Batman Arkham Knight, an extended rambling/review…

I have recently been playing the latest Batman game that came just a couple weeks ago, and now that I have 100% it, I thought I could share some of my thought on the game. I keep this spoiler free, like I do with my movie review, in case you are planing to play it.

I was simply going to get it on Steam but as you may have heard the PC version of the game was utter rubbish. From what I could read online, even with the best hardware money could buy, the game ran worse than it did on the console versions. That gave me an excuse to buy it for Xbox One, which is good since mine was quietly gathering dust for some time now.

I was big fan of the first game, Arkham Asylum, but not quite as fond of the sequel, Arkham City. The first game had a simple but refined combat system. X punched and Y countered enemy attacks. Arkham City had the same system but it didn’t quite feel right. For some reason, I felt Batman was sluggish compare to the original game and the timing for the counter attacks did not seem to match the on screen indicators. It is possible that it is because I played on PC but I have another theory. Comes in Arkham Knight. It still uses the same system but it felt more inconsistent then ever. It seems that when you are fighting out in the city, the controls have that sluggishness from Arkham City, but when indoors or in a closed environment, it feels as responsive as it did in the original game. I think that the big environment causes latency and lag, therefor the combat isn’t as good.

Talking about environments, I was disappointed by the level design in this game, or rather lack there of. The first game had very distinct levels for you to explore. Each building at the asylum had its own feel and special touch in their design. Arkham City introduced the big open, free roam environment and scaled back on interior levels. Arkham Knight doesn’t really have levels at all. The few indoors locations are well designed but to few and far apart in my opinion. Most of the plot happens outside in the city streets and roof. While the city is well designed, it doesn’t conduce to the same level of game play the original game had. when ever faced with a group of enemy to be taken down stealthily, you have a lot more leeway. Instead of having to worry about hiding after being discovered, you can just grapple to another building a fly around for a bit. That feels like cheating to me.

One Mechanic that has changed drastically is the gadget selection. In the previous games, all of the Bat-gadget were mapped to the directional pad, which allowed for quick selection. In Arkham Knight, the directional pad is used for a new set of menus. Up turns on “detective mode”, the blue color overlay that shows enemies and object that can be interacted with. Left opens a menu about optional challenges (which are completely irrelevant to the completion of the game). Right is the story and mission tab, where can keep track of how far you are in each side mission and the main plot. Finally down is the gadget menu, but you don’t just press down to open the menu, you have to keep it pressed and select with the right analog stick the gadget you want. Some times you can just press down once and have the menu stick but I never figured out why. That might seem like a small change but since I was so used to have the gadget on the directional button, I kept finding myself opening random menus thinking I would get the grappling hook or the batarangs.

There also has been a major overhaul of the upgrade system. In the first game, you could unlock almost everything before the end of the story line. While there is still a slow experience and level up system, they dramatically increased the number of unlock-able upgrades. Heck, you can purchase the ability to use certain gadgets while gliding around. To help unlocking the upgrades, all the missions are segmented and completing each segment grants between one to three instant level up. this comes in very handy, considering that some upgrade require eight level to unlock!

One massive new feature in the game is of course the Batmobile! Inspired by the recent Nolan movies, the Batmobile is tank than car, and even has a omnidirectional tank mode. It also come with its own upgrade tree, including additional damage resistance and extra damage. While the concept is cool, the application can be inconsistent. The controls in car mode are similar enough to any racing game, right trigger accelerates, X brakes, A engages the turbo and you steer by moving the left analog stick left and right. When the car is at a complete stop, it can rotate around which is nice if you need to do a 180. The right trigger doesn’t apply the brakes as one would assume (I find that a bit annoying personally), but engages tank mode. In tank mode, you can fire and move in any direction, in a fashion close to an old school twin stick shooter. The left shoulder button, which used to activate the detective mode, now calls the Batmobile to you if you are near a road, which can be rather nifty.

There are couple thing that are a bit annoying with the Batmobile however. The main one is its turning radius. When you are at speed it’s ok because you can sort of put the car into a drift and slide around corners, and when you are stopped, you that spinning thing I mention earlier. The problem comes when you try to go relatively slow, at which point the Batmobile handles like a bus. Trying to move the camera while in the driving mode while most likely and in a disaster as well. The other main issue isn’t inherent to the Batmobile but more of a consequence of it being in the game. Namely it is heavy used as a gadget/tool in many of the story missions. there two common scenario’s: A) there is an obstruction and you need to find a way to bring the car or B) you get trapped and you need to remote control the car to rescue you. The car really shines when you just need to move around the city but feel like the worst kind of escort mission when in the story line missions.

One thing that I felt was a bit of let down was the main plot. Because the main villain is Scarecrow, It’s more of a cerebral mind game than the two previous games. While the Joker’s crazy plans always left guessing what he true intent was until the very last moment, Scarecrow’s plan feels like a succession of red-herrings and distraction meant to make batman go crazy. So there is somewhat repetitive cycle of Batman guessing what Scarecrow is doing, stop him, and Scarecrow being like: “Aha! I expected you to stop me! Have you lost hope yet?”. The titular Arkham Knight is not actually a new character in the Batman mythos but a retelling of a classic storyline, which I found disappointing a bit. They were rumors that he would be a brand new character but that is not entirely true.

There is a “secret” ending if you finish the game at 100% but it doesn’t really make much sense. It would have been the perfect cliffhanger for a sequel but this is the last game in the series. No more Batman Arkham games after this. It felt like a post credit scene for a movie that bombed and never got the sequel made. I am not sure what to make of it but that was probably what they, the game makers, intended.

Finally there are quite a huge amount of references to the DC universe in this game. Lex Corp (Lex Luthor’s shady company)  and Queens Industries (from Green Arrow) both have a building in the city, Superman can be heard being mentioned but some of the thugs around the city, and many other as well.

Overall it is an amazing game, but I feel like it doesn’t match what the original game was. Arkham Asylum managed to find the perfect balance. The level were big and interesting but not convoluted, no gadget felt superfluous, the combat was brilliant and the story was captivating. The bar was set very high and just don’t feel that any of sequels and the prequel quite managed to match that standard.

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