Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Knight (PC)

What a long journey it’s been. We’ve secured the Asylum, torn down Arkham City… and even suffered through Origins… and now the Arkham Knight is out for blood and Gotham City is in dire need of a hero. It’s time for Batman to dust off the latex and emerge from the Batcave for one final outing.AK-banner

Please note: This review is for the original, June 23rd PC release, and though it may touch on current graphics issues, may not reflect those in the re-released product.

First off, I must acknowledge the controversy surrounding the PC release of Batman: Arkham Knight. Complaints were levelled at the game for its poor optimisation of graphics and buggy performance, specifically that it kept players from accessing higher framerates and in some cases (or on some setups) made the game unplayable. Since then, the publisher has pulled the game from Steam and it is currently being patched for a future re-release.

At the time of purchase, I too found the game to be unplayable. It ran slow even when using the lowest settings and crashed very often. However, having recently upgraded to a higher specification machine, I’ve noticed far fewer issues. I can’t tell you honestly how much is due to my new computer and how much is Rocksteady’s work in patching the game, but I can warn you that your mileage may vary and that I cannot recommend purchase of this game in its current state.

With that out of the way, let’s get back to the review!

gotham-city

The Arkham series of games is one that has caught my imagination. I’m a relatively new fan of all things Batman, but playing through Asylum with its plethora of Easter eggs, outstanding voice acting and fascinating mixture of dark realism and fantasy I soon became an addict and as I sat to play the latest game for the first time, I had a Riddler figurine watching over my left shoulder and a Harley Quinn Pop! Vinyl on my right.

Arkham Knight picks up several months after the previous instalment’s explosive ending. Joker is dead, his body cremated, and in his wake a power void has opened up, just waiting to be filled. A war is definitely coming.

scarecrowThis time around, it’s Scarecrow, Gotham’s resident master of fear, who is leading the charge against both the residents of the city and the caped crusader himself. The threat of releasing his new strain of fear toxin around the city, is cause enough for the central islands to be evacuated, leaving only criminals, rioters and the GCPD to battle for control.

Following an encounter with Poison Ivy, Batman soon learns that Scarecrow has rallied the other supervillains to his cause, if only long enough to see their collective archenemy destroyed once and for all. That is Scarecrow’s plan after all, to end the legend of the Batman.

Enter the Arkham Knight himself, a new character, shrouded in mystery and with a hate-on for Batman. He’s a wildcard with an army of mercenaries as well as conveniently unmanned drones and tanks.

Now you’re set to go off and save Gotham, but there’s just one thing you’re missing. The size of the map is easily about three times the size of City‘s and twice that of Origins. You’re going to need a bit more than your grapnel boost to get around!

So how, you ask, are we possibly going to cover so much ground? Why, with the Batmobile, of course!

Batmobile-woosh

Yes, for the first time in the franchise, the Dark Knight’s iconic vehicle is yours to control, but this is far from the sleek retro dragster spied in Asylum and far more reminiscent of the “tumbler” from Christopher Nolan’s recent trilogy of films. In addition to looking like the most badass car of all time, it also comes in two distinct flavours, easily selected by the click of a mouse.

The first is called pursuit mode. It’s the fastest of the two and as the name suggests, is perfect for chasing down criminals. It even comes with homing missiles. Non-lethal, naturally!

The second is battle mode, which slows you down greatly, but offers much improved manoeuvrability and the addition of several weapons such as a railgun and 60 mm cannon. If that’s stretching the definition of “non-lethal force” a bit, be assured that you will only ever be facing off in this mode against unmanned vehicles… for your convenience!

As with previous games, there’s an upgrade system and the Batmobile is not exempt from this. As you level up, in addition to all the upgrades you might expect as a veteran of previous games, there’s also those specifically for the car, such as an improved nitro boost for pursuit mode or higher armour or multiple targeting missiles for battle mode. You’ll also be offered specific WayneTech upgrades from time to time, giving you the choice between, for example, an EMP or the ability to hack an enemy tank.

batmobileTo compliment this new addition to Batman’s arsenal, are numerous vehicular challenges, varying from defending your ground against a continual onslaught of drones, to overcoming the Riddler’s latest scheme to best the Dark Knight – a series of timed underground courses.

For myself, I found the addition of the Batmobile to be a fun and unusual experience. You’re offered the chance to play about in it right from the start – there’s no fumbling about in tutorials – and it really does feel like an integral part of the game, with many locations requiring you to use it to overcome challenges, fight bosses or even obtain those pesky Riddler trophies.

On the other hand, some aspects of using the Batmobile were not quite as fun, particularly in one specific side mission that has you pursuing a villain through the streets of Gotham without much explanation as to what you should be doing. Similarly, some aspects of combat seemed out of place in a Batman game, but are easy to overlook in the grand scheme.

batmobile-ar

Much else of the gameplay is identical to the game’s predecessors, with Batman engaging in two types of scenarios, brawls or predator mode. However, both have been tweaked, with new enemies and combos as well as streamlining it to make it easier to fight large numbers of enemies and react to specific situations without breaking your flow. Of the new enemies, I found the medics particularly interesting. These are mercenaries that will revive unconscious brawlers mid-fight, forcing you to prioritise them or risk fighting previously defeated enemies again.

Predator mode adds the option of a “fear takedown” which is a hard, fast takedown allowing you to select multiple targets. This seems to exist as an alternative to the “dual takedown” or previous games and makes it easier to take out groups without an elaborate setup.

ak-city

One thing I noticed about the default combat in Arkham Knight is that it seemed much easier than in previous games (with the possible exception of Origins). It’s possible that after three games, I’m simply in the zone for it, but I found myself relying on old, tried and true combos of hitting a specific number and then disabling opponents or using a batarang takedown. In spite of other options to choose, there was little incentive to use them and, for some strange reason, not all the combos were even assigned keys.

In spite of this, combat remains fast paced and punchy and with crowds of rioters in the streets there are ample opportunities to try out new moves should you so desire.

But what Arkham game would be complete without a plethora of side missions to keep you occupied between skirmishes with Scarecrow and his cronies?

In Arkham Knight, there’s certainly plenty to do outside of the main story and much like in City or Origins, you can pursue these leads at your leisure. They vary from tests of your abilities to simple fetch quests, with a suitable Batman-esque feel to them.

A side mission I found particularly enjoyable involved taking down Two-Face’s thugs in a large predator mode setup. Taking place inside the various banks in Gotham city, you are forced to work quickly as a counter shows the remaining money in the vaults trickling away.

batman-takedownAnother interesting aspect of the side missions in the game has to do with those specifically featuring the militia. It’s implied that your efforts are slowly thinning the streets of the Knight’s forces, and this is made more clear in the GCPD lockup, where cells will slowly fill with soldiers captured and put away. Similarly in the game world, a checkpoint cleared will open up to allow you easier access on foot or with the Batmobile and every flying drone destroyed is one less you need to worry about when gliding.

It’s also interesting from a thematic point of view, pitching Batman as a one man army, facing off against a genuine army of highly trained mercenaries. In spite of this, the missions can sometimes get repetitive and tiresome. Most are varied, but a few run along the same lines and you’ll occasionally feel like you’ve done all of this before.

RiddlerOn the other hand, Riddler trophies, yet another mainstay of the series, are seemingly handled much better. Though there are still quite a few trophies that are merely hidden around the world or behind walls that need to be destroyed, most of the puzzles are entirely unique and do not feel like something you’ve already done before either at another location in-game or in previous games.

Actual riddles are seemingly lacking, but the payoffs for finding them appear improved. Each riddle now unlocks a short story following a character from the series – generally one the riddle is referencing. These vary from the macabre to the hilarious, with the Jack Ryder one being a personal favourite. They all seem to add a little more to the world.

So, I think by now that’s about covered everything, leaving only the question of how the game feels as a final chapter in Rocksteady’s successful franchise.

Where Asylum opened us up to a new take on the dark and gritty world of Batman, Knight closes the door, but only lightly and like all good conclusions, leaves you with a few questions unanswered and salivating for an encore. Though not always as satisfying, Knight ties up loose ends adequately, even touching on aspects you might have forgotten about or thought less important. Very little is left unaddressed.

The mystery of the Arkham Knight’s identity is a entertaining feature of the game and handled for the most part very well. Die hard fans of Batman will catch the hints the fastest, but the speculation is no less enjoyable and there are parts early on where it really does seem like it could go in a number of directions.

All of this leads to an ending of epic proportions, with an emotional performance from Kevin Conroy as Batman. As with previous games, the voice acting and writing are both top-notch and more than enough to make this game worthy of your time.

batman-catwoman

In closing, a few points about the graphics of this game. Running it on a higher specification machine, I found it to be much more of a visual treat. Each island has its own identity that shines out at you even as you zoom through them in the Batmobile. However, certain particle effects late in the game showed a tendency to slow framerate considerably, making the game choppy and at times difficult to play. As stated before, it’s very difficult to know for sure how much of this is the hardware and how much is the game. I would highly recommend researching ideal setups for this game if you intend to buy it.

Specifications:
Price: $59.99
Players: Single-player
Platform: PC

Links:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3554580/
Metacritic: http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/batman-arkham-knight
Official Website: https://www.batmanarkhamknight.com/
Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_Arkham_Knight

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