Batman: Arkham Knight, released in 2015, is a third-person action game, which brings to a close the Batman: Arkham trilogy, developed by Rocksteady Studios. You play as Batman (Kevin Conroy) in the wake of a mass evacuation of Gotham City, following an ultimatum by Scarecrow, the Bat’s long-time nemesis.
The self-proclaimed “Master of Fear” allies with the game’s eponymous antagonist; The Arkham Knight. The pair threaten to deploy a nerve toxin against the population of Gotham City, leaving Batman little choice but to retake Gotham from the control of the Arkham Knight’s Militia.
Strangers in the Knight
Whilst the main antagonist of the game is Scarecrow, the story revolves around the mysterious Arkham Knight, whose identity (or lack of) plagues Batman throughout the game’s roughly 15 hour duration. As such, the search for the masked man’s name prompts flashbacks into Bats’ own past, which poignantly links together themes and events from previous games.
Everything from his relationship with the Joker, with Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” appropriately accompanying, to that fateful night outside Monarch Theatre, is explored. After all, this is the finale.
Whilst the hunt for the Knight plays out, Scarecrow’s character takes a more ruthless, sinister line than seen before. Clearly out to settle a score, his success in taking control of the city is stated from him directly on every building in Batman’s old hunting ground. The eerie sound of the microphone, matched with the ice cold tones of John Noble, is enough to demand your attention, wherever you may be, and whatever you are doing.
Luckily, your plucky and trusty butler, Alfred, is always on hand with a helpful bit of information, or just a kind word. Carry on, “Master Bruce.”
The supporting cast sees the return of some old favourites, as well. Mark Hamill returns from the grave as the Joker, as a figment of Batman’s imagination. Hamill; whose stellar performance is both hilarious, dark, and also really quite moving, is the perfect antidote to the gruff, battle-tested tones of Commissioner Jim Gordon (Johnathan Banks) as well as the youthful depiction of his daughter, Barbara; aka the computer genius Oracle. (Ashley Greene)
Appearances are also made by Nightwing, Catwoman, as well as a more substantial part played by Matthew Mercer’s Robin. These three characters’ stories converge with your own, at various points, which leads to some missions, and better yet, fights, in which you play as, and alongside said characters. Executing slick duel takedowns with your sidekick feels nothing short of iconic. Nothing more to say here.
Great individual performances are matched with graphics, and reliable frame rate, that do the “Old-Gen” label given to it’s 2015 release date a disservice. Chinatown is awash with crimson; the Clock Tower is dimly lit; and the Bat symbol search light retorts the violent clouds over Miagani Island. All is as it should be.
Familiar Faces (Looking at Both of you, Mr Dent)
Along with the main story come a number of Gotham’s “Most Wanted” missions. In these, Batman is matched up with recognisable foes, such as Penguin, Two-Face, Firefly, and, of course, the Riddler. Each mission is refreshing, and has a clear aim in mind, making the anticipation to the eventual “boss fight” more intense.
So, whether it’s foiling Two-Face’s bank jobs, or Penguin’s weapon smuggling, each strand is far deep enough for lasting enjoyment, without becoming overly repetitive. That said, the pursuit of those dastardly “puzzle-oriented” Riddler Trophies could take you 15 hours as it is. Don’t expect an easy passage on that front.
The experience does not stop there. Along with the main game comes a breadth of DLC content; including modern and nostalgic Bat-suits that will be sure to please fans of the films of old. The “Season of Infamy” expansion adds new “Most Wanted” missions to the campaign, featuring cameo appearances from the aforementioned Nightwing, Mr Freeze, and Killer Croc, to name a few.
Additionally, there is a “Harley Quinn Story Pack” in which you get to play as the fiendish antagonist in a prison break. If that wasn’t enough, there are two more DLC story packs; “Red Hood,” in which you take on a gang lead by Black Mask, and “A Matter of Family,” in which a pre-Arkham Knight Batgirl squares off against the Joker.
Whilst all of these experiences are worthwhile, they are certainly fleeting, and were easily deserving of more fleshing out. For example, certain packs can last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Having said that, they do provide variety, and, although limited, show interesting insights into the characters you get to play as. It seems all good things must come to an end. A shame indeed.
Donning the Suit
6 years on from Rocksteady’s first series instalment of Batman: Arkham Asylum - a tougher, more predatory Bat can be found stalking the streets of Gotham City. The game’s main form of movement can be seen far above the stunningly detailed buildings of the GCPD and Wayne Towers. Taking to the air, the Bat feels powerful; gliding feels responsive, and regaining height with diving and the game’s grappling hook feels both immensely satisfying, and purposeful.
Seeing the Bat-cape flutter and shimmer in the harsh wind of night leaves you in no doubt: Batman rules the city from the skies.
Solace in the Shadows
On the ground, Batman is feared by all the petty crooks that inhabit Gotham: tail a car and they will divert to avoid you; you will hear NPCs talk about your events mid-game as you soar through the skies. Stealth mechanics are surprisingly good; the type one might expect from an Assassin’s Creed or Hitman game. The game’s “Silent Takedown” can be triggered from almost anywhere, including above and below, and is the easiest way of eliminating foes. Stalking your prey as Batman feels as effective, and accessible, as charging in head-on.
There is a dedicated stealth-driven mechanic simply entitled “Fear.” It is as simple and deadly effective as the name suggests. With “Fear” you are able to unleash the very powerful “Fear-Multi Takedown” in which Batsy takes down up to 5, crooks down within the blink of an eye. Scary stuff for your average criminal.
Whilst Bats may lack the finesse of, say, a Lara Croft, the core movement and stealth mechanics are faultless, and striking from the shadows is a more than viable approach in Batman: Arkham Knight.
To summarise, there was never a time when I felt like anything but the apex predator in the city. Scarecrow and his silly billboard announcements can eat his heart out.
To put it bluntly, the game excels in hand-to-hand combat. Arkham Knight’s dedicated combat system; “FreeFlow,” is far more polished and improved from previous games.
Strikes feel weighty, and Batman’s speed and ferocity is unparalleled, as well as his ability to counter anything coming back. Enemy attack prompts are easy to recognise, and respond to, if you know your controls. Chaining unanswered strikes together is by far the easiest way of taking down the high volume of foes you encounter at any one time. This drastically increases the damage you can inflict on those poor unprepared souls.
The fluidity with which animations chain and merge together, as opposed to the stiff, animation-breaking mechanics found in turn-based combat games, is truly remarkable. From the crunching controller feedback of a significant strike, to the almost slapstick, comic book style “Beatdown” mechanic used to defeat bigger, stronger enemies such as “Brutes,” combat is done proper justice, just as Batman would have wanted.
The Bat’s upgrade tree, which includes abilities for man, suit, and car, feel necessary in order to stay one step ahead. Whether it’s different melee combinations, or improving your Remote Hacking Device, it’s well worth investing your “WayneTech Upgrade Points” in skills that best suit your play style.
What’s more, breaking out of your comfort zone, when it comes to clearing out enemies, is encouraged, and rewarded. For instance, spend too much time surveying from vantage points, and the Arkham Knight will adapt to your tactics as the game goes on, and take preventative measures. Becoming more versatile, and taking advantage of the full list of techniques Batman has at his disposal, is truly the path to victory.
All in all, whether it’s bypassing more strategic enemies, such as medics, or the entertaining, brief “death” cutscenes, with your most hated adversaries leering over your corpse, there is always reason to continue honing your craft.
Something to get you from A to B
A beloved part of Batman through the years; the Batmobile, makes a huge impact in Batman: Arkham Knight. As one might expect of something invented by the brilliant Lucius Fox (who makes several, not to mention, helpful, appearances in the game!) running thugs off the road seems like child’s play. However, with the press of a button, the car transforms seamlessly into a billion dollar tank. Handy.
As the Arkham Knight’s quest for total domination continues, driving and flying drones are sent in to patrol the three islands the map is comprised of - each island with different numbers, and types, of drones. This is where the fun begins. Using the car’s 60mm cannon and “Vulcan gun” to shatter the unmanned drones feels far too powerful for your own good, and tools only get more diverse as the game, and the Arkham Knight’s arsenal, deepens.
Quite simply, the car feels invincible; the environment crunches when you run through it, and evading drone shots feels smooth, just as it should. One more thing, definite, encounter-ending shots collide in slow motion. What’s not to like?
Car Faux Pas
Well, to elaborate, one area that the Batmobile does struggle in is puzzle-solving. Especially when it comes to Riddler missions, in which the Batmobile is essential, (ie for beating a Riddler lap time) the results are often frustrating.
More times than not, these end with Riddler’s annoyingly high pitched voice telling you to go “back to the start, detective!” Curse you, and your green question mark shaped collectibles, Nigma!
Perhaps the only other criticism you could level towards car combat is of it’s high frequency. However, with the diverse range of opponents, gadgets, and high intensity fights, including one particular run in with the Arkham Knight, using the Batmobile on the streets ages negligibly, if even at all. In short, the Batmobile is a positive addition to the game, and justifies the reasonably high quantity of car combat found in Batman: Arkham Knight.
Overall, Batman: Arkham Knight serves as a dramatic, fulfilling, and poignant ending to the Arkham trilogy. Performance wise, the game is next to faultless, and the 2015 graphics; initially developed for the at-the-time brand new Xbox One, have stood the test of time.
With a captivating storyline, an impeccable combat engine, and very good all-round gameplay mechanics, this game should be recognised as one of the best of the Xbox One generation. Batman: Arkham Knight is truly a game that stands equal to some of the best ever made. It’s beautiful realised, and, for those already having conquered Gotham, or for the first time, it’s well worth taking up the cowl.
Play us out, Sinatra.