Batman Arkham Knight is getting mixed press due to the horribly handled port to PC. This is unfortunate as my experience on the XBOX One was practically flawless with respect to bugs, and I only noticed a few instances of frame rate drops. After sinking a substantial amount of time in the game, achieving 100% (the Riddler is the real final boss), and getting about 70% through the Story+ replay mode I can honestly say this is the best game I have played on my next-gen system. Rather than get bogged down into specifics I’m going to keep this review big picture, highlighting things that stood out, and then ending with a few minor criticisms.
I am Batman
It might be the amount of time since I’ve played, the slightly unpolished gameplay, or the learning curves, but in both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City I never felt like I was Batman, but rather someone clumsily operating Batman. Something about the dynamic shift from fighting to sneaking to planning out attacks with gadgets to demolishing tanks in the Batmobile, I consistently felt like I was the one in charge rather than running along pre-determined paths and missions. The game is certainly linear, but the open world feel and insane amount of side missions gives you a lot of elasticity while moving toward the final showdowns with the subsequent villains. Some have said that Batmobile is used too often and I still think their complaint isn’t in line with who Batman is and how often the Batmobile would be used in the circumstances in this game. I will have one caveat about the Batmobile in my criticisms, but I could not get enough of the shift in action and pacing when I got to peel around corners, engage in tank combat, or use the remote control to assist me in fights or puzzle solving.
A Full Cast of Characters
The previous Batman titles certainly loom large in the realm of characters. For anyone who experienced the effective voice acting of the Joker or appreciated the creative graphic representations of classic characters, this title delivers and, in my opinion, raises the ante. I was especially impressed with Jonathan Banks voicing Commissioner Gordon. Fans of Breaking Bad know him as Mike Ehrmantraut and he brings a good vocal grit and depth to a character who is more than just a quest giver. Obviously the return of Mark Hamill as the Joker is a huge plus for any fans of the franchise, and especially nice if you grew up on Batman the Animated Series as it keeps a cohesion and thread running for such an iconic character. And I said it in my first impressions post but I have to state it again, the creative team behind the Scarecrow deserves an award because he looks absolutely brilliant. The only character that doesn’t really bring it home with respect to voice acting is Oracle aka Barbara Gordon, and that’s primarily because every other character is voiced and acted so well that the slightest weak point stands out.
A Strong Story
Thankfully those of us who felt the last Batman movie left much to be desired for with respect to a believable and interesting story can have a much more satisfying story in the Arkham Knight. The plot is straightforward but not overly simple and large enough in scale and scope to open up the city and streets in a way that makes you feel like Gotham’s only hope. And thanks to the inclusion of the Joker hallucinations that start very early in the game you get a co-narrator to all of the mayhem and scheming of both sides. The story is also incredibly dark and at times disturbingly cold and violent. This is a welcome change as the franchise and characters are more effectively evil and villainous when you see them gun down a cop in cold blood or unflinchingly shoot a young woman in the back. It helps the immersive “I am Batman” theme of the game stay strong until the very last moment. And the combat system, gadgets, and takedowns assist you in feeling like a brute force against the spreading darkness.
Press Y to Counter
Similar to some criticisms of a few of the Assassin’s Creed games, some felt the combat system was too simplistic in previous games, as you could settle into a rhythmic button smashing punch fest only periodically notified to counter an incoming attack. While a few of the early fights are like this to help you get your feet wet, they quickly shed the simple two dimensional feel and thrust you deep into the heart of actually needing to pay attention to on screen directions, specific counters, and varied attack types for different enemies. And the combat gets incredibly challenging in Story+ with the absence of the the lightning bolt attack warnings for counters and deflections. There are also guns, medics who revive downed enemies, shock sticks, blades, and turrets to keep you readily grinding your teeth in appropriate irritation with the onslaught of enemies.
My gripes are actually only gripes up against how amazing the game actually is. That’s a challenge when so much of your game is top notch in so many areas, if anything is half-cocked, imbalanced, or mechanically glitchy it can really stand out.
First, I want to affirm some of the complaints about the overuse of the Batmobile. In both the Arkham Knight and Deathstroke tank fights I started to feel incredibly exhausted. Not by the difficulty, but by the cheap AI mechanics of tanks that conveniently turn or aim at you through walls and because the fights were so cat-and-mouse you just get bored and end up having to run too much. The Batmobile also has it’s downsides in some of the AR challenges and during the later APC vehicle take down missions. The AR challenges can be frustrating purely because the car handles poorly when trying to do what amounts to a race course (the Riddler races are awesome), and the APC take down missions increase the difficulty by making the APC’s base speed faster than the Batmobile simply because the driver is scared. In both of these instances the frame rate drops on the XBOX One magnify the problem as you are fighting tooth and nail to shave off a few seconds or stay on the tail of an unfairly matched vehicle. There also seems to be little thought given to balance on Story+ because simple side missions like taking down a Tower can be grueling and unforgiving while main story missions are easily managed. The lack of counter warnings combined with the increase damage of the enemies just makes some areas unnecessarily hard. And I’m not saying the game shouldn’t be harder the second time through, as I’ve enjoyed the tougher challenge, but it’s the lopsidedness that starts to become an irritation.
Even with my few gripes I still give this game a 9.5/10 as it is easily the most polished, complete, and all around fun next-gen title I have played so far. If you enjoyed Asylum or City then you simply must get this title. Again, the PC port is embarassing and shouldn’t have even launched since Warner Brothers new about the problems prior to launch. A delay would have been far less damaging to the reputation and name of what could have been an almost perfect launch and delivery. Hopefully as we get distance from the necessary dust up and anger of PC gamers the product can be seen for what it is: a brilliantly built and executed game.
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