When you're asked to "be the Batman" in Arkham Knight, Rocksteady Studios' latest release is an absolute treat. Fighting, prowling and being the world's greatest detective is a perfect representation of what it would be like to deal out vigilante justice as the famed superhero. It's just a shame that for significant portions of the game you're asked to do everything but be the Batman.
The big new addition this time around is the Batmobile, and it has proven to be a polarising new feature. There are strafing-based drone battles, platforming sections WITH the Batmobile and even, ridiculously, a few stealth sections.
The thing is, aside from the platforming parts I enjoyed those aspects. Battling drones is fun and satisfying, and the stealth makes for an enjoyable change of pace. At the same time, however, I wholeheartedly agree with those saying that these elements have no place in a Batman game. They just don't belong.
There is simply too much happening in Arkham Knight, and a lot of it ends up feeling like a chore. The plot is simple: Scarecrow is threatening Gotham City, forcing its inhabitants to flee and leaving Batman with a monumental task the villain hopes will finally break him once and for all. Helping Scarecrow is the Arkham Knight – a character created by Rocksteady in association with DC Comics – who has brought a militia and unmanned drones to Gotham.
This creates a large open world with a lot going on. There are outposts guarded by militia forces, flying drones surveying everything from the skies, APC vehicles that need to be brought down, street-side mines that need disarming, missing firemen to be rescued and naturally a few supervillains running amok.
Each of these is represented on a mission wheel for easy selection, but they quickly get repetitive and tedious. In single instances these missions are fun but it turns into a grind once the carrot of a "true" ending is dangled to make players want to complete the game 100%. Some repetition in the side quests of open world games is to be expected, but in Arkham Knight that repetition pervades everything except the main story.
Stopping Penguin, Two Face and other characters not mentioned in the marketing campaign means doing the same mission three or four times in different locations. Hunting down various watchtowers and strongholds makes sense, but reducing great villains to the poster boys for this kind of lazy map-filling game design is a wasteful shame.
The Riddler and his challenges return in the form of trophies scattered throughout the city, but with an additional plot involving Catwoman. The Saw-like challenge rooms involving Gotham's feline femme fatale work well, but not the Batmobile challenges in between. The script may poke fun at the fact that most of Riddler's contraptions aren't even riddles, but that doesn't excuse the fact he built an underground sewer race course for Batman. Think about that for a second. It's insane.
The only purpose these courses serve is to teach players how to control the Batmobile, which is a struggle early on. It doesn't handle like any car you've driven in a game before, and it takes time to get used to it, but once you do it is easy to see why Rocksteady went the way they did. It feels weighty and powerful, like Batman himself.
If only the Batmobile had been left purely as a method of transport. Hurtling around Gotham is fun and the increased ranges of Batman's grappling hook and boost make traversing the map much more fun than it ever was in Arkham City. The game world too is far more interesting and vibrant than that second game.
When Arkham Knight gets back to the basics of the first game – the beautiful, industry-best combat and the areas that were once Predator challenge rooms – the game is incredibly fun. Rocksteady has refined its existing mechanics wonderfully and added to them in great ways over the years.
The Batmobile may be splitting opinion, but everyone should be able to agree that the addition of dual takedowns is incredibly cool and very well implemented. When fighting alongside an ally – usually Catwoman or Nightwing – Batman can execute a dual takedown that sees the two team up before player control is shifted to whoever has been called in.
Arkham Knight does a lot of things very well – the main story is the best of Rocksteady's three, the game looks incredible and it truly lives up to that "be the Batman" tag line – but it is all diluted by an array of scattershot ideas that only bloat the experience. The Batmobile is often crammed into the game where it doesn't belong and the repetition of those side missions becomes a chore.