I’m not the biggest comic book fan in the world. I love the worlds and many of the stories, but I’m much more of a casual fan of characters like Iron Man, Superman and Batman. I’ve seen all the movies and played many of the games, but I’ve never read much of the source material these characters come from. I’m also much more of a fan of the campy side of these characters like the 60’s Batman series or shows like Batman: The Brave and the Bold. With that being said, however, I have been a huge fan of the Arkham series of games from Warner Bros. and Rocksteady Studios.
Batman: Arkham Knight starts off shortly after the events of Arkham City. The Joker is dead, but that doesn’t mean Batman can retire comfortably to Wayne Manor. The power vacuum that is left means someone’s going to step up and this time that someone just happens to be Scarecrow. He launches an attack on Gotham that forces officials to evacuate the city. The only people left in town are the police and the criminals. It’s a perfect way to evacuate a city and leave it a virtual playground for both villain and hero alike to play in. The overall size of Gotham is roughly five times that of Arkham City before it.
This time around you not only have the ability to glide around the city, being able to go virtually from one end to the other without ever having to touch the ground, but you also have the Batmobile to drive around in. While at first it’s a mess and erratic I soon figured out just how to effectively drive the car and was able to zoom around the city in no time.
The Batmobile sections comprise many different opportunities to show off what the most iconic vehicle in the world of comics is capable of. Some of them, like high speed chases through the city, are incredible and exciting to do. Others, like cat and mouse style games of hide and seek with heavily armored drone tanks are a lesson in monotony and frustration. The puzzle sections with the Batmobile show off some very creative level design that requires you to switch back and forth between the vehicle and Batman himself. You’ll use remote controlled grapple hooks to change the environment, rev up the Batmobile’s engines causing electrical conduits to overload and occasionally get to use the Batmobile in combat alongside the Caped Crusader. These puzzles got more and more interesting as the game progressed and I found myself really enjoying most of the moments in the car throughout the game. Periodic updates to the Batmobile itself will keep its combat abilities and puzzle solving fresh as the game progresses.
What’s drawn me to these games most has just been how fluid and fun the combat in the game has been. Many games since the release of the first Arkham Asylum game have flat out stolen the combat mechanics from this game and with good reason. They’re solid, fast and fluid. It feels natural and powerful to be the Batman in combat situations where he’s surrounded by dozens of enemies and takes them out with ease. This time around, alongside many of the gadgets he has at his disposal there will be times where Batman teams up with another character, like Catwoman or Robin, to deal out double teamed justice. Those moments slow down the action so you can really see what the two characters are doing in tandem and then you get to play as that other character for a few moments. It’s a really nice addition to an already solid combat system. Environmental take downs, such as using a batarang to drop heavy items hanging from the ceiling, smashing enemies into walls or grabbing weapons lying on the ground just give you many more opportunities to feel like the hero Batman is, but sometimes border on being believable in Batman’s world.
Batman also gets more opportunities this time to be a detective. They also feel much more believable this time around than they did in Arkham City or Arkham Origins. There is no more recreating semi-plausible ideas out of thin air with a reconstruction of a crime scene that no one could realistically figure out. This time around Batman will do things like scrub through security camera footage looking for clues, zooming in on different sections of camera footage. Using the evidence on hand, such as doors ripped off vehicles during an accident, the positioning of a body thrown from the vehicle or evidence lying on the ground gives you much more a sense you’re really using Batmans deductive reasoning skills to figure out what’s going on.
While you’re on the case trying to stop Scarecrow’s fear gas attack you’ll have plenty of opportunities to interact with many other of Batman’s most famous evildoers. Riddler takes the opportunity to kidnap Catwoman and you have numerous side missions where you attempt to rescue her solving numerous Riddler challenges along the way. Azrael is trying to show Batman he’s worthy of the cape and cowl should the time come for him to step away from the role. Penguin is causing trouble with weapons deals all around the city. Even Firefly shows up and you get to spend some time chasing him around while both literally and figuratively putting out the fires that he’s started.
I don’t want to talk too much about the story as it would completely spoil any sense of excitement or surprise for anyone that wants to play it. It’s a great ending to a really good series of games that deals with a darker side of Batman’s psyche. It’s much more psychological in nature than any of the previous games and does a fantastic job of showing the struggle that is going on inside Batman himself. I do have to call out one thing in particular that stood out above everything else and that was John Noble’s voice work as Scarecrow. Yes, Batman sounds gruff and unemotional much of the time. Harley Quinn is as pyschotic as she’s ever been. All of the voice work in this game is top notch, but John Noble stands out above everyone else. This version of Scarecrow is creepy as heck and he stole the show for me.
If you’ve invested in the Arkham series up to this point you owe it to yourself to check out this conclusion to the series. It’s built upon the foundations set up before it and added many new elements that just make sense. The Batmobile is fun to drive. The story is beautiful in its darkness. It’s a nice bow on the Batman present that we got when Arkham Asylum was first released. I think this story has run its course and would be best suited to end here and move the franchise on to something new. This is easily one of the best games to come out so far this year and one of the best games I’ve played on the PS4 to this point.