Even though I’ve been reviewing games for fun for the better part of 6 years now there are few series that I’ve been able to catalogue my experiences of completely. Many of the big AAA games have been going on since long before I started blogging and there are many new IPs since then that have failed to see further instalments. However one of the stand out series I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing has been the Batman: Arkham games which have set the standard to which many others are compared. The last title in this series, Arkham Knight, sees a return of Rocksteady Studios as the developer and with them the hopes that this game will bring a return to form for the IP. Indeed, at least for this review, that’s very much the case however you’d have to be living under a rock to not know about the turmoil that this title endure during its first weeks on the shelves.
Although his nemesis might be gone Batman has continued his work in Gotham City, becoming an ally of the GCPD rather than its adversary. In the year since the events of Arkham City Gotham has become a place of peace with crime rates tumbling and the populace feeling safe in their home town. However Batman’s continued spoiling of everyone’s nefarious plans has not gone unnoticed and they have all banded together with the one singular goal: to kill the batman. At the helm is Scarecrow who threatens the entire city and causes a mass evacuation, leaving the streets to be filled with criminals, looters and a sense of fear. It is up to you now, dear Batman, to rid Gotham of this disease once again but the journey may leave you losing much more than you’d ever had hoped to.
Arkham Knight is an absolutely stunning game with the graphics easily surpassing any of the previous titles in the series. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s running on the Unreal 3 engine which, as of writing, was released almost 11 years ago. The trademark Gothic style is back once again with everything in Gotham having this certain retro-futuristic chic about it. Climbing to the top of any building is rewarded with a gorgeous landscape that’s just brimming with detail which only gets better upon closer inspection. There are some pretty great innovations in here too, like how rain falls on surfaces and slicks down or how the turbulent waters of Gotham’s harbours churn and crash against the walls. Going back and looking at my previous screenshots from other Batman titles Arkham Knight really is a generation ahead of its predecessors, an incredible feat considering the last title was released less than 2 years ago.
For those who’ve played any of the previous Arkham titles the core game play will be familiar, taking much the same approach as Arkham City did. You’re plopped down into a vast open world with numerous objectives, all of which are centred on one of the characters from the Batman franchise. You’re free to pick and choose from any of the objectives all of which will grant you upgrade points which you can spend to upgrade Batman’s skills, gadgets and combat moves. You will also be treated to the wonder that is the Batmobile, a nimble tank that’s got a staggering array of weaponry at its disposal, which you’ll need to make good use of if you’re to get anywhere in this game. The traditional beat ’em up combat remains intact with only a few new options added into the mix to differentiate it from its predecessors. In terms of scale it’s the biggest Batman game ever released, one that will keep even the most dedicated achievement hunter busy for a very long time.
The melee combat remains largely the same as it did in previous Arkham games with the addition of a few new gadgets and enemy types. If I’m honest it actually feels slightly weaker than previous titles as the new gadgets fail to make up for the lack of new combos or takedowns. Pulling off massive combos doesn’t seem to have the same spectacular pay off that it used which was a big driver, at least for me, to get better at landing them. There’s the inclusion of the fear takedown, which basically works as an opener to take out the most dangerous enemies first, which is cool but does take away a fair chunk of the skill required to take down massive groups of varied enemies. This, coupled with the lack of any big melee boss fights, means that whilst the essence of the combat is still there it just doesn’t have the same attraction it once did.
This is made up for entirely by the inclusion of the Batmobile, the single most fun thing that Rocksteady included in Arkham Knight. From the second you first get your hands on it the Batmobile is a cacophony of destruction, metallic car noises and oodles of weaponry that border on being ludicrously excessive. Driving around Gotham is just plain fun as you smash and crash your way through pretty much everything that gets in your way. The vehicle combat makes up for the less than stellar melee combat although after the 30th drone battle over a mine it does start to lose its lustre somewhat. However the integration of the Batmobile into almost every aspect of the game is done so well you start to wonder how they managed to build a Batman game without it. I’m not sure how canon this form of the Batmobile is however as it’s pretty much a killing machine on wheels, something which isn’t strictly in alignment with the Batman ethos. Not that that really matters, though.
The stealth sections are back again this time with even more ways for the enemies to locate you and ruin your Not Seen and Not Shot bonuses. The mechanics will be instantly familiar, finding vantage points and sneaking through grates, however for each new hazard you’re given a new way to deal with it. Much like the melee combat though it feels a little weaker than previous games, possibly because it is so similar or maybe because other elements (like the Batmobile) are just that much better. Suffice to say most of my stealth sections usually ended in me unceremoniously taking out everyone after they spotted me once and more than a few angered restarts because of that.
Due to the outrage over how unplayable Arkham Knight was I decided to hold off until the first patch was released and I’m glad I did. I experienced no performance issues at all with Arkham Knight being buttery smooth the entire time. It was not, however, a completely glitch free experience as there were numerous times where things didn’t work as expected. Chasing Firefly in the Batmobile would often result in it not being able to drive forward for some reason, requiring me to jump out and back in again (sometimes allowing him to escape). On more than one occasion the indicators that I should counter something during a cutscene simply didn’t pop up, leading to a few frustrating moments where I simply could not figure out how to get to the next section. However none of these issues are what I’d consider game breaking as I would not have invested so much time into Arkham Knight if it was as broken as everyone was making it out to be. As of writing Arkham Knight is still not for sale on Steam, something which I honestly don’t agree with after playing through it this past week.
The story serves as the conclusion to the Arkham series and, I’m glad to say, rounds out the various stories of all the main characters quite well. For those of us who’ve stuck with the Arkham series since Asylum it’s been quite a ride and to have it end so well, when so many games have done endings like this poorly, is a most welcome change. This does not mean that the Batman IP has run its course yet, indeed the upcoming Batgirl DLC is a testament to this, however the story ark of Batman and Joker is done and dusted. I’ll be interested to see if Rocksteady or another development studio will look to replicate the success of this series with other characters within the same franchise as, whilst I’m glad this chapter has come to a close, I’d very much like to explore more of this world from a different perspective.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a fitting finale to this venerable series, capturing everything that made the series great whilst amping it up to the next level with a solid story and, of course, the Batmobile. The combat and stealth retain the essence of what made the previous games great although fail to innovate much beyond that. The Batmobile makes up for this in spades, delivering gloriously dumb action as you tear through the streets of Gotham. The story finishes the major Batman and Joker arc beautifully, leaving you with a sense of closure whilst also wanting to see more of this world that Rocksteady has built up over the past 5 years. Even if you haven’t been following the series since day dot you won’t be disappointed in the experience that Batman: Arkham Knight brings as it is truly a stellar game, even in its own right.
Batman: Arkham Knight is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 16 hours playtime and 42% of the achievements unlocked.
Last year, whilst not a stellar year for games due to many delayed releases slipping into 2010, still had many great games towards the end of the year. I’ve played my way through most of them and for those who have been following my exploits over the past 6 months or so know the quality has been pretty high. Naturally after playing AAA title after AAA title my expectations for games have been set rather high and lesser games (namely Bayonetta and Supreme Commander 2) have been left sitting on the shelves waiting for their turn. After looking through my Steam list I remembered that I got Batman: Arkham Asylum as part of the Eidos pack when it was a mere $50 and on the advice of many of my friends I decided to give it a go.
Thankfully Arkham Asylum, whilst drawing on the rich background offered by the Batman IP, isn’t based off any of the Batman movies that have been released. This helps it avoid the usual filter the gaming community puts on movie based games (read: utter rubbish) and gave the developers a lot more creative freedom with developing the story and characters. Still every aspect that makes Batman who he is will be shown to the player at some point so that even dedicated Batman fans will find something in the game that appeals to them.
The story begins with Batman bringing in The Joker to Arham Asylum, a super prison dedicated to housing the myriad of Gotham’s super-villains. Whilst it’s somewhat disappointing that you can’t gallivant around Gotham city like the real Batman the game still does its best to make you feel like the caped crusader, a shining beacon of justice in an increasingly dark world. Whilst I initially felt very detracted from Batman and his supporting characters after the first few hours of gameplay I found myself wanting to know more about all of them, hoping to gain some form of insight into the twisted minds of the characters laid out before me.
My first gripe about the game is that (during the first few hours before I became wholly engrossed in the story) the whole experience feels a little cheap. The graphics for instance aren’t terribly spectacular even when everything is cranked up to the max and the pre-rendered videos were done using the game engine. Whilst I can appreciate that this was done to keep the pace of the game and gloss over loading screens when you have pre-rendered movies and in-game sequences that look the same I start wondering why you bothered pre-rendering them at all. This is probably because the movies were rendered at a much lower screen resolution than my monitor (1680 x 1050), making them appear rather blocky. Additionally the in game dialogue sequences were often rather stilted with the characters barely moving and the faces showing little to no emotion. I know I’ve been spoiled with Mass Effect and Uncharted and it’s probably not fair to compare them, but that still didn’t take away that cheap feeling.
The most enjoyable part of Arkham Asylum is the combat. On first look it appears to be something of a hack ‘n’ slash adventure with a rapid succession of clicks able to take down a group of foes with little trouble. After a while though more and more variables are thrown in that force you to use other moves and combos in order to come out the other end successfully. Just when you think you’re unstoppable the game would throw yet another larger challenge at you, bringing you down a peg. It was this ramping up of the action that hooked me and kept me in my seat for the last 4 hours of the game, giving the bad guys of Arkham a good throttling. The only issue I had was counter moves not working most of the time, but I got around that by throwing Batman wildly all over the place to avoid having to use it.
On the flip side of this rough and tumble action game is a surprisingly well done stealth combat system. So whilst you could happily punch every foe into the ground there are some situations that will be a might be easier if you instead sneak your way around them and take them out quietly. The unlockable upgrades for Batman allow for many interesting ways to take out your opponents quietly, such as hanging upside down from a gargoyle and then swooping down and hanging them upside down by one leg. Since the days of of the Theif games few games have been able to do stealth right but Arkham Asylum gets it just right as it is both enjoyable and as thrilling as punching your way through the game.
Yet another interesting mechanic is that of the good old fashioned platformer. There are several occasions where the camera will become locked and you’re forced into a good old fashioned jump puzzle, with the added complication of avoiding detection by a giant madman with glowing eyes. This psyhcological thriller mini-game was one of my favourite frustrations of Arkham Asylum as it was just so far apart from the regular gameplay in terms of what you do and where you are.
Lastly you’re Batman the crack detective, following evidence and solving various puzzles to move the story along. I’ll admit a few of these had me stumped for a good while, reaching out to the Internet for answers. Still for the vast majority I was able to knock them down without too much hassle, giving me that warm fuzzy feeling that we all get when we conquer something without having to take the easy way out.
Overall Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of those games that was in my to-play list but I’d never really given a second thought to. It’s received wide spread critical acclaim and garnered enough talk amongst my friends to have cemented itself firmly as a must play amongst us all and after playing through it I can see why. It just oozes that classic Batman feel and the little extra bits like the character bios and interview tapes just help to draw you in that much more. The game wraps up beautifully and lends itself to a sequel without leaving too many loose ends, and I for one can’t wait to see what these guys come up with next.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is available right now on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC for $99, $99 and $49.99 respectively. Game was played on the second hardest difficulty setting with around 12 hours of gameplay and 65% completion on one playthrough.