It’s surprisingly hard for me to remember why I first fell in love with Rocksteady’s Batman series of games. I do remember that the first in the franchise, Batman: Arkham Asylum, came at a pivotal time for me gaming wise. I’d purchased an Xbox 360 purely to play Star Trek Legacy and the game was an epic joke. I downloaded the demo of Arkham Asylum and instantly knew I’d found “my” series; my game that I’d keep coming back to over and over. I approached the release of Batman: Arkham Knight not unlike everyone else. Ridiculously excited and a tad bit nervous.

You can look at the videos of Batman: Arkham Knight and tell that it’s ambitious. Rocksteady focused on the core points of the series. There’s a bigger sandbox to play in and explore  — a key thing the developer had to deliver on if it ever hoped to top past games in the series. The Batman himself is better equipped; Scarecrow and the usual cadre of super-villains mean business.

It’s clear that Rocksteady meant business too. It’s not worth rehashing all of the arguments going back and forth about whether this will be the last Batman: Arkham game we ever receive. What is worth impressing upon you is just how much it feels like the studio put their all in to creating what really can be considered a Batman simulator. There are so many things to do, so many places to go. You’ll find hours lost to you after playing this game.

Batman Arkham Knight – The Story

The Story

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The opening scenes of Batman Arkham Knight set the tone for the rest of game. In Batman Arkham Knight the Joker’s been ultimately defeated, but the city of Gotham is still struggling to terms with his demise. He’s all too-dead, but not completely forgotten. An opening montage reveals why it’s going to be a rough night for Batman and his band of vigilantes. Emboldened by Joker’s death, Scarecrow has threatened to use his fear toxin on the entire city of Gotham. I thought that he had a simple ransom scheme in mind, but he didn’t. What’s coming is much worse, than that. He’s joined by the Arkham Knight, a new character created specifically for this game. After forcing a mass evacuation, Scarecrow entrusts his own protection and the occupation of Gotham to the Arkham Knight.

 

Scarecrow fills the void the main story, but Rockteady smartly weaved other villains into the narrative. While I don’t want to spoil who makes it into the game, I do want to give you an idea of what you’re up against. Called Gotham’s Most Wanted, each villain is encounter has multiple parts with different mechanics essential to their quest. One villain had me trouncing around Gotham stopping bank robberies. Another had me using the Batman’s forensic scanner to find clues to some pretty gruesome murders. Many of these fit into the main story some way. The ones that don’t actually stand-up on their own, which is something that’s all too rare in open-world games.

A lot of games overwhelm you with quests in their map, but Batman Arkham Knight is smart about that too. Many side missions only surface after you’ve discovered them while doing something else. You can complete them while you’re in the area, or come back at a later time. Downtown Gotham is huge, with every nook and cranny filled with series lore, side missions wandering thugs, and vantage points ready for you to grapple up to and appreciate just how much of a bad ass you really are. If you want the game’s true ending you’ll need to wrap up these missions. That’s another neat trick by Rocksteady and a brilliant example of how play mechanics and narrative can inspire players to stick with it.

Batman Arkham Knight – The Gadgets

The Gadgets

Combat wise, The mechanics of Batman Arkham Knight are much more mature and evolved. There’s the usual assortment of gadgets. You start out with the most iconic tools of Batman’s trade. Batarangs – both remote-controlled and started – are back. Zip lining is something you can do to create your own vantage points too. Rocksteady has expanded Batman’s cadre of gadgets, but I still found myself relying on some old favorites. You don’t get every weapon by completing the campaign, but the ones that are available on their own are pretty easy to find.

The biggest gadget of them all is the all-new Batmobile. First, yes it absolutely comes in black. Second, the Batmobile has two different modes. By default the car stays in pursuit mode, allowing you to run down any enemy you need to. Immobilizers for enemy vehicles come standard here. For the Knight Rider inclined, think KITT’s Super Pursuit Mode and you have the right idea.

Hold down the left trigger on the Xbox One controller and you have a pseudo combat mode. Essentially, the Batmobile becomes a tank and mobile investigative tool. It’s got built-in sonar, missile launchers, hacking tools and a prison cell. There’s even an a winch.

You can upgrade the Batmobile, Batman’s gadgets and the Bat suit by completing missions in the single player and singular VR Challenges scattered around Gotham. The smart gamer keeps doing extra these side missions while playing through the single player to unlock new abilities. At least that’s what I did. Only doing story missions means you level your gadgets and Batmobile a bit slower, which can make life for you and the Batman very difficult.

Batman Arkham Knight – The Battles

The Battles

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Combat in Batman Arkham Knight roughly comes in three different categories.

Fear missions rely on you being smart and cunning. Often set on the rooftops of buildings, these are where Batman: Arkham Knight shines the most. The gadgets that you have allow you to be the best Caped Crusader you’d like to be. These aren’t the time to go around trying to beat everyone to a pulp. Rocksteady smartly uses gun installations, and different kinds of thugs to make these more difficult for brawlers. For example, members of the Arkham Knight’s militia often have a doctor with them that’ll hand out electric charges and wake up people you’ve already knocked. You can’t beat this game without taking stock of your inventory and planning your next move.

Balancing out Fear missions are brawling sections. Sometimes you find yourself surrounded by bad guys. Rocksteady has made this more interesting by adding giant bad guys that you need to be quick on your feet with. Some require quick-firing a gadget before you deliver the pain. Others might require you to team up with Robin or Nightwing to take down. I should mention that the battles where you use the dual combat system are incredibly satisfying.

Batman Arkham Knight – The Experience

The Experience

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Rocksteady wants you to be the Batman and pretty so you start thinking you are. As I gathered skills and picked up new weapons I got bolder in my crime fighting. Forget sneaking up behind foes, sometimes I just went in kicking ass and taking names. I first I thought I was just having a particularly good time. Looking back I realize it was actually the game. Batman Arkham Knight gave me the tools and put me in situations that made my emotional state match the rage that Batman had because of events in the story. Everything about the story and combat as Batman is fantastic.

Gotham doesn’t necessarily feel as alive as I’d hoped it would, but with a riot and occupation one can expect that. The whole evacuate this part of town narrative is starting to feel overused, but Rocksteady smartly wraps that in the game’s story too – claiming Scarecrow just wanted to get his hands on a particular building for his own devilish reasons. Sometimes villains surface out of nowhere, adding a bit of flavor to scampering over rooftops.

I loved all the new gadgets – including the Batmobile. Rocksteady made sure to build the side missions and most combat in situations where you could use different gadgets for different takes. Besides random soldiers, Gotham City has been overrun by an army of tanks to enforce the occupation. Disarming bombs placed around the city requires your Batmobile skills to be at their peak. I ended up very invested in the Batmobile, just as I was Batman himself.

Too often, I found that some missions required me to patch into the Batmobile and control it remotely. Towards the end of the game these sections grew increasingly over-the-top. I’m ok with using the Batmobile as a mobile laboratory, tank, gliding launcher and sonar receiver. Batmobile as platforming tool seemed like a stretch.

Batman Arkham Knight – The Verdict

The Verdict

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Batman Arkham Knight gets some much right that you have to play it. You are the bat and Rocksteady never lets you not feel that way. The problematic portions — and they do exist — surface when the developer tries to keep the action to focused on the Batmobile to the detriment of the story. The Batmobile doesn’t ruin the game, but I do think many will be ready to rid themselves of the car by the time they finish the game.

With a riveting story, amazing visual graphics and terrific atmosphere, Batman Arkham Knight is a terrific game. What’s more, you can play this game again and it’ll be just as fun as it was the first time around.