Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were terrific games. Both captured the essence of the Batman franchise, setting a new benchmark for superhero games that nobody else has really reached. I’ve been excited to play Arkham Knight for some time and interested to see how the franchise would progress, considering that Arkham City was pretty much a perfect video game.
I thought perhaps the third game would have Batman doing his thing in an environment populated by citizens as well as hoodlums, taking advantage of the new consoles’ power to populate the city more densely. That doesn’t happen. The game is set in Gotham City but Gotham is evacuated of its population pretty much as soon as the game begins. So, at the outset it looks like you are playing Arkham City again, more or less, but in a slightly larger environment; and, admittedly, a more visually striking environment.
There’s no doubt about it: this game looks stunning on PS4. Seemingly set over the course of a single night, Arkham Knight’s Gotham is an extremely atmospheric place where it’s always raining and lit by a prominent full moon. The views of the city from up high are incredible. Batman and other major characters look good too. Bats has a new set of armour and towers over most other characters; the game uses the Unreal Engine but gone are the days where every character had the same build straight out of Gears of War.
The Batmobile is a prominent part of the game and an awe-inspiring piece of kit. It’s supremely powerful, versatile and manoeuvrable, as you’d expect, and it plays a role in any number of puzzles as well as being one of your chief means of traversing Gotham. Unfortunately, Gotham itself doesn’t really feel designed for the vehicle. This makes sense–Gotham’s supposed to be a real city, and real cities are designed for real cars. But the Batmobile’s speed, power and handling seem built for a much larger place with wider roads and turns than Gotham, where you’re rarely even able to get up to half speed before having to ram on the brakes and follow another twist or turn in the road. It’s a shame as it means I tend to avoid using the Batmobile to get around, instead opting for the much more sedate and atmospheric option: gliding and rappelling around the city. There is also a lot of vehicular combat against unmanned drone cars, which gets boring very, very quickly, and feels like a mistake.
The previous Arkham games were renowned for the physicality and visual awesomeness of their fight scenes. With just a few button presses, Batman would deploy a huge array of martial art moves and tricks, but somehow the games always retained a sense of impact and weight as well. That’s largely still in place here, although at times it feels to me that the combat lacks that little bit of inertia that is necessary to give it the right rhythm. It’s still good, but not the revelation and treat to play that it once was. The baddies thrown at you in the early stages also lack a bit of character, being generic military types and thugs rather than the colourful mooks we’re used to, who would often borrow from their respective leaders’ style and attire.
Scarecrow is the villain who gets the ball rolling, but the game soon introduces some of our other old favourites. There’s a bit of a weak set up for this as the game just says that most of them ‘had to be let go’ after the events of Arkham City. Really, I don’t know how Batman puts up with these people. A new villain–the eponymous Arkham Knight–is introduced, a mysterious figure who seemingly has history with Batman, but nobody knows who he is. He’s a bit boring to be honest, so far at least. Instead, most of the entertainment comes from an unexpected source (I probably should have expected it, to be fair) who is very welcome.
Scarecrow and his associates seem to be adopting a new method to take Batman down, a form of psychological ‘death by a thousand cuts’ whereby they break down the relationships and sense of identity from which he derives his strength. It’s an interesting concept, if a little well-worn, and I’m curious to see how it develops. At least it gives the game its own identity, distinct from the previous two. Batman is hugely powerful at the beginning of this game, and it follows that if he is to be defeated it can’t be by conventional means. That said, this is still Batman, so expect him to prevail at the end, but the game does a good job of communicating a pessimistic tone of impending death and destruction. I wouldn’t say I’m enjoying it as much as I did Asylum and City, but this is still a good game and one I’m looking forward to playing through.
The game has also served as a good introduction to the PS4’s ‘share’ function, as you can see from some of these screenshots. Expect a full review in a couple of weeks.