With Batman: Arkham Knight, Rocksteady has issued the closing chapter in their Batman story. This is the end of their trilogy, not counting the WB Montreal developed Arkham Origins. It promises the death of Batman in trailers, and it stands as one of the biggest games of the new generation of consoles and this year's offerings.
I have two major things for you to consider before reading this review. First, I will keep it spoiler free. That means I can't talk about a few major moments or story features, but I don't want anyone who's holding off on the game to have their experience ruined in the slightest. There are twists and turns here, and, while not all of them are well done, I don't want to ruin the fun for anyone.
Second, I did not play this game on the PC. I have heard and witnessed its terrible performance for myself. Our own Eric Frederiksen has it on PC. It's running alright for him, though its performance has pushed him to slow down with the game rather than push through like me. I've been playing it on the PlayStation 4, and, aside from some Leaderboard issues, it's been rock solid.
If you want to play Arkham Knight on the PC, wait. Wait until users are reporting that it's been fixed. It's a mess right now, and WB isn't even selling new copies digitally.
Now that those are out of the way, should you be playing Batman: Arkham Knight?
A foundation built on Arkham City
For most gamers who enjoy Rocksteady's Batman series, Arkham City stands as the best title in the series. That's true for me, and that's because of a combination of the open world, the mechanics and the story itself. I'll contend that the end of Arkham City, in fact, stands as one of the best Batman stories ever told.
I said I wasn't going to get into the tale of this game in this review, and that will remain true. I will say, however, that I rank Arkham Knight somewhere between Asylum and City. I liked the plot mechanics at work in the game better than the actual story beats themselves. You probably will, too, if you play it.
Arkham Knight picks up right where City left off, and it brings along with it an open Gotham, another Rogues Gallery and a host of thugs and Riddler puzzles to push through. It is, at its core of mechanics, a bigger and more polished version of the same thing you've played since Arkham Asylum.
As such, you'll already know if this is a gaming loop you'd like to get involved with. The timing driven combat returns, though it's far less innovative than it felt when this series began. Batman's host of gadgets are here with a few new ones that feel just fine.
This same loop has been fleshed out even further. There are tons of sidequests, plenty to upgrade, great stealth segments and something like 250 Riddler trophies to be found. If Arkham City was Arkham Asylum+, Arkham Knight is Arkham City on steroids. It's bigger, beefier, but perhaps a touch more artificial.
Introducing the Batmobile
Without a doubt, the biggest introduction to the Arkham formula is the Batmobile. The crazy thing? I think I loved and hated using the Batmobile in almost equal measure for practically entirely different reasons.
I liked the car for the added gameplay. Traversal, Riddler puzzles and on-street takedowns were great in the Batmobile. For a city so tight and cluttered as Gotham, Rocksteady did a wonderful job keeping the vehicle fast, well handled and strong. Even if you do nudge the corner of a building while taking a turn, the building itself crumbles out of your way. The same goes for trees. Yes, an open world game with trees that can be bowled over while driving.
Towards the latter portion of the campaign, though, it seems Rocksteady leaned way too hard on the Batmobile. There are drone tanks that cover the city of Gotham throughout the story here. There's a moment when special drone tanks are introduced that can take the Batmobile out with one or two shots. The solution? You have to sneak up on them while in the car in order to do a one shot kill on their backside. It's like stealth in the Batmobile, and it feels entirely stupid.
In fact, at one pivotal moment in the game, the focus switches from being Batman to being a tank pilot, and it would have been so much more exciting were it the other way around. I didn't want to drive a tank, I wanted to be the Bat.
This overreliance on the Batmobile as more than just a mode of travel had me incredibly annoyed. That hour of so or play right around the 75 percent mark of the main story was boring, and it actually stands as the worst part of this game.
It's admirable that Rocksteady made the car feel great without ruining the city traversal experience while in glide and grapple mode; however, just because the Batmobile was added to the game doesn't mean that it has to take up such a prime place in the spotlight.
Sidequests range from wonderful to banal
While there is a core storyline in Batman: Arkham Knight, players also have access to two full wheels of sidequest threads and AR challenges. Both piles are a completely mixed bag.
For instance, you'll track a Murder Mystery, fight Firefly, stop bank robberies and destroy weapon caches. These stories all float around familiar friends and foes, and they breathe some really nice life into the game. They aren't given the same attention as the main plot, of course, but they feel like fun distractions.
Then there are side stories and AR challenges that feel like little more than easy fan service. One such storyline starts with an awesome jump scare but devolves into this really boring set of mechanics and very little in the way of actual storytelling.
These sidequests, then, feel like a mix of tales Rocksteady wanted to tell and boxes they needed to check off in order to improve the host of classic bad guys making a return. If I ever go back and 100 percent this game, you should know that there are some sidequests I really have absolutely no desire to finish. They're just, well, bland.
For a game that does such a great job of treating Batman fans to nerd-out worthy lore at regular intervals in the main quest, this side stuff is sort of a let down.
Fighting in tandem is awesome
It's called "Dual Play," and it's probably my favorite completely new feature in Batman: Arkham Knight. The Dark Knight rarely goes it entirely alone in his best storylines. He has help from friends like Robin, Nightwing and even Catwoman.
That repeats here, mostly through sidequests, as the Caped Crusader teams up with his allies at several junctures throughout the tale. The best thing I can say about Dual Play? I wanted so much more of it.
You'll get in a room filled with baddies, and you'll switch back and forth between characters at your own command. If you're combo is up high enough, you can switch with a takedown move and clear enemies quickly. It's awesome, and the host of playable characters in this mode is actually pretty fun.
Rocksteady went over the addition of Dual Play in one of their Arkham Insider YouTube episodes, and you can see that below if you'd like to see the mode in action.
Teaming up and hot switching between characters as you chain excellently long combos together feels awesome in play, and the slow downs are super satisfying. It's the combat you know and love in a hyped up fashion, and it works really well.
A launch mired in problems and far too many pre-order bonuses
As great as all those mechanics are in practice, it's impossible to ignore just how much WB Games wrapped up in pre-order bonuses and retailer specific content.
Don't take this as an insult, fellow comic nerds, but we're just the worst group of people to get bonuses like these. Game collectors and comic fans tend to be completionists by nature. WB Games made it impossible to get everything Arkham Knight has to offer thanks to retailer-specific pre-order bonuses.
You want Harley Quinn's challenge maps? Pre-order the game. Want the Red Hood story pack? Pre-order the game at GameStop. Want the prototype Batmobile? Pre-order the game at Walmart. Want the Wayne Tech Booster Pack? Pre-order the game at Best Buy.
Listen, I've never written about pre-order bonuses in a review; however, enough is enough. This has gotten so ridiculous that every fan hoping to get the most out of their game has to pre-order it in order to feel satisfied. That, or wait a whole year for that Game of the Year version that this company loves so much.
The real problem? So many games ship broken now that preordering actually borders on insanity. It's absolutely stupid that these companies are asking for our money in advance when they know darn well that they're about to hand us a broken product. Imagine preordering a car for exclusive floor mats, getting the car and learning that it doesn't start. It's real dumb.
Batman: Arkham Knight has been an absolute slop fest on the PC. WB knew it ahead of time, but they had no qualms about asking gamers to pre-order.
Stop preordering games. Really. Stop rewarding companies for these ridiculous practices. Let Batman: Arkham Knight be a lesson learned.
Batman: Arkham Knight is another exceptional effort for the Caped Crusader from Rocksteady. It's not perfect, but it's a whole lot of fun.
I know I just spent a whole section being super salty, but I have to say that I enjoyed my time with Batman: Arkham Knight. I'm looking forward to waiting a bit until I can comfortably talk about the storyline in the game without the risk of ruining it for the masses. There's a lot of cool stuff to digest here, and that should be exciting for fans.
The Batmobile feels like a very spotty mechanic throughout the game, executed well sometimes while becoming way too annoying at others. However, Rocksteady should be applauded for their world design efforts here. They made the game big enough for the car while tight enough to keep gliding fun.
This is absolutely going to be one of the best games of the year, and Batman: Arkham Knight joins the thin herd of great new console gen games worth playing. It's a win for both of those reasons. In the grand scheme of the Arkham story, though? It doesn't reach the heights of the nearly perfect Arkham City.
This game is a buy, though. If you like Batman, open world affairs and good stories, you should pick this up. Only on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. If you game on a PC, wait. Wait until it goes back on sale and then some. Wait for the word from gamers that it's fixed. Until then, this experience is only suitable for console owners. That's a crying shame.
Disclaimer: We received a retail copy of Batman: Arkham Knight for the PlayStation 4 on release from WB Games. We played the game to completion before starting this review.
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