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Batman: Arkham Knight review - A beautiful end to a long night

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The problem with my Arkham Knight review is some of the best parts are ones I cannot discuss. These have to do with story, character development and fantastic scripting. There’s a deep love that fans of the Animated TV series will appreciate, which hints would spoil. But considering how big the game is there’s still plenty to tackle.

The final part in Rocksteady’s Arkham Trilogy (though the fourth game in the Arkham series), Arkham Knight is a third person, open world, Batman-em-up of the highest quality. The world is roughly five times the size of Rockstar’s previous Arkham City.

It’s big.

And it’s deep and it’s well-designed. It’s so, so beautiful to look at. Weather effects change slightly for reasons I won’t spoil, but primarily you’ll be looking at Gotham in the rain. This is the best rain you’ll probably ever see in a game, as it’s not only affected by wind, but you see it land and coagulate on objects - including the Batsuit. Lights beautifully ignite drops as they fall, puddles on rooftops ripple with every one.

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The story takes place about year after the previous game.

*Spoilers for Arkham City* After the death of the Joker, crime slumped and Gotham began establishing a peace it had not seen before. *end of Arkham City spoilers*  

After a long absence - not seen since Arkham Asylum - Scarecrow returns with a full-throated revenge against the Caped Crusader. As always, Batman must not only confront Scarecrow but Batman’s regular rogue’s gallery of famous villains: Two-Face, Penguin, Riddler, and others. There’s some handwaving about why they’re back, but by now we know Batman is nothing without his regular and far more interesting enemies. Reasons why they return are never coherent - after all, we are talking about wanting perfect coherence in a franchise about a man who dresses as a bat to punch people.

Scarecrow has begun unleashing his fear toxin throughout Gotham, forcing a complete evacuation of all citizens. As with previous Rocksteady games, the opening moments are special and it’s a pity they were revealed at this last E3. Hopefully, you can experience it fresh as they do a surprising, brilliant take on game prologue - as Rocksteady always do.

The evacuation leaves the city open to the costumed goons all who have practiced their hammy dialogue in the mirror. The only thing missing is twirling moustaches.

In service to the Scarecrow is the titular villain: the Arkham Knight. With a terrifying, but beautifully rendered helmet (based on Batman’s own design) and a voice-scrambler, the Knight has a great deal of knowledge about and hatred for Batman. He is desperate to see the end of Batman and keeps making promises that, by the end of the night, the Bat will be dead.

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The Arkham Knight character was created in conjunction with DC Comics’ major players; this isn’t some throwaway character but one that has the backing of the creators of the Bat universe. It’s a pity then that the Knight comes off as an annoying, whining, angsty teenager; constantly berating and moaning at you, conveying contempt of the deepest kind.

Thankfully, the fights with the Knight are always interesting - every time he appears more of the story develops, too.

The story is perhaps my favourite of the series - though to explain why would mean revealing a central part I feel I can’t. The best thing you can do is not read anything about the story until you play it. Don’t read who’s involved, don’t read what characters appear; later I will do a piece outlining what makes this Arkham the most special in terms of story.

The game is a visual wonder. As indicated, the rain looks incredible - but the detail is what makes it. Considering this is a next-gen exclusive, everything is wonderfully created in a way that makes it seem tangible. It looks and works beautifully on PS4 and I was surprised at what Rocksteady have managed to get out these machines without a single loading screen (except, obviously when you start and when you die).

I mean this is an in-game animation that occurs when you first suit up (even revealing why this happens is a spoiler, so I won’t.)

It’s beautiful to watch.

You get the entire run of Gotham, too. Some buildings can be entered, there are some underground tunnels and of course entire buildings to scale, too. Throughout the game, you will be attempting to stop Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight. You will do this primarily through beating up groups of people with the Arkham series’ signature fighting style. So great is this fighting style, it’s been incorporated into many third-person action games - but no one does it better, more beautifully than Rocksteady.

Added to this is Dual Play fighting, that let’s you, at certain points, engage in cooperative combat with one of Batman’s allies. This is it in action.

After building up a meter, you can perform a Dual Takedown, resulting in fancy, slo-mo animation. Playing as one of Batman’s allies feels different enough to make the combat interesting, but not so different that the sudden switching is uncomfortable. Rocksteady’s ability to get that right deserves praise.

Of course the major new element, aside from the Dual Play (and another amazing move called Fear Takedown that let’s you take out enemies instantly if you surprise them) is of course this little gadget.

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The Batmobile is perhaps the central focus for the game: It’s primarily what separates Knight from all previous Arkham games. It even transforms into a tank.

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The Batmobile does feel sometimes out of place - with large sections, including boss battles and many missions, requiring its use. However, once you’ve learned how to make it an extension of Batman, upgraded it to a higher level, I found it as smooth as the Bat himself. Even the classic Riddler challenges require you to to often utilise the many features of the car to solve them. I really enjoyed the tank battles and found them pleasantly challenging, especially as the Arkham Knight’s forces start escalating the numbers and vary the types of vehicles after you (If you’re worried about Batman’s no kill policy, the game also handwaves this away by saying all the vehicles he blows up are unmanned drones and the people he drives over are merely electrocuted into an unconscious state. Yeah.) The tank battles require you to respond quickly and adjust on-the-fly as the dangers change.

Rocksteady have also made you feel like a detective with its incredible gadgetry and challenging puzzles. For example, one mission has Batman solving a series of murders (reminiscent of the Hush sequences in Arkham City). The game never tells you where the bodies are, only gives you clues on what to look for. Using cameras to trace where handprints are left, where people walked, what they dropped - rewinding and fast-forwarding, isolating frames and so on. It feels like Batman has access to a mobile CSI unit: it’s flashy, feels cerebral and let’s Batman be The World’s Greatest Detective.

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The major issues I had was the poor portrayal of women in the game. Women are used not as people, but plot motivators for the main hero, in a boring trope known as Damselling. It’s unfortunate too given that how incredible the women are: Catwoman, Barbara Gordon, Poison Ivy and my favourite DC character, Harley Quinn. I could overlook it, and many of you can, but I know some readers can not. So be warned that Rocksteady still doesn’t seem to like showing female characters as anything other than needing saving or desirable. (You can blame DC, too, and that’s fine, but given how incredible Paul Dini, Gail Simone and other writers are in their treatment of these characters, it’s unfortunate. Paul Dini, for example, created Harley Quinn and was then asked to write the previous two Rocksteady games. It’s so strange that she wasn’t portrayed very well there or here.) Regardless, I defer to my women colleagues about this and could be misreading it entirely.

It was great to see men of colour, Officer Cash and Lucius Fox appear, each with their own strengths and experience. The game is at least diverse, too.

Rocksteady have created a finely-tuned machine with Arkham Knight. It’s fluid, beautiful, stable; there was no noticeable dipping on the PS4 - even when cars were exploding, people were running and talking and debris was flying everywhere. (Of course there’s a very large Day One patch.) The game is a wonder to behold and an absolutely slick machine to put your hands around. If you thought you felt like Batman in Arkham Asylum, wait till you’re solving crimes, punching twenty men and leaping into your Batmobile without a loading screen in one of the most beautiful games you’ll ever see. Though the dialogue is sometimes a bit hammy - even if brilliantly acted (I mean it’s Kevin Conroy, aka Batman) - the plot a bit nonsensical, there are moments of heart, wonder and brilliance. It could’ve done better in its portrayal of women and it might need little bit less Batmobile - but I simply can’t stop thinking about this game and wanting to experience another, long, endless Gotham night.

And did I mention how amazing John Noble is as Scarecrow? Because, wow. He’s perfect.

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