Note: This review was written after playing a PS4 debug build of the game, which is closely in line with Xbox One. The PC issues were not made apparent to us ahead of writing this review, the copy and score reflect the platform the game was reviewed on.
. That’s my catchphrase for Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Knight. From the outset this is a journey that transcends videogames and storytelling, it’s now the benchmark for any other superhero game to come and it is absolutely a work of narrative art. It’s a dark and lonely place, despite its constant badgering at you because the story it’s telling isn’t wholly yours. It’s Batman’s, too, but in a way no one has ever experienced before. It takes every slice of meaningful media ever constructed around the man, and collates it into one of the single most important Batman stories ever told, only you're not turning the page or watching passively from the couch, you’re living it, one unbelievable moment at a time.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a difficult beast to write about in review form though. As it would be if Batman were real (I like to believe he is), every moment is a challenge and a surprise. His 70+ years of history emerge at every possible moment, and never announced. And like all of the previous games in the Arkham series, Knight takes place in the span of a single night
, leaving our weary but eveready Caped Crusader with a giant task on his hands.
He has help this time around, of course. Plenty of foes fill and command the streets of civilian-evacuated Gotham, but even Nightwing has dropped in from his hood at Bludhaven to lend a fighting stick or two. And in keeping with the same grey storytelling Rocksteady has become a master at, often detractors from the force of Batman’s will for justice become unlikely, but ready, allies to the Dark Knight and the task at hand.
While the game’s story is the most poignant place to kick off this review, I’d be doing Rocksteady and Batman fans a huge disservice in detailing any of it. E3 already spoilt what is arguably one of the best opening sequences to a game, ever, during the Sony pre-E3 presser, so I’ll move on beyond leaving you with this: anything and everything you thought you knew, and expected from Arkham Knight, is a lie. It’s a lie constructed by you, me and anyone else who thought they knew what it took to take this series beyond Batman: Arkham City, or even Batman in general. You should go into this game with fresh eyes and an open mind, because at every turn it’s going to surprise the absolute fuck out of you.
So here’s what I can tell you. Gotham’s three unique islands: Magani, Founder's and Bleake are unbelievably recreated here. This is arguably the most dense and perfect open-world city ever built. It’s commanding in its sheer scale for the basic square kilometers of it all, and while you can effectively glide around the whole space in less than 10-minutes, exploring all of its gorgeous nooks and crannies, as well as its unbelievably crafted and detailed interiors is more than hours upon hours of fun. There’s a design maturity riddled throughout the game-world, like, wherever you go no detail emerges as minute or non meaningful, even if it isn’t an interactive or specific part of the story at-hand. The art team has detailed a dark and brooding world with so much eerie life, it’s like Gotham has truly existed in the real-world this whole time.
What this expanse of space and design maturity has lead to is a break in structured play. Where you could argue Asylum and City broke the basics of Rocksteady’s disparate Batman pillars -- predator maps and hand-to-hand combat -- into ‘levels’ and sections, Arkham Knight merges them and frees up their parameters by giving you more space, more verticality and more options. Skyscraper rooftops and parking garages are now showdown areas for stealth and combat, and can be approached and dealt with in vastly different ways, among many other unique and unexpected environments. Old and new gadgets return and debut respectively, but they’re almost never required beyond maybe an initial tutorial use. While enemies, enemy-types and game-world puzzles and impediments have also been bolstered in ways that dwarf the previous games combined.
Gliding across the storm-filled Gotham night sky never gets old, and Batman’s animations for even minor cape adjustments for pitch and yaw are glorious. His cape beads perfect rain droplets and I challenge anyone who plays to drop out of the night sky, land anywhere and not immediately find a perfect screenshot -- the whole game is a living postcard only Gotham could create, and it’s eerily dark and inviting as a result.
The game’s pacing and invitational direction where side-quests are concerned is also another area where it’s matured. There’s a mission wheel which I initially felt was too ‘gamey’ until Rocksteady’s Dax explained its purpose
, and from the word go when playing the final game proper, it actually held its place. There are plenty of other ‘gamey’ inclusions too, such as the expanded AR missions and challenges, as well as some of the Riddler bits and pieces, but this is Batman we’re talking about and they all still fit and feel at home. And despite the urgency of the main event that takes place, Arkham Knight does a bang-up job making you want to explore the new options and quests on offer, in part because they’re more cleverly tied to how that main event carries out across the city, but I’m treading in spoiler territory now, back to the game.
So the Batmobile is the obvious other major known inclusion here, and it’s a sweet, sweet ride. Most of the time. In fact, if I had to pick an area that didn’t completely gel with me, it’s in a lot of the driving components. The freedom of much better gliding aside, the Batmobile’s controls -- in basic car form -- kick off too clunky to really work with the winding city streets of Gotham. Moreover, using the boost and getting hung up on a wall or obstruction can be infuriating in some chase sequences, partly because of the idea that, as a result of L2 being used to immediately switch into battle mode, it’s no longer the more familiar function of reverse, so makes movement and responsiveness to urgent scenarios tricky to master.
It’s not all doom and gloom, and there’s plenty of upgrading that goes on across Batman and the Batmobile so it does become an easier tool to use, and a lot of its puzzle uses are clever and interesting and contextual to the world. But I’d be lying if I said I used it all the time -- the game’s freedom in gliding was the only sure way for me to get around Gotham, when I didn’t need the Batmobile.
Like the previous outings, completionists will find a huge amount of content to bite into here, but even the story for those of you who only usually follow the main path is a large and expansive one. As mentioned, the Riddler returns but his challenges are more engaging and unique to this new world Rocksteady has created, and regular streetside confrontations with the usual Gotham rabble can throw you into ever-escalating skirmishes. You’ll earn points for leveling up though, so everything you do in the game goes towards a basic progression system that fits with what’s thrown at you contextually, and I applaud Rocksteady for making it meaningful given that Batman is the sort of character who maybe doesn’t need to level up.
Outside of the main game Challenge maps return with Predator and Combat, alongside Batmobile Race, Combat and Hybrid. There’s hours and hours of content waiting in the wings outside of Gotham’s woes, and with a “Downloadable Content” tab, here’s hoping Rocksteady supports Arkham Knight in bigger ways than they ever did with Asylum or City. (Psssst, Rocksteady, more single-player narrative content, please.)
On our review platform: PS4 debug, the game never ceased to amaze and I came across no major issues beyond a very small number of clipping glitches after finishing off a thug or two, here and there -- small development details that will likely be fixed in the game’s updates post-release. But honestly, this is one of the most complete and perfect games I’ve ever played.
From an engagement perspective, and one built from my love of single-player games, it’s impossible to fault the entire package here, even with my Batmobile teething issues. It’s the best-looking game across both console platforms (yes, even over The Witcher 3), but more importantly it just delivers in every aspect you could hope for. It’s challenging and engaging, expansive and enticing. Its game-world is wholly realised and gorgeous to look at, but above all else, it tells such an incredible story in so many new and unique ways, it’s impossible to ignore. Batman: Arkham Knight is a Batman experience no self-respecting fan should miss, and if Batman’s not your thing, then make it your thing. You won’t regret it. Trust me.