a more than worthy super-hero game, and is head and shoulders above its many poor imitations. IMO it can even stand proud alongside Batman’s movie counterparts. As far as I’m concerned, this is the definitive Batman experience.

Did I tell you that I love tanks?

Question: What did you think of Arkham Knight and the Batmobile?

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