In 2009, Rocksteady Studios and Warner Bros. interactive would change the superhero video game landscape as we know it. Batman: Arkham Asylum reinvented what a superhero video game could be. A strong narrative, incredible action, beautiful art direction and design, superb voice acting and plenty of nefarious villains were all components of the brilliant Arkham Asylum video game. Now, six years and three installments later, Rocksteady has released its final entry in the Arkham video game series, Batman: Arkham Knight. Set one year after the events of Arkham City, the games follows Batman's pursuit of Scarecrow, who has launched an attack with his feat toxin on Gotham City, which prompts a city-wide evacuation.
One year after the death of the Joker, Batman/Bruce Wayne is struggling to come to terms with the death of his nemesis after the events of Arkham City. With the Crown Prince of Crime absent from the streets of Gotham, many of Batman's other enemies such as the Penguin, Two-Face, Harley Quinn and the Riddler unite in order to destroy Batman once and for all. Leading this charge is Scarecrow, who threatens the city with his fear toxin bombs planted throughout the city on Halloween night. Gotham's six million civilians are evacuated, leaving only Commissioner Gordon and his Gotham City Police Department outnumbered by the city's criminals. Aiding the Scarecrow in his plans to unleash terror on Gotham is the Arkham Knight, a mysterious masked mercenary who targets Batman. He has his own personal army, hundreds of drone tanks and a huge influx of cash from the city's biggest criminals. His knowledge of Batman's strengths and weaknesses is paramount to his gradual conquering of the city's three islands - Bleake Island, Miagani Island and Founders' Island. No one knows who he is, where he came from or what his motive for taking out the Batman stems from.
Compared to the previous entries into the franchise, the gameplay in Arkham Knight is essentially identical. The Akrham franchise has, in my opinion, one of the most responsive and refined fighting systems across any genre. To freshen things up, Rocksteady has added a host of unlockable new upgrades to the batsuit, batmobile and the Caped Crusader's array of gadgetry. In certain fighting scenarios, you're able to seamlessly switch characters, as well as perform dual takedowns, which create for some awesome ass-kicking.
The biggest new component to the series' gameplay is the addition of the batmobile. Fans have known for quite awhile that this would be an added feature. The first few minutes spent in the high-tech/war machine vehicle were fantastic. The batmobile is really an integral part to the game, sometimes too integral. As much as I like having the batmobile, it became a bit overbearing when it's needed to complete so many missions. And as fun as firing canons can be, I surely got tired of repeatedly dodging other drone tacks while trying to destroy fifty militarized vehicles. Nonetheless, I'd rather have the batmobile in the game then not have it, and it does add a layer of depth that the previous entries don't.
Visually, Arkham Knight has reached new heights for the franchise. Arkham Knight surpasses its predecessors in visual complexity. The character models are more realistic, and emotions more expressive. The world of Gotham, visualized by the Rocksteady crew, is more alive than ever. Neon lighting, rain and smoke never felt more real. The stunning map size, and the huge skyline of Gotham is a monumental achievement. Arkham Knight takes place on three islands within Gotham City - Bleake Island, Miagani Island and Founders' Island.
Bleake Island is on the northeaster corner of Gotham. Notable locations (and probably the most important in the game's main story mode) includes GCPD Headquarters, Panessa Film Studios, the Clocktower and Ace Chemicals. Bleake is the game's heartbeat. Essentially, you'll start and end the story here for some of the most incredible moments. Miagani Island is toward the southern end of the city, and includes locations such as Wayne Tower, Eliott General Hospital, and Grand Avenue. Finally, Founders' Island houses buildings such as Wayne International Plaza and the Killinger Department Store. It's the area that is almost entirely under construction, and even sports a beautiful skyscraper project from LexCorp. The Gothic architecture of the city is a juxtaposition between terror and beauty. Gotham is one of the world's most unique places, and Rocksteady has brought it to life like few others have ever done.
One of the other underwhelming aspects of Arkham Knight is the boss battles. On top of the fact that they rarely appear, many of them don't have the feel of being a significant showdown. Most of the time, a boss battle in the game is the batmobile engaging in a battle with another vehicle, which usually came from the Arkham Knight's personal militia. The Arkham Knight's attack chopper, cloudburst tank and his excavator certainly don't pack as much of a punch as Solomon Grundy or Mister Freeze from Arkham City. Even near the end of the game, the biggest showdown involves the batmobile taking on a militia of countless drone tanks. This happens a few times, actually.
Arkham Knight has been positioned to be the end-times for the Dark Knight. Coping with the death of his nemesis, Batman faces a horrifying threat in Scarecrow, as well as an unfamiliar foe who has surfaced in the criminal underworld of Gotham. The game's two primary villains, Scarecrow and Arkham Knight are worthy opponents of Batman. Initially, I was worried that they would fail to live up to the iconic stature of the Joker, but they add a level of eerie terror that the series hasn't seen. Not to mention, the Joker has a larger role in this game than any of the previous editions. He pops up in random locations across the city - hanging on ledges, tucked away in dark corners, sitting in elevators. Mark Hamill delivers another masterful performance as the Joker like no one else could.
The game's main campaign is fleshed out through about 12-15 hours of story line missions. Along the way, Batman encounters his impressive rogues gallery, who all unite to destroy him once and for all. This positions Batman to overcome Scarecrow's plot to overthrow Gotham, put an end to the bank heists of Two-Face and his gang, rid Gotham and neighboring city, Bludhaven of the Penguin's weapons dealing operations, outsmart the Riddler's challenges to save Catwoman and sudbue Harley Quinn, who seeks revenge for the death of the Joker. But the Dark Knight doesn't go it alone. Aiding him is his trusted butler and caretaker, Alfred Pennyworth, Wayne Enterprises CEO, Lucius Fox, Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, covert hacker and technician, Barbara Gordon, and her father and police commissioner, Jim Gordon.
These obstacles create a sense of finality to the franchise. Batman has to overcome his biggest threats thus far, while trying to rid his mind of The Joker's presence. It places the main character at gripping odds that challenge his psyche. There's almost a sense of duality that takes place, making us realize that the Joker and Batman are more alike than they are different. The root of the story is fixated on fears. What is Batman's biggest fear? What is the Joker's biggest fear. These questions are explored in a cunningly impressive way that seamlessly integrates with the story. While Scarecrow is billed as the main villain, it can certainly be argued that the Joker is still the king of playing antagonist to the hero of the night. Kevin Conroy is amazing as usual, voicing the vigilante once more. Scarecrow, voiced by John Noble, is menacing and vile, while proving as the ultimate psychological threat to Batman. Superb voice acting, a well-crafted story mode and larger-than-life characters make this an utterly enjoyable experience.
After waiting four years for a true sequel to the incredible Arkham City, Rocksteady has delivered the goods. Sure enough, i'll be enjoying Arkham Knight for a long time to come while I complete the main side missions/conquests as well as the game's downloadable content. The Arkham video game series has redefined what a superhero video game could be. Before, we had few examples of what a good superhero video game could be. Over the past six years, Rocksteady has created and developed the blueprint of what a near-perfect experience could be like with your favorite comic book characters duking it out in a video game world. Not only is Arkham Knight the greatest superhero video game every created, but the Arkham franchise is the greatest superhero series of video games ever created. The ultimate winners are us fans. Arkham Knight is the proper goodbye and send-off to an era of quality video game experiences that could rival the best Hollywood blockbuster films.