Batman: Arkham Knight Review: Be Vengeance, Be The Night…

…Be Batman! That take on the advertising campaign for Rocksteady’s final Batman game, Batman: Arkham Knight fits perfectly, as Rocksteady has created a masterpiece game that brings the Arkham trilogy to a close and once again gives players the ability to step into the role of Gotham’s protector for one final go.

The series began in 2009 with Batman: Arkham Asylum. That game changed comic book/superhero games forever and established a mythos that would carry over to three additional games (four, if you count the 3DS/PS Vita Blackgate titles). Arkham Asylum took the very best of what made Batman beloved — gadgets, detective skills, free-flowing hand to hand combat, and a rogues gallery of villains — and presented it in a way never seen before. Though the very end battle was incredibly silly, Arkham Asylum was, by far, the best Batman game ever, and was only supplanted in 2011 by its sequel, Batman: Arkham City.

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

Batman: Arkham Knight features the biggest Gotham City yet.

Interestingly enough, Arkham City itself had a silly premise: After Arkham Asylum was closed, Gotham officials closed off a portion of the city and let the criminals and madmen roam free behind thick, heavily guarded walls. Batman was forced to go in to stop bad things from happening. Even though the idea was a bit off, it turned out to be a veritable masterpiece of both gaming and Batman lore, and is still considered one of the best games ever made, and —  even though it was highly-rated here at TheHDRoom, by yours truly, no less — it deserved a perfect 10. (Yes, I’m still haunted by the fact that I did not give Arkham City a perfect score — which would have been my first ever given in almost 20-years of writing game reviews. Since then, I have dished out only four perfect scores, most recently for the much-deserved Witcher III: Wild Hunt).

The series stumbled when Warner Bros. Games brought in Warner Bros. Montreal in 2013 to create a prequel/filler game called Batman: Arkham Origins, but now, six years after first stepping into Batman’s cape and cowl, the series comes to its end and Batman — and his beloved city — are in for a long, terrible night.

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

In Batman: Arkham Knight, Gotham is once again in trouble, under siege by The Scarecrow and his militant army, led by the mysterious Arkham Knight. The Arkham Knight knows Batman inside and out, and has trained his troops to counter the Caped Crusader’s every move. This presents a challenge, but Batman is not alone, as members of the Bat-Family join in the fun this time. Barbara “Oracle” Gordon has a much bigger role here, as does both Robin (Tim Drake version) and Nightwing. All three — with help from Alfred and Luscious Fox — assist Batman as he tries to discover the identity of the Arkham Knight, defeat Scarecrow, and settle his own past demons — demons that he himself created via his past actions.

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

Batman has story-based missions, but he also has a full boat of side stuff to do, some of it tying into the events of the story, others tying into each other in neat ways. This gives Rocksteady a little leeway to bring in some fresh villains, and bring back some classics, all with the intent of either bringing down the city or the bat or both. The biggest addition here is the Batmobile. This over-powered tank is just what Batman needs to help take back his city from Arkham Knight’s army. And while a fully playable Batmobile is a very welcome addition to the series, some of the missions that require its use border on silly (silly is a constant theme in these games, apparently), as Batman and his tank have to do platforming, racing, solve Riddler riddles, and take on hundreds of drone tanks either patrolling Gotham or in special missions.

Whatever joy that driving the Batmobile brings is abruptly ended when, late in the game, Batman and his car have to take out a few boss-battle enemy vehicles that defy all logic and become absolute exercises in frustration. Most of this is due to the slippery controls and precision driving needed to win these battles. It is a tank, for the most part, and tanks aren’t usually called in to drive on walls and ceilings and stealthily sneak up on other tanks to target small exhaust ports on their back sides. Rocksteady could have mixed it up a bit more and maybe not have forced players to use Batman’s tank for some of the most important battles in the game.

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

Sadly, this battle is from a cutscene.

If there is one thing that Rocksteady has had issues with in this series, it’s the imbalance of boss battles. In Arkham Knight, big time hand-to-hand battles with Batman’s rogues are all but gone, replaced by tank battles. After the frustrations of button mashing in the previous games, I would have liked to have actually had one decent fistfight here in Batman’s last Arkham game, but instead, I’m left to play hide-and-seek with super tanks that can move alarmingly fast around the streets of Gotham.

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

Here’s an image you’ll see plenty in Batman: Arkham Knight.

Aside from the Batmobile issues, Batman: Arkham Knight has a rather dark and twisted story, which is to be expected when Scarecrow is the main villain, and it helps to offset the Batmobile silliness. Bad things happen, and yes, there are actually two or three good jump scares. The 18 or so missions in the game range from diffusing bombs in the street (using the Batmobile, no less), to seeking out Penguin’s illegal gun trade, to stopping Two-Face and his goons from robbing banks. Combat and sneaking missions are way better dispersed here, and it feels much more natural than in previous games.

Combat has been refined and the power of Batman is on full display. Gadgets can be used during fisticuffs, making for some pretty killer takedown scenarios, and Batman can even team up with his allies (and the Batmobile, of course) to tag-team the bad guys. In fact, this new co-op combo feature is one of the highlights of the game, and I took advantage as much as I could, because it felt like something Batman and Robin and Nightwing and Catwoman and, yes, even the Batmobile, would do.

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

Batman has never looked better than he does here. The move to new-gen has truly paid off, and the shadows are darker, the details are finer, and there is so much more going on visually due to the better processing speeds of the newer consoles. On this long, terrible night in Gotham, rain is falling, and seeing how the drops wick off Batman’s cape as he soars over his city is a prime example of the graphical power here. The neon signs on Founder’s Island are in stark contrast to the dark, beat-down buildings on Bleake Island (Gotham is made up of three islands in Arkham Knight). This is a wonderful playground to have fun in, and Rocksteady has done a stellar job is building it. In addition, the character models, which looked good before, look stunning now. I have found myself trying to take in all the nuances of Scarecrow’s face and outfit whenever he’s on screen, and the new Batsuit (even more armor this time) looks absolutely fantastic.

The music and voice acting are once again best in class, with the acting coming off as the best in the series. Kevin Conroy, Jonathan Banks, and John Noble as Batman, Gordon, and Scarecrow respectively are near-perfect, and other surprise actors and characters totally take Batman: Arkham Knight to a whole new level of audible presentation.

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

In addition to the main story and the side quests, AR missions are scattered throughout the city, and players can participate and share results on a global leaderboard. It gives Arkham Knight some post-story legs, but there is also a New+ story option that opens up after the Scarecrow is defeated (that’s not a spoiler, I mean, this is Batman we’re talking about.)

In the six years since Rocksteady presented their take on the Batman mythos, gamers have been treated to some of the best comic book/superhero moments ever. Rocksteady understood the character and his motivations, and the tweaks they made (they killed the Joker in Arkham City, for crissakes) all worked to create their own take on the Batman story, while borrowing aspects from all the other iterations (films, animated series, comics, even the 1966-67 TV show). Batman: Arkham Knight is the culmination of all of that, and it is a a helluva game to go out on. I personally would like to see Rocksteady given the rest of the DCU, or at least the Justice League and see what kind of killer game they could pull off.

Batman: Arkham Knight is not without its issues (see: all previous mentions of the Batmobile), but all-in-all, it’s still an incredible gaming experience and a true love letter to Bat-fans new and old. Rocksteady has ended their run as conservators of Gotham City, and hopefully they will return to the DCU soon with another tale from one of DC’s iconic characters. Until that time, there are riddles to solve and thugs to beat up, and still much more to do here and in the previous games. Batman never rests. Not while his city is threatened. And Gotham City is always under threat. Thank you, Rocksteady, for allowing me to step into the cowl and protect her for three wonderful games. I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman.

Batman: Arkham Knight is available now for PS4 and Xbox One. The PC port has been suspended and will be made available at a later date. This review is based off the PS4 version of the game purchased at retail.

Batman: Arkham Knight Review
out of 5

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