Is this the end for Batman? Emily Roach reviews the final game in the Arkham trilogy.
The Batman: Arkham trilogy has time and again proven itself to be one of the most popular games series on market. Arkham Asylum broke into the Guinness Book of World Records in the category of “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever” when released, and was only knocked out of the position by its sequel Arkham City. Arkham Origins, standing as a prequel to the pair, was not as groundbreaking, but was still met with positive reviews.
The series has always offered a darker slant to the Batman story, which is one of the things that makes it so beloved. The gritty depiction of a tormented hero, suffering for his city and overcoming even the most powerful of foes... “how tormented martyr”, I know. Despite the initial impression of the concept, Rocksteady have always managed to create such an immersive experience with deep character and plot construction that the end result never fails to blow you away and leave you satisfied with your experience.
Arkham Knight has been very highly anticipated as a result (who would have guessed, right?). As of the end of Arkham City, the Joker is dead, so where do we go from here? Well, Rocksteady had promised we'd go a great many places from here, that's what. Amongst it all, the Batmobile feature was heavily publicised and hyped, with developers promising it a prominent position within the game. To complement the addition, a more expansive map was revealed, so the player wouldn't be driving around a box.
This review will be based upon my initial playthrough of a Playstation 4 copy of the game. Experience on other platforms may vary due to tech and whatnot (**coughcough**, PC glitch).
Shall we get moving?
WARNING: This review might contain spoilers.
The game opens on all the trailers have been teasing: watching the Joker burn. Well, not exactly watching. You press the button to burn him. (That's one way for the devs to kill the online theories). The real story starts nine months after that moment, as Scarecrow drives the entirety of Gotham out of the city with the threat of his hallucinogenic fear gas. The only ones left are the criminals, the police and Batman.
...just when it appears to lull a new threat appears or a twist throws you for a loop.
Obviously, your main story arc and objective is to stop the Scarecrow and his sidekick, the Arkham Knight, a newly formulated villain. The missions are heavily focused on driving their militia out of the three islands of Gotham, and gaining access to areas of the map, but whilst this may seem not the most exciting of times, the story makes up for the apparent tediousness. Something I've personally loved about the trilogy is that the plot is enrapturing, and just when it appears to lull a new threat appears or a twist throws you for a loop. This game is no different in that aspect.
Something that also made me pleasantly surprised was the individual constructions of character. This is most prominent, as always, in the kingpin enemies like Scarecrow, The Knight, Harley Quinn and The Riddler, with each drawing from you various levels of emotional response. Scarecrow's construction in particular has always unnerved, balancing the perfect amount of psychotic calm into his tone, making you feel at several points that he may already have beaten you. The devs also appear to have worked hard to give every person their quirks, even the common thugs. As you overheard conversations, you begin to understand the general opinions amongst the criminals of Gotham, their politics and their fears.
The character development in Batman however is phenomenal. At the beginning of the game, you could 100% predict every decision he would need to make and how he would make it, following the path of justice. As the game progresses however, and with the reintroduction of the Joker as a part of the Batman's mind, your faith in his decisions and ability begins to fall, as he himself becomes unsure of who he is anymore, and the Scarecrow's mind games begin to break him.
You can probably see from this that the game follows the style of the series, being very bleak, dark and intense. For a small fragment of time, the story is almost depressing. That's where the story reintroduces the Joker. He was always the comic relief in the trilogy (alongside The Riddler, but frankly, Nigma is more annoying than amusing), and without him, the dark themes threaten to overwhelm. I feel like the return of the Joker acts as a saving grace to the tone of the game, despite him actually having a fairly important character development role, almost as if he's being used by the devs to maintain interest. However, even that is not really much of a criticism, as I love the Joker's character in these games.
The Arkham series has offered side missions to the main story arc in the past, as have most open world games, however with the introduction of the Mission Select Wheel function, they become their own minor arcs. Throughout the main story, different criminals will appear and be given a place in Gotham's world of crime. After their appearance in the main arc however, the option of continuing to pursue and apprehend them is given. Not only this, Batman is able to discover side mission arcs by exploring the city or by listening in to the police helicopter and thug radio transmissions. Many of the missions though, can only be triggered by physically finding them, even if the arc is unlocked. That way, you can turn around a corner and be shocked by what you see. I wish someone had filmed my reaction when I grappled to the top of a building to be grabbed by a mutated bat-man, that's for sure.
It's clear that the devs have worked hard to create a highly interactive story that works well with the newer, more accessible capabilities of the next-gen platforms.
Like its predecessors, Arkham Knight has a highly accessible and interactive open world map. Batman is able to glide everywhere, and if not, he can grapple, crawl, drive or shoot. The new game also offers improvements on the initial abilities that he has always held, such as the grapple boost that allows you to use your hook to gain glide momentum. The game offers ample amounts of tutorials and learning time to get familiar with the controls, be it returning player or first timer, and then utilises the AR challenges to give players the extra chance to master the skills.
Fighting sequences are smooth and flowing, with the usual abilities and unlockable upgrades. A nice improvement to NPCs is that they begin to learn your fighting patterns, particularly with drop or air assassinations, which forces variety in each new battle (much like the battle with Dr. Freeze in Arkham City).
Other than that, not much new. Stealth techniques have had minor changes however, and I don't know if I appreciated them that much at all. Inverted takedowns - a move I frequented in the previous games - in much harder to trigger, only having the opportunity to do it less than ten times in my playthrough, despite trying to trigger the action. Dual takedowns are also harder to achieve. Access to floor vents via chutes on the walls of nearby buildings has been added, which I guess is pretty neat when you aren't mixing up the vents that get you under the floor on the outside with vents that can take you into the top floor inside. The level of glitching in the gameplay was minimum, the only major flaw appearing when I accidentally pressed a button as I re-spawned after dying. I ended up falling through the world continuously and eventually had to quit the game.
As in the previous titles, players can control characters other than Batman as part of the main story and side missions. The Riddler arc involves working with Catwoman to complete challenges, and through interaction in the main story, a side mission arc with Nightwing opens up. You also eventually team with Robin in the main story arc when fighting Harley Quinn, and complete side mission trials as Asrael, proving himself in hopes of being Batman's successor. I love the plethora of different characters, as well as the side mission arcs placed around the story. They offer a huge amount of variety to the story, and allow the player to use skills and characters that they may not be able to in the main story arc. Much, much love.
The controls are a little twitchy and sensitive, but it's really a nice vehicle.
As the Batmobile is such a hype point of the game, I have to address the monstrous machine, which I'm relieved to say has lived up to the stories. The controls are a little twitchy and sensitive, but it's really a nice vehicle. It's built like the tank into can turn into, breaking the buildings that it crashes into instead of destroying itself like most other games. The only times that the car exploded in my experience was when I was ripped apart by the Cobra drones, or when I fell into ravines or water.
The Pursuit Mode (standard mode) of the Batmobile is pretty fun, and is easy to handle in high-speed chases, allowing you to drift around corners with control, shoot or slam into enemy vehicles, and use a speed burst to propel yourself over jumps or up walls. You can also use the ejector seat to shoot Batman into a long distance glide which turns out to be very useful. Battle Mode (the Bat Tank) is just as cool, offering high-power turrets and a bunch of cool gadgets which are fun to play around with (I can't go into them all or I'd never get to the end of the damn review).
Something I immediately noted however was that the button mapping is slightly odd. The norm of vehicles on the Playstation platform (as far as my experience goes) is to have it drivable by triggers (R2 - Accelerate; L2 - Brake/Reverse with optional Square handbrake) or buttons (X - Accelerate; Square - Brake/Reverse), not a combination. Instead, the layout is accelerate with R2, brake and reverse with square, and the L2 button is assigned to transform the Batmobile into Battle Mode. While it is understandable that the frequently used function is assigned to an easy trigger, many times I've found myself going to drift the corners and instead changing to a tank It would be good if there was an option to change the configuration to perhaps match other popular titles that people have grown accustomed to using, but then again that's a personal preference.
Overall, the game offers a large variety of gameplay options and tasks you can do, which really keeps the game interesting.
The graphics of the game are in complete high definition, which is to be expected, given the upgrade to the next-gen consoles and better engine. This this fact confirms the hype created surrounding this installation of the trilogy, it being the most detailed and intimate experience of Gotham that a player can get.
I'm not gonna lie, it's impressive.
I'm not gonna lie, it's impressive. The constant storm of the night provides the perfect excuse to show off the expansive textures in the game, with Batman's armour shining in the sleet, leather cape trickling with rain. The scenes look realistic, like film rather that graphics, and this effect is intensified by the game's infamous cinematic angles and slow-motion. All characters are rendered at a high level of detail, with only small things like Commissioner Gordon's Moustache looking game-y.
Continuing to analyse the cinematic camera aesthetic, the developers appear to have integrated their concept far more cohesively into this game than any of Arkham Knight's predecessors. In other chapters, the switch between detailed cutscenes and gameplay would be obvious, and there would be a drastic change in detail. The change between interacting with other characters and gameplay was jolting too, having naturally moving figures suddenly resemble dolls with little movement or expression.
Arkham Knight instead offers consistency in graphic quality, with the cutscenes equalling the gameplay in both cinematic look and graphic detail. For example, the remote calling and entering of the Batmobile is always an elaborate scene, looking like it was cut straight from a movie. There's hardly a seam between interacting, cutscenes and gameplay, unless of course you're unfortunately standing on an unconscious body when you interact Then you will probably get a crotch-shot from Batman.
Sound in this game is on cinematic level, with full orchestral numbers chasing you through the streets of Gotham, and lightening tension as to peer around the corners. The sound effects are also more realistic in this game - in comparison to previous title - particularly when fighting. Rather than the over dramatised explosions, the impacts sound more like hand-to-hand combat, with the superhero-esque kick to keep it relevant to the landscape and context.