Even thought E3‘s visions of new games are still dancing in our heads, it’s important for gamers to focus on the now as well; fortunately, just this past week, we got treated to some of the best now that now had to offer. We’re talking, of course, about the latest installment in the award-winning Batman franchise and Batman: Arkham Knight. After the mediocre sales and mediocre reviews of Arkham Origins, Rocksteady is taking the helm from Warner Bros. Games Montreal for this final installment of the Arkham tetralogy, coming into great acclaim to an eager audience. Whether you’re just getting into the series on your PS4, or you’ve been a Batman fan since the days of Adam West, Arkham Knight has a lot to offer fans of comics, beat-em-up junkies, and anybody who’s just impressed by the kind of visuals their next-gen machine can serve up.
With an opening scene of the Joker being cremated and the opening line “This is how it happened... This is how the Batman died”, we know that the award winning Arkham series is planning to go out with a bang. Combined with a visual aesthetic that ranges from Fallout on steroids to Resident Evil, all within the first ten minutes of play, what we’re getting is a cinematic experience that feels like the next Batman film. For anybody who still thinks comic books are child’s play (despite movies, television shows, and yes, other video games that say otherwise), you don’t have to worry about that in Arkham Knight. Every single hero and villain has been brought into full HD glory, with gritty redesigns by Rocksteady’s own team that make these characters feel both believable and extraordinary; if the character is even vaguely human, they’re proportinally correct, dressed in a way that slightly makes sense (except for female superheroes, but that’s a whole new can of worms there), and really do feel like they could exist in our world. Heck, even Riddler looks a little intimidating in Arkham Knight. Yes, that Riddler, the one played by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever. The world, the characters, the conflicts... it’s safe to say that, when stacked up to the old Batman films, Arkham Knight is a whole new animal, and it’s an incredible treat to watch.
Coming into the series this late in the game, new players might feel a little out of place understanding the conflicts in Arkham Knight; without giving away too much, there are a few things you might want to know to get the most out of this game’s dark, detailed storyline. With the first game, Arkham Asylum, we had Batman trapped inside (where else?) Arkham Asylum, Gotham City’s prison for supervillains like Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Bane, Killer Croc, and yes, the Joker. After Batman springs the trap and escapes Arkham, the powers-that-be decide that a newer, bigger super-prison is necessary, setting the stage for Arkham City. Walling off part of Gotham city itself, the new super-prison, named Arkham City, was supposed to be the end-all solution... except for a head psychiatrist named Hugo Strange, set on revealing Batman’s identity and killing off everyone inside Arkham City. While Batman does stop this plan, the Joker finally succumbs to an illness he picked up at the end of Arkham Asylum, causing the world to suspect that Batman may have finally broken his one rule. Where we come in at the beginning of Arkham Knight, a year has passed since City; for the most part, everything is calm... but we know that won’t last, now don’t we?
The Gameplay: Familiar, But Fresh
In what’s become a hallmark of the series, Arkham Knight enjoys the same controller setup as its predecessors, so you could, in theory, play through the entire tetralogy without having to re-learn your control setup. However, that doesn’t mean that Knight didn’t add a few new tricks; new fear-based multi-takedowns, an improved grapnel launcher, and, oh yeah, the freakin’ Batmobile, are enough to keep veterans constantly improving their old strategies. New players will find that the controls are easy to learn but hard to master; the game ramps itself up fairly well, so if you can stumble your way through your first six-on-one encounter, you’ll be on the right track to move on to the truly impressive tricks. Trust us, the first time you knock out twenty armed men without even a scratch, it’s really a feeling like no other.
Even with the new gadgets, however, nothing seems to get lost or marginalized in Arkham Knight. While the Batmobile is easily one of the coolest parts of the game, it did make some gamers slightly wary, due in no small part to Saints Row IV. With the addition of super-speed running and a charging punch available almost from the get-go (turning your character into a superhero, essentially), Saints Row IV seemed to forget the carjacking and gunfights that made it such a success. We had always feared that the same thing would happen with the Batmobile; if you can drive everywhere, why fly across Gotham at all? Fortunately, Rocksteady knows what they’re doing, and the Gotham of Arkham Knight gives us the best of both worlds, combining a vertically integrated skyline with enough roads to give both Batman and the Batmobile their day in the sun. Or, the night would probably be more accurate.
What you’re getting with Arkham Knight is either the last chapter in a great franchise, or for the casual gamer, the most solid 3d beat-em-up they’ve ever played. It looks great, feels great, and it promises to be the ending we deserve to the most wildly successful superhero game series in decades.