For the sake of the audience, I have formatted this review in two different ways. If you want to watch the video review, then watch the video on our YouTube channel (with the video embedded below), but for those who'd prefer to read the review as well, I've included the script (for the most part, with slight word changes here and there) below.
Batman: Arkham Knight has finally released to the Xbox One and PS4. After enough fanfare for the 4th game in the iconic Batman franchise, to say it's been a rocky road up to this point would be putting it mildly. Arkham Knight was delayed, collector's editions were cancelled, and even requirement specifications for the PC were changed at the last minute. Oh, and there’s the whole PC release being actually suspended in sales in the backlash of the problems of the PC port. It's been a rocky release, but here comes the real question: is the game behind the controversy any good? Is it a continuation of the fantastic games that Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were, or does Arkham Knight have holes in the armor like Arkham Origins did? After playing through the game, beating the main story section, and getting close to collecting everything that the game has overall, I've come to my conclusions on Arkham Knight and are ready to present them here. How does the Batman end? Well, you're about to find out.
The story begins at the end of the events of Arkham City, as Joker is cremated after dying in the events of that game. The city of Gotham is enjoying a rare time of peace and lowered crime rates in the aftermath of the second game's events, and all is peaceful in the city. However, like every comic book city, that doesn’t last long, as the Scarecrow shows up to cause havoc with his fear toxin once again. It's up to you as Batman—and his band of allies in the Oracle, Commissioner Gordon, and Robin—to deal with the new threat to the city. Several of the franchise’s star villains from the series make appearances as well, including some you haven't seen before. Sure, you've got your Two-Face and Poison Ivy’s reappearing, with even some of them having new character models. However, you've also got characters that the series hasn't seen before, like Deacon Blackfire and Manbat, which was appreciated as a Batman fan.
One of the new elements introduced this time around is the Arkham Knight, who doesn't have a lot of backstory with him. All you really know is this: he's got a real knowledge of Batman from head to toe, and he's got a major gripe with him. It’s implied that he has knowledge specific to the way Batman does business, down to the design of his suit. The super villains have banded their resources together to fund a private army for the Knight to use, as you'll constantly run into tanks and flying drones. Needless to say, the Batmobile's introduction into the game makes a lot of sense given what has occurred and the Knight's arsenal, but more about that later.
The Knight becomes the second main villain in the story but falls short in comparison to the Joker from past games. It’s not that the knight isn’t a compelling character, trying to figure out what problems he has with Batman and who he could possibly be is interesting, but the Joker’s star performances in the other games just overshadows him, sadly, when all is said and done.
Overall, the writing is still as strong as ever, and the way the plot is handled is rather well-done. If you're looking for the strength of Arkham Asylum's and City's writing, it seems to be here, as characters come to life as their iconic selves, and the back and forth dialogue between characters feel natural given the game's backdrop. The game will take you through twists and turns that's for sure, and it throws a couple of elements that you may not have been expecting into the mix, but it does it with reasonable precision. It's a continuation of what you'd honestly expect from the games in the franchise up to this point, and should play well to Batman fans everywhere. I don't really want to spoil much else, but know this: the plot is intriguing, and I really like what they've done here. It may be the strongest writing in the franchise yet.
In particular, one of the biggest elements in my mind has always been about the flaws of the characters in the Batman universe more than anything, as I feel like their wide arrangement of motivations and wants have always kept the variety of them interesting, and there's no exception in Arkham Knight. But I've also liked how they've dug into the protagonist's flaws as well. Scarecrow's introduction and the fallout adds a whole new level of storytelling that I really appreciated, driving me to complete the game regardless of writing this review or not. It’s not just those affected by Scarecrow directly, but playing off the weaknesses and fears of characters is a common theme in Arkham Knight, even with side missions. Needless to say, it delivered for me on most every point there.
However, some of the elements from the original games are missing in terms of the side elements, like the audio logs and misc information. Now there are some, don't get me wrong, but they don't have the usual quality and backstory like the original games had, and I always found those interesting to read. Even the Riddler’s stories you get from solving riddles fell flat for me on several occasions, and that's really a disappointment considering how strong the first games were at that. Part of it is the missing audio logs with the iconic voices there, as the quality of the voice acting has always given these sections a life of their own. It's here that the little details didn't work out so well, and may have been cut in the long run for the release of the game. However, it’s counterbalanced by the main plot's writing, as the writing overall feels like an improvement, which is surprising given the past games.
I played this on the PS4, and so I did not run into the problems that PC owners ran into. I will cover those however, as I did get to at least experience it from an over the shoulder perspective with someone else, and needless to say, I could see where the major problems were. The RAM usage was off the charts, the inconsistent frame rate ... To fully understand the problems of this port, I'll refer to someone like TotalBiscuit who's able to sum up the experience rather nicely. It was bad enough to suspend sales, which while the Steam Refunds may have been an influence in this, doesn’t take away from the removal from the Steam store temporarily. But this review is focusing on the PS4 version, so I want to focus on that in terms of the game in question. At this point in time however, the PC port should be avoided at all costs.
Arkham Knight looks nice for the most part. There's a good amount of detail put into the textures and some of the smaller elements of the game to give it a shine, like the torn up cape of Batman. Character models are definitely the highlight of this. Realistic features and expressions definitely make the characters unique in their own way, with their own brand of their strengths within their models. I do like some of the new character designs, like The Riddler and can see what they were going for with things like Poison Ivy. Something about the new Harley though rubs me the wrong way; I think it's the lack of color on the face that makes me not like the design, but it makes sense given the character's connection to the Joker and the whole dead thing. The voice acting is superb as always. Several of the series regulars come back to take their iconic roles and hit the emotion of each character perfectly.
As to the environment, the damage within walls and a decaying city contrast against the bright lights and different sentries/other elements that the game throws at you. The moon in the sky overlooks the city and almost feels like it's about to crash down on it, but works for the most part. There are little things that I'm not a fan of. The rain effects may do it for some people, but they felt more annoying than anything else. Between playing through the PS4 version and comparing it to the Xbox One version, the differences between the versions are subtle; in particular, I do notice a slight difference when it comes to lighting within the game and on character’s faces, but nothing to really recommend one version over the other (and again, let’s not talk about the PC version in this, because we know exactly where that stands as the writing of this review).
As for performance, I ran into my own share of glitches. Some of them were reasonably out of the way and didn't bother me but were more comical than anything else. I do personally like it when it rains in doors. It's a nice fresh breeze. But there were things I got stuck on, weird animations regarding enemies, and regardless of the PC problems, there's still a bunch of issues under the surface of this game. Once in a while, the game would seemingly chug, especially at the racing/Batmobile sections for me, but overall its performance stayed at the 30 FPS you'd expect from the console games at this point (which, it still should be 60, but honestly I don't expect it on consoles at this point). Towards the end of the game they seemed to become more frequent, however, including getting Batman stuck moonwalking backwards in a section (which pisses me off because the major recording of that got corrupted).
I'll get into the specifics of gameplay in each of the different modes that I see, but I do want to take an overall look at the gameplay and the mission selection as a whole, as I do have some gripes but I appreciate what they did here. Arkham Knight is in the style of the Arkham City and Arkham Origins games with an open world for Batman to hunt down crime, and the world of Gotham is at your fingertips with the 3 major islands to explore. The missions you'll get hit every spectrum of the old gameplay and add several new elements to the mix.
Several of the old villains come back, providing side missions to track them down and lock them up at GCPD. And variety? It's probably the strongest part in this section. Each set of the villain-based missions has its own unique style to it, like tracking down gun trucks from The Penguin and following it from rooftop to rooftop, to attempting to stop Two Face's men from cleaning out a bank and then having them hunt you after you knock enough people out. Each mission feels carefully crafted and doesn't feel like an added on element and hits the range of the Batman universe and the different sides of Batman: the detective, the fighter, the stalker. It's again this variety where the game shines in most cases, with the exception of a certain game mode type that I talk about in a bit.
Hidden collectables from the Riddler's trophies and riddles are everywhere just like the older games, and there's plenty to explore on the islands themselves. Moving from rooftop to rooftop is fun, and with additions like supercharging the amount of air you get from grappling makes things even faster and was really appreciated. You’ll run across thugs and events in the world that you’ll have to take care of (or not), and it feels like there’s just a lot to do. I’ve probably put over 20+ hours in Arkham Knight at this point and I’m about 90% done, but that last 10% is mostly Riddler trophies and challenges that I need to find and hunt down.
But unlike some of the last games, I do find issues with some of the little details. It's things that made playing Arkham Knight more annoying than anything else, which sucks because the main gameplay here is rather good. With the ability to mark missions via the quest menu, it doesn't distinguish between a mission that's in a general area versus one that's location specific, which is frustrating because the map shows that clearly. Some outlines on the area in the game would have been appreciated. Also, I hate games that let me mark and follow quests that I can't complete yet. Mark them some different way, because it really sucks to go across the map to find you can't actually do anything in the quest, and this is no exception. That's definitely a personal preference in the end, but made the game more annoying that it could have been.
When I think of the Arkham games, I think of the predator missions, as Batman hides in the shadows attempting to pick off enemies one by one, which returns probably better than ever with a couple of key additions to the arsenal that really do add to the challenge overall. In particular, one new enemy type to note is the medic, who can revive knocked out enemies if he's left to care for them. Arkham Knight implemented that smartly so that he isn't easy to knock off when this happens, as other enemies will set up perimeters and attempt to give him some cover. This addition along with others give an idea of higher priority targets, as the game introduces enemies with drone capabilities as well as sentry gun placement later on. It's not enough to just take down a straggling enemy: you have to consider which enemies to give more attention to first. It made those predator elements even more exciting overall, making you feel like a tactician as you go through the room.
I also like how the level design feels much more varied in Arkham Knight than the last iterations of the franchise, at least from what I can remember. Rooms definitely are very different from rooftop to studio to warehouse, and what I noticed in particular was the necessity of really relying on changing up tactics more than ever before. Just going for inverted takedowns doesn't work—you've got to be willing to get on the ground, go through grates, and even get up close and personal. Sometimes, the most basic approaches worked in terms of just sneaking around the ground like you would in Metal Gear Solid, and the level design as a whole in terms of predator encounters feels vastly superior to some of the prior games.
One of the additions that I'm still unsure about is the Fear mechanic. The new suit Batman wears gives him even more speed, and he can take out up to 3 enemies at once when surprising the first one if they are in a certain range. The element recharges when a silent takedown is done. The thing is, while it makes you feel like a badass—and in particular when a group that has been moving along comes in, it's absolutely required—but I can't help shaking the feeling that it made the game much more simpler because of it, due to the fact that the reliance on that mechanic to work made some situations rather easy, especially when waiting for people to group up or luring them with things like the voice synthesizer.
New devices also add some new elements to the game to make things more interesting like the voice synthesizer, which can be used to lure certain enemies to other points of the map to isolate them, which was appreciated. Several of the old tools are here as well, like the disruptor, with new elements to take advantage of, like sabotaging a sentry or disabling a medic's backpack. Overall, it's still the highlight of every Batman game since the beginning for me, and this is no exception. Those who love the predator mode from previous games will definitely have no problem enjoying this one.
You should know the counter and enemy flow focus of the combat of the Arkham games by now, and again, there's not much of a drop off here. The idea here as simple: move to each enemy type in a rhythmic fashion, hitting each enemy in succession while gaining a combo meter to use special takedowns. Enemy types will vary and require different tactics, like removing the charge on an enemy that can shock you repeatedly, meaning you can't melee them, or stunning a brute to be able to start to damage them. This is about flow more than anything else, and that's where the combat excels. Mashing buttons may work at first, but you'll soon find out that it's better to naturally move from enemy to enemy, using your various items to plant explosive gel or freeze an enemy in place to deal with the multitude of enemies in question. The iconic zoom in on the last enemy always makes you appreciate a particular difficult fight that had challenged you, and the game's focus on the presentation of the fighting never gets in the way of the fighting itself, which is a rarity in this genre.
Not much has really changed here in the big picture, and that's a good thing. There's new variations of enemies, and there's segments that will focus on team based fighting of certain enemy types, but the core fighting of the series is still the same, and the challenge ramps up toward the end of the game with even more enemy types and bigger, badder enemies. The throw counter that was added was nice and all, but if you’re expecting major changes and upgrades to the combat system, you’re going to be disappointed. To me, it’s a little bit of a tweaking more than anything else, and honestly, that’s all it needs. It’s still fun and challenging in all aspects.
Here's where the element of the game is most going to cause division in terms of people's overall opinion of Arkham Knight, because the game adds in the iconic Batmobile to the mix, with new racing, battle, and puzzle like sections. The one I enjoyed the most was actually a surprising one: the puzzle sections. Your car will get elements added to it such as a winch to deal with a variety of situations like lowering the car into an area to get access to it or powering a motor to start up defenses of the GCPD.
This feels very Batman-esque in terms of the execution: Batman using every tool at his disposal to deal with situations that he'd otherwise struggle with and fit the theme of the original games and this interpretation of Batman rather nicely. These sections are slow at times, however, and can really hurt the pacing of the game, as moving back and forth from the car can be annoying, especially when you need to combine Batman's other gadgets with the remote functionality on the car. It's needlessly time consuming and can be frustrating, as they usually group these sections together in some of the bigger story elements of the game.
Then there's the battle sections with the Batmobile; here's where things get a little off track, and where I'm confused on the implementation of the Batmobile in Arkham Knight, fighting the multiple tanks and drones at the militia's disposal with your trusty Batmobile's battle mode, which has multiple ways of dealing with soldiers and vehicles. There's a couple of abilities, like the ability to hack other vehicles, firing missiles, and the ability to dodge with boosters left and right. I mean, these sections can be fun, but it starts to become very similar rather quickly. You'll figure out what enemies are trouble, which ones are ones you really don't have to worry about, and it becomes rather easy rather quickly. Even with some enemy variety here, it didn't keep the appeal through the game for me and became a story of “oh great, another battle section."
That is not to say that the COBRA sections, where you have to sneak up on larger tanks and stalk them to get a firing position, wasn't appreciated, and in fact, was probably the strongest elements of any of the Batmobile sections as a whole. This felt like Batman: pinpointing an enemy's weakness and exploiting it while dodging into the alleyways when they saw him. I enjoyed my time in these sections, which were more difficult as they went along. You feel like a predator more than anything else and taking them head on is not an option. If Arkham Knight's Batmobile sections were just this, I’d have really no problems.
But the racing sections, I just could not enjoy. The problem was rather simple for me: even when I got used to the controls of the Batmobile, and taking advantage of the horizontal movement the battle mode could do, when going at higher speeds with the Batmobile, you feel like an out of control missile. I joked with friends on this: I wanted to see a mini game where it calculated how much property damage you did with the Batmobile that Bruce Wayne had to pay for. It doesn't help that the motion blur, which does not have an option to turn it off on consoles, made it hard to really track along with the vehicle, and actually at times made me sick to do racing sections over and over again. A lack of control ends up really frustrating you over time, especially with some of the Riddler sections of the game. In particular, the person who designed the last Riddler car mission has a special place in my “people I'd like to meet to give them a piece of my mind” group.
And honestly, that's the thing—the entire Batmobile sections felt really out of place for the series. Little things bothered me like the whole revving up the Batmobile to do donuts/spin your wheels in place felt very ... not Dark Knightesque. It felt like the mechanic might have originated in another idea or game and was added in. It was definitely the low light of the game on almost every level for me, and the amount that you have to be in the car surprised me. It's a good chunk of Arkham Knight, and in particular, several missions in the middle/end really hurt the game's overall impression for me.
Despite its major problems on the PC, Batman: Arkham Knight does continue the strong games in the franchise for the most part, as its story telling and key additions to gameplay in the predator mode make Arkham Knight a game that you need to own in the series. It does have faults, as the lack of small gameplay tools as well as an overused amount of Batmobile sections take away from the game as a whole. In the end, Arkham Knight does well enough to score an 8.5/10 overall. In particular, the points knocked off in terms of the overall score was as follows:
.75 for overuse of Batmobile sections and inconsistent gameplay regarding it. Every time a section of this came up, I cringed. However, the cobra section of it did save it from being a complete and overbearing problem. .25 for inconsistency regarding in-game help tools and lacking polish details regarding character backgrounds that were present in the first game—a lack of bits of polish that seemed present in the other games. .25 for problems with pacing in story-based missions, where things needed to be broken up a bit more in terms of variety, and made it feel grindy. .25 for glitches and bugs of various sorts, some which were hilarious but others that caused massive problems in combat. While it didn’t cause massive problems other areas of gameplay, they were noticeable.
Batman: Arkham Knight was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on the PS4.
It stumbles with the Batmobile, but the writing and Predator gameplay make up for it.