I wonder who the Arkham Knight is…
Batman is a brawler, a crime fighter, and a detective – the ultimate jack-of-all-trades superhero. The way in which Rocksteady's Arkham series emphasizes the many facets of the Dark Knight stands as one of its greatest achievements. Batman: Arkham Knight carries that same torch, but it stumbles along the way. The introduction of the Batmobile in particular dominates too much of the experience, to the point that one can't help but wonder how Batman functioned without it in previous games. When Arkham Knight shifts back to the familiarity of fisticuffs, fancy gadgets, and maniacal supervillains, it gains momentum and delivers a solid, if unspectacular, conclusion to Rocksteady's Arkham trilogy.
The finality of Batman: Arkham Knight comes through in its darker storyline, which features two main antagonists. Scarecrow plans to destroy Gotham by preying on its deepest fears, but he's joined by a mysterious partner named the Arkham Knight. The prospective identity of the Arkham Knight looms over the entire narrative, and in a strange way it creates a discordant and schizophrenic plot that jumps back and forth between the two villains with no real rhyme or reason. On the plus side, Arkham Knight explores the more twisted aspects of the Batman universe with its distinct 'M' rating and thus heightens the tension of the narrative. The stakes feel higher this time around, and it makes Batman an even more compelling protagonist because of the added pressure and how he reacts to it.
In order to fight off Scarecrow and Arkham Knight, Batman needs new tools. Clearly the biggest and most effective one is the Batmobile, and it plays a vital role in the game. Players can drive around Gotham in Batman's vehicle, but it also acts as a weapon. A single button activates combat mode, and it allows the Caped Crusader to fire cannons and use various other weapons to take down enemy vehicles. The novelty of using the Batmobile creates a positive first impression, but then it shows up everywhere and intrudes on the experience. There are way too many story missions that require the use of the Batmobile, and I felt like throwing my controller through the window during some of the mandatory combat sections near the end of the game. The Batmobile doesn't just feel like another tool for Batman, it feels like a requirement for success, and suddenly Batman's jack-of-all-trades quality begins to dissipate.
However, Arkham Knight partially redeems itself with mechanical variety outside of the Batmobile. Batman still uses plenty of gadgets, and the game does a great job of incorporating multiple devices in its puzzle sections. Detective vision also makes a return, so players can tap up on the d-pad to uncover clues or gain a tactical advantage in combat. Some of my favorite moments in Arkham Knight involve no action whatsoever. I appreciate the subtle thrills of hacking a door or controlling soldiers with the help of Batman's new voice modulator. As much fun as it is to punch dudes in the face, let's not forget Batman's affinity for technology and how that aids him as well.
I'll admit, punching dudes in the face also has its charms. Plenty of games try to mimic the combat of the Batman Arkham series, but Rocksteady clearly operates on another level. The stylistic combos and counters return in Batman: Arkham Knight, but the game ramps up the visual splendor with new Batmobile-assisted takedowns and dual play. The former is self-explanatory, but dual play stands out as one of the biggest new features in Arkham Knight. Occasionally Batman teams up with other allies such as Robin and Nightwing, and dual play allows players to switch between characters and execute flashy dual takedowns. One of the most satisfying moments in all of Arkham Knight is chaining together a combo as Batman, using a dual takedown to switch to Robin, and then repeating the same process as Robin.
The combat also applies to some of the side missions, and there are plenty of them in Arkham Knight. Arkham City's open world seems miniscule compared to the size of Arkham Knight, and it shows in the amount of activities scattered throughout Gotham. There are mines to disable, bank robberies to stop, and firefighters to rescue. A lot of it feels like busy work, and I still prefer the smaller size and scope of Arkham Asylum because of how tight and focused the experience was back in 2009. But there are standout side missions in Arkham Knight, especially the ones that involve supervillains such as Two-Face and Penguin. I recommend focusing on those supervillain side missions, because they're required to see the true ending(s) of Arkham Knight. It rubs me the wrong way, but I suppose it creates an extra incentive for some folks.
Even players who complete the game with the normal ending will find something to enjoy in Batman: Arkham Knight, whether it's the visceral combat, Batman's detective work, or his arsenal of clever gadgets. It's a shame the game focuses so much on the Batmobile, because even that provides a welcome change of pace in small doses. Unfortunately, Arkham Knight doesn't deliver the Batmobile in small doses, and it turns out to be the most intrusive part of the experience. At least the rest of the game makes up for the Batmobile and the occasional narrative misstep.