Just a few hours into Batman: Arkham Knight, you’re tasked with taking the Batmobile up onto a roof and effectively making it jump from roof to roof to reach an electrical panel or something. It’s utterly ridiculous, and is not what you’d expect the Batmobile, what with it being a car and everything, is for. This did not bode well for the rest of the game.
Thankfully for all concerned, that was it. Sure, there were a few car-based acrobatics later on, but those – such as lowering it down the wall of a giant fan shaft – seemed to fit. By that point in the story, a lot of things had happened that just made you accept the things the Goddamn Batmobile does. That, and it’s a tank that scurries around like a spider. Oh yes.
Gritty and weighty like previous Arkham games, but bigger in scope than the rest put together, going into Arkham Knight was a torn experience. As great as Arkham City was, it was too big, too dispersed and less focussed than Arkham Asylum. The core was the same, but fragmented over a wide area. More Batman, on a current gen console especially, was something to look forward too. The nagging doubt it would be spread even more thinly was a worry. Do you remember how many times you visited the same damn steelworks before, despite having a massive city to play in? Aside from Riddler trophies, much of Arkham City was empty. Not so here, which was a relief.
In common with past Bat-outings, the story progresses through set pieces: detective sections, brawls, predator takedowns, boss ba…oh wait. No boss battles? Perhaps Rocksteady realised those in City were almost universally rubbish and ditched them. You still have to confront and defeat major foes, but by other means instead. It actually works well and you don’t miss them.
As you work towards taking down the Arkham Knight himself (finding his true identity along the way – I’d guessed very early, but there is a massive signpost if you hadn’t before I did) and Scarecrow, the usual Batman events I’ve mentioned pop up. In addition there are now tank battles. The Batmobile, impossibly, is used to take out the Knight’s army of drones, rocket launchers, cannons, helicopters and what appear to be mechs. Of course it is. Surprisingly, these battles are actually a lot of fun, and there’s an entire side quest devoted solely to them. In fact, almost every one-off task in the main game has a side quest full of that sort of event. Take down a watchtower (Assassin’s Creed Borgia style), and there’s a load more if you want. Like detective work? Why not find out why a load of bodies are literally hanging around Gotham. And so on.
These seemingly optional side quests, however, are not. In all, there are 14 or so of them, with many terminating in the capture of a major Batman foe (Penguin, Two-Face, etc.). Once you’ve finished the main story in the game, it turns out you haven’t actually finished the main story at all – you have to complete at least 7 of these “optional” questlines to do that. It felt a bit of a cop-out, frankly. They’re mostly fun to do of course, some more than others, but it was disappointing to finally overcome Scarecrow only to be unable to finish the game because some lesser crimes haven’t been resolved.
That’s the structure of the game, but how does it actually play? Gloriously. The combat is meaty. The driving is a welcome addition. Wiping out an entire room of armed guards without a single one spotting you is a fantastic as it ever was. Soaring over the city is never less than stunning. Batman’s array of gadgets are a joy to wield and integrating his car into some of the combat is a masterstroke. Gotham feels so much more alive than in previous Arkham titles, with something happening on every corner and car chases going on all the time – which you can assist in, should you choose.
It must also be said that the voice acting is fantastic, especially Mark Hamill as The Joker: Yes, that’s a spoiler. No, Joker is still dead. Yes, that is confusing. There’s a scene where Mr J does his karaoke routine which is hilarious and grim in a way only Mr J can be. The game is so, so, Batman. Even with Alfred’s “Gordon’s alive?!” quote.
Being so, so Batman in every way does mean that Batman’s allies are pretty sidelined. Robin is constantly told to stay out of it and Batman reluctantly lets Nightwing actually do something as long as it’s nothing to do with the main story. Oracle is central to the plot, but Catwoman is now tucked away in a Riddler sub-story. Scarecrow is playing on Batman’s only fear – that revealing his identity will hurt his “family”, but in trying to protect his friends Bruce is only getting them in more trouble. Silly Bruce. Much of the game would have been avoided if he’d accepted help when offered. Still, that’s Batman for you.
With the story complete and enough side quests mopped up to see the ending, there was a little sadness. Rocksteady have already said this is their last Batman game, and as the end credit roll the montage of moments from all three Arkham games (Rocksteady don’t consider Origins or Blackgate canon it seems) retell the trilogy. It’s been a long road, but that’s it. No more Batman to look forward to from that corner, and it’s hard to see how any other Batman game can be as Goddamn Batman as Arkham Knight was. Arkham Asylum was purer, but Knight was truly an epic sendoff.