PC, PS4 and Xbox One – US$59.95
RockSteady’s latest installment in its critically acclaimed Batman: Arkham franchise looks pretty awesome. After nine years’ worth of development, Batman: Arkham Knight takes the London-based studio’s vision of DC’s Dark Knight IP widescreen. It is, they insist, the final installment. Famous last words, I say.
Batman: Arkham Knight is set 12 years after the events of Batman: Arkham City, and if you’ve not played that game and you don’t want its plot details revealed to you, stop reading now. In the years since the Joker died there’s been relative peace, with many of the city’s criminals keeping a low profile. This all changes at the start of Arkham Knight with the arrival of a brand-new character, the dark outfitted Arkham Knight, and the return of that dastardly Scarecrow, who announces that he’s placed fear toxin bombs throughout Gotham. The authorities respond by evacuating the civilian population. Criminals overrun the streets. The rest I’m not saying!
What’s really strong here, and eerily convincing is Batman’s general POV, and, therefore, the caped crusader’s view of Arkham City. The geographical map is at least five times the size of Gotham City but it also has the intricate architectural and topographic detail us fans dote upon. Arkham’s daunting but splendid skyline is a sprawling series of walkways, inner-city gardens, advertising stands, neon crosses and commercial signs, Gothic spires and galvanized city light are even at play for moments with moon shadows. Even China Town glows a familiar red, from its cutout rectangular and rounded paper lanterns to its streetlights, while miles of warehouses dominate the city’s rain-slicked old cobblestone streets and docksides.
A beautiful clock tower is the super-secret headquarters of Oracle and looks like something out of the mind of the mad Australian savant auteur of lithographs and literature Mervyn Peake in his Gormenghast trilogy. Well, never mind Titus Groan… every carefully created section of the city has its own distinct artistic sense of style, while melding in as part of a cohesive whole.
As intimidating as the game’s big city environment may be, navigation isn’t. The clever grapple-and-glide mechanic from Arkham City is in use again so that you can utilize Batman’s cape to glide around Arkham, employing dives and the Bat-Claw to gain momentum, extending hang time. It’s very, very fun! The glide mechanics have been way improved, allowing players to slalom through the air to cover greater distances.
The game’s hand-to-hand combat has improved. Cape-flick, jump, beat-down and counter are all very slick. Now, however, players have a tricky flip move they can use to send enemies flying or use to disarm opponents and turn their weapons against them. You’re also able to use pieces of Batman’s immediate environment to finish off opponents; after all, there’s nothing like watching Batman play skull wars with a goon’s head against various static objects.
Probably the single biggest feature in Batman: Arkham Knight is his eternally mythic automobile. RockSteady has finally fulfilled the demand for a better Batmobile. This version has infused Batman’s iconic set of wheels with its own unique look. The Batmobile in Arkham Knight is metal-plated beast; its moving panels make it seem to be breathing, every fart of fire from its exhaust like a dragon temporarily sedated with Paxyl.
Equipped with heat-seeking missiles, while it’s unable to plough straight through Gotham’s tenement blocks, the Batmobile can smash through street fixtures and concrete barriers. The Batmobile is very user-friendly. It even arrives with the touch of a button, triggering a cool bit of business where the caped crusader flies through the air like a soccer goalie, lands all feline on the pavement and nods as the Batmobile comes flying towards him before he leaps into its cockpit. There’s also an ejector seat and when he uses it, he flies up there parallel with the skyscrapers from the Batmobile and doing so at high-speed sends him up several stories into the air. Speaking for myself, though, well, the whole thing made me a bit carsick.
Absolutely first-rate fun. The Joker, I don’t even miss him!