The set up of the story is rather simple. Batman, a man who was bitten by a radioactive bat is minding his own business when Scarecrow, a man who has some injection gauntlet, which is clearly not the most efficient way to aim a syringe, makes a terroristic threat to the citizens of Gotham City, a fictional city which would be placed near New Jersey. The people scream and panic evacuating the city. This leaves Batman alone with the villains, the streets crowded with arrogant thugs and the police. Events transpire and the Arkham Knight is introduced. He wears an intimidating and yet stylish get up of military clothing as well as a bat type mask.
Why is he called the Arkham Knight? Was it because all the other games had the word ‘Arkham’ in them and they had to find a way to tie it in? Your guess is as good as mine. But that seems to be the most plausible reason. The Arkham Knight, whose identity is made apparent a third into the game, comes off as an obnoxious and irritating character. He constantly whines about how he hates Batman. I appreciate your hatred for the character, I think we all can agree that billionaires running around punching the poorest, and most poverty inflicted amongst us isn’t exactly the way to go. But you don’t see me hiring a militia to invade Richard Branson’s island.
Scarecrow, the other antagonist is equally flawed with a bizarre plan involving unmasking Batman. Why is this his plan? How does this make any sense? Batman could be anyone. He could be a hire goon and one of multiple Batmen. He could be superman having a bit of fun. He could even be Bruce Wayne, the local billionaire. What does it matter? Why were the Arkham Knight and the militia ok with this plan, as if that’s the best thing to do?
The story, especially as a way of ending the ‘Arkham’ series, is certainly disappointing. I DEMAND JUSTICE! However, there is more to the story than that. There are laugh out loud portions of sub-plot that really are the height of the series. Admittedly it was disappointing that they didn’t tie this subplot in to the main plot of the game, but I still enjoyed every second with; let’s call him, ‘Mr. J.’
If you would indulge me, I’d like to discuss the Arkham series in general, and why this series is so amazing. These are the guys who transformed the stealth in games from a slow and lugubrious system, into a fast, dynamic and yet, still a methodical and smart way of doing things. They went even further by redefining combat, to the point where other developers are turning to Arkham Knight for inspiration. They even did 3D traversal in a way that 3D games were yet to explore. Milton Glazer a famous graphic designer, talks about how the ‘I Heart New York’ graphic is so famous. It is because it’s a puzzle for the viewer to work out. Rocksteady took that idea and applied it to the Arkham games, making every aspect of it a puzzle.
The games are split in to three sections, stealth, fighting and adventuring. What’s more interesting about the series is how there is a cross section between each of these elements. You’re never stuck in one moment. You can blend between them. This leads me onto the Batmobile, the newest addition to the Arkham world. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. The car is awesome and sweet. I don’t know much about cars, but it’s certainly better than my old Renault Clio. Although saying that, the seating in my Clio was better, as it provided spacious and comfortable travel for five people and sufficient storage for a few bags in the boot. The idea getting caught on small corners has been thrown out, a concern that I would have had if a lesser developer had made the game. You knock through everything. Trees, lamp posts and even bridge supports. Are you listening Grand Theft Auto? I enjoyed being able to transform into a tank in an instant to quickly shift to one side and correct my destination.
However, I get the sense that the developers, notably Sefton Hill, agreed how great the car was and he decided to shoehorn it in to everything in the game. It really brings out a fundamental problem with the game; it literally revolves around the Batmobile. And I liked it, like I like David Mitchell but I don’t need him appearing in every aspect of my life.
Every Riddler trophy seems to have this car attached to it which really takes the challenge out of the game. The story makes it feel that you are constantly held back by this motor, especially when you are constantly reminded that Batman has a Batplane which we never get to see. The combat has added new elements to it, some of which make gameplay fun. Others, not so much. A hired goon idiotically charges you so you have to throw a Batarang, is welcome. However the Medics are certainly not. The Medics are the clear choice of person to attack first. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that they are just helping their friends, and I hold nothing against it. However, I hold something against the systems in place, so that I can’t properly target those otherwise helpful individuals. You will fight through a crowd to get to them, jumping over the heads of other targets, only for the camera to erratically spin around.
For a game series that seems so understanding of the idea of giving you a challenge to also present the solution. I don’t understand how this slipped the net, because there’s really no targeted system available. Although, I suppose later on in the game you’re provided with an item that can make you sabotage the Medic’s equipment. Ultimately the combat’s improvements are there, but by over-complicating it they have exposed new flaws in their combat. The stealth has similar issues. The addition of a ‘fear takedown’ really makes a lot of situations so easy. I really don’t understand why they put the encounters in there in the first place.
I would like to talk about the adventure portion of the game and an example of why it feels underutilised. There was a trophy that for my own ego and self worth I needed to acquire. I flew over to the place where it was, notice that I flew there, and not drove? I landed on this oddly atmospheric and isolated lighthouse. In the midst of all this chaos there was one lighthouse. This wasn’t some crappy lighthouse, this took concept artist to design and visualise, as well as talented 3D modellers to realise. On top of all that you had a sense of place. This lighthouse felt like it belonged in this city. This wasn’t some model put together in the last moments before release; this was a location that people worked hard on.
What was it used for? Nothing. There’s a Riddler trophy and a riddle to be solved there, that’s it. It feels unwarranted to have this place when you do nothing with it. There’s so much you could do with this location, and yet nothing was. The reasons for that could be the lack of time, or maybe the Batmobile providing problems. Ultimately, this theme of not getting the most out of this, otherwise stunning world, runs throughout Arkham Knight. Who knows, maybe some DLC content will be released soon giving the game’s quiet and desolate areas some life?
Have you heard the sentence “Arkham Origins did it right?” I suspect that sentence hasn’t been uttered too often. If I heard that in a pub a year ago, I would have had to drop my conversation with my drinking buddies and given my input. But now I’m that speaker. Arkham Origins understood the personalities within the Batman universe. These are big important elements. It was majorly disappointing to see Penguin get a couple of appearances when he was such a joy to watch in previous games. The Two Face parts of Cat Woman’s story. And Mr. Freeze? Wow, just brilliant. This game did not capture the brilliants of Batman’s greatest strength, his gallery of villains.
I can’t help but feel disappointed. You got to understand that Arkham City is my favourite game of all time. That’s something I proudly proclaim. Arkham Knight feels flat in comparison to City and for that very reason that I sadly have to recommend this amazing game. Weren’t you listening? This is a game that has to reach the heights of modern game design. And so what if it doesn’t quite touch that? It’s still one of the greatest games made in the past few years excluding Papers Please of course.
Review by Pearse Phillips