Title: Batman Arkham Knight
Genre: Third-person action
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4
Also available on: Xbox One ($49.95 on Amazon)
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: June 23, 2015
This game is rated Mature for adult audiences.
Video game sequels get a lot of flack. As consumers, we expect an experience in each additional installment of a franchise that delivers that same "wow" factor we originally had with its predecessors - games we often see through a rose-colored tint.
Credit Rocksteady, then, for introducing the most intense storyline yet in "Arkham Knight," what is expected to be the finale of the developers' trilogy following the exploits of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Also give them credit for introducing a Batmobile that is not only functional, but a sexy and game-changing mechanic.
But don't credit them with living up to the hype.
The promises of a brand new villain, more interesting combat and the ultimate way to "Be the Bat" are all achieved - somewhat - by Rocksteady, who have deservedly earned their title as masters of the interactive superhero adventure. But there are underlying issues that keep the game from being the final chapter Bat fans were excited about. What is supposed to be the shocking reveal of the true identity of the Arkham Knight has the same emotional punch of Marion Cotillard's reveal as Talia al-Ghul in "The Dark Knight Rises" - comic fans see the Knight's identity coming a mile away, and it does little to take away from the far more interesting story about what's going on with Bruce.
When we meet the Batman at the beginning of "Arkham Knight," he's trying to foil a plot from Scarecrow that plays out quite similarly to the plot of "Batman Begins." Jonathan Crane has threatened Gotham, which had a short period of peace following the death of the Joker at the end of the events of "Arkham City," with a fear toxin. He's joined by the enigmatic "Arkham Knight," who seems to have an intimate knowledge of Batman's moves. The innocents have fled, leaving the streets of Gotham conveniently populated by just a pack of ruthless thugs that Batman can punish with impunity. Which is good, because when the Batmobile shows up early on the punishment is doled out quickly and forcefully.
The Batmobile's mechanics comprise the bulk of the new combat, though there are some new treats in the traditional hand-to-hand and "Predator" stealth modes that make these sections feel fresh. Much of the criticism for the Batmobile is deserved - it takes the place of many of the inspired boss fights from the previous Arkham outings in what can feel like repetitive, rhythm and visual cue-based combat. I wanted more of the sniper-type showdown you have with the Arkham Knight at one point, and less of the mashing-the-fire-button that came with tank battles against him and Deathstroke.
You will feel like the World's Greatest Detective in this game, using gadgets and the Batmobile to acquire the now-obligatory Riddler trophies, hunt down a serial killer and cripple the Arkham Knight's militia, which has taken over the streets with a series of roadblocks, watch towers and sentry drones in the air. The backstory of bit characters - some who appear and some who are noticeably absent - is once again handled excellently by Rocksteady with supplemental text and audio for those of us that have pored over pages of the Batman's comic book adventures.
That brings us to the game's disappointing conclusion, which features once more an inspiring performance by Mark Hamill as the Joker in flashback sequences. Much of the last hour of the game is a figurative journey through Bruce's mind (the reasons for that become clear as you play), and while it's all great from a storytelling standpoint, as a player you're not DOING much. Arkham Knight, then, continues the series' (and, indeed, most video games') fatal sin of not knowing how to tie together exposition and gameplay into a finale that feels worthy of the time you've invested in the world. Even the so-called "true" ending, for completing 100 percent of the required tasks (yeah, I found all 243 of the Riddler challenges), doesn't have the panache the game's hero deserves.
What Arkham Knight winds up being, then, is a very polished, very dark take on the character that should delight fans of the previous video game outings, movies and comic books alike. But don't expect it to live up to its lofty goals.
Verdict: 4/5 stars