Arkham Knight marks the end of the Batman trilogy for Rocksteady. The company created the foundation of combat for this generation’s action games and set the standard for superhero games. Arkham Knight is supposed to be the crowning achievement of the series. It takes what worked in previous games and improves on it. But critical design choices stopped Arkham Knight from becoming the game we all wanted.
Being The Batman
Let’s talk about the positive aspects of Arkham Knight. Like the previous games in the franchise it’s still fun to play as Batman. You can still complete missions using various tactics and gadgets. To keep the action exciting, enemies adapt to your play style–so if you prefer silent take downs from vents in the floor they will begin to watch the floor. It’s this variety that makes each challenge exciting and new. There is even a new mechanic called fear takedowns that allow you to defeat up to five enemies by surprise. These new takedowns add a new dynamic to stealth and are fun to use.
When stealth is not an option, the signature combat mechanics are still here in full force. Combat requires strategy and agility. Just swinging wildly will leave you on the floor. A variety of enemies keep things from getting boring and with new moves and gadgets, Batman is always one step ahead of the game.
Completing missions and side quests earn you points that you can spend to upgrade the batsuit, gadgets and the batmobile. Also, depending on your play style you’ll favor certain perks over others. Arkham Knight continues the tradition of making it fun to be the Batman.
When you think of Batman you often think of the cap and cowl, his utility belt or even his side kicks. What probably ranks last on your list is the Batmobile. The batmobile is Batman’s transportation, it gets him from the Batcave to the scene of the crime and vice versa. If you were ever a fan of Batman: The Animated Series or Justice League then you spent most of your time watching batman do his work on foot. In fact the one time the story focused on the Batmobile, it ended up being the weakest episode in the series. Why? Because the Batmobile is the means to an end. In Arkham Knight, the Batmobile becomes Batman’s side kick and it changes the experience, but not for the better.
In Arkham Knight the Batmobile follows the design philosophy of the Tumbler, Batman’s vehicle in the Dark Knight trilogy. It goes one step further by transforming into a tank. That’s right, throughout the game you shift from a stealth/action to vehicle combat. This shift in gameplay is pretty jarring. For years we have become used to precise controls and combat and now we have to navigate this large vehicle with loose controls. It just doesn’t feel like Batman, and what’s worse is that we are forced to use the Batmobile. Majority of the main story quest require you to use the vehicle so if you don’t like the Batmobile you’re just shit out of luck.
Open World Shenanigans
When Rocksteady traded the Asylum for the open world of Gotham it lost something in the process. A streamlined story was now a choose your own adventure. Sure, you could solve the main quest OR…you could hunt for 200+ riddle trophies to get the “true” ending. The story loses the impact that a traditional linear experience provides. This design choice is at odds with Batman. With games like Fallout and Skyrim we play for the open world and the story comes second. However, with Batman, the story should come first but it plays second fiddle to the open world of Gotham.
Most of the side quests require you to take down some of Gotham’s most infamous villains, but since they are regulated to side quest you never get a truly fleshed out experience. For example, there is a side quest where Nightwing helps Batman track down The Penguin. An event that should have affect on the story is left to small combat sections of the game. The only time you see Nightwing is after you infiltrated one of Penguin’s safe houses, and you don’t even have to play as Nightwing if you don’t want to. It’s a shame because I want more from the experience but more never comes.
The icing on the cake was the ending of the story. Unlike the previous Batman games, when the story ends you do not reach the conclusion. Instead, you are dropped back in the city and forced to complete the side quests to unlock the ending. That’s right, Rocksteady gave Arkham Knight the Skyrim treatment and treated the main quest like it would any of the side quests. It ends and then it’s back to the city as if it didn’t happen. I can’t explain the feeling of watching a story reach a conclusion only to be told that wasn’t it. It was nerve wracking, because I tried to play a perfect balance of side quests and the main quest. In fact, at the end of certain quests you are alerted that you need to complete some of the side quests. And if you don’t you’ll hear about it. Take The Riddler, the game’s most annoying and easily avoidable villain. Like an angry one-night stand The Riddler will continue to call you asking why you haven’t tried to complete any of his challenges. It really is a shame because I really liked the story and wish it would have been told in a more fluid manner.
In the end in Arkham city you play as Batman in various set pieces. The transition from linear experience to open world meant that some things would be lost along the way. Sure, we have a grander experience, and it is still fun to be Batman but we lost that cohesive story. And it’s that cohesive story that made Batman, Batman.