Some people say video games aren’t art. They say complex human emotions, narratives, morals and themes can’t be conveyed through the interactive game format.
At least, there was that sentiment several years ago when video games were relatively new; these days… not so much. However, for any holdouts left, allow me humbly point out Batman: Arkham Knight, a spectacular example of playability and storytelling combined to create a breathtaking Batman experience that matches the greats, regardless of medium.
It’s been 9 months since the horrors of Arkham City and Gotham is experiencing a rare time of peace. That peace comes to a screaming halt after the Scarecrow threatens the city with a apocalyptic amount of his latest fear toxin. Out for revenge after Arkham Asylum, Scarecrow has resurged with alarming force, thanks to his partnership with the mysterious militia commander, the Arkham Knight. Against overwhelming resistance, Batman must face both his greatest foes and fears to emerge triumphant as Gotham’s savior.
But will it be his final hour?
Arkham Knight follows two game-changing titles — Asylum and City (not as much for Origins) — and sticks the landing to make for a terrific conclusion to the series. Not many doubted developer Rocksteady’s ability to deliver another great Batman game, and they, in turn, delivered another deeply layered, highly detailed, amazingly playable entry in their impressive catalogue.
It is both a blessing and a curse to say that I have been devoting a vast majority of my free time over the past month to completing as much as I can of this behemoth; there’s just that much to do! Completing the epic main storyline only accounts for about nine hours of gameplay, a fraction of what is all there. Between rescuing missing firefighters, solving the mysteries of gruesome murders and mysterious monster sightings, stopping Two-Face and Penguin and tracking down those pesky Riddler trophies, there is never not enough to do in Arkham Knight. Rocksteady has made this game worth every last penny.
The increased time it takes to beat this game can also be attributed to the level of difficulty. As the last of the series, Arkham Knight ramps up the difficulty, making fights more varied, predator missions trickier and puzzles more head-scratching. It can, admittedly, be a little frustrating to get hung up on a challenge when all you want to do is continue on, but the added difficulty makes the experience all the more rewarding.
The major addition to the gameplay this time around, besides the little fact that the Gotham City map is three times the size of Arkham City (and lightyears more developed than the one in Origins), is the Batmobile. Players not only are given a Batman at his peak, but are given access to a whole new gameplay dynamic with the car. From the get-go, players are taught to rely on the Batmobile, as it comes into play for a majority of the game.
Vehicle sequences, including chasing down militia caravans, engaging in tank warfare with the Arkham Knight’s drones and racing on the Riddler’s race courses, are definitely fun and unique. The problem comes from how over-reliant the game is on them. So often it feels like the tank battles are just obstacles the developer throws in to pad the game, while the main story provides too many instances where you are dependent on the car to bail you out of tough spots.
“Wait, couldn’t I have just ‘Batman’d’ myself out of this situation in previous games?,” I thought more than once while playing.
Still, if there’s going to be anything wrong with a game like this, it’s preferable that there’s too much of a good thing.
Yet, going even further, I oftentimes found myself wanting less gameplay in general. Not because it was, in any way, bad; because the story of this game is so damn engaging. Once again we have a plot that essentially puts Batman at the end of his crusade and asks how Gotham could survive without Batman. Better yet, it tests him like never before by mixing in consequences from his past and present that come back to haunt him and gives him an internal struggle with his self control that is beautifully realized through the appearance of a surprise figure. Geoff Johns’ writing for this entry is a real asset to the game, in that it makes you want to watch a cutscene as much as beat up some thugs.
Much has been made of the plot point of the Arkham Knight himself. I certainly understand the deception that was at play with the character (think Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness) but the inclusion of this new foe largely works in favor of the story, minus the overwhelming feeling that they named him the Arkham Knight just to nail down a title that was consistent with the rest. What doesn’t work is everything after the Knight’s identity is revealed, as he is essentially shuffled off with no followup.
While one antagonist left a little to be desired, it was Scarecrow who t took the cake from the beginning, receiving another ghastly redesign and a stronger presence to great effect. Yes, I wish they would find a deeper motivation for him beyond “He wants to cause fear because HE’S EVIL,” but the design, writing and vocal performance by John Noble is so irresistible that it’s hard not to see this iteration as the best Scarecrow representation in media yet.
Like the previous entries, Arkham Knight has its little things to pick at, but like those games, I hardly think those things will be what we remember in the coming years. The fact that this piece of software has acted as a complete narcotic for several weeks on end is either a frightening realization of this writer’s priorities or the hallmark of excellent craftsmanship.
I prefer to think the latter but feel free to congratulate me on my Arkham-free way of living next time you see me. Hopefully I’ll have given it up by then.