Month: November 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight

AK

Save Gotham City from an insidious new threat and confront an enemy from your past.

PC Release: June 23, 2015

By Ian Coppock

What a twisty-turnsy journey it’s been for Arkham Knight, the conclusion to Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham saga. When it hit store shelves in June, Arkham Knight was received by the console community with universal acclaim.

In the PC community, it was received with derision and frustration. The PC port of Arkham Knight was plagued with so many issues that for most, it was unplayable. I myself was unable to get the game running on a $2,000 machine with all the latest tech available. Arkham Knight was so bad that Warner Brothers pulled the game off of Steam for four months, putting in the patches and optimizations it should’ve had at launch, and re-released it a few weeks ago. I decided to re-buy the game (praise Lord Gaben for Steam refunds) and give it another try.

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Batman: Arkham Knight is the sequel to the excellent Arkham City, and the end of Rocksteady’s “Arkhamverse” Batman games. Set one year after the events of Arkham City, crime in Gotham is at an all-time low, and its citizens walk the streets never having felt safer. All of that changes on Halloween night, when the supervillain Scarecrow appears brandishing his latest strain of hallucinogenic fear gas. He threatens to engulf the entire city in the stuff, and Batman emerges from the shadows to stop him.

Scarecrow is not alone in his fiendish plot. All of Batman’s enemies have united under Scarecrow’s spooky banner, including such mainstays as Two-Face, the Penguin, Riddler and Harley Quinn. Scarecrow is also aided by the Arkham Knight, a masked mecha-batman who harbors a grudge against Batman for some past wrong. Together, these foes are determined to kill Batman and set Gotham to the torch.

Scarecrow wants to turn Gotham into a hellish monument to Batman's failure. The Arkham Knight wants revenge.

Scarecrow wants to turn Gotham into a hellish monument to Batman’s failure. The Arkham Knight wants revenge against the Dark Knight for a past misdeed.

As citizens flee Gotham City and the town turns to chaos, Batman calls upon his own group of friends for aid. Players are once again aided by Oracle, who we see in person for the first time, as well as Nightwing, Robin and Catwoman. Commissioner Jim Gordon and the GCPD are also determined to restore order to the streets and aid Batman in any way they can. For the first time players can also drive the Batmobile (aw yeah) and tear it up on the streets of Gotham, be it against the Arkham Knight’s soldiers or the criminal gangs running amok. You can even team up with your allies in fights and switch between them as you take down bad guys.

The scale of the Arkham games has achieved its biggest leap with Arkham Knight. The very heart of Gotham City is yours for the taking, scattered across three massive islands. The game is easily four or five times bigger than Arkham City, and you can traverse it by gliding and grappling across the terrain or jetting down Grand Avenue in the Batmobile. Each district has its own distinct feel, from the gaudy neon of Chinatown to the stalwart steel of Wayne Tower, and the entire production is drenched in an atmosphere even more dreadful than that of City or Asylum. Rocksteady is to be commended for designing such a wonderful rendition of Gotham. Muted colors and excellent atmospheric effects combine with a mournful soundtrack to produce the city of fear that the Scarecrow seeks to build.

Players can traverse the entirety of Gotham City for the first time in the Arkham series.

Players can traverse the entirety of Gotham City for the first time in Arkham Knight.

Rocksteady also continued to innovate the gameplay of the Arkham series, adding new features and refining existing mechanics as they’d done after the previous games. Rather that providing new gadgets, players are given most of the same gear they had in Arkham City, with new uses. The hack tool, for example, can now be used to blow things up to distract guards during predator encounters, while the electricity gun thing can short out stun batons. Remote-controlled batarangs can now be used to scan the city from afar, giving Batman more ways to find his enemies.

The enemies in Arkham Knight have rounded out their arsenal, too. The Arkham Knight, somehow aware of all of Batman’s strengths and tactics, has trained the grunts you’re up against to fight you specifically. Enemy medics can quickly revive foes you’ve knocked out, while thugs equipped with specialized scanners can sense your detective mode. Some enemies even wear optic-reflecting armor so that they don’t show up on your cowl’s HUD. Somehow, though, for enemies supposedly trained to fight Batman, these guys are not as apt as the TYGER guards from Arkham City when it comes to mining vantage points or using signal jammers. In fact, the enemies aren’t that much better at fighting you than any other thugs you come up against at all, so I suspect the whole “we know how you fight” thing was just for show.

The enemies in Arkham Knight have more tools, but not more brains.

The enemies in Arkham Knight have more tools, but not more brains.

Gameplay in Arkham Knight returns mostly unchanged from Arkham City, with a few abilities that are simply more amped up than before. You can now soar higher and punch harder, but the game mechanics and free-flow combat system offer little else in innovation. The game does add environmental knockouts, like smashing people into fuse boxes or crushing baddies under chandeliers, but anyone even remotely familiar with past Arkham fight sequences will find little new challenge here.

Also like before, Batman can use his detective mode to find enemies through walls and light up points of interest. Disappointingly, Arkham Knight contains very few crime scene investigations, one of the series’s qualities I found to be novel. Instead, Arkham Knight focuses almost exclusively on action, which, while not a bad thing, left the game feeling more homogeneous than previous Arkham titles.

You don't do as much detective work in Arkham Knight. Some, but not as much.

You don’t do as much detective work in Arkham Knight. Some, but not as much.

I suspect that the lack of innovation in Batman’s gameplay came from Rocksteady focusing on the Batmobile, the obvious new addition to his arsenal. The progeny of a race car and an M1-Abrams, the Batmobile allows Batman to take the fight to his enemies in the most un-Batman ways possible. Racing through the streets of Gotham in pursuit of bank robbers makes perfect sense, but transforming into a tank to battle other tanks? Yeah, that’s fun too, but it feels glaringly out of place. The Arkham Knight has some conveniently unmanned tank drones (by “some” I mean “a shit ton”) and you have to duke it out in World at War-style tank battles. I could never get over how foreign the concept of tank battles is to the Batman universe. Maybe it was shoehorned into the game to appeal to Battlefield fans,  I don’t know.

The Batmobile has its own arsenal of tools to help you out, including power winches and immobilizer missiles. The problem is that you can’t use these tools to play the way you want to. I found myself in pursuit of an enemy vehicle that could’ve easily been knocked out by my main gun, only for Arkham Knight to proverbially slap my hand and insist I stay in car mode. When challenges are challenges because of nonsensical restrictions instead of logic, it becomes very noticeable. The Batmobile is also shoved into some of the game’s main puzzles, which works in some areas and is dreadful in others. The vehicle handles like a slippery tub in car mode, making it difficult to turn around or put the brakes on.

Driving the Batmobile is a lot of fun, but it's a rocky, rocky road.

Driving the Batmobile is a lot of fun, but it’s a rocky, rocky road.

Okay, so the gameplay is a mixed bucket, what about the narrative? Veteran writer Paul Dini did not return to pen Arkham Knight after having done City and Asylum, and my God does it show. Arkham Knight‘s narrative has some commendable highs, but a lot of it is the same old routine of kidnappings, prisoner swaps, re-kidnappings, and villains rubbing their paws together that we’ve already seen twice (thrice, if you played Arkham Origins). Though Scarecrow certainly looks freaky and is provided an excellent voice, his droning about fear and failure gets old fast. Villains returning from previous games have also changed little. Because Scarecrow is in the game, Arkham Knight contains some psychological sequences that are interesting to watch. Though, sadly, the Scarecrow platforming from Arkham Asylum does not return.

The highs of the narrative are concentrated into two areas: your encounters with side villains, and in the interactions between Batman and the Arkham Knight. For Arkham Knight‘s side missions, Rocksteady dug deep into the Batman lore and found some obscure, I mean really obscure, bad guys to go up against. All of them have more of a gore and horror theme than baddies past, which I enjoyed. And of course, because they’re little-known, presenting these guys gave Arkham Knight some novelty that the main narrative was missing.

Most of Arkham Knight's minor villains are little-known, and they're all creepy as hell.

Most of Arkham Knight’s minor villains are little-known, and they’re all creepy as hell.

The best part of Arkham Knight‘s story is the titular character, who represents the character flaws and failures of Batman. This Arkham Knight fellow hates Batman with a passion and somehow knows everything about him, including his true name of Bruce Wayne and all of his Bat-tactics. The Arkham Knight is a kaleidoscope of everything the Dark Knight does poorly, from his mercy toward unrepentant psychopaths to his inability to foresee more of the situations he falls into. The Arkham Knight will stop at nothing to make Batman die painfully, and it’s these interactions that save the story from being an otherwise boring trifle.

As one might expect, there’s a plot twist concerning the Arkham Knight’s identity that Rocksteady builds up to throughout the game, but anyone even casually familiar with the Batman lore will probably guess who he is long before the dramatic unmasking. And if you’re not familiar with Batman lore, don’t worry; Arkham Knight spends 30 minutes conspicuously telling a side story about a character from Batman’s past who hates him… and knows everything about him. Hmm, why make this side story stick out like a sore thumb if not for a grander purpose later? A person who hated Batman, and now a person who hates Batman? I’m no detective, but…

The rivalry between the Dark Knight and the Arkham Knight is the best part of the story.

The rivalry between the Dark Knight and the Arkham Knight is the best part of the story, despite ruining its own plot twist.

The final thing you need to know about the PC version of Arkham Knight is that many players are continuing to experience bugs. Reports of crashes, framerate drops and other issues are continuing to pour in despite Rocksteady allegedly having worked on this port for almost 120 days. I guess I got lucky; the only bug I experienced was my video settings occasionally reverting to their defaults, but that was really it. But, I have a really nice machine. And you shouldn’t need a really nice machine just for a video game.

Warner Brothers’ handling of this entire fiasco has been terrible, to be honest. They’ve essentially flipped the bird at PC players by shoving this game back onto Steam with comparatively few fixes and only a $10 drop in price. The DLC is also offered at full price, so there’s very little coming from Warner Bros. in terms of a peace offering. If there’s anything that developers need to remember, it’s that you should never piss off PC gamers. Most of them are much less forgiving than I am.

You should see the forums.

PC gamers are going to remember Warner's unfortunate carelessness for a long time.

PC gamers are going to remember Warner’s unfortunate carelessness for a long time.

I had a pretty good time with Arkham Knight. The story had enough novelty to keep me interested and the gameplay, while mostly unchanged, is still satisfying. I would only recommend getting this game if you have a decent PC and really, really love Batman. Warner is offering refunds through the end of the year no matter how much playtime you have, so I would recommend giving it a go just to see if it works. If not, send it back and no harm done.

One last thing; the DLC is only worth it on sale (as is the case with virtually all DLC). The two-dollar “story” packs are basically a series of fight maps with a few cutscenes in-between. The Batgirl DLC was pretty good, but I’m not sure it’s worth seven bucks. Get it for three, if you can.

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You can buy Batman: Arkham Knight here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

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