Batman: Arkham Knight is an absolutely terrible Batman game
I want to just say, before we get started, this is going to be a spoiler-ific opinion piece. This is also going to touch on probably nearly everything Arkham Knight gets wrong. It is not a review, but considering the state of the PC version, I have no idea when I will be giving it a proper review. I have extensively researched all that I can on the game's story that I was not able to directly experience. That all said, let's get started on figuring out why this game is so terrible at being an Arkham game.
Yes, you heard me right. In being a Batman game, and being a proper sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, Batman: Arkham Knight is a complete failure. It misconstrues what makes an Arkham game great and in turn mutilates itself into a generic third-person sandbox game; it's not even a very good one at that!
Let's start off with the reason so many fans were eager for this one, the story. Who is the Arkham Knight? Is Joker really dead? Is Batman going to die? These are the questions everyone kept asking themselves as Arkham Knight approached. Yet, when we finally get our answers, we more or less found out Rocksteady has lied to us in every way it could.
[SPOILERS BEGIN HERE]
Let's start with the elephant in the room, The Arkham Knight.
The Arkham Knight is not a "new character" like they claimed. He's Red Hood, aka Jason Todd, aka the second Robin. We all knew it was too convenient that Red Hood even looked similar in his DLC promotional material. Not only is this obvious from the minute you hear the Arkham Knight talk, but the new twist on how Jason became this way is even weaker still.
He didn't actually die, apparently Joker just twisted his brain into hating Batman by torturing him enough. Nevermind that this failed to work with Tim Drake in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Tim was able to resist it, after months of torture, and strike the Joker down. Either Rocksteady is saying is that Jason is even weaker than that (which means he can't possibly measure up to Batman like the Arkham Knight is supposed to), or they just made a huge plot hole as to why Jason would go this insane.
At least in Under the Red Hood, his arc and decisions made sense.
They also continue to fail in explaining how Jason created this new persona, or even how Batman never found his horribly injured apprentice in the remains of Old Arkham - we even see Batman running around in there in the first game, Arkham Asylum. How exactly could Batman have missed Jason with his magic cowl vision?
He claims Joker sent him a film showing Jason's death, but why would Batman not try to at least find the body first?
This is Batman, he doesn't take a cursory glance. He's supposedly the world's "greatest detective."
That's not even counting the fact that apparently the Arkham Knight gets his private army thanks to funding from the various criminals in Gotham. Except, we see early reports of his troops being trained way back as a Black Ops force led by Jason. So which is it? Is Jason the Arkham version of Solid Snake, or is he just a whiny brat given an army to throw at Batman.
Another main problem with the Arkham Knight is how he is lapdog to Scarecrow. It isn't ever made particularly clear why they chose to work together, and often they contradict each other. The Arkham Knight wants Batman dead as soon as possible, while Scarecrow wants Batman to slowly suffer. There are at least three points in the game where the Arkham Knight has Batman dead to rights, but Scarecrow prevents him from killing Batman.
Then when they finally fight, Batman wins easily because "reasons."
This is blatant character shielding at its worst.
It destroys almost any belief that Jason would keep taking Scarecrow's orders. They are the Arkham Knight's army, not Scarecrow's. If Jason wanted, he could kill Scarecrow, and take out all of Gotham in one night. It wouldn't even be that hard.
We're told Gotham is at war, but really, we never see Gotham at war. There are some riots, and a few looters, but the story never allows for a full-scale war like advertised. In fact, Gotham is pretty empty.
Some would argue the emptiness makes sense and adds to the ambience, but it really doesn't. We're told Arkham Knight is the ultimate "Be the Batman" experience, but instead, it's far from it. This is Batman pushed to the extreme, at his most inhuman. If we really wanted to be Batman, then city shouldn't be evacuated. In fact, there should be a Watch_Dogs style auto-generated civilian-saving system. We should prowl Gotham constantly, not treat it as little more than Arkham City made bigger.
Yet, destroying personal property, lying to and manipulating all those closest to us -- these are apparently what it means to be Batman. It's not about upholding the law, it's about crushing crime under our billionaire boots because we can afford to be above the law. With recent real world events where even just cops using military grade gear has resulted in horrible tragedies, you'd think Rocksteady would have the sense to address this sensibly. But no, being a violent vigilante who is genuinely dangerous and not necessarily even a hero is what being Batman is.
I'm Batman... so that means I can't be in any way accountable for my actions!
Batman may be a power fantasy, but Arkham Knight twists that power fantasy in all the wrong ways for its dark climax. This isn't the caring, constructive Batman of Arkham Asylum. Nor is this the scared, unsettled Batman of Arkham City.
No, this is a psychotic dog that needs put down.
The game implies that Joker's blood transfusion from Arkham City's plotline may be affecting Batman, but it is far worse than that. No disease can excuse him turning into an immoral bastard who betrays and belittles nearly everyone he cares about. Even Joker was too clever to be this awful to most people, which he actually points out several times, because he was the next thing Rocksteady skirted with a lie.
Yeah, Joker's "dead", but he is still a major character in Arkham Knight. Somehow they even got Mark Hammil to lie about doing voice-over work for the game. It seems it is impossible for any Arkham game to focus on any main villains other than Joker. Even in death, he cannot stop being a voice talking in your ear. Even though many were even excited that Arkham Knight would focus on Scarecrow and its titular "new" character, Rocksteady brings the Joker back.
What's even worse is that it leaves several key things unclear. It's uncertain what actually happens in real life, and what is in Batman's imagination near the end of the game. You see, at one point you play as Joker, and even right now, I am not entirely sure if you actually did the things he does, or if it's all in Batman's mind.
The problem is that this is a linear game, so like in Assassin's Creed III with the Homestead missions, the actual order of events is unclear. So, did Batman really go crazy and temporarily become the Joker? Because then at least the focus on him becoming inhuman might hold a shred of credibility. If it's all in his mind, though, then what was the point?
Yet, we see those people alive later on in GCPD lock up, so those deaths would only be in Batman's mind... taking all the punch out of them. And why is Killer Croc only present here as a cameo?
It takes what could be a very dark and serious turn for Batman and instead leaves you questioning what is really happening. It's not a great twist, it's not even a good one because it undercuts its own impact. Any chance at poignancy is lost, and instead it just rings hollow by the game's conclusion. And that makes the most terrible twist of all somehow even harder to swallow.
Yes, they went there.
Oracle "dies" for a vast part of the game, shoved into a character fridge. Late in the game, we learn she's actually not dead, but still used as a hostage. After that, they then have her affirm all of Batman's actions and his failure to find her, even though his failure to locate her is the exact same thing that happened to Jason.
"We're fighting with you, not for you." Sorry Barbara, but not really. Most of the time he barks or grumbles at everyone to stay out of the way or do something for him. You aren't allies, you're subbordinants in his personal war on crime. She gets to help with one fight for the GCPD building via hacking, then never really comes up in the plot ever again.
You could argue that since she's the almost constant companion to Batman over the course of the Arkham series, having a larger role than Robin or even Alfred have had in past games, that it makes sense she'd be the one Batman would be most concerned about. Except, by taking her away for so long, she barely remains important to the plot as anything other than an objective. That's a horrible way to treat one of your most important characters, if nothing else.
Nightwing, Commissioner Gordon, Robin, Alfred, the Arkham Knight/Red Hood, and Batman all make it through the experience relatively unscathed. At worst, the Commissioner and Robin both get briefly held hostage right at the end, mainly just to try and make up for the fact that Barbara is finally free. At one point, Batman gets shot, but literally shrugs it off moments later. No matter the situation, the male characters make it through fine.
This is a series with a long established undercurrent of unintentional sexism, and that remains the case here. You know what helps clinch that fact? The only character who really dies is ALSO a woman, Poison Ivy.
What's worse in Ivy's case? Oh, she's treated less like a person and more like a tool for Batman to use. He immediately locks her up when she's threatening no one during the opening hour of the game, then when he needs her, he just pulls her out of jail and commands her to do his bidding. She dies doing this, saving Gotham city in the process. Scarecrow even points out that Batman is simply using her as a shield for Gotham. It'd be a heroic death if not for how she had basically no agency.
The only woman who gets treated right in Arkham Knight is Catwoman. At first, she is captured by the Riddler, but it makes sense for the Riddler to be gunning for both her and Batman. Not only that, but she and Batman actually have a mutual interest in defeating the Riddler. Catwoman even saves Batman in the end, depending on what order you solve the Riddles.
Catwoman being a temporary damsel is not nearly as big an insult to her character as Rocksteady making Barbara nothing more than someone you need to save, or making Ivy nothing more than a means to an end, not even really a person.
I'd talk about Harley Quinn's portrayal but seeing as she's hardly in the game, there's not much to say. They still don't give her a proper boss fight, she's still playing second fiddle to someone else, and still amounts to way less than she has in the comics.
Sadly, the story does not get better from there.
In fact, even in its final conclusion, Arkham Knight just can't get its act together. I'll just let you watch first. Go ahead, take your time with this clip.
What you just saw there folks, if my stupidity meter is correct, was a "buy our DLC to see what happens!" ending. Not a real ending. Nothing really feels resolved. We get left with a bunch of questions that didn't need to even be raised if they'd used any other type of ending. Instead, no, Batman doesn't die heroicly. He dies selfishly, covering his own arse.
They try to explain it away with Gordon's narration, but really, a war of escalation will happen regardless of if there is Batman or not. Which obviously Gordon should realize, but for some reason doesn't. Even the writing team behind Arrow would tell you that is ridiculous. We also see that apparently Robin and Oracle and getting married... because we just forgot to write that subplot in?
Then, at the end, we get what is either Bruce or Azrael using Fear Toxin as a new version of Batman, leaving the door wide open for DLC or another developer to make further sequels. That's how you write a finale, right? You leave tons of stupid questions that get introduced last minute.
This ending is simply terrible and is the final nail in the coffin for a game that clearly needed a better writing team or at least a proper editor to fix the plot holes and errors. Arkham City may have been a bit awkward at the end, but it at least was still enjoyable and fit the universe.
Batman still had enough mercy in his heart to save Joker, even after he killed Tahlia Al Ghul, and caused Bruce so much additional pain on top of that. You don't even get that meager amount of "it's still Batman" here. Instead, you're supposed to feel pity for a man who has given you basically every reason to dislike him intensely.
Batman lies and manipulates Robin and Gordon. He doesn't even own up for his failure to find Jason, only finally saying "I'm sorry." He hardly even acknowledges Nightwing as an equal. He only seems to care about Selina because of romantic interest in the most selfish regard. He runs someone over as an interrogation technique. He pummels the psychologically broken villains he faces instead of ever trying to help them become functioning human beings. There is no reason to feel bad at him possibly dying by the end of this. Batman is a horrible person in this game, and you almost feel bad that Jason fails at taking him down.
As if that weren't bad enough, let's get to the gameplay side of things.
I want you to look at this picture very closely.
Does that look like something a man who abhors death and guns would drive? No, no it does not. Even the Tumbler version of the Batmobile in Batman: Begins was more passive than this thing. It's two bipedal legs away from being a Metal Gear. In no way did we need a playable tank in a Batman game. Even though I actually had very little issue with it in terms of controls, it still felt out of place.
Here's one example as to why -- you have to fight unmanned drone tanks. Because, some of the most expensive hardware today can be bought enmasse, and just casually thrown by one operator (seriously, they're all piloted by one guy) at a vigilante in a far superior tank. It never occurs to the Arkham Knight to just destroy the tank while Batman isn't in it. No, instead, the Batmobile is left intact. Always.
Also, when not being a tank, the Batmobile is still a manslaughter case waiting to happen. It "knocks out" people by zapping them with electricity but still sends them flying or runs over them. It can ram cars so hard they explode, yet somehow the passengers survive. It can fire rockets that send said cars flying and exploding. Still, the passengers survive. You can fire "non-lethal" rounds into crowds of enemies. Please tell me when this starts sounding more like Batman and less like a vehicle befitting Killzone or Terminator.
It is so tonally inconsistent that you almost cringe as you pop off shots at enemies like it means nothing.
It's an understatement to say that the Batmobile is forced into the game. Rocksteady tried so hard to press the damn thing in our faces with their PR, that they even had the cast and crew talk about it. It didn't matter if their characters or work in the game never came in contact with the Batmobile, it had to be talked about, because "BATMOBILE!"
And by golly did we get that Batmobile, as you spend more time in the opening hours of the game riding around in it than you do any of the normal things you experience in an Arkham game. It's easily over two hours before you hit the second Invisible Predator stealth section. Brawls are few and far between. But you fight a ton of tanks!
Oh, and are you a fan of Invisible Predator mode, I hope you really didn't like feeling like every stealth section was like a flexible puzzle. Stealth is no longer about picking off enemies and proper gadget usage. Instead, it's about exploiting the Fear Takedown system, getting enemies to group up, and navigating terrible level design.
Long gone are the intricate stealth sections of Asylum and City. It's time for huge environments with no real flow or direction to them.
The open world is so large and lacking in proper layouts that it loses the Metroidvania feel of past entries. Even Arkham Origins felt more like a proper play space than this version of Gotham City. It has a grand size to be sure, and it's beautiful from above, but that doesn't make the levels any better. Even interior environments seem to be so desperate to be larger that they lose their sense of scale.
When you infiltrate Oracle's tower while it is being assaulted by Arkham Knight's goons, there is an exterior, and two whole levels of interior environments. Except, there's still only like nine enemies, and they are all grouped closely together. So you do a Fear Takedown on three of them, zip away, take down one to charge up your Takedown meter again, take down another three, and you only have two enemies left. They haven't even finished their first patrol of the perimeter, and you are nearly done.
It's not satisfying either, as it means you don't have to put nearly as much effort into taking out enemies. Now, don't get me wrong -- the Fear Takedown system is a decent idea in concept. It's basically a non-lethal version of the Mark & Execute system from Splinter Cell: Conviction. You take down one goon, then have the ability to take out three in close proximity to each other, in a chained sequence.
You will use this ability a lot more than you'd think you would, because the new stealth levels are so sloppy that the auto-targetting for grappling away is constantly swapping objects. You'll struggle to go to the right vantage point or ledge on a regular basis, so you will just try to end each sequence as quickly as possible.
Oh, and the only real balance to the Fear Takedown is the new Medic enemy class. Except you can make the medic be your first takedown or have him be one of the guys you use the Fear Takedown on, thus nullifying his existence. Same for just taking out Medics first in brawling sections. They are so poorly implemented that there's not much point to their existence.
Speaking of poor implementation, I'll let this Kotaku article give you an idea of how badly handled the PC port was.
Yes, seriously, Warner Bros. apparently knew just how bad the PC port was and found it "acceptable."
I can't begin to tell you how that feels, as a loyal consumer who's played basically every Arkham game on PC.
And if you need more proof, just ask Total Biscuit how "great" the PC port is.
So, let's review:
- The story is a complete trainwreck.
- Stealth encounters are broken.
- The Batmobile is completely out of place.
- The open world is vapid and empty.
What else is wrong? Well, they managed to break the challenge mode and make it now be "VR Challenges" set in the sandbox instead of in individual maps like in the past games.
The DLC campaigns thus far released (Harley Quinn and Red Hood) are both only about eleven to thirty minutes long depending on the difficulty setting. All current DLC characters are already in the game as was discovered with a handy little mod to let you play as them in the sandbox.
So, you basically are paying for some slightly new levels to play through briefly with the current DLC offerings.
Even the side quests are underwhelming. Professor Pyg? Manbat? Deathstroke as a tank boss fight? This is the grand finale A-game AAA material Rocksteady had planned? We've been promised a "season of villain" bringing in more villains, but they aren't in the game. Instead, all the new villains will be DLC, which just makes it even more insulting.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a complete and utter mess of a sequel. For even the greatest positives in its favor, there are far larger negatives. To tweak Rocksteady's own trailer's closing words: