Batman: Arkham Knight – Review (PS4)

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Rocksteady had a real job on its hands back in the late 2000’s – superhero games were generally very poor and the developer had been tasked with delivering a new Batman game. It was a challenge they relished and they ended up revitalizing the game genre, with seamless combat and tight scripted encounters, in 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum. The second game in the series, Arkham City, opened the game world up to a part of Gotham and laid the groundwork for the latest instalment. 2015’s Batman: Arkham Knight is the culmination of Rocksteady’s trilogy of Batman games and a showcase for the graphical capabilities of the new generation of consoles.

Set a year after the events of the previous game, Arkham Knight sees Scarecrow threatening to release a poisonous toxin throughout Gotham. When another, previously unknown, villain – the titular Arkham Knight – lends his weight to Scarecrow’s campaign of terror, it becomes apparent Batman is going to have his hands full. Luckily you’re not on your own, Alfred, Oracle, Robin and more are on hand to offer assistance.

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In the panic and chaos, all of Batman’s greatest enemies come out of the woodwork to take advantage. These villains could easily have been written in throughout the story but are instead optional side content, called ‘Most Wanted’ missions. I felt that this was one of the strongest aspects of the game, as it allowed you to delve into Batman’s relationship with those villains when you wanted to and gave you a choice as to how far you wanted to pursue them. Each villain has 4 or more missions each before you finally get to bring them to justice.

I really enjoyed the side content in Arkham Knight, even more so for the fact that along with specifically choosing to do a side mission, you might just stumble across them because the game does a great job of delivering on visual/audio cues that you might naturally gravitate towards out of curiosity. It felt really great when, for example, I noticed a building on fire in the distance and went to investigate. When I got there it triggered the option to start a Most Wanted mission. Very cool.

My main complaint of the game was the way the Batmobile was handled. Introduced as a new way of getting around Gotham, it does a serviceable job – although I preferred to just glide over the city which was just as quick, in my opinion. Unfortunately the controls never quite felt right for me, with L2 switching the vehicle to ‘Battle Mode’, as opposed to braking – which is usually L2’s function for car based control in other games. It led to numerous occasions where I ended up failing a mission because, in the heat of the moment, I instinctively hit L2 to brake and instead the Batmobile came to a stop and transformed into a tank.

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There are needlessly large car battles and even stealth Batmobile sections, both of which felt clunky and always seemed to break the pacing of the game. At one stage I almost walked away from the game entirely after an extremely draining chunk of time trying to finish one mission. Frustrating doesn’t cover it, especially as for most of the game you feel powerful and in control of combat – the Batmobile stuff just didn’t really work, sadly.

Thankfully that is the only real complaint I had with Batman: Arkham Knight, for the majority of the game I was having a blast and another of the new mechanics, Fear Takedowns, was a big reason. This ability allows you to cherry pick enemies to take out in order. Time stops and as you select targets Batman will automatically knock them out. As you upgrade the ability you can string more attacks together, mainly to be used for face to face combat. This means you can stalk your enemies first, taking them out with stealth attacks, and then confront the last four or five, taking them out immediately in quick succession.

Rocksteady do a fine job of bringing all of the Batman characters that you know and love into the final chapter of their trilogy. I’m not a big fan of Batman but I knew most of the characters here and even the ones I didn’t had interesting enough missions that I got to learn a little about them. There is a huge amount of content in the game, my playthrough was probably around 16-18 hours but that was doing a fair chunk of side content. I had finished the main storyline and completed almost half of the Most Wanted missions with an overall completion stat of 69%, so that gives you an idea of how much is here.

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As much as I loved Arkham Asylum, for me Arkham Knight is a superior game overall. Not as ground breaking as the first title in the series but more fleshed out in terms of game world and content. To have the freedom of Gotham to explore, stumbling across villain missions or just taking in the (gorgeous) sights of the broken city, is a wonderful thing. This is a game to take your time with, to savour your surroundings and the world Rocksteady have created. Unfortunately a lot of the pacing and general enjoyment is ruined by the Batmobile missions – they are forced on you too much and leave a bad, frustrating, taste. Arkham Knight is the ultimate Batman game but be prepared to suffer through a few sections to be able to appreciate it all.

Rating: 8/10

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Batman: Arkham City – Review (PS3)

Batman: Arkham Asylum blew everyone away upon it’s release in 2009. The thing that caught most people off guard was that this was a great superhero game. Of course we had Infamous, which was brilliant but there hadn’t been a decent game featuring a known comic book star for far too long.

That critical, and financial, success meant that the pressure on developers RockSteady was immense to deliver with the sequel – Arkham City.

Taking place in a city environment, as opposed to the enclosed Asylum setting of the first game, Arkham City sees Batman facing off against several well known villians. Of course The Joker is the main antagonist here, along with Hugo Strange, but you won’t be short of cameos from familiar faces.

The idea is that Strange has cordoned off a section of the city to use as a prison and keep all the inmates locked up there rather than house them within a single building.

Fortunately Batman has his grapple hook and cape to help him get around so you’re never too far away from your next mission. I struggled a little to get to grips with the mechanics for some of the air travel and on occasion it felt a little counter-intuative when compared to something like Just Cause 2.

Graphically the game looks great and the atmosphere is nicely set up with ambient noise coming in the form of rain and the chatter of henchmen, among other things.

There are a few missions of the game where you can play as Catwoman – basically a faster but slightly weaker version of Batman – but I found these to be uninspiring for the most part. Perhaps because I don’t know the character very well? Either way if you didn’t get them with your game (only new copies received the codes for download) I would say maybe give them a swerve unless you desperately want to play them.

The developers have stepped up the number of things you can do on the side – from Riddler trophies (there are now over 400 of them to find!) through to genuine side missions featuring new characters (I stumbled on a great one featuring The Mad Hatter). The amount of stuff to do can be a bit daunting but I would repeat the advice I heard from several sources – stick to the main story missions on the whole and then go back and do side stuff when you’ve finished the main missions.

I felt it took a little too long to unlock some of the better weapons/gadgets – I understand they don’t want to make the game too easy too quickly but at times early on I just couldn’t approach fight situations the way I wanted to.

For me that is a big draw of the game – being able to form a strategy and then strike in your own way. It’s a minor complaint and may not effect you if your play style suits what the game wants you to do at that time. For me it meant a fair few frustrating deaths until I nailed the fight the way the game wanted me to.

One other complaint is the fact that there is an alternative ending and I wish the developers had let you end the game that way. Why give you the choice only to then not let you live with the consequences. I’m not saying don’t give people the option to ‘rewind’ and reapproach the situation again but it would’ve been cool to have the choice to have that as your ending.

But I don’t want to dwell too long on the negatives because Arkham City is a really good game. You can tell the developers have tried to think of everything to improve upon the first game and they have delivered a bigger, more open and content packed title. The question is – after Arkham Asylum, was that what you wanted?

Rating: 8/10

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