Batman: Arkham Knight

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Release Date: June 23, 2015


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PS4 Review - 'Batman: Arkham Knight'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 26, 2015 @ 2:25 a.m. PDT

In the explosive finale to the Arkham series, Batman faces the ultimate threat against the city he is sworn to protect.

Buy Batman: Arkham Knight

The Joker is dead.

The shocking ending of the last Arkham title changed everything. The Joker was one of the linchpins that maintained the status quo in Batman's world.  With the Joker gone, things have taken a wild turn. The Scarecrow wants to disperse a strong fear toxin along the East Coast. He's assisted by the mysterious Arkham Knight, who seems to know everything about Batman. Some of Batman's deadliest enemies intend to destroy the Dark Knight once and for all. If that weren't bad enough the remains of the Joker's infected blood are causing additional problems throughout Gotham.

The plot in Batman: Arkham Knight is a mix of interesting setpieces and unsatisfying plot arcs. Individual moments are very strong and stand well on their own, but when viewed as a whole, the moments don't gel to form a compelling story. The biggest disappointment is the titular Arkham Knight, who isn't a strong headliner and is quickly eclipsed by other characters in the game. The predictable resolution is sure to leave people disappointed, but fans should be delighted by the absurd amount of fan service and inside jokes in the game.

Combat is just as fun in Knight as it was in City, but there are more features. You have many of the same attacks, abilities and gadgets, but they've been amped up to be more enjoyable. For example, the Cape Stun can now be chained instantly from your Grapple Claw into a super stun, which can then be chained into an air juggle to kick enemies and hit everyone behind them. The Quickfire Explosive Gel can be applied to enemies as a timed explosive, and you now have manual control over when you use power gadgets. Everything in the game has been polished to a sheen.

Another nice addition is the Sleeping Dogs-style environmental takedowns, which allows you to use objects in the environments — electrical boxes, lamps, searchlights, etc. — to take down your foes in cool, cinematic ways without breaking the flow of combat. This also makes the fights feel faster and more dynamic.

There's also a batch of new enemy types, which add some cool twists to the combat. The medic isn't particularly dangerous on his own, but he revives enemies unless you focus on him. There's a new ninja enemy who is super agile and can flip off walls or vault off enemies to quickly reach you. A new electrified enemy is immune to physical attacks unless you Batclaw him first.

Predator rooms are still about stealth, but they're way more aggressive. You now have more options to use on enemies, including environmental takedowns. Hacking an escalator as an enemy reaches the top sends the poor foe crashing to the floor. A big change to the concept is the new fear meter. When you silently defeat an enemy, you earn fear, which can be spent to instantly knock out multiple foes in a row. This can disable an entire group of enemies in one go, making it a great way to take down tightly clustered groups.

The elephant in the room is the biggest addition: The Batmobile. Early on, Batman gains access to his new car, which is a transforming battle tank that occasionally resembles an automobile. The first hour of the game is dominated by Batmobile segments, including forced platforming, a Riddler-themed race and plenty of tank combat. Once you get past the initial hump, it's more naturally integrated into the game. As it stands, the game tries too hard to make you love the Batmobile, and it can trigger the opposite response. Less is more in this sort of situation.

The Batmobile has two modes: Combat and Pursuit. Combat plays like a third-person shooter with directly controlled movement, and you have access to Batman's array of weaponry. Pursuit is a more traditional car-based control scheme. You can toggle between the two modes at will.

The Batmobile is effectively a giant gadget, and its special features are primarily used to solve puzzles and mysteries. You can use the winch to pull things down, pull the car up walls, or use it as an emergency electrical charge to power up devices. The Batmobile can be controlled independently of Batman, so it functions as a second playable character, which is essential for some challenges in the game.

Combat in the Batmobile comes in two forms: non-lethal and lethal. Non-lethal combat involves Pursuit mode and has you chasing down fleeing cars. You can sideswipe them or lock on to them to shoot a small explosive to disable their vehicles. Lethal combat means that Batman is going up against unarmed drones and is willing to use his machine's full array of explosive weaponry. As the game progresses, enemies gain more attacks, such as lock-on missiles and AoE explosions that need to be avoided. One particularly fun enemy requires stealth, since they're invulnerable except for an exhaust port on the back.

If you can avoid attacks long enough as the Batmobile, you unlock special weapon energy, and the more energy you gain, the more powerful weapons you can access. However, if you take damage, you lose the stored energy, so it's a balance between saving for more powerful special moves and not getting hit. As you progress, you unlock other special moves, such as the ability to hack enemy drones to fight for you, which adds some strategy to the combat.

One of the oddest elements of the Batmobile is that it can transform between a car and a tank. You don't stay in car mode for one thing and tank for another, though. You must hold down a button to swap into tank mode, and you'll need to swap constantly. The tank mode drastically alters your momentum and turning capabilities, and the car mode gets you places quickly.

In any other game, the Batmobile would be a solid but unremarkable feature. In Knight, I'd much rather use the new and improved combat system or the new predator features to take down my foes.  At the end of the day, I never wanted to use the Batmobile. I used it when it was required, and it performed its job as well as I could expect, but it wasn't the star that the developers clearly wanted it to be. It feels like they were obligated to include the car and struggled to come up with gameplay mechanics for it. There are some really great moments, but they're mostly puzzles that use the Batmobile as a second playable character. A few mechanics seem shoehorned. For example, you can use Batmobile-assisted takedowns to defeat enemies, but you can count on one hand the number of times you can access the Batmobile but can't hop in to just use beanbag rounds on everyone.

Arkham Knight takes place in the biggest version of Gotham to date. It's a huge city packed with things to do, and there are side-quests for a lot of iconic villains. You need to chase down fires set by Firefly, stop Two-Face's bank robberies, break up Penguin's gun smuggling ring, cure the Man-Bat, and more. The game is pretty good about the pacing of the side-quests, so they don't overstay their welcome, and you've always got something to do. Getting around the city is a breeze. The Grapnel Boost mechanic has received a huge upgrade that lets you fly across the city with ease. You can launch yourself into the air from the Batmobile if you desire. It's a lot of fun to explore, and there's a ridiculous number of Easter eggs. You'll have to do the bulk of the side-quests if you want to see everything the game has to offer, but they're fun so it's not an issue. One cool but underutilized feature is that the various side-quests allow you to play as other characters, including Azrael, Catwoman and Nightwing. It's similar to playing as them in the DLC for City, but it's a cool addition nonetheless.

Knight looks fantastic and is easily one of the best-looking games on the PS4. The environmental detail is ridiculous, and I glided over Gotham just to take in the city. It runs smoothly, with only minor slowdown in certain places. The worst thing I noticed were some silly glitches, such as when it rains indoors, which is amusing but doesn't sour the experience.

Sadly, the voice acting is all over the place. Several of the villains have fantastic voice work, and the Scarecrow (John Nobel) sells the ridiculous scenery-chewing dialogue he is given with gusto. Others, like Jonathan Banks's Jim Gordon, don't work very well at all and actually detract from scenes. It does feel a bit like casting for celebrity instead of the appropriate people for the role.

Batman: Arkham Knight is an awesome game that's held back by some forced design decisions. It's brimming with detail, polished to a fault, and has some of the best gaming moments of the year. The improved combat and predator systems are worth the cost of entry, and a lot of the core combat mechanics are still the best in the genre. Unfortunately, it's held back by a somewhat weak Batmobile mechanic and a lackluster plot. There is still tons to like here, and fans of the previous Arkham games will find a lot to love. It's a fitting end to the trilogy, and it's a great sendoff to the Rocksteady Batman games.

Score: 8.5/10

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