So we’ve seen a whole line of Batman Arkham games, and attempts have been made to string all the stories together, without exception to Origins, taking place 10 years prior to the timeline.
The sad thing is, I was satisfied with the conclusion in Arkham City. I was happy with the game ending there, it felt concluded once the antagonist died, yet leaving no catharsis because it wasn't an ideal situation to the world or the protagonist. I liked how they tried to weave in a dead guy into this one too, but there is heavy fatigue dealing with the same antagonist for the fourth time.
As always, we're given a cast of characters from the Batman universe. There are easter eggs, cameos, minor villains with their story arcs; fresh for 2009, not so much now. The formula is the same, and the antagonist is the same. It's repetitive and no longer welcome.
The cast of heroes in this game is as solid as ever. Commissioner Jim Gordon is in charge leading the PD, we have no less than three Robins in the game, including Nightwing. Barbara Gordon, or Oracle, plays a larger role in this story too. We get to use some of these characters briefly, but more on that in Gameplay.
At first, it may seem as though Scarecrow is the main antagonist, but the Arkham Knight comes into the picture. And while it may seem like this is a new villain we get to explore, ultimately, the "surprise" plot-twist at the end is seen a mile away and I can't even be bothered with the story anymore.
The enemies are really nothing we haven’t seen before. Firefly is setting fires in Gotham, Two-Face is robbing banks, Cobblepot is smuggling something, and the Riddler has set up extravagant, over elaborate traps to kill Batman throughout the city.
The main campaign takes roughly 10-15 hours to complete, and the side missions will push you another 20 hours. After which the leaderboards, new game plus, and repayable missions will push you through 6o play hours. I grew tired from this game, 30 or so hours in. I don’t want to collect any more riddler trophies. I don’t want to shoot any more tanks that overwhelm me 30 to 1 and kill me in a few shots. I love the franchise, but I’m almost glad it’s the last one.
No more, please.
The underlining philosophy to every Arkham game to date is Batman himself. It’s his struggle against his morals and the temptation to break them that makes the character so relatable. It's his tendency to seclusion and taking on the responsibility of everything unto himself. It is this quality that has made Batman who he is in the comics, and is what makes the Arkham stories so enthralling to play.
Batman attempts to thwart Scarecrows’s plans to poison Gotham City with his proprietary humidifier machine, coined “Cloudburst” patent pending. Scarecrow also has a larger plan to reveal and then kill the Batman, in an attempt to demystify Gotham’s savior.
However, this simple task would be then made harder by Joker’s blood taking over Batman, making him hallucinate at the worst of times. Joker constantly pesters Batman, rattles him, and is constantly on the brink of taking over Batman’s mind. It’s a persistent threat through the game, and something that keeps a player wondering if what they’re seeing at any time is real or not.
A very active character in this game is the city itself. Architecture is unique, and the landscape is constantly changing based on the progression of the game. You get to experience different states Gotham goes through, and every shift dramatically changes the way you play.
The city is also scattered with red lit watchtowers, drones, and bases to clear. These are owned by the Arkham Knight and these watchtowers are mini encounters by themselves. If left untouched, passing by these places will invite enemy gunfire. Clear these to earn points, and it’s really visually rewarding when the jarring red lights recede as you clear the city of threat.
Waypoints are removed, in place of slightly faster suit travel and the inclusion of the Batmobile. The Batmobile comes with its own sets of pros and cons, but generally, the inclusion of having to travel everywhere manually increases the immersion of the game.
Hit or miss, really.
Rife with thousands of identical respawning thugs, Gotham City just seems neigh impossible to clean up once the campaign is over. Of course, a safe city is one that is unplayable, but the lack of change or progression makes exploring Gotham to eliminate threats lackluster.
One of the most exciting and controversial additions to the Arkham Knight game is the Batmobile. It comes with its own combat and puzzle segments, along with Riddler’s weird timed racetracks.
Personally, I think the inclusion of the tank missions is great. I also think there’s too much of it. These segments break form and the monotony of long gameplay sessions. Ninja Gaiden has platformers to slow the pacing of the game down, but it’s not why we play the game. The same goes for this. We bought the game to be Batman, not to drive around in a semi tank mowing down bad guys.
The cinematics in this game is breathtaking. Immersive and interactive first person cutscenes really sit you in front of the action. They are also seamless and blend perfectly into gameplay, telling the story unobtrusively.
However, there were still parts of the game that bothered me. The game railroaded me into making certain decisions that I felt were circumventable and put in only for the purpose of additional, false conflict. I understand that stories are not easy to write, but obstacles can’t be put into a game as padding to extend gameplay. It’s unethical and takes the players out of the experience.
Many times I felt that Batman wouldn’t have been stupid enough to fall for simple traps, other times why enemies ran away when they were perfectly capable, and HAVE, taken me down in the game before. The disconnect was silly and very jarring.
My next problem was stakes. This game never took risks. Batman is a serious game, and the levity of his actions come with their consequences. There are many times where the game hints at or pretends to take the leap. This leads to massive internal conflicts that make us connect with the character. But the game decides to be a pussy about it EVERY single time and reveals that nothing is lost.
Batman is about lost. Batman is supposed to be about a man who lives every day with the pain of his dead parents, his broken sidekicks, his destroyed relationships, yet continues to struggle for what he believes in. It’s about a man who never gives up.
Yet for half the game, I believed someone to be dead only to be perfectly fine. I believed that I broke the trust of the people closest to me. I believed that I had to suffer the repercussions of my actions only to realize that everything was a field of sunshine and daisies.
Halo 4 wouldn’t be without Cortona’s death. Final fantasy wouldn’t be if Aerith pretended to be dead. But this damn game wouldn’t even let the Batmobile be wrecked for 5 minutes without going “oh bt dubs, we have a spare.” A world where consequences don’t exist is an utterly boring one. Furthermore, the one altruistic death in the game came at a point where the character was not needed anymore. Meaningless.
I know I’m starting to gripe a lot. But with great history comes greater expectations, and this game just falls short. I felt powerless throughout the game. Minor bosses were one-shotting me, I was overwhelmed in tank fights, where enemies had no-scoped wall hacks. I spent an entire night replaying the sniper level because the Arkham Knight had impeccable aim with no time lag to dodge. What is with the balance in this game!?
The thing is, done with care, vulnerability can be put to great effect. The Bane fight in Arkham City was particularly remarkable. It demonstrated how much Bane’s toxin strengthened him, making him an undefeatable adversary in face to face combat. It gave an opportunity for the game to show Batman’s stealth and wit. It was beautifully executed and remains one of the most memorable fights to me.
Done correctly, a game should feel challenging, but never punishing. Dark Souls has had a reputation for being unforgivable. However, no matter how many times I died in Dark Souls, I would never feel that winning was about luck and not skill. I would learn new things from every lost encounter until I as a player grew to overcome the particularly nasty encounter.
The punishing parts of Batman were never like that. I didn’t learn anything from losing, and it felt like I was facing an undefeatable enemy which I only had to pull off a lucky shot to overcome. Defeating a tough enemy never left me feeling like I achieved anything. Instead, I felt drained and pissed at the unfairness of this game as a whole.
Batman: Arkham Knight is still an excellent addition to the list of amazing and fantastic Arkham games. The story is solid despite lots of railroading, but the combat and encounters definitely need some balancing across the different difficulties. The Batmobile was a welcome addition, despite overstaying its welcome by the end of the game.
You still feel like Batman. You are still a badass and everything. If you like Arkham, it’s a must buy. If you’re new to the series, new is not always better. Arkham City is hands down the best in the series.