Monday, 6 July 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight

This was always going to be a hard game to review. After all, since its debut the debut of the Arkham series back in 2009, it has been hailed as a near masterpiece by many critics and gamers alike. Since the series kicked off it has spawned numerous spin-off games, comics and even an animated film. Needless to say, it's been quite the lucrative franchise to say the least. Now the final chapter in the game series is upon us. However, after Batman: Arkham City set the world on fire a few years ago, can Arkham Knight live up to that greatness?

Developed by Rocksteady Studios and out now on Playstation 4, Xbox ONE and PC comes Batman: Arkham Knight, a fitting final act of the now legendary series. The plot takes place nine months after the events of Arkham City. The Joker is dead and his body has been cremated. With Gotham's most notorious villain now deader than dead, the city is enjoying a long deserved bout of peace. However, within the vacuum that the Joker's absence has caused, bad things are stirring within Gotham. On Halloween night Scarecrow emerges and threatens to flood the city with a new and improved batch of fear toxin. With Gotham evacuated and only a handful of good guys left over, a whole army of Batman's enemies have amassed with one goal on their minds- to finally kill the caped crusader. The story set-up is really f*cking cool, and through all the twists and turns the game takes, you'll come away from Arkham Knight both satisfied but wanting more. 

The basic formula to Arkham Knight largely remains the same compared to previous games in the franchise. Taking on the role of Batman you must fight, sneak and Batarang your way through a large array of missions that will not only take you across the far reaches of Gotham, but also put you up against loads of Batman's most iconic baddies alongside their respective goons. Every bad guy (and girl) is here, including Scarecrow, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Bane, The Riddler, The Penguin, Azrael and Harley Quinn. From the huge selection of missions and side missions on offer, depending on what villain you're going up against, objectives will change quite drastically. For instance, when doing Riddler missions you'll need to solve puzzles, while when facing off against Two-Face you'll have to bust his bank robberies and so on. As each villain falls and is locked up you'll guide the caped crusader closer and closer to his final opponent; Scarecrow. At its heart it essentially plays just like Arkham City, but it literally betters it in even way, heightens the stakes like never before and ultimately crafts a much better story.

Combat is also very similar to previous games too, but it's been tweaked in a few areas. Once again heavily focusing on the importance of blocking and counter-attacking, Arkham Knight's combat truly offers the player a chance to step into the boots of Batman, whether you're dishing out light and heavy attacks, grapple moves or hurling attackers into objects or other bad guys. One nice little addition is the “Fear Takedown” mechanic, which effectively lets the player string together multiple enemy takedowns on unsuspecting foes. The series has of course always given the player the ability to sneak around, but this gives you more of a reason to do so, especially when given the ability to quickly and quietly take down three bad guys who are in your way. Another addition new to Arkham Knight is “Dual Play”. Essentially, this allows the player to instantly control a second in-game character during combat. It can either be Catwoman, Nightwing or Robin, and through using this new feature, you can not only take control of a completely new character, but you can also work together with your partner for dual attacks and moves. It's a nice little addition that shakes up gameplay quite a bit actually.

Just like with Arkham City, Gotham is fully explorable, but this time everything is just turned up to 11. While Gotham looked incredible in Arkham City and had plenty to see and do in it, Arkham Knight puts it to shame. This time the city is around five times bigger than what we saw in Arkham City, and from high up at the top of the many skyscrapers that stretch along Gotham's skyline, to down low in the dark, rainy streets of China Town, a great sense of scale, atmosphere and depth has finally been given to the city. Getting around the city can either be done on foot or via the Batmobile, which you'll be happy to find out controls extremely well. It's easy to use, accessible and, most importantly, feels incredible to drive at break neck speed through the many dingy streets of Gotham. What's more is the fact that, with the flip of a switch, the Batmobile can go from it's default fast mode to a slower, tank-like form. This is excellent for taking out drones and hordes of enemies, but regardless of form you'll find yourself using the Batmobile as a necessary tool in Batman's arsenal in the final act of the game. It does begin to become monotonous to a point though, but all in all the usable Batmobile is a superb addition to the franchise, despite a few minor annoyances.

Coming away from my binge of Arkham Knight the overriding feeling I got from it was that it made me feel like Batman. I know, that's such a basic and flimsy bit of praise, but seriously, whether I was exploring the massive open-world of Gotham, unleashing bone breaking moves on a few bad guys, going head-to-head with a classic villain, zooming down the street in the Batmobile only to open my cape and fly directly up into the air, using the Batarang from afar to smack dudes in the face, silently stalking a group of enemies or simply taking in my epically Gothic surroundings, it all made me feel like I was wearing the cowl. Simply put, it all comes together to deliver the ultimate Batman gaming experience.

Oh and yes, when you find out who the Arkham Knight is under the mask you'll be disappointed, but beyond that mystery there are a lot of surprises still on offer here, especially in terms of certain character deaths. If you've been a fan of the franchise so far, the identity of the Arkham Knight won't be biggest surprise you'll find in the game. In fact, one returning character (I won't spoil it!) makes for one of the best extended cameos in gaming history. If you've played the game you'll know who I'm talking about, but from his interactions with Batman to his voice acting, he's bloody superb!

Batman: Arkham Knight raises the stakes for a fitting finale. 5/5.


Denis Murphy

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