What is it you fear? a copy and paste sandbox? a game having an identity crisis? a tiresome combat system with no variation? or a story that is more rinse and repeat? These are all legitimate concerns for any skeptic looking at the fourth and final game in the Batman Arkham saga.
The first thing that was immediately obvious to me upon gliding up in the skies of Gotham City, is rocksteady have been working on this pretty much since they got back from a well earned break after Arkham City. There is such a uniqueness in this sandbox, that everywhere feels unique unto itself. It fits together and is so detailed it doesn’t take too long figuring out where you are. This is truly the most detailed sandbox I’ve ever had the pleasure to play in.
Honestly this felt like three Arkham cities combined. Sure there are a few bugs inside it still. But I’d be remiss to want the version planned for last October than this clearly much more polished version we have now. Such a big sandbox needs much more than tweaks to the world and its signature gliding mechanics though. In fact, you’re going to need a car. Enter the batmobile. Screeching around corners to meet your GPS location before you even see it. This half-car, half-tank is now not only your vehicle. But either your new best friend, sidekick and ally, or a 20-tonne anchor to your sense of freedom. If I can say only one thing for certain, it’s that no matter who you are, no matter how hard you try, (and trust me I tried.) you won’t be separated from the batmobile for long at all.
Now don’t get me wrong, once I learned to get along with the different creature Arkham Knight is from its predecessors. The batmobile becomes a necessity you will be thankful to have. With drone tanks roaming every city block, bombs and landmines littering the roads. This new all purpose gadget not only gets you through the long night ahead. You will be grateful that you can drive through a mob of forty rioting criminals rather than fighting them on the street. Sure you can jump out and start breaking faces. But it sure is nice to watch them all start to run at the sight of your batmobile transforming into a bat-tank.
Such is the beautiful burden of your new toy that even the Riddler has used his, ‘superior mind and intellect’ to litter the city with not only batmobile required riddles, but entire underground death-trap races. Which all come complete with their own set of Augmented Reality challenges. After you do complete the riddles in the campaign or do certain tasks, you unlock more challenges throughout the city later on.
Now, if that is how they change up traversal, the other key component is combat. Since Arkham City, I always thought rocksteady dropped the ball by not having Batman & Robin sections – wish fulfilled. While not a permanent fixture, there are many opportunities to partake in dual combat scenarios with a host of Batman’s allies. These aren’t just for show either. The advantage of having an ally means, if you can work up to your basic combo of x8, you can take out a brute without the stun, pummel, counter goon, return to pummeling routine. You get a genuine acrobatic display of teamwork designed for pain. Before it switches you into the role of Batman’s ally at the time, giving you access to all their move sets and unique gadgetry along with it. Just these moments alone make combat in the Arkham saga refreshing. Even the untrained eye can sense a better flow to the combat itself, with no awkward threesome to do like, counter, dodge, avoid blade attack coming at you, all at once. At the very least rocksteady have managed to queue up the enemy attack system. Allowing you to finish a counter before having to dodge the incoming thrown object, roll over the charging guys back, and avoid the assassins katana, and ending up in a double set piece counter-strike.
So to spite you, they’ve added more cruelty to their arsenal of goon gadgetry. In the form of the medic. Who not only revives knocked out goons you’ve taken out. But also provides them with a electrical charge far worse than a stun baton enemy. (It’s like trying to fight a Blanka player in Street Fighter that won’t stop spamming static shock.) It is a good job then, you don’t even need a combo to get environmental takedowns. Just make sure the highlighted enemy is the one you want, and press the basic combo special buttons and voila – one instantly dispatched goon.
Possibly the best part of the combat system that was refined for me though is button bashing. Before, you could hammer away at your attack button and see your combo erased with a ill timed press. Here your combo doesn’t break until you stop combat, or you get hit. So you can frequently see your combos head into the twenties or thirties. Thanks to the refined counter queuing system, you can walk away with more ‘perfect freeflow’ bonuses post-combat than you would ever see before. Even I was surprised by how competent I felt, after I was struggling through the previous games perfect combat requirements.
But Batman is nothing without his villains. With Scarecrow at the helm of this latest bout of Arkham inspired madness, the story needs to be psychological at its core. While offering something new and different. To which it does attain, but fans of the original Arkham Asylum may end up mildly disappointed at the lack of fourth wall breaks. But should still be happy with the glaringly obvious alternative that is provided within.
The story is so vastly different to the chaos of the joker. That the opening and many subsequent scenes thereafter take place in first-person. To give you a better ‘hands-on experience’. To let the fear and madness set in upon you, as rocksteady have become masters of what I call, ‘background loading’. Meaning, if you aren’t actually looking at it. By the time you turn around something has changed or loaded behind you in as fast a time as it can take you to spin the camera angle three-hundred-and-sixty degrees. It is such a clever and well utilised feature, that in your journey to takedown Scarecrow this mechanic is used by rocksteady like Beethoven with a piano; masterful.
If you’ve played all the previous Arkham games, you really do owe it to yourself to complete the saga. It truly is the last Batman game from rocksteady. If something put you off, or you were just sad Mark Hamill announced he was retiring as the Joker after Arkham City,perhaps you can still be surprised. Maybe Origins left a bad taste in your mouth because of voice acting changes, along with it not being made by rocksteady, you should play it too at some point. The story here is enough to engage both casual and hardcore fans alike, and keep people guessing right until that mournful moment Batman is no more.
Arkham Knight not only brings it’s unique take on the Batman lore, but it refines all that has come before it into this grand sandbox adventure. It’s just a crying shame it’s season pass is so stupidly and astronomically overpriced.