OPINION: Arkham Knight Isn't All Bad
Rocksteady changed the video game landscape in 2009 with the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game was met with critical praise and massive commercial success and proved just how great superhero video games could be. Up until this point most superhero games were mediocre at best, even Batman’s. Arkham Asylum changed this and then just a mere 2 years later in 2011 Rocksteady upped the bar again with the release of Batman: Arkham City. The sequel to the 2009 Batman smash hit took everything that made the first game so amazing and made it even better. And here Rocksteady faced their biggest uphill battle yet, could they cap off their Batman Trilogy with a game even better than the two groundbreaking titles that came before it? Well, sort of.
I’ll get it out of the way now; I’m a hardcore Batman fan. I definitely have Bat-bias. I try to be objective but it exists and from time to time (fine, most times) gets the better of me. With that said, I unapologetically LOVE this game. Now there are certainly problems here that I’ll unpack (I’m glaring at you, Bat-tank) BUT I think the good far outweighs the bad even if it gets overshadowed by it sometimes. The first of those good things that I’ve got to dive in to is the story.
It’s debatable but I’d argue that endings are the most difficult part of a story to write. To have a truly satisfying ending is something that’s really special, and really hard. This is especially true when the story leading up to that ending is just so damn good. If the ending doesn’t land just right you run the risk of spoiling part of that magnificent story you’ve built up to this point. That’s the hill Arkham Knight had to climb, and on top of that it’s about a comic book character that naturally has no end! So did Arkham Knight pull it off? To me, yes. It caps off the Batman/Joker dynamic that had been portrayed so perfectly in these games until this point in a really brilliant way by exploring just how much the Joker has impacted and is a part of Batman.
Alongside this you also get a terrifying (and my favorite) portrayal of Scarecrow finally flexing his true potential and testing Batman’s greatest fears. And at his side is a twist on Jason Todd’s story that even winds itself together with Jokers narrative. Did everyone see the Arkham Knight twist coming from the moment it was announced? Yes. Does that make it less impactful? Kind of? It’s not as shocking, sure. But it still serves the story in the same purpose and honestly holds up really well and is a nice twist for Todd’s story in this universe.
Overall while the story may not live up to the wild chase and wonder at seeing all these villains for the first time in the first two games, it still delivers one of my favorite Batman stories to date. I remember playing through the first time on the edge of my seat for most of it. It also manages to balance the finality of an ending while still maintaining enough ambiguity for the Batman lore and legend to live on eternally.
Now the other big component of this game besides the story is obviously the gameplay. This topic is interesting because it’s an area where the game both excels and also has it’s biggest letdowns. The normal Arkham style gameplay that fans know and love returns and is at it’s most polished. Combat and predator gameplay feel the best they ever have and the huge city to explore really does make you feel like Batman. Then there’s the Batmobile. On the one hand the controls for the Batmobile feel really tight, fluid, and responsive both in pursuit and battle mode. Tearing through the streets and taking out militia tanks is incredibly fun… until you do it 8 million times. This is probably most people’s biggest complaint about this game, and it’s totally understandable. The Batmobile was marketed as one of the biggest new features in this game, and rightfully so. We’d never gotten our hands on the Batmobile in this capacity before and it was a blast, but then there was just too much of it forced on you throughout the entire game. Batmobile sections became dreaded, and even worse, another beloved aspect of the Arkham series, the boss battles, were reduced to tank battles for the duration of the game. This overuse of the Batmobile is a major gripe people have with the game and definitely holds it back from being on the same level as those that came before it.
The last aspects that I would like to touch on are the graphics/photo mode and the post launch support. First off this game looked drop dead gorgeous when it released and it still does. It competes with, and bests, the graphics of a lot of AAA games releasing today. Another thing I had a tremendously fun time with while replaying was the photo mode. It’s not as fleshed out as some photo modes today but it’s still a great time to play around with and take some awesome shots of Batman or just the city itself. The post launch content for this game I thought was pretty good, the first couple of packs, Red Hood and Harley, weren’t great but the Season of Infamy missions for returning Bat villains were worth the money and brought enjoyable new and final tales for these characters.
At the end of the day I don’t think it was ever possible for Arkham Knight to live up to the hype. The levels of excitement and anticipation were astronomical and I don’t think even the perfect game could’ve lived up to this idea of what we all wanted. I think it delivered a compelling and satisfying conclusion to this version of Batman while still delivering a ton of fan service and a real quality experience. The game still isn’t as good as it could’ve been, but I think it still does a lot right and gets an unnecessary amount of flack for being the “worst of the Arkham Trilogy” because after all, the worst of the Arkham games is still one of the best games out there.