Rocksteady’s Arkham series supposedly comes to a close with Batman: Arkham Knight, recently released for current gen consoles. Following up Asylum and City with an open world adventure that gives players access to a fully fledged Gotham, this time held hostage by the Scarecrow in a fear campaign lifted almost directly from Batman Begins, and traversable by the tried and true grapnel gun or the newly implemented Batmobile. That Batmobile has been been a serious bone of contention for many reviewers, not for its awesome Burnout-inspired driving capabilities but for its ability to transform into a full-fledged tank. Sequences where the Bat takes on automated drone tanks (remember, Bruce doesn’t kill) controlled by mysterious new villain and Scarecrow ally Arkham Knight have been heavily criticized as boring and repetitive ever since these mechanics were first previewed but I don’t really get it. I fully enjoyed these tank missions and found them, along with the previously mentioned driving, to be a welcome change from the series’ usual blend of combat, exploration and puzzle solving.
Not that Arkham’s usual formula has grown stale, not by a long shot, especially since the game as a whole seems imbued with more of a Shadow of Mordor inspired streamlined focus this time around, as opposed to something as bloated and overwhelming as the recent The Witcher 3. Combat feels better than ever, charging opponents now quickly brought down with a projectile thrown by double tapping the L trigger and various throws and holds employed depending on the direction of the analog stick pushed during a counter. Mission structure gets a big boost too, a new mission wheel being used to choose the Dark Knight’s next objective rather than just trying to clumsily locate icons on a giant, unorganized map. Some of these side mission options have to be stumbled upon before they can be accessed though, which makes unexpected encounters with the likes of b-listers such as Firefly and Man-Bat all the more satisfying.
Graphics are exactly what you’d expect from the current PS4/Xbox One era, absolutely flawless, Gotham’s rain slicked streets looking almost photo-realistic aside from the slightly stylized character models, which wisely avoid the threat of the “uncanny valley”. Performance is decent, with the frame rate only hiccupping when vehicle sequences get particularly chaotic. Production design maintains the series’ usual excellence, character designs carrying over from the franchise’s past for the most part but getting a big upgrade (Batman’s technologically advanced uniform, Scarecrow’s ghoulish new look) where applicable, Gotham itself appropriately gritty with just enough neon thrown in, never veering into ridiculous Schumacher territory, and the Batmobile design is a near perfect amalgam of the beloved Burton and Nolan versions.
Sound design is nearly perfect as well, a booming orchestral soundtrack scoring the action, and Kevin Conroy back in the cowl as Batman, with Fringe’s John Noble and Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks turning in excellent takes on Scarecrow and Gordon respectively. Several iconic voices from the franchise’s past return, though saying exactly which one(s) may spoil one of the game’s most brilliant twists. Thug voices and dialogue are also far more varied. In Arkham Origins I felt like every single henchman I encountered was voiced by Futurama’s John DiMaggio, and I felt just terrible having the Caped Crusader repeatedly pound Bender into a paste.
This game was my most anticipated of the year and it hasn’t disappointed. In form, function, style and substance Arkham Knight exceeds expectations, and if this is really Rocksteady’s last dance with the devil in the pale moonlight they’ve left some mighty big bat-boots to fill for the next developer Warner gives the keys to the Batmobile.