Batman: Arkham Knight – Review (Xbox One)

Batman’s back for one last Arkham outing thanks to Rocksteady’s latest creation: Arkham Knight. This enormous conclusion to the Arkham saga gets a lot of things right, it does stumble in a couple of places, but it still comes out with its head held high as a true Batman experience. Its flaws are obvious as they play out, but they certainly aren’t game-breaking, safe to say that if you enjoyed any of the previous games, Arkham Knight is worth your time.

WARNING: This review may contain very minor spoilers

Story

Following the events of Arkham City, things have quieted down in Gotham City, crime is at an all-time low, and for the most part everyone feels safe. However, everyone’s favorite Dark Knight waits in the shadows, anticipating the next big eruption of violence. Sure enough, Batman’s fears are very literally realised when a terrorist attack appears in the form of Scarecrow and his fear-inducing toxins, and it threatens to destroy not only Gotham, but the people who have spent so long fighting for the city’s safety.

From start to finish, Arkham Knight’s story is always plausible within the Batman universe, and stays true to the interpretation Rocksteady has spent multiple games crafting. Throughout the story, Batman will come across familiar faces to fans of the universe, both new and old to the Arkham series. At times this can make the game feel like a Batman all-star showcase, however this is not a bad thing, as the presence of each and every character is justified and introduced smoothly without any eyebrows raised. The story has a good, steady pace. It never slows to the point of disinterest, but doesn’t overaccelerate to a point where the player is being dragged by the ankle kicking and screaming. It maintains a balance that will keep players wanting to play the main story right until the end whilst offering plenty of chances to take a break and explore the mysteries and other threats scattered around Gotham City. All “side missions” fit seamlessly within the main game and can be slotted in whenever the player chooses, in any order. Each of these offer a different gameplay experience and add an extra edge to the chaos threatening to engulf the city.

Part of the key to the pace of Arkham Knight’s story are the many twists and turns offered within the main narrative, some easier to predict than others, but all feel plausible and add an exciting layer to the narrative. At the rare points where the momentum may seem to fade, one of these twists is always well-placed ready to catapult Batman right back into the action.

Gameplay

Despite the game having such a strong pace, it is often slowed by one of Arkham Knight’s most controversial new features – The Batmobile. With the massively increased world size, Batman’s famous vehicle is certainly necessary and certainly a lot of fun to use. However, the game is always trying to overjustify its existence at each turn. As a car, it’s a dream to drive, some of Gotham’s narrow streets are a challenge to navigate, but the vehicle’s controls are configured to offset this by making it just easy enough to control that you feel like a pro-racer tearing through the city. The transition from Batman to Batmobile is also beautifully designed, it makes it easy and awesome to drop out of a glide and call in the Dark Knight’s four-wheeled thrill-ride. Of course, the Batmobile is prepared for combat too, sporting cannons and machine guns. It stays true to Batman’s no-killing mantra by using non-lethal riot suppressing rounds or electrical stunners on infantry-type enemies, and only deploying the cannon when human life is not in the firing line.

Unfortunately, as noted earlier, the game is always making too much of an effort to justify the existence of the vehicle, and moreover the in-built combat mode. All too often the player will find themselves battling vehicular threats that must be neutralized before they can move on to more interesting objectives. The vehicular combat is in itself quite satisfying, but when very similar shootouts taking up to ten minutes at a time show up at every other objective, it can get very repetitive. However, it certainly doesn’t mean the vehicle should have been left out of the game. The fun, excitement and new experience offered through driving such an iconic vehicle certainly make up for weaknesses in its implementation.

As for the rest of the gameplay, if you’ve played an Arkham game before, it’s very much the same. That’s not a bad thing at all, however – the combat is still just as satisfying, yet more challenging than ever with all-new enemy equipment and abilities. Batman’s array of next-level gadgetry is back with some cool new additions, each one has its place and is simple to use. Bat’s trusty grapnel gun is as handy as ever for escaping sticky situations and the new Batmobile remote control is extremely useful. The progression system involved is simpler than ever too, offering upgrades in both hardware, like the Batmobile, Batsuit and gadgets, and abilities. The Riddler is, of course, back with his trademark trophies and challenges dotted around Gotham and a decent incentive to complete them.

Frustratingly, Arkham Knight still possesses an issue I’ve had with all games in the series, the post-death sequence. It always has been a nice touch to have one of Batman’s enemies briefly mocking their fallen foe, but it gets to be quite irritating if the player has hit a particularly difficult part of the game. This common scenario usually results in a cycle of death, one liner, loading screen, death, one liner, loading screen and so on. Having to sit through an extended break between attempts really pulls the player out of the experience, when it could be solved so simply with a option to turn these sequences off and go straight to the loading screen.

Visuals

Arkham Knight’s visuals are some of the best you will find on a new-gen system. The gritty, rain swept rooftops of Gotham city provide a beautiful environment that complements the entire tone of the game. The breathtaking weather effects certainly play a large role in this, coupled with the high resolution and framerate you really feel as if you are in a living breathing Gotham City. It’s clear that the design team paid very close attention to detail, both with the environment itself and all the object & character models. The facial detailing has come a long way since previous Arkham games and aspects like the gradual wear and tear observed in the Batsuit as the game progresses really shows off how much work went into this game.

Overall, Arkham Knight does not disappoint. It’s a solid game with plenty to do, an engaging storyline, beautiful visuals, award-winning gameplay a sprawling city environment and a chilling atmosphere that might well rival gaming greats like Halo 3: ODST’s New Mombasa. Sure, the Batmobile can become a bit of a chore to use at times, but it’s not something that sours the experience for long. The game really is Rocksteady’s swansong to the Arkham series, remaining true to the format they crafted whilst adding plenty of new content to keep it fresh. Fans will be sad to see Arkham go, but the saga couldn’t have ended on a much higher note.


Overall

9 out of 10