The universe of the Batman: Arkham series isolates the Dark Knight, but somehow expands his world at the same time. It keeps him in a tight (but ever-growing) area, first within Arkham Asylum proper, then with Arkham City' isolated boundaries of the larger dark urban sprawl, and now, through Gotham City as a whole. But through the ballooning cast, the games show how Batman affects his world, and how he becomes a necessary part of it.
As such, the final chapter, Batman: Arkham Knight needed to show both what Batman could do on his own, and what his legacy means. It needed to prove to those who’d been on this journey with him (and to Batman himself) that which the titular villain wanted to disprove: Batman wasn’t the cause of Gotham’s crises, he was the affect, and possible solution.
Stepping into his cape and cowl one last time with Rocksteady Studios certainly shows how much they learned over the years and over the course of three games. Of course, that makes the very first scene a bit odd, as you don’t actually start out as Batman, but rather as a police officer, in first person, getting exposed to Scarecrow’s latest fear gas. This poison is a doozy, leaving lasting effects on those exposed, something that plays heavily into the game when you step into Batman’s shoes. Over the course of around 40-50 hours, you, as Batman, are beaten down, stripped bare, and in the end have to figure out just who your Batman is, and who he’s willing to become.
Indeed, the game gets into much more existential territory than one may expect from a game about a billionaire who dresses up in a Bat costume and terrorizes supervillains and thugs alike. But Batman: Arkham Knight is at its best when broaching these subjects. There were moments in the game where I was truly disgusted with Batman, even though--on some level--I understood his decisions. There were moments when I felt heartbroken for him, because he was unwilling to let himself feel that way. I was inspired when Batman fought alongside those he inspired, like Tim Drake as Robin and Dick Grayson as Nightwing (it doesn’t hurt that those sequences made for the coolest fights in the game, either). Through it all, I knew my Batman would save the day, but I was even less prepared than he for what it would cost. Batman's lack of foresight antithetical to the character, but here, it worked.
Aside from the depth of emotion injected by the story, Arkham Knight was riveting and kept me playing deep into the early hours of the morning. While I, as a major Batman fan for more than two decades, was able to figure out a couple of the larger mysteries and twists fairly early, it was still interesting and entertaining to see them play out the way Rocksteady’s team intended. The big twist, which I won’t spoil here, made for the greatest moments. And when a Batman game makes you excited for the quiet, introspective moments, that means it’s doing something very right by this character.
The gameplay, especially the glide and grapple movement for traversing the very large Gotham City, and the enviable fight mechanics , are outstanding here. If you mastered them in Arkham City, you’ll find them perfected here. Just know, if you’ve played the other games, choose the Normal or higher difficulty. Otherwise, the brawls can come a little too easy, especially after a few batsuit and gadget upgrades. If you’re new to the series or this genre, playing on easy will make you feel like an absolute badass in the best, Bat-filled way.
The movement through the grappling hook and glide-out cape is fun and easy to master. You can see so much soaring high above the city that you’ll likely find yourself using this as your primary method of long-distance travel, despite the addition of a drivable Batmobile.
So…about that car. When you first start out with the Batmobile, it’s exciting and new. There are some side stories that use it specifically, and you can drive it around, picking up little chase missions that are pretty fun. The tank battle-mode is a blast, especially once you’ve done some upgrading. It’s all fairly basic strategy, and makes for a good time. If you manage to follow a flying supervillain in one set of sidemissions for long enough, you get to eject from the vehicle at high speeds, taking him down mid-air. All of that is wonderful. But then there are the main story missions (and some of the Riddler challenges). When you take someone, put them into an all-new game mechanic, then put that mechanic, which isn’t exactly perfect, into tight, small, easy-to-fail obstacle courses, you’re flat-out ruining the experience of being Batman. At one point, I became so frustrated trying to run the same underground sewer nonsense course for nearly an hour, I thought I was going to give up on the game entirely. This came during a climactic moment in the main story, too, right before a major reveal. It brought all momentum to a grinding halt. I even tweeted, “I thought I was going to be the Bat, not the Batmobile.” It literally took me quitting, going to bed, and coming back fresh the next day, to beat it. And even then, it took another five or six full attempts. The first Riddler challenge is likewise an underground obstacle course that made me not want to do any more Riddler challenges (my only unfinished side-missions out of the fourteen groups of them). The Batmobile added a lot to the traversal elements of the game, and to some of the sidemissions where you’re flying through the streets at high speeds, but when you take it underground, it’s just not fun. I felt no sense of accomplishment when I’d finally bested these difficult tests, only a sense of relief.
Nonetheless, that is a relatively small part of the nearly fifty hours I put into this game, getting myself to 90% completion overall. It’s interesting that when you complete your assumed three main objectives, and have experienced some major life-changing moments for the Dark Knight, the game still doesn't come to a full close. Instead, you’re encouraged to complete the sidequests you may have skipped. Once you complete 12-14 of them, you can activate the final sequence. I won’t spoil that, or even what it’s called, because it’s a treat.
Overall, Batman: Arkham Knight saw the series' regular features perfected, with a solid story, and a hit-or-miss new component. While the story itself didn’t surprise as often as I (or like Rocksteady) would’ve hoped, it did surprise me in the range of emotions I felt because of it. I certainly look forward to the (non-Batmobile) DLC, and whatever Rocksteady comes up with next, and the future of the DC Universe in high-end games like this. A must-play for Batman fans, a great action-adventure game for all, and a satisfying (if slightly predictable) conclusion to an outstanding series of games, Batman: Arkham Knight is a highly recommended buy.
Just put something padded down in front of you during those Batmobile missions – don’t want to break your expensive controller!