By Terry Randolph
There was always a question of how to end the Arkham franchise; after all, each game has increased in magnitude of scope since Arkham Asylum. The games were no longer a chess match between Batman and Joker, but also psychoanalyzed their relationship, as well as between the villains and Gotham City. Gotham’s darkest depths are given liberty to drive a dark, mature tone in each game’s story. More importantly, each game has led to the fact that Batman is no longer just a vigilante, but Gotham’s symbol of justice.
At the same time, the games highlight just how flawed Batman is as a character. There are layers of subtext consisting challenging players’ notion of who Batman is and what he represents. Is he truly a purveyor of justice, or someone who relies on his enemies to determine his identity? Is Batman Bruce Wayne’s alter ego, or is Bruce Wayne Batman’s alter ego? More importantly, who is Batman’s biggest enemy? So many questions to answer, so much to examine.
Unquestionably, Batman: Arkham Knight navigates through these extremely questions well and ends on Rocksteady’s terms. All the stories, borrowing heavily from various comic sources effectively to both examine Gotham as a character and humanize Batman. Particularly, never has the concept of more than saving Gotham being at stake been expressed than in Arkham Knight, and that’s in large part due to Geoff Johns consulting on the project (Paul Dini was not part of the writing team for this game).
Consequently, there are a few issues that do bog down the game. The main perpetrator is a new gameplay feature that is overly utilized and ends up being derivative standard shooting gameplay. Another issue is one I found with Arkham City; the world feels a little too bloated with content that can take away narrative focus. Finally, there are some writing choices that ultimately take away from the power of the story. One of them is actually one of Arkham Knight’s strongest components to the writing, but felt safe and predictable. It also took away from the main antagonist’s formidability.
The biggest offense the game commits is something I absolutely despise; there’s a 100% completion ending versus the common ending. Meaning this; in order to get the full ending and resolution, players have to do everything. All side quests, all collectibles, all riddles…everything. While the collectibles can be fun, the repetitive gameplay mentioned earlier can oftentimes leave the quest to achieve 100% completion feeling like a chore…and not to mention not everyone has time to complete everything within a game.
However, Arkham Knight is a damn good game for both fans of the comics and video game series.
Gotham is Dying Tonight, Ripped Apart by the Seams
Gotham is dying, and Batman has to find a way to save it before it’s too late. Scarecrow is threatening to release a toxin bomb over the city, prompting the police to evacuate all citizens out of the city. With the force stretched thin, rioters and rival gangs are running rampant around the city thanks in large part to the “protection” of bad guys like Penguin or Two-Face. Then there are the various mysteries around the islands that need to be solved that ultimately have created a busy night for Batman. At the same time, there’s a new enemy in town that has Batman’s number: Arkham Knight. No longer is Batman only the hunter, he is now the hunted. Who is the Arkham Knight, and why does he want to kill Batman? At all costs, Batman has to stop Scarecrow before the bomb spreads across his city.
However, something far more sinister is unraveling in the background; the ramifications of Joker’s actions in Arkham City. Before Batman could completely stop Joker’s blood (which has the Titan formula in it) from being used in transfusions in hospitals around Gotham, 5 people are infected, with 4 in custody. The question is, can they be saved before Joker’s blood overpowers them? Who is the fifth person? There’s a lot tonight for Batman to handle, and for once the giant ordeal is taking its toll on him. Much to Batman’s chagrin, he’s not alone. Robin (Tim Drake), Nightwing (Dick Grayson), and even Catwoman (Selina Kyle) are here to help. With all of them, maybe Gotham can be saved. Maybe tonight, before Batman hangs his cowl for good, the city can be saved and the villains put away. Maybe, just maybe, Gothan can be saved for good.
Arkham Knight’s strongest quality, like its predecessors, is the solid story writing; there’s a sense of finality throughout the whole game that’s punctuated by a gritty, nuanced story that Batman deserves. Tonally speaking, this game is the darkest in the franchise, and that’s what makes it so effective: Arkham Knight is not afraid to get its hands dirty to tell a good story. For example, there are several instances where Scarecrow is unafraid to kill someone in order to hurt Batman. Being given the creative freedom to use this as a tool is refreshing given how natural of an action it feels like. After all, Scarecrow wants to do more than destroy Gotham; he wants to systematically take Batman apart to destroy any hope citizens had.
Arkham Knight’s story also handles the juggling of multiple layers of storytelling, namely exploring the toll all of the adversaries have taken on Batman mentally and physically. The game does a great job of psychoanalyzing Batman…even if we’re familiar with the concepts. There’s the exploration of Batman’s altruism being a flaw, which is seen through what happens to Oracle, Jim and Robin. Each character is someone Batman cares deeply about, tries to protect by pushing them away, and ultimately ends up hurting them more. Batman’s altruism also points out something poignant — that maybe his enemies aren’t his greatest enemy, but he himself is his own.
For better or worse Batman has always attempted to shoulder the burden on his own, tried sticking to his philosophies to the letter, and keep people away from the life he believes he has to live. Inevitably, the consequences of these choices end up hurting him and those around him. It’s selfless selfishness; in order to remain true to the identity he imposes on himself, he selfishly enforces his beliefs. Batman’s faults are thoroughly examined in the interactions between Batman and his “family” — that no matter how much everyone wants to help Batman out, all they get is the cold shoulder. Instead of explaining himself, he instead hopes they’ll let it go and brush it off (which is a mixed bag — some know when to let go and others don’t).
*SPOILERS AHEAD, avoid and not despair*
That said, there’s one thing I absolutely despised even if it was one of the games strongest suits; the return of the Joker. Thematically and logically his place in the game makes sense; after all, before the end of Arkham City, Batman had been injected with Joker’s blood, which has Titan Serum from Arkham Asylum in it. Add that to Joker’s death shaking Batman, it makes sense that his other greatest enemy is an inner hallucination of Joker symbolizing Batman’s insecurities, fears and doubts. Joker is also used as a plot device to reveal the identity of the Arkham Knight — which you could tell who it was from a mile away.
There’s no problem with the writing for the Joker in this game, it’s still top notch and serves as a great obstacle for Batman to overcome. However, it significantly took away any power Scarecrow might’ve had as a leading villain. That sucks, because it was refreshing to have a villain who isn’t known to be one of Batman’s greatest adversaries taking him on as a major role.
At the same time, having Joker did something that bolstered the story significantly; examining the relationship between Batman and Joker, and Joker’s true motivation. If anything, the resolution to that story line actually points out something that goes against the grain of normal thinking. The Joker needs Batman, but Batman doesn’t need the Joker. While Arkham City questions what the Joker meant to Batman, Arkham Knight answer that question. This is one of Arkham Knight’s greatest strengths.
Unfortunately, much as the story lines woven into the game are solidly written. they’re equally predictable regardless if you’ve read the source comics or not. Each storyline (including the main one) wears its influences on its sleeves proudly. From dialogue choice, to the plot points/beats there’s no mistaking where each story gets its influence from. If players have read the comics (which I hate saying) they’ll be easy to notice what’s being used, the events that will follow suit, and how it’ll end. None so painfully obvious as the Azrael storyline.
Finally, the two biggest problems I have with the game are both how underutilized Scarecrow is and how weak Arkham Knight is as a character. Instead of letting Scarecrow truly shine as the bad guy, he’s only the main antagonist by name. Sure he’s orchestrating the story and challenging Batman with all these obstacles…we just don’t really get to thoroughly see his work and instead his henchmen do the dirty work. The scenes we actually see between Batman and Scarecrow are superbly written, and do a great job of setting a tone that Scarecrow was always ahead of Batman by one step. It’s just unfortunate that it isn’t consistent.
As for Arkham Knight…oh Arkham Knight, you were so easy to predict. That, and the dialogue (and delivery) were atrocious. His motivations made his character truly feel one-dimensional all the way to the end: each line delivered had the same message of, “I’m going to kill you tonight, Batman.” There were flashes of a good thing, like the moment Arkham Knight shoots at the weak point of Batman’s armor, but they paled in comparison to the mediocrity of the rest of these scenes. It’s a shame, really, because with who Arkham Knight was supposed to be they could’ve handled it better.
*Spoiler Territory, ye matey!*
The major issue with Arkham Knight’s dialogue is how easy it is to determine it’s the Red Hood…who is Jason Todd. For those who don’t know Jason Todd, he was the only Robin to have been killed by the Joker, and for a while Batman believed he was guilty for his death. There’s a slight tweak to his story in Arkham Knight being he never died, but was staged to look like he did. Using Jason Todd is not the problem with Arkham Knight, but the fact that Rocksteady insisted it was a brand new character. It made the dialogue and character feel flat, uninspired and too cliche. If Rocksteady had used a brand new mysterious character that knows Batman inside and out, it would’ve been far more interesting than someone who was close to Batman.
*End Spoiler Territory, welcome back to normal waters!*
Oh…and did I mention that there’s a 100% completion ending versus the regular ending? Yeah, have fun with that. The normal ending is fulfilling, but doesn’t feel like the proper ending to the story given everything Batman went through in the game. Once players get the 100% ending, they’ll see why going through everything the game has to offer is justified.
Overall, there’s a lot to digest and take in from the game that ends the series on a good note.
Hey everyone, the Batmobile is in this game! Seriously, use it….USE IT!…Batmobile!
I know, that’s a terrible way to transition into the next topic…but considering how badly botched the inclusion of the Batmobile was into this game, it works. The game is built to enforce a heavy usage of the Batmobile that end up sucking the fun from driving it…especially in the side quests “Campaign for Disarmament” and “Armed and Dangerous”.
“Campaign for Disarmament” has players defuse several bombs scattered across Gotham by uploading a virus into it. While the virus is overwriting the bomb, it’s up to the player to protect it by taking on the militia tanks heading their way. Each bomb sequence was derivative and boring: fight 30 tanks by gunning and firing missiles at them until the amount of tanks goes to 0, It’s boring, uneventful and feels pointless. In “Armed and Dangerous,” players chase down militia commanders to take them out. Each car is protected by about 10 cars so players have to take them down. Given that there’s at least 6-7 missions within each side quest, there comes a point where players might ask themselves, “Is it worth the 100% completion ending?” That is the question fans will have to answer.
Gotham is also built to cater to using the Batmobile and less about traversing the world through rooftops and gliding. There are areas that heavily favor going in with the Batmobile, especially due in large part thanks to the tanks, thug cars, and various vehicles on Batman has to eliminate to be able to explore the islands. However, taking on the challenge to rely on traversing Gotham the old fashion way was still viable and the fun it always has been.
Essentially, you get to play “Batmobile: Tank Edition”.
There are some great concepts used for the Batmobile that end up feeling like the refreshing change of pace Rocksteady was going for like the Riddler racing challenges. Each map was fun, diverse and challenging in having to coordinate certain actions at the right time. If you failed to make it in the time given, the lap would be restarted until the player completed it.
Another side quest, called “Gotham on Fire” was another satisfying way of using the Batmobile that is essentially a chase sequence. In this quest, Batman chases down Firefly in the Batmobile to take him down: as the chase goes on, Firefly will shoot fire at the Batmobile to trip up Batman. With enough dodging and maintaining the chase, eventually players will be told to double-tap X to bring down Firefly and beat him down. Like any good old fashioned side quest, there will be a few of these sequences for the side mission, but it’s not enough to feel like a chore.
Mainly, the problem with the Batmobile gameplay isn’t the Batmobile itself, but the fact that it felt like Rocksteady was overcompensating for having not used the Batmobile in the previous Arkham games. Had they toned down the amount of levels in the side quests, and found a better balance between Batmobile oriented level design with the traversing rooftops design, it would’ve been a far better experience. Otherwise, the Batmobile became more of a forced, dull and derivative gameplay variant that left me feeling like I’d wasted my time.
Combat, tech and level design otherwise felt just as strong as they did in Asylum and City. More importantly, it’s still just as fun as it was when Arkham Asylum came out. There are some new enemies players will face, but they’re easy to solve once you take the time to pay attention to the details of their design. The riddles, Riddler trophies and breakable objects are just as much a hit and miss as they were in the other games; some are fun, some are a slog, and some are just downright cruel. The newest challenge, “Bomb Rioters,” was a welcome fun addition to the list of Riddler challenges; find the rioter with a bomb in his brain and neutralize the bomb.
One cool addition to the combat are the new takedowns Batman can perform; if the Batmobile is nearby and you land enough hits in combat, players can do a “Batmobile Takedown”. Batman will land a couple hits into the thug, launch them into the air, and that’ll knock them out of battle. The other take down, called a “Dual Takedown” happens when Batman is fighting alongside one of his allies. LIke the Batmobile Takedown, land a certain number of hits and players are given the option to perform the “Dual Takedown”. As a result of performing it, players will switch to other player to fight with. These are small additions, but are a lot of fun.
There were some new variations of side quests that changed up the gameplay to something focusing on other aspects of Batman; “A Perfect Murder,” for example, highlighted Batman’s detective skills to track down a serial killer that’s loose in Gotham. “Heir to the Cowl” focused on whether or not Batman would have a successor to take his place, and if so who? While the outcomes were predictable, all of them were enjoyable.
If players want to take a break from the campaign, there are the AR challenge maps that are just as fun as they have always been in every Arkham game. Challenges range from going for a high score by melee combo, silently taking out enemies through various gadgetry to shooting tanks and racing with the Batmobile. All of these are fun to take on and provide a way to practice a space for practicing skills.
One thing I want to acknowledge, however, is something I noticed in Arkham City but failed to mention: the game is bloated. What I mean to say is, sometimes too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. I loved exploring Arkham City and playing through everything it had to offer, but can admit that there was a lot of stuff that muddled the experience. While toned down in nature, Arkham Knight falls into the same trap in that there’s a lot of cool things players can do, but it can be a little too much. It takes away the focus from the stories being told, and that’s not something any game wants to do.
Arkham Knight is at its strongest when it doesn’t try too hard to change the formula, especially one that hasn’t felt broken.There were some new features that added another dimension to the gameplay and others that took away from it. Unfortunately, too much of the Batmobile inevitably takes away from the feel of the game.
One More Chance, One More Time
If there’s any reason to motivate you to get this game, it’s the fact that this is the ultimate swan song for Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy to reprise their roles as Batman and Joker, respectively. The familiarity between the two actors playing off of each other is a sight to behold: Hamill and Conroy are at their strongest when they’re together. Hamill also does something I think other incarnates of Joker were unable to do; make him relatable on a humanistic level at the conclusion of his story. Conroy gives players a Batman who knows his time is winding down, and embraces the ideology that Batman is more than just Bruce Wayne. It’s no wonder these two have been at the hearts of fans for years.
More than that, the voice acting all around is top notch. Wally Wingert is and has always been an enigmatic Riddler, and the always consistent Troy Baker does his best with a various amount of characters (Arkham Knight/Harvey Dent), and of course fan favorite Tara Strong as Harley Quinn. However, what was going to make or break the story was the performance of Jonathon Crane/Scarecrow, and John Noble (Denethor in Lord of the Rings) hits it out of the park. His version of Scarecrow is menacing, terrifying and calculating to the end of the game.
The look of the game is phenomenal thanks in large part to only being developed for current gen consoles (Playstation 4, Xbox One). Characters look and feel like they belong in the Batman universe, finding an oddly perfect semblance to their cartoon counterparts as well as real people. From the detail on Batman’s suit, to the destructible environment, Arkham Knight is a visual treat to behold. One of my favorite looking characters from Arkham Knight by far is Scarecrow; from the design of his mask to the overall costume design, the man is all shades of creepy and terrifying. Couple this with a fantastic soundtrack that pairs perfectly with the gameplay, and it shows just how much thought and love was put into this game.
That’s just speaking from a console perspective: the truth of the matter is I CANNOT recommend this game for PC players at this time. While I wish I wouldn’t be able to say this, there’s an ethical problem that needs to be addressed with the fact that Rocksteady allowed a buggy, faulty port to be released to PC. Even more outrageously horrifying and mystifying is their acknowledgment of the faulty product but allowing it to be produced anyway. Actions like that are inexcusable; a game shouldn’t be allowed to hit release if there are bugs. There should’ve been checks put in place to ensure a fully functioning game was going to be released; situations like this are unacceptable and scream ‘laziness’ on the developer’s part. Generally speaking, this has been a repeated pattern that’s constantly recurring: games are being released and bought in their buggy state. Considering this is a review for Arkham Knight, and that we’ve also discussed this subject before, I won’t go into anymore depth.
Otherwise, this game is a treat for any current gen console player to enjoy.
The final signal
Arkham Knight is a damn good game and an amazing end to a fantastic video game franchise. Conroy’s final (?) performance as Batman is compelling, and John Noble’s Scarecrow is terrifying. The writing for the game is top notch, providing one of the best multi-layered stories of Batman I’ve had the pleasure to play. This game is an example of Batman at his best and at his worst, providing the best glimpse into the psychology of Batman in a long while. While there’s a little too much Batmobile going on in the game, it doesn’t take away from the fact love and care Rocksteady put into creating a truly fitting swan song.
Good Knight, Batman, and good luck.