Batman: Arkham Knight is a difficult game to write a review for. It has elements that I love, it has elements that are just okay, and it has elements that I absolutely hate. Furthermore, almost every good thing in Arkham Knight has something bad attached to it that brings the experience down. I had high expectations for this game, but it ultimately did not live up to them. Its shortcomings are frustrating. The writers at Rocksteady seem to have tried to capture the feel of Nolan’s The Dark Knight while delivering an emotional tale but come up short. Due to Rocksteady’s horrible treatment of their female characters, Scarecrow’s uninspired role as antagonist, and a middle half that loses a lot of momentum, Arkham Knight isn’t the amazing conclusion to the Arkham Trilogy I was hoping for. I won’t mention anything specific story wise past the first hour or two (out of twenty to thirty total hours) of the game in this review but for the sake of it, if you don’t want to know anything going in I will mark the paragraphs where I discuss the story.
(This paragraph contains minor story details) The premise of Arkham Knight is that Scarecrow has threatened the city with his fear toxin, causing a total evacuation, sans the usual criminals, villains, and the GCPD. The mysterious Arkham Knight is working with Scarecrow to bring down the Batman. The premise is great to give players free reign of Gotham without any civilians in the way. Arkham Knight’s opening is well thought out. It sets the mood with the cremation of Joker’s corpse with Frank Sinatra playing in the background, it shows the city’s evacuation, and then gets you behind the cowl without deliberation. It goes on to introduce the amazing new Batmobile (or Bat-tank as I grew to call it). The Batmobile is a joy to drive. It handles incredibly well. The car combat is also really fun and a breeze to use. Unfortunately, the game relies on the Batmobile a little too heavily. On more than one occasion a climactic showdown is done using the Batmobile, rather than in person. It makes the action feel more removed since all you see are tanks moving around on screen, rather than Batman and the foes he is facing. One particularly anticlimactic moment is when you finally get to face the Arkham Knight out of cut-scene for the first time and it is all done in the Batmobile.
Speaking of the Arkham Knight, he is quite the compelling antagonist – once you learn why he wants to kill Batman that is. Scarecrow, however, doesn’t prove to be an interesting villain in any regard. His obsession with fear isn’t nuanced and mostly, it seems he wants to destroy Batman and Gotham because that’s what super villains want. The difference between the Knight and Scarecrow is that the Knight has emotions and events that fuel his actions, Scarecrow does not. Scarecrow should’ve left the plot after the first part of the game, instead Scarecrow and the Knight compete for our attention throughout the entire game and it simply doesn’t work. It feels disjointed. I would’ve much preferred the Arkham Knight being the sole antagonist.
The middle half of the game ends up losing significant momentum. The plot struggles to stay focused as the game sends you on mission after mission of go here, take out these bad guys. A subplot involving people infected with the Joker’s blood is especially out of place in the story regarding Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight and simply doesn’t work. Points like that were where I wanted to ditch the main story for a bit and tackle some side quests. Some of them – particularly those that involve teaming up with Nightwing or Catwoman – introduce a fresh mix to things. Teaming up feels great. During those segments the game allows you to switch between Batman and his teammate at the press of a button and tag teaming changes the flow of combat in an interesting way.
Once again, the bad thing is that Robin, Nightwing, and Catwoman feel pretty much the same as Batman does. That’s more than I can say for the other side quests though. Far too many of them are simply go here, take out these enemies, with little to no story to motivate things. This makes it especially frustrating when the game asks you get 100% completion in order to view the “true ending.” In this day and age hiding a game’s true ending behind a 100% completion is just ridiculous. There was no way I was going to go and complete the almost three-HUNDRED Riddler challenges when I could just go on YouTube and watch the ending.
(Minor story spoilers in this paragraph) Perhaps the best part of Arkham Knight is the Joker (which I kind of wish wasn’t the case considering how much presence the Joker already has in everything Batman related). They bring the Joker back in a way that doesn’t conflict with Arkham City’s ending and it works amazingly. Mark Hamill likewise does an incredible job reprising the Joker and the script gives him a plethora of scenes to work with. The story riffs on the same theme that has been done elsewhere – that Batman and the Joker aren’t so different – but the way in which the Joker permeates the game’s plot is wholly original. One sequence involving the Joker towards the end is perhaps the best thing Rocksteady has done in any of the Arkham games (you’ll know it when it happens). Since the Joker doesn’t have to function as the main antagonist here Rocksteady was able to get creative with his presence in the story. He gives us further insight into his character than either Asylum or City did. He also works to inform Batman’s character. The Joker represents Batman’s id, his ego, and it’s amazing to watch.
By far the worst thing about Arkham Knight, right from the start, is its horrible female representation. Every single female character of any significance in Arkham Knight is turned into a damsel-in-distress at some point. I am not exaggerating. Every single one. One is even murdered as a plot device to give Batman another reason to angst and to make the game feel serious (a woman-in-the-refrigerator, if you will). I won’t mention specifics, but there was one point where I had to put the game down and walk away because of what Rocksteady chose to do to a female character. Rocksteady demonstrates a misogynist (or at the very least painfully ignorant) belief that to motivate us through the game we must have either a damsel-in-distress to save or a desire for vengeance against a villain for doing something horrible to a female character.
Arkham Knight tries to redeem its plot missteps and momentum issues with its admittedly impressive third act. The third act finally gets things together by focusing on the Arkham Knight. The entire two hour sequence of infiltrating his base and confronting him is amazing. After an unfocused middle half, it is like a breath of fresh air when the game finally chooses to focus in on the Knight. Perhaps Rocksteady ran out of female characters to motivate the player with so they turned to the Arkham Knight and his character. Through the reveal of his backstory the game makes you want to play more not because there is a female character in danger but because he is genuinely interesting. If only this had been the case for more than two hours of the game.
Arkham Knight’s resolution is good, but could have been better. With their conclusion Rocksteady, more than ever before, delves into the nuances of Bruce Wayne’s character. It makes you consider what his code, Batman’s one rule, really means. They want you to consider what separates Batman from the criminals he fights. I particularly enjoyed what Commissioner Gordon relates in the true ending. Unfortunately, for some reason it doesn’t resolve things between Batman and certain major characters in the game and as a result feels rushed and a tad unsatisfying. It was unnecessary to leave those characters without a resolution. Even more so when you consider that this is Rocksteady’s final Arkham game and we may not see those characters again, for at least some time that is.
On a moment to moment basis, Arkham Knight’s gameplay is still very fun and that is what kept me playing for most of it. When you get in the zone, the flow of its combat feels amazing. Stalking your enemies and taking them out from the shadows likewise still feels great. But these are all things Rocksteady nailed back in 2009 with Arkham Asylum. It is largely unchanged from then. Arkham Knight has good elements, but they are, for the most part, all marred with poor or frustrating elements. Batman and the Joker have an interesting arc, but the overall story fails on multiple occasions to be compelling. Its handling of female characters feels downright lazy. Rocksteady has ended their Arkham trilogy on a disappointing note.
What did you think of Arkham Knight? Am I totally crazy for not loving this game? Leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter! And if you enjoyed this piece stay tuned here, GamesWithFriendsWrites.WordPress.com, for more of my musings and opinions on video games and more! You can also check out my YouTube channel, Games With Friends (link at top of page), for my Arkham Knight Let’s Plays (among many other games!). Enjoy!