The Killing Joke
Following Rocksteady’s excellent Arkham series from the beginning, I knew that the final entry, Batman: Arkham Knight, would have to really prove itself to send off The Dark Knight in a way fans could get behind. And after all was said and done, not only is Batman: Arkham Knight a great send off for the series, it’s also an absolute masterpiece of a game, showcasing just how far Rocksteady has come as a developer whilst becoming the quintessential game for the current generation of consoles and a reason for those without a PlayStation 4/Xbox One to finally upgrade.
Batman: Arkham Knight takes place just under a year after the events of Arkham City – a super villain of the highest order is gone forever, and Gotham seems to be in a real state of fluctuation. There’s a sense of urgency and tension within the air of The Dark Knight’s city, yet the sense of inevitability reigns paramount among everything else. The opening scene sets up the story perfectly, showcasing the dark and twisted side of one of Gotham’s most iconic super villains, Scarecrow, and his plan to drench the city in fear and kill the Bat once and for all. That’s where Rocksteady’s own creation, the Arkham Knight, comes into play. Knight’s role is as important as Scarecrow’s – kill the Bat, take the city, reap the rewards. Yet there’s also a very personal motive to the Arkham Knight’s actions, fuelled by the unyielding power of rage, resentment and vengeance – Knight’s story is one that does not emanate that of a secondary character whatsoever, making his moments some of the most frantic, exciting, and twisted chains in the largely complex cog that is Batman: Arkham Knight. It’s a pure masterclass in writing and pacing and doesn’t let up from beginning to end, providing one final emotional ride into the streets of Gotham City for fans to experience. With a voice cast comprised of Kevin Conroy, Troy Baker, Jonathan Banks, Ashley Greene and Nolan North just to name a few, Arkham Knight absolutely delivers on all fronts.
From the moment you boot up the game for the first time and swoop into Gotham City, the graphics showcased throughout Arkham Knight are breathtaking. While there’ve been some excellent visuals on show throughout this current generation of consoles, I’m set on the fact that Arkham Knight’s graphical fidelity is the best of the lot. From the sweeping skyscrapers of Gotham to the lowly sewers beneath, Batman: Arkham Knight is a true depiction of what the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One can do. Seeing some of my favourite characters in the Arkham series return in this kind of detail was stunning, and there were more than a handful of moments where I’d stop all of the action and just take in the scenery surrounding me.
Arkham Knight doesn’t make too many changes to the near-perfect gameplay chassis that the series is particularly known for. It still has one of the best combat systems around, and players who have had previous experience with the Arkham games will find no big change in this iteration. There are a couple of new gadgets to check out, though, and Detective Mode is as insightful and as beautiful as ever. As one would expect, the generational change has seen the game become a lot smoother whilst fighting and exploring the city – making the experience of being the Bat that much more empowering. I didn’t notice any major fps drops throughout my hours spent inside the world, either. There were very sporadic minor drops when the action really got going–especially in dense city areas–but they didn’t deter the experience whatsoever.
The inclusion of the Batmobile as a fully functional, drivable vehicle in the game is a huge (and very positive) change in the series. Having been skeptical about how the implementation of the Batmobile would work within Arkham Knight, considering Rocksteady’s take on Batman felt more-or-less centred around his adventures on-foot, I was pleasantly surprised by the way it’s been utilised as it greatly enhances the story and makes for a strong contrast with the on-foot, stealth-focused sections. It did take me a little while to come to grips with how the Batmobile worked and all of its functions, considering the brake button is mapped to square (X on Xbox One) instead of L2, but when I got the hang of things I was having an absolute blast cruising around Gotham City. The Batmobile’s impact within the story can’t be understated, either, and spending time coming to grips with what it offers and choosing the right upgrades will really help your progress further down the track when things get fairly chaotic.
As is with all of the other Arkham games, there’s quite a lot to do within the world of Gotham and the side missions are each tied to a specific character within the universe. While you’ll see a plethora of characters throughout the game’s main story, it’s also worth your time to check out the side missions too as a handful of characters from Origins, Asylum, and City return to cause Batman various amounts of trouble. These missions are all conveniently placed within a new easy-to-use UI, allowing you to swap out tasks and map markers very quickly instead of having to worry about dropping out of the experience for too long. AR Challenges are also back, giving those willing a chance to refine their craft; The Riddler’s trophies are also scattered across the place for hunters to collect as well. All of the extra content combines to make a Batman experience that lasts well over twenty hours, with the main story clocking in at around 10 – 12 hours depending on how you handle the missions as well as adjusting to the difficulty spikes the final act of the game serves up. Upgrading your tech is absolutely vital to staying alive in the last part of the story, so there’s more than just one reason to check out the side missions on offer.
Batman: Arkham Knight’s score, composed by Nick Arundel & David Buckley, lends the final hand in crafting a masterpiece of tone and setting. From the first track you hear to the final one as the credits roll, Arundel & Buckley absolutely nail the essence of Arkham Knight with perfection and help create one of the most atmospheric and genuinely dark tales I’ve experienced. There’s a sense of both empowerment and nervousness within the depths of Arkham Knight’s score, and it’s a combination that’s rarely utilised so well in video games.
Furthermore, Batman: Arkham Knight’s sound design is top notch. Those who utilise surround sound, a sound bar or a pair of good headphones will get the most out of the game, but even with regular speakers you’ll hear (and feel) every punch, kick, drift, cannon shot and gravelly Batman snark from the game, all delivered with real clarity and an ounce of grit. The whole sound element of Arkham Knight is completely spot on, and it’s been a fairly long time since I’ve been so taken aback by how good a game sounds.
Batman: Arkham Knight is an absolute masterpiece of a game, there’s really no other way to put it. The final entry from Rocksteady is a masterclass in storytelling, gameplay, and sound, and it’s a credit to the team that they’ve continued to refine and utilise the power of the new consoles to try out new things that have, in the end, made the game that much better. While I had a few problems in the latter stages of the game due to inconsistent difficulty spikes, there’s nothing else I can take away from Arkham Knight. If you’ve yet to find a reason to upgrade to the current generation of consoles and aren’t looking for the trial and error of Bloodborne or the almost overwhelming scope of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Arkham Knight should be the reason you take the plunge. Not only is Batman: Arkham Knight a true example of what the next generation of AAA games can showcase, it’s also an absolute masterpiece from start to finish and a fitting end to Rocksteady’s incredible Arkham series.
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: WB Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC