Batman Arkham Knight is the close to a specific arc of Batman that Rocksteady started back in 2009. Across the last six years, they’ve told a story that is reminiscent of some of the most treasured Batman tales in media: Batman The Animated Series, The Killing Joke and now their own original tale: Arkham Knight. Everything you’d want from a Rocksteady Batman title is here, with the big change being the inclusion of the Batmobile. While the Batmobile seems unceremoniously inserted into mechanics that are tried and true, it succeeds in changing up the formula and only slightly takes away from The Caped Crusader’s final Arkham story.
Let’s get right to it: the Batmobile. It’s the big new addition to Arkham this time around, whereas an open world and an general introduction to the characters served as stop-gaps in the past. You’re introduced to “The Batmobile” in fantastic fashion almost immediately, and you quickly realized that the vehicle is a tied-to-the-waist companion through this entire game. It’s funny, because maybe the first six to seven hours of the game are incredibly Batmobile focused, with the later half being much lighter on the vehicle. The first major “gadget” upgrade you receive is one for your car, and you use it and the other features of the damn car almost constantly. Every mission that kicks off the beginning of the story is focused around the Batmobile.
Controlling The Bat’s car splits into two parts, which Rocksteady labels “pursuit mode”, or more fondly “car mode”, and “tank mode”, which I hope is pretty self-explanatory. The tank modes are not great—full stop. They do not at all fit with the game, Batman, or even the world, because you literally turn your car into a strafing tank with a 60mm canon on its back. Lengthy tank sections plague the entire game, featuring you circling around a small area and shooting at drones (so as not to break the no-murdering rule, because you know, you’re shooting a 60 millimeter cannon) in the most mundane fashion imaginable. Pursuit mode feels at least more like Batman, with you billowing down the street and crashing through anything and anyone in your way.
I’m torn with the Batmobile, because I feel like it controls well and, separately, the tank sections are at their worst, boring. Still, it’s so shoehorned into every aspect of the game, especially when you have to remote control the car to shoot a hookshot into an elevator to raise and lower it when such a section could have just been completely removed as a “puzzle” altogether. And that’s the big thing with the Batmobile: it could have been completely removed altogether. Sure, it’s fun getting around with it, but all the forced tank sections and pursuit sections feel like fluff, not to mention the stealth tank sections, a combination of words that should elicit disappointment in anyone who reads them, all of which are atrocious. The game would have been just as fine without it, and even though I felt more like Batman driving around in car-mode, that doesn’t change how superfluous it ended up being.
There is just too much Batmobile, and even though it is fun to drive around, it feels more like a ball and chain you have to drag around with you by the end of the car-heavy first half of Arkham Knight. Later on? Well, a balance is struck, but at that point, you’re so burnt out on Batmobile it’s just too little, too late.
But the Batmobile is just one of two major additions to the grind of the Dark Knight. Outside of the new gadgets you get to play around with, there is now combat that features two fighters at a time. Mid-combat, you can switch to Nightwing, Robin or Catwoman in certain sections, allowing you to mix up your moves, perform devastating dual-takedowns, and all around look and feel amazing. There may only be a handful of these in the game, but it shows that Rocksteady does know its strengths with a “less-is-more” approach, and they’re all awesome. Especially the team-stealth you get to perform with Robin, that meshes the best ideas from Assassin’s Creed and Batman together. Call in Robin for a takedown from afar? Totally doable, and totally awesome.
And I’d be remiss not to mention how much better the combat feels in this game. I don’t know exactly what it is, especially having played some other Batman titles recently, but every hit in Knight just feels fantastic. Maybe it’s the increased vibration on impact from the controller or the particle effects flying from your fists when they connect; either way, it’s great, and the freeflow combat is the best it has ever been by a mile here. Though the near-endless new types of enemy variations may seem frustrating at times, there have never been more tools and more possibilities at your disposal that open up insane and satisfying combat options in a Batman game before.
Of course, Arkham Knight is the end of “Rocksteady’s Trilogy”, and is a close to this “Arkham Saga” of Batman stories. Being the close to an epic, Rocksteady takes some liberties and clearly defines Arkham Knight as their Batman property, comparable to how Nolan paved the way for his Batman to stand in its own universe, separate from other interpretations. The characters you’ve seen up until this point, the relationships explored beforehand, are all revisited here. Batman especially is given a very deep and personal tale that serves as the heart of the story. Scarecrow and The Arkham Knight himself are a large part of that, but the game is truly about Batman and him coming to grips with who and what he is, and what that means to Gotham. It’s fantastic, and is probably my favorite story in any Batman medium ever. It has a great close, an epic finish and is one of those stories that I think will be remembered in high regard, along with Nolan’s and tales like The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke.
The Batmobile ends up being too much of a good thing, whereas the rest of Arkham Knight is plenty more of great and amazing things. Regardless, the story woven through Knight’s dingy streets may be the best The Batman has ever seen. It ends with a true close to The Caped Crusader’s adventures with only fists, fury and a really dope suit accompanying it.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Playstation 4 version of the game.