The RockSteady developed Arkham games have been absolutely fantastic and have proved once and for all that superhero storylines aren’t just confined to the pages of comic books or recent film adaptations. Within the span of two games they proved that players could fill the shoes of The Dark Knight while doing the source material justice. Their game worlds have been full of memorable villains and challenging missions while providing a main narrative that always seems to raise the stakes. As the Caped Crusader swoops down on current generation consoles we set out to ask does his latest game complete the trilogy?
Batman is able to traverse an open world Gotham City that is considerably larger than the section of city presented in either Arkham City or Arkham Origins, and each island feels unique and engaging; whether you are scaling Wayne Tower or exploring the Ace Chemical Plant the world design has been thoroughly thought out. Each island is tied to story-progression, with bat-mobile access tied to completing key story missions. To stop players from rushing from one island to another before the gates come down each island has a pre-determined drone force deployed on it. While not impossible to clear an island before the story wants you to get there it is generally discouraged unless you feel like dying a lot. Gating off sections of the open world environment is a common tactic for open-world games to employ and it’s a little sad to see Batman: Arkham Knight continue its use.
Traveling around Gotham City in Arkham Knight should be exciting but at times – especially during the early chapters of the story- the Batmobile can feel overused. Whether the game has you tracking down specific enemy vehicles or surviving waves of drones there are only so many different scenarios that the game can throw at you and they can feel stale over time. Perhaps the one batmobile related activitie that provided me the most entertainment was defeating the waves of drones – using the car’s built-in boost thrusters and missile systems can be extremely entertaining. The most appalling use of the batmobile is how it has been show horned into some of the story missions. Whether you need to use the batmobile to destroy a section of wall to continue a story mission or use its front-loaded grappling hook to access an in-accessible area it feels more frustrating than immersive.
Combat in Arkham Knight is one of the most satisfying mechanics on display during my time with the game. Like in previous Arkham games Batman is able to perform a basic attack with the X button (on an Xbox Pad) a stun dodge with the B button and counter enemy attacks using an in-game indicator that appears above enemies heads with the Y button. Everything flows together really nicely once you get down the combos and being able to hide in the shadows hanging from the rafters preparing to take down groups of enemies is always engaging. Watching Batman roll from one encounter to the next and taking down foes before they can fill you full of bullets can keep you on the edge of your seat. Despite the game’s open world nature it is clear that RockSteady took care in designing their larger combat encounters.
Batman is not an interesting or even remotely relatable character on his own. He is imbued with unimaginable wealth, technology that defies explanation and somehow an unspoken agreement with law enforcement to take down supervillains without repercussion. As a player it’s not something that you can really connect with, but the amazing combat will have you believing that like, his comic book counterpart, this Dark Knight can take down any foes that stand in his way. There are also problematic ways that the writers of Arkham Knight have utilized Barbara Gordon – Aka Batgirl. Not only is the player forced to relive her traumatic attack at the hands of a younger Joker in The Killing Joke but she is also captured about half of the way through the game’s story and used as a damsel in distress to motivate Batman into the Arkham Knight’s plans. Rather than having her own agency and defined characteristics Barbara Gordon is used as plot device and the whole thing did not sit well with me at all.
At the end of the day Batman: Arkham Knight is a solid open world title that packs in a number of different side activities and main story missions that will keep players engaged for many hours. The larger open world environments are a welcomed change of pace for the Arkham series but arbitrary gating of new territory tied to story missions is something that I had hoped Arkham Knight wouldn’t have continued. The writing in Arkham Knight is also problematic in how it handles its female characters and falling clearly into trope territory while leaving Batman as an unrelatable avatar that exists solely to facilitate the game’s excellent contact. If you are looking for closure to the Arkham trilogy there is a lot to appreciate here for the Bat’s most hardcore fans.