New All Things Geek Contributor & Gamer Sandy Roffey declares Batman:Arkham Knight lives up to the hype!
(Some game spoilers follow)
I admit I was nervous as I turned on the Xbox One to play Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Knight. With three kids and a husband who likes to hog the console, my gaming time is limited and it had been awhile since I had found a game that interested me enough to try to make time for it.
Full disclosure: I haven’t tried the other Batman Arkham games, so this is a review of the game itself, not in comparison to the other games. They aren’t currently supported on Xbox One. But with Microsoft’s announcement that Xbox One will have broad backward compatibility starting in fall of 2015, I decided to go ahead and flip to the end of Rocksteady’s chapter,and start with Arkham Knight. (Part of my reasoning was that I wanted to see if you could follow the story without building on previous story lines. You can. The other part was that I didn’t want to wait until September.)
I tried not to get my hopes up as I grabbed my controller. The last Microsoft game I had been excited enough about story-wise to buy before it came out was Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition, which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment for me, given that I had it before the update, and there were glitches in my game. I selected normal mode so that I could check out the first few chapters before digging in (and so that if the middle kid wanted to try it out, he could.) I was needlessly worried. From the very first scene I was captivated. The graphics were dynamic and game play was smooth. Without giving it away, your very first action in the game gives you a feeling of power and control, and visually it’s enough to get your fires burning.
In this chapter of the Arkham series, Scarecrow has gathered some of Batman’s biggest foes to join him in handing Batman his greatest defeat.
After a brief playable prologue, you’re Batman. The graphics are unbelievable, and Batman’s character and voice are so, well, Batman, that you can believe you’re standing in a now overrun Gotham or gliding over the broken city–or, and more on this later, driving the Batmobile through streets whose only inhabitants are a criminal element. Within seconds the visual appeal is almost (but not quite) overwhelming. It’s gritty and dark, but so realistic you can see reflections off of muddy puddles in the street.
Even though AK is not the first game in the series, the first task of going to meet Jim Gordon is basically a tutorial. I was easily able to figure out how to use the glide and grapple hook functions, as well as a few sweet fighting moves when I came across a few thugs. Good old Jim is as serious and dedicated as usual, and his interactions–and those of other characters, i.e. Oracle, Tim Drake/Robin, and Lucius Fox, are pretty informative.
Now about that Batmobile. I can’t say enough about Batman’s signature vehicle. If you’ve played Forza or other driving games, the controls for the Batmobile are similar. Unlike driving the Warthog in Halo, you can use the camera independently of the steering and it comes with a plethora of extras like turbo boost, battle mode, and later in the game, a winch for removing troublesome obstacles. In battle mode you’re afforded all the firepower you need to destroy tanks and all the maneuverability you need to escape them. The Batmobile is useful and badass, but most of all, it’s just plain fun. My only (mild) criticism would be that the Batmobile is also required for a good many missions, especially the Riddler’s challenges, so if you’re like me and have zero depth perception, it can make things somewhat more challenging. That said, if you’re tired of driving at high speed (and why would you be?) you can hop out and glide around the city looking for bad guys.
The best thing about the game, though, is its commitment. It’s committed to its engaging and fulfilling storyline, its characters, and (perhaps the most important) to allowing you to get more bang for your buck. Between the story that will alternately thrill and disconcert you, games within games, training challenges, a new Batsuit, the playable Batmobile, the ability to choose which side-missions you want to complete in addition to your main goal (defeating Scarecrow and several other baddies), the Riddler’s puzzles, and the downloadable content (hello, Harley Quinn), Rocksteady has done the impossible: convinced a comic fan that Arkham Knight’s Batman story is as good as, if not better than, the comic book version of our hero.
Without giving too much away (really, it’s worth finding out on your own), Batman has always been a character with his own demons. Arkham Knight plays that out to its fullest realization, including a sequence where you get to play Joker inside Batman’s head. The story gives you both the physical manifestation and the consequences of Batman’s demons and his reactions to them. The Arkham Knight, on the other hand, gives a huge nod to the comics while still playing out its own unique character arc, which of course interweaves with Batman’s as the Arkham Knight becomes a villain strong enough to contend with the Dark Knight. If I have any critique about the story (spoiler alert!), it is the roles Oracle and Catwoman have in Batman’s development towards the middle of the game. Oracle was perfect in the beginning of the game, even as a supporting character, but eventually she becomes Batman’s primary mission and even his motivation. Saving Catwoman is a fun mission, too, but again, I’d like to see my strong female characters get to be tough without Batman’s intervention. Ultimately, though, it’s a video game, it’s called “Batman”, and it does moves Batman’s storyline forward, I just found the rest of the story so good that I would have liked to have seen more autonomy for Babs and Selina. I think my wishes will come true when the Batgirl DLC comes out sometime in August/September.
In following the story and its characters, this player found herself so immersed in the game that dinnertime went unheeded, phone calls went unanswered, and I’m pretty certain there was a diaper shift or two that my partner had to take while Mama used the fear takedown on the bad guys. In the same way you can immerse yourself in a good comic, you can immerse yourself completely in Batman: Arkham Knight. I not only loved this Batman, I was this Batman.
And as they say, if you can be Batman, always be Batman.
Cover Art ~ Rocksteady/DC Interactive
Interior Art ~ Author’s screenshots