The Batman: Arkham franchise has been quite an interesting case study into the context of how the industry has changed around it. When Arkham Asylum arrived in 2009, it changed everything. No one expected the success, but it put developer Rocksteady on the map in a big way. It also came out within a year of The Dark Knight, so Batman's popularity was at an absolute fever pitch.
Fast forward six years to the release of Batman: Arkham Knight and things are completely different. The game's iconic and once refreshing combat style has been stolen by just about every third person action game and there seems to be a serious case of Batman fatigue within pop-culture, with the dark, brooding tones, being replaced by bright, enthusiastic adventure of Marvel in the cinemas.
That, the extensive DLC, and post launch, the disaster that was the PC version of the game seem to have made a lot of people a little cautious.
But putting all that aside, the Batman fatigue, the controversy and buisness practices, the question still remains as to whether whether Rocksteady's final instalment in the franchise, Batman: Arkham Knight lives up to being that final send off?
In a word, yes. Rocksteady have crafted an excellent experience that refines their play in interesting and essential ways to provide a fitting farewell for this chapter in the developer's history. The story basically goes that Batman has to take on the Scarecrow, who wants to defame the hero he is and what he stands for. He has enlisted the help of most of the bad guys in Gotham, including a new villain called the Arkham Knight, who has a pretty fierce, but unkown vendetta against Batman. The story is a goodbye for this character and Scarecrow makes a decent main foil with his garish redesign. The story never quite takes off into the stratosphere, but it's great enough for the occasion with some real twists and turns. Without going into spoilers, one character returns for his best work in the series, but he never overpowers the experience like he can in other stories. Sadly, the Arkham Knight mystery kind of fizzles out due to the identity being bleedingly obvious before even getting into the story. He is a mildly interesting presence in the first half of the game, and has a neat design to him. I just wish a little more work had gone into not making him feel so…cantankerous by the end. Besides that though, this is a fitting end to this trilogy of main games, even if by the time you get to the game's third and final ending, it don't quite know what it means. That being said, this is a great little adventure.
That isn't to say there aren't caveats to the rest of the game though.
Lets start with the biggest one, since it seems to be the big, new selling point for the title, the Batmobile. This has been front and centre of all the marketing and is one of the big additions to how the game is changed up. Now, it is worth saying, I think the actual Batmobile is pretty fun to drive. I like speeding through the streets of Gotham a lot, seeing stone barriers and all types of scenery crumble in the wake of the monstrous vehicle. Where this does becomes problematic though is in the games insistence of going into a tank mode. Not only does it more or less fly in the face of a Batman's ideas of lethal weaponry, it betrays a lot of what the Batmobile is. I could write a whole article on why the effect of turning into a tank betrays the substantial weightiness of the vehicle. It turns a real car into something with toy like physics, and the amount that Rocksteady wanted me to shoot at other tanks during the main campaign felt excessive.
This leans into my only other real consideration about that game and that is a shift in tone for the series. One of the endearing things about Arkham Assylum was that it felt like it was a game put together by absolute geeks. It was made by developers who loved the comics and animated series so much that they basically made an extended episode from that iconic show. It was nerdy and understood the more surrealist aspects of Batman lore. What made it so great was that is acted as a great counter balance to Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight. It was more fantastical and didn't feel it needed to justify the more paranormal elements of the story through the telescope of "realism".
Arkham Knight certainly feels a little closer to the Nolan side of things though. Perhaps that is inevitable as the series gets more and more popular, that the series would take on a sense of more 'masculinity' and 'bravado'. And it works! Don't get me wrong. Rocksteady haven't gone over board either, as Poison Ivy still controls big plants and a selection of other things happen we wouldn't see in a 'realistic' Batman-verse, but the plated armour, the tank like Batmobile, Scarecrow's bleak re-design, the Arkham Knight and his military personal, it all paints a much more grounded tone that the series didn't have when it started. I suppose that is up to you as to whether that is a good thing or not.
Batman: Arkham Knight shines just about everywhere else though. The combat has been redefined, which is essential given that everyone has stolen the style. This is certainly the most satisfying iteration of it that I have seen, and Rocksteady show that they understand what makes this combat great more than anyone else. They have several new enemy types, such as medics, electrified units, big guys, robots, and a whole manner of other thugs to throw your fists into. This variety changes your targeting priority and your approach to certain fights. It makes sure most brawls feel fresh and engaging through out the duration of the game. On top of that, there is now a dual-combat which pits Batman and one of his allies against a bigger pool of enemies. This is honestly one of the coolest mechanics in the game as you can switch between Batman and Robin, Catwoman or Nightwing depending on the circumstance to take out opponents, be it in free flow combat or brutal double team moves. It just feels super satisfying.
Besides that, this is an Arkham game. All the other things that make it great are great. The exploration, the stealth sections, that villains gallery, they are all here and on form in the way they were in previous games.
When you get down to it Batman: Arkham Knight is a great game. It has a lot of baggage surrounding it, but if you get a copy (on console for now), sit down and play it, I don't doubt you will enjoy your time with it. This is a fitting send off for Rocksteady on this franchise, and they have done well to honor this pocket of the universe they created. The developer can hold their head high for what they've done for Batman in video games. This is a satisfying conclusion to this chapter in the series and I am immensely excited to see what Rocksteady do next. While not with out its faults, Arkham Knight is a hefty conclusion that should leave you pleased.