Batman: Arkham Knight review for Xbox One, PS4

Platform: Xbox One
Also On: PS4
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Medium: Disc/Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Rocksteady Studios created two of the very best Batman games in existence. First, Arkham Asylum raised the bar for superhero video games that no other developer has been able to reach. Then they followed that up with Arkham City, pretty much making them the supreme masters of Batman in video game form. The Arkham Origins prequel fits in there somehow too, but WB Games Montreal developed that. Now, Rocksteady Studios is back with what might be the biggest and most exciting experience yet with Batman: Arkham Knight. Are you ready to “Be the Batman”?
Taking place after the events of Arkham City, the very first thing you’re treated to is the cremation of iconic villain The Joker. You witness him get brought in and loaded into the cremator while Frank Sinatra is playing in the background. All of a sudden you are just staring at Joker’s dead face, until you realize that YOU have to use the analog stick to start the machine and burn his lifeless body. This is mostly how the entire experience of Arkham Knight works, you are presented with a task with little to no information as to what to do and it’s up to you to figure things out. After you burn The Joker, you take the role of a GCPD officer in a diner where you are asked to confront a customer smoking in the back. Upon talking to this individual, you quickly discover that it’s The Scarecrow, another iconic Batman Villain that poisons you with his Nightmare toxin. The Scarecrow begins his takeover of Gotham City and it is quickly evacuated. Now it is up to Batman to prevent the total chaos that Scarecrow plans to unleash. The Scarecrow isn’t alone however, as a new sinister villain named the Arkham Knight has teamed with the nightmare making Dr. Crane and has assembled an army to destroy The Batman.

While the identity of The Arkham Knight is a mystery to his allies and his enemies alike, he seems to know a lot about The Batman, his strengths, his weaknesses, and even all about his friends. Batman is not totally alone in his pursuit of the Scarecrow and The Arkham Knight, with Oracle (Barbara Gordon) Robin, Nightwing and even Catwoman helping out in the fight. While Oracle isn’t playable, the other characters (even Commissioner Gordon at times) become playable as you progress through the main story. Having multiple playable characters was something Rocksteady has experimented with in past Arkham games, but with the new Dual-Play Feature, it’s now an exciting part of the series. Dual-Play has you switching characters on the fly with absolutely no loading times and experience different parts of the story in real time. Dual-Play is even used in combat when two characters are be teaming up to defeat a group of enemies. You can use Batman to being a takedown of an enemy and use Dual-Play to seamlessly switch to a partner to deliver the knockout blow. It’s this feature that makes the single character combat (which can get stale) a bit more spicy and fun.

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Another huge part of Arkham Knight, is the ability to use the famous Batmobile. Yes, you can now drive Batman’s ride through the streets of Gotham with a touch of a button. No matter where you are on the open streets, you can summon the car and jump right in. The inclusion of the Batmobile seems to make up a rather large portion of the gameplay, as you will use the car in many, many situations. From using it in combat against the Arkham Knight’s Tanks, to pulling down walls with a power winch to open up your path, the Batmobile is used almost everywhere. Sure there are instances where you will be on foot or the rooftops, running, gliding and swinging through an open Gotham, but there are so many times the car will be used to progress you will in the driver’s seat more than you are on foot.

You may even become confused as to WHY the car has to be brought in or even where to go once you begin driving. A few times I rushed into an area and began my usually gliding and swinging to get from place to place, only to find out that I was supposed to unlock barriers to bring the car through instead of gliding over them like I did in previous games. It’s definitely a much faster way to travel across the insanely large city, but players that have grown accustomed to the usual way of travel may be a bit jaded that the car is used so much. As stated before, there is less hand holding and hints as to what needs to be done this time around, sometimes your gut decision is enough, while other times a specific task needs to be done, and the game doesn’t tell you. The only help you get is with occasional subtle hints from Batman’s inner monologue that are more cryptic than the man himself.

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Controls are a mix of tight and responsive, to slightly frustrating. Controlling Batman and other playable characters works as it did from previous games, with a faster flowing version of the Arkham combat system. You’ll be making quicker decisions as to who to target and when. There are also more varied takedowns available that let you down more enemies at once, letting you even the odds a bit against a larger group. There are still stealth segments where you have to silently take down groups of foes, but even these segments are fast and flow much faster than before. With more options and moves, you feel more in control of the character than you have before. On occasion, you can slip up and move where you didn’t want to go, miss an attack or miscalculate a landing, but after a few tries you will get the hang of everything. The slightly frustrating portion comes in when you are driving or fighting inside the Batmobile. Driving at high speeds while trying to get a lock on an enemy is a test in patience as well as driving skill, and most players will spend more time crashing into walls than keeping up with the chase. There is a power slide control to make cornering easier, but even then you will feel like the car is driving you. Battle-mode controls in the car are much better with strafing and boosting to avoid attacks and wider range of movement available. Sometimes you may even use Battle-mode to navigate tight spots or to reposition yourself after a crash. Throwing the car into reverse can sometimes make you scream as it has a tendency to take off at full speed backwards, leaving you disoriented. Overall, there is nothing broken about the controls in the car, they just take a lot of practice to master.

Visually, Arkham Knight is stunning. The dark gothic tones of Gotham City are represented so perfectly, it almost feels like a real life location. Even the smallest of details like graffiti or a poster on a wall look great. Character models and vehicles look outstanding, especially in those scenes where you are looking closely at Batman’s haunting gaze and stare. Clothing and armor on the characters is detailed so heavily, that it almost looks real. In game cutscenes and cinematics are seamless and sometimes you aren’t aware that the cutscene has finished and game has started (like in the very beginning with The Joker). Audio is loud and booming with realistic explosions and that unmistakable gothic music that fills every exciting moment.  Even short stings of music when an event is triggered are timed perfectly. The excellent voice work provided by Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong, Jonathan Banks and Mark Hamill bring these characters to life just as like in the previous games. What’s that, Mark Hamill? Yes, Mark Reprises his role as The Joker in Arkham Knight, but isn’t he dead? Well, I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but let’s just say The Joker’s presence is felt, and heard as you progress. Without a doubt, the audio and visual quality in Arkham Knight is definitely pumped to 11.

So, is Batman: Arkham Knight the best Batman videogame ever? Even with its minor control issues and overuse of the Batmobile I would say absolutely. The visuals and animation, mixed with solid gameplay and an engaging story make this one hell of a ride for Batman fans and a great experience for gamers. With the large story, all of the side and DLC missions that are available, this is one game that is not going to be over quickly. Just when you think you have everything figured out, and you think you know what is going to happen, the game throws a curve ball out of nowhere, keeping you on your toes.

Sometimes the lack of direction or any form of hint as to where to go or what to do in situations can get annoying, but it never makes you want to quit playing. If you’ve never played a previous title in the Batman Arkham series, or if you are a diehard fan, than you will have a blast here. Even if you don’t know the world of Batman or its characters, you will enjoy what Rocksteady Studios has created! A definite contender for Game of the Year!

Grade: A-