Batman Arkham Knight - Great Movie, Okay Game
I think most of us will agree - and I'm sure you'll correct me in the comments if you dont - that we expect different experiences from our video games than we do our movies. If I'm right in this assertion, why is it that, over the last two generations, so many game designers and writers have seemed bent on forcing their Hollywood scripts down our throats?
Batman Arkham Knight would have been an excellent movie. However, the play felt marginally better than good, mired by the obligatory Batmobile action and ceaseless environmental puzzles that broke the game's pacing. I'm tired of watching and listening to games disproportionately to the degree that I'm actually playing them. Batman Arkham Knight is just another game in over a decade's worth of experiences where I've finished the game exhausted instead of pleased because the gameplay - sandbox gameplay no less - was made to serve the telling of a linear story.
As with all of my large-scale reviews, I like to break the experience down into categories that I believe best describe all our unique play-style preferences. Let's jump into those categories to get a glimpse of the Batman Arkham Knight experience from your perspective.
Bookworms who enjoy games for their narrative and specific plot points...
You won't often hear me say a game's story is excellent. That's because I believe very few of them are. Batman Arkham Knight's story is excellent, if a bit cheesy at times. It's what kept me playing when I was completely exhausted by the game's formula of encumbering the player with puzzles and driving sequences. All the characters are well-written, well acted and felt authentic for proper a Batman adventure.
There are two awesome twists - twists I won't describe here for fear of spoilers - that I absolutely loved. Although, I will admit, the game telegraphs the second twist (revealing the Dark Knight) by giving you too much information during cutscenes. But, the prior twist is the better, more important one. You'll likely be thankful for it for the entirety of the game as I believe it was the best aspect of Batman Arkham Knight.
Unfortunately, to see the good ending, you'll need to complete all the game's side content. Side content that's either annoying because it's done using the overly clunky Batmobile or, more importantly, side content that just really isn't all that enticing to complete.
For Action Junkies who enjoy fast-paced action and mayhem...
Combat in Batman Arkham Knight is its other strongest feature. I've not played the other Arkham games enough to make a comparison, but battles here are fluid, fast-paced and kept me engaged from start to finish. I was especially pleased with the battle sequences that allowed me to bring one of Batman's sidekicks into the melee. The mechanics to pull off these comic book style rumbles were intuitive and enjoyable to execute and watch in full speed and slow motion.
On the flip side, there's the Batmobile action. Batmobile action comes in three flavors:
- Tank Battles, which are marginally enjoyable, if completely out of context for a Batman Adventure
- Platform Puzzle Solving, which plays as ridiculously as it sounds
- Chase cenes which are hindered by the sloppy controls and a camera that hates you by switching your view on its own volition
For Strategists who enjoy the tactical aspects of combat...
Batman Arkham Knight, in many ways, is like a grown folks' Zelda. And that's not to imply that Zelda is just for kids, but that the theme of Batman games is clearly adult-focused (Batman Arkham Knight is rated 'M' for Mature). Unfortunately, I hate the 3D Zelda formula. Dungeon and Environmental puzzles break the pacing of an adventure and force me to things I don't want to do outside the context of an actual puzzle game.
For example: Picture you're running through an airship to save one of your friends but then you reach a locked door that requires you to scan the room looking for other access points. You find an access point, but it's blocked by a large, metal box. You remember that your hacking tool can hack computers so you hack the computer in the room. Doing so informs you that you can now control the pitch of the aircraft. You adjust the pitch thus moving the box. Then you use your hacking device to lock the metal box in place so
that it won't move back to covering the access point when you readjust the aircraft pitch.
If that sounds exhausting to you, prepare to be very exhausted by the time you finish Batman Arkham Knight. If, instead you are a fan of that type of play in your adventures then you will be in for a treat. Regardless of my personal beef with the formula, I can easily admit that all the puzzles I encountered were intuitive and well designed.
For Builders who enjoy leveling and customizing their characters...
Batman Arkham Knight's leveling system has what I call the Mass Effect Syndrome. Specifically, leveling never made me feel much stronger or superior to the evolving challenges. Likewise, I never ran into any challenges that made me feel the need for sidequesting to get more XP in order to level to overcome them. In other words, leveling was on autopilot. The game didn't really need it. I find more and more games seem to add leveling systems for their skinner box addictive qualities than to add any real engagement value to the player experience.
Perhaps I would have felt differently about the system had I played on a harder difficulty. There are several aspects of Batman and his Batmobile that you can upgrade. So if you find joy simply in dumping earned points to buy better armor and faster reloading weapons, then you'll have quite a bit to enjoy here. Plus, leveling does at least give you access to some really cool combat moves that you couldn't otherwise.
For Explorers who love to search and discover new things...
Batman Arkham Knight is a sandbox. But it's a sandbox at an abandoned playground with dried up sand. After completing a handful of the side missions and beating up a few of the inner city gang patrols, I was bored. Gotham is dark, it's rainy, and outside of trophies or story completion I found no reason to spend more time exploring her than the game required.
In The End
Batman Arkham Knight is another AAA game that suffers from Hollywood inferiority complex. It's by no means a bad game. I'd argue that it's a good game I'd recommend to fans of its story-driven, puzzely action formula.
Author's Disclosure: I conducted this review with a review copy of Batman Arkham Knight for the PS4 provided by Warner Bros.