Batman: Arkham Knight

A Worthy Conclusion for the Dark Knight

overall score 95 / BUY NOW
May 2, 16  | reviewed by Joel Castro (1242)

gameplay 99 / story 89 / graphics 99 / sound 98

Never has it felt more satisfying to become the Batman than in Rocksteady’s swansong for the Arkham series. A lot was riding on this series to conclude in a satisfying and epic way. After the surprises the Asylum brought us, and the shocks that resonated within the City, Arkham Knight stands as a great, if flawed, finale to arguably the single greatest superhero game series ever conceived. And it’s all thanks to the continued excellence of its writing, gameplay, atmosphere, and character interaction, mixing new elements with established ones in a way that doesn’t detract from either.


The story begins one year after the events of Arkham City. A power vacuum was created in Gotham in the wake of a shocking and significant death. Crime went down, the streets felt safer, and yet it all seemed too calm. The eventual storm arrives when Scarecrow, noticeably absent from City after the events of Asylum, has come back with a new plan on Halloween night (how cheesy, yet appropriate of him) to take his revenge on Batman: release a gigantic cloud of his fear gas into Gotham and force Batman to watch as his beloved city tears itself apart before breaking the Dark Knight himself. This plan is not Scarecrow’s alone, however, as the remaining villains of Gotham have all joined forces to see Scarecrow’s plan come to fruition, including the addition of a mysterious newcomer only known as the Arkham Knight: a mercenary leader who brings an army with him to take control of Gotham, who holds a deep vengeful grudge against Batman. Once again, Batman must use every one of his tools and skills to thwart this plan against Gotham and defeat his rogues gallery, all while facing against the demons of his past.


To say anymore about the plot would be to spoil a narrative that’s well told, well-paced, and just altogether amazing all at once. Scarecrow’s presence as the lead villain is an interesting one, playing to his strength as a cold, calculating manipulator of fear, more content to plant the seeds of chaos and witness the growing anarchy rather than be at the forefront of it all. The way he tries to get inside Batman’s head throughout is where Scarecrow is best used, just like during his stay at the Asylum. Unlike that game, however, you don’t get to face off against him in any sort of weird and crazy levels, which is a shame, but ultimately understandable, given the scope of the situation. Where the plot shines is in the desperate escalation that Batman and his allies utilize against the army that has taken over Gotham, as well as with the methods the villains use against the Dark Knight. You really feel as though this is the big one: the final last ditch effort of two factions of the city going to war with one another, vying for total control.


This is all brought to life with the continued skill of the writers, who all managed to weave the multiple connected events of this long Halloween night together in a way that makes sense to the narrative and to the gameplay. No stone that you turn over feels negligible in the grand scheme of things. Taking down one villain brings the city more peace, which is the ultimate goal for Batman and the GCPD. Not every story is handled correctly on an individual level however, as certain villains who once had loads of screen time in previous installments are instead reduced to cameo appearances interspersed throughout their respective mission. A bit of a downgrade, sure, but the missions leading up to them are solid enough that this can somewhat be forgiven.


What is not easily forgiven is the reveal of who the Arkham Knight really is, something people have speculated on since his grand entrance in the trailers. While the rest of the cast is as memorable as ever, due to their established personalities continuing to strike a chord with fans, the Arkham Knight himself seems really one note at times, only focusing on his need for vengeance against Batman while somehow always staying one step behind old Bats the entire way. It makes way more sense once he’s eventually unmasked, but even then it’s still a bit of a disappointment. Without spoiling too much, the identity of the Knight is actually an old character from the comics that some fans guessed before the game even came out. While it does make a ton of sense for the Arkham game universe – this character was never once mentioned before now – and is revealed in a rather poignant and chilling manner, longtime fans and adherents of the broader Batman mythos will be endlessly disappointed by the choice of cast. Me, I was caught in both camps, being both disappointed that it wasn’t a totally new character while at the same time appreciating what the twist brought to this particular universe and its overall themes and narrative.


Another way this game feels lively is Gotham City itself, now fully realized and even more beautiful and slimy than you remember it. Being Rocksteady’s first release on the PS4 and Xbox One, they held nothing back to ensure that this was one of the absolute best looking games on both consoles. Character models look so real they’re almost uncanny, all of the animations are nearly flawless in the way they flow in both cinematic and combat terms, and the detail put into each and every corner of this miserable and insanely cursed city is nothing short of staggering. They even added constant rain that drips onto everything, even Batman’s cape as he flies – the laws of physics be damned entirely like always – just to have it look as epic as never before. I would have comments about the PC version had I played it, but I, like many other reviewers, would highly recommend skipping that broken, unplayable mess due to the myriad technical issues that I don’t even have time to cover here. Just know that, aside from a few random animation bugs and occasional framerate drops when things get intense, the X1 and PS4 versions run smooth as silk.


Presentation aside, let’s talk about the gameplay, which has long been the most lauded feature of the series from day one. You control Batman, and that means they must make you feel like you’re both the World’s Greatest Detective and one of the fiercest combatants in all of DC. There remain the three staples of how to be Batman in this series: freeflow combat, free-roaming detective mode, and predator. The freeflow system has seen a few tweaks and fine-tuning, but the overall concept remains the same. Batman gets to punch and kick the living daylights out of the various thugs and mercenaries that continue to infest Gotham. You use normal attacks to get a combo flowing, while also using your various gadgets and remaining aware of any counterattack opportunities should your cannon fodder decide to man up and give Batman a good knuckle sandwich. They’ve learned new moves, such as charge attacks and grapples, but the principles of defeating them remain the same.


However, since this fight is going to take everything Batman’s got, he comes now with a few new upgrades. The first of which is his new battle suit, which allows him to move faster, hit harder, and look twice as terrifying as before. He is no longer afraid of using weapons in combat now, and will use things such as lead pipes, baseball bats (all conveniently stolen from thugs), as well as things in the environment. Leading a guy towards a hanging lamp only to jump from his back to drop the lights on him is one of the many satisfying methods of taking down these guys. These enhancements also allow for a new stealth-based attack called the fear multi-takedown. If you see three or more enemies grouped together, and they haven’t noticed you yet, you can unleash a devastating chain of takedowns to bring them all down before they even have a chance to know what the hell just happened. This is excellent for evening the odds before a big fight, or for keeping predator encounters more intense and action-packed. It also helps that some encounters involve the aid of a few of Batman’s allies, such as Nightwing, the current Robin, and even Catwoman, all of whom have their own movesets and abilities, as well as a team takedown that looks both flashy and brutal at the same time.


Speaking of which, predator encounters are back yet again, and once again see little to no changes apart from the different gadgets you can use to disorient and terrify your opponents before calmly putting them to sleep or knocking their skulls to the walls and floors of whatever room you happen to be in. Remaining hidden is still the best way to go about this, even if these enemies now have new tools to make your life harder, such as detective mode jammers and scanners, vantage point mines, and even vent scanners to check for any scampering rodents under the grates. Again, nothing remains more satisfying than taking down the last terrified thug, shaking in his boots, shooting at whatever noise startles him after his friends have all been turned into crumpled sleeping heaps on the floor.


The detective mode has remained as well, continuing the investigative aspects from City and bringing a few new elements into the mix, even those taken from Arkham Origins. In the detective mode, you scan the city with a combination of sonar, X-ray, and various other sensors in order to best assess the situation you find yourself in. While useful in predator mode as well, it’s during the more in-depth investigations where the mode becomes vital to progression. You can establish crime scenes, analyze specific pieces of evidence, and even recreating the events of the crime scene to find the next clue if you happen to get stuck on what to find. Even hearing Batman’s voice as he investigates further immerses you into his character, and just how he processes information in any given scenario, even if that means that you’re constantly bombarded with tutorials on things you should already know how to do.


But there’s another new way of playing as Batman that has yet to be considered before, and it comes in all its street-tearing, fast-paced, and unstoppable glory here. Behold the Batmobile, the Batman’s number one choice of transportation through the streets of Gotham. This behemoth of a vehicle comes in two modes to help you navigate the twisted and wild streets. First is pursuit mode, where you drive it as a normal car. It can reach blazing fast speeds, turn corners easily with only a considerable drift to account for, and will be able to chase down multiple vehicles either by ramming into them or using a short range missile (that somehow doesn’t manage to kill normal drivers). It feels more like a race car than a tank, and controls as well as a race car too. I only ever need to correct turns that I personally went to sharply on, and even if I spin out, the car accelerates and turns fast enough to readjust and make it a non issue. It’s supposed to feel like an unwieldy machine of terror, and it certainly gets that job done.


On the flip side, when you’ve got tanks to deal with (unmanned drones, for those who think Batman has become a ruthless killer), the Batmobile can also transform into a tank-like mode. This one moves far slower, but compensates for complete turning control, and the ability to utilize a cannon, missile launcher, and various other upgrades to stop the onslaught against you. Tank battles revolve around you strafing around enemy targets to avoid their shots while simultaneously lining up your own shots to take them out. They can get pretty intense, especially when their sights leave you little room to maneuver without getting hit, but it still feels like one hell of a new combat feature that breathes new life into an established game.


In fact, the one complaint that gets railed on this game, with a good degree of merit, is how often the Batmobile gets utilized. I estimate that over half of the entire game is spent inside of it in either tank battles or pursuits. While some people take issue with this, seeing as how the first two titles focused heavily on the on-foot exploration aspect, I felt that the Batmobile controlled well enough that this becomes a non-issue throughout the game. Sure, it’s unusual, but it’s nothing that fundamentally changes how the game is supposed to feel. Rather, it feels like an extension, since the Batmobile has always been a part of Batman’s arsenal for decades. The on-foot exploration and combat is still here, and there’s plenty to do with it, just as much as there is with the Batmobile, so I don’t see any reason to get annoyed with it, personally.


As for what else there is to do? Well, the Riddler, being part of the villain’s plan, has returned with his insane collection of trophies, riddles, and various other items for you to collect. Just like in Arkham City, this involves one long side quest that takes you all over Gotham City in search of these objects. You’ll spend a lot of time scanning locations for riddle solutions, figuring out the various contraptions that many riddle trophies are contained in, and you even get to partake in some speedway courses built by Riddler for your Batmobile to test. These are fun to solve as always, but do they have to be peppered with Riddler’s incessant talking? I know he berates you in previous games, but only when you actually solve his riddles, not throughout the entire game! I swear, it’s like he’s really trying to get under your skin in this game, which makes sense considering the utter humiliation you put him through in City, but did they have to do it every five minutes while I’m peacefully gliding and knocking out thugs?


Another feature they added was AR challenges, which are various challenge courses that involve specific conditions to be met. These can either be combat-based, timed races, or even predator encounters. Their completion awards you WayneTech points, which are used to purchase upgrades, much in the same way that combos and predator encounters give you experience for another set of points. These enhancements improve your gadgets, armor, skillset, and your Batmobile in a variety of ways, and can allow for some pretty insane-looking beatdowns and battles.


Outside of the main campaign, the challenge rooms return from previous games. These, like the AR challenges, are challenge modes, only instead of upgrade points, you obtain a score at the end, which you can use for bragging rights on the online leaderboards while at the same time unlocking character trophies, concept art, and even more challenges that you can complete to your heart’s content.


The sound and music of this game are all incredibly done. The sound of your hits landing on thugs is as satisfying and intoxicating as ever before. The Batmobile’s engine sounds like a roaring beast of a machine, and all of the gadgets are unique and virtually iconic. The soundtrack remains powerful and haunting at the same time, combining electronic melodies with the more dramatic and heartfelt orchestral offerings. Each piece really hits home that feeling of desperation and terror that’s so neatly encapsulated in the story and world of the game, and it’s all the better for it.


The only gripes I have with this game are basically minor in the grand scheme of things. The story is excellently told and provides a fitting conclusion to this universe’s Batman, even if it lacks the same surprise and shock from the previous entries, as well as a lackluster reveal in the newest opponent (oh, and the fact that you need to beat the game 100% to unlock the full ending). The gameplay is as strong as ever, with little to actually complain about, apart from the overuse of the Batmobile, which again, isn’t nearly as bad as people say it is. The character acting is as incredible as ever, with one or two performances that really surpass the rest. The graphics are gorgeous, the sound is crisp, the animations are flawless…is there any more I can say? Rocksteady created the ultimate series of Batman games, and it’ll take a mountainous effort to surpass what is arguably the single greatest superhero series in all of gaming.

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Action, Detective



release date

June 23, 2015