Second Pass: Batman: Arkham Knight Review – No Fear in You

Second Pass Review:

I didn’t often think about my reviews after I had written them back when I did my main run through games media. This one, even years later, was an exception that I was eager to go back to, and what a coincidence that I have a site conceptualized around that very avenue now. Life is funny.

The Arkham Knight himself is a complete waste that evolved from a complete lie. The second run through the story doesn’t have the veneer of the rest of the plot to hide the fact that everyone, dead or alive, knew who the Knight was and the payoff was never going to be worthwhile. What’s left, then, is The Joker and some other characters that seem out of place doing what they’re doing in the story. It all feels befuddling given the major beats all had great potential character setups in the first two games from Rocksteady. Why then mix with the characters and motivations? Why create something this jumbled?

I’ve come around to the fact that there simply is too much batmobile to boot. I still have appreciation for some of the sections and the boss fight, but it’s an inherently more tedious set of moves than Batman’s. When it’s him, on foot, I still hold to everything said below, and Joker is still one hell of a draw to yank the story across a gravel road. While the score won’t plummet, it’s definitely not retaining that high score from me.

FYI, this was all on the PS4 version. I’m sure the PC port is still dangerously close to torture to play.

Batman Arkham Knight
Me, speeding away and not to return for a good long while.

Originally appeared on The Gamer Square June 26, 2015.

Fear can leave a scar. Your worst nightmare can carve out a pit in your mind to dwell, influencing your actions and inactions alike. Gotham City is home to many fears and fear users among the criminal and protector sects, either side having their fair share of deep, deep nightmares to pull from. Batman, one of the principles in any discussion of fear in Gotham, must hold the entire city on his shoulders this last time and stars in a fearlessly displayed, nearly-immaculate end to this Arkham trilogy.

Gotham City is a sight to behold; previous Arkham games seem a bit spread and thin compared to how densely-packed and alive the three accessible islands feel here. Batman’s cape, as tattered as it can become, ripples in the wind and rain as you utterly rocket from rooftops. Meanwhile, columns and storefronts crumble satisfyingly when the dirty, chipped Batmobile drifts through the boroughs below. The entire environment can change at one point or another due to your and Batman’s actions, some permanently so while others have a way of messing with your mind as you simply pan the camera around an environment. Each of these touches give Gotham a pulse that Batman is tasked with guarding no matter the cost.

The story here might be the best of this Rocksteady trilogy and concludes one of the best arcs in any medium in which Batman has ventured. This chapter in particular hands Scarecrow’s fear toxin out in droves with the backing of every supervillain in town and the new arrival, Arkham Knight, providing another wrinkle and military support. Scarecrow, however, is the main villain and source of various plot twists and pitfalls that ultimately lead to some fairly dark places by the end. Some Bat-fans will pick up on storylines snatched from other canonical sources, but this is Rocksteady’s baby that swerves between story beats in an interesting, focused way.

Batman Arkham Knight
Sure you are….

Those that have a desire to see Batman: Arkham Knight’s full ending, though, should prepare for a lot of side questing. Every Most Wanted criminal has to be put away including The Riddler and his 240+ trophies and challenges, which will take a somewhat focused effort to achieve. This is given story justification, and makes sense once the credits roll, but also seems to hamstring replayability when you’re already being pushed towards 100 percent completion on your first play through.

Speaking of justification, the Batmobile – focus of so much ire – is fully justified and does not feel out of place in this game. Rocksteady has built in reason after reason for this mobile’s existence, and none of them feel out of place either. The tank encounters, while not feeling as engaging as Batman’s combat, seem to do well enough to leave you a sense of mobility while splitting your focus with a lot of hazards at once. Car chases feel harrowing as you have to anticipate the next turn or improvise a shortcut to get back on track, and only a few times did the Batmobile feel too large for the given area during certain Riddler puzzles.

The Batmobile, it should be said, is given a lot of screen time here as you’re going up against tanks and other mechanized drones. Non-lethal rounds switch seamlessly when the cursor nears a human opponent and running thugs are electrocuted when contact is made to the Batmobile, even when travelling at top speed. Overall, this is the night when everything is on full display for Batman and the Batmobile, like it or not, is a large chunk of his patrolling and neutralizing arsenal, just like the Batwing or any of Bruce’s other devices.

The Dark Knight himself controls as well as ever with some added, and subtracted, elements making this feel like the best iteration of the thug-pounding system. Fear takedowns can clear rooms with sudden, devastating moves and even the playing field against gunned militia, giving the player an almost euphoric feeling when accomplished. Fewer interrupted moves and tuned-up A.I. makes for more flow and less half-finished finishing moves, which is countered by some enemies requiring new, or multiple, approaches to effectively take out. Anyone that cracked a smile while punching through crowds of enemies in previous Arkham games will probably feel at home here as well.

Batman: Arkham Knight
Ivy lovers rejoice!

Music feels like an underplayed aspect this time around with tracks taking an ambient roll usually, but the few that kick in during action and in-engine cutscenes bring the mood to the proper frequency. Sound often plays a role in finding side missions and gaining insight into what Gothamites are mulling over at the time, which is a bit superfluous but fun nonetheless.

What issues there are with Batman: Arkham Knight range anywhere from completely nick-picky, such as the map cursor and map being almost exactly the same shade of white, to questionable decisions. The Arkham Knight himself is an issue and is probably the only real one to be had with the story besides the locked-off ending to a much lower degree. Without spoiling absolutely anything, his presence simply doesn’t add up. While this doesn’t ruin the experience, there is enough of a detraction to be noticeable as opposed to the other quibbles found within Gotham’s borders.

There feels like a lot of game here with just as many untracked environmental nods to fans and observant players as side quests and story content, but none of it feels like a consolation prize. Rocksteady has brought out everything that is Batman in their closing Arkham chapter with a fearless approach that doesn’t last for a story beat or two but endures throughout the entire experience. The player is given every opportunity to feel as Batman feels: not just busied by the screams of the night, but genuinely haunted by these streets he can’t help but protect. In this fearless approach, Arkham Knight gives you the chance to fear losing everything while playing one of the best games to release this console generation as one of the best characters of all time.

Batman: Arkham Knight Score:

9.5

8.0

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