Batman is the story of a very rich man so distraught by his parents’ murder in his childhood that he turns to violent cosplay in the midst of a devastating and long-running mental breakdown. The angry rich man enlists his smart engineer friends to build him a suit that looks nothing like a bat and corresponding un-bat-like gadgetry and car so that he can fight crime on the streets of Gotham City by punching, kicking and punching those he deems bad all the while dressed nothing like a bat.
This episode of Batman: The Game of The Man Dressed Nothing Like a Bat Really sees a civilian evacuation of Gotham City after super-villain Scarecrow threatens to unleash a deadly fear toxin, and a whiny bastard in charge of the city’s militia known as the Arkham Knight, starts being a right pain in the arse.
Following on from the glorious open-world of Arkham City (and shamelessly ignoring WB Games’ serviceable but useless filler Arkham Origins), Arkham Knight unpacks Gotham further, opening up the city’s islands for instant and gratifying Batmanning. The return of Rocksteady’s sleek, free-roaming, sandbox Gotham is simply lovely and Batman’s manoeuvrability from its windy peaks to its grim gutters is nothing short of stunning as he swoops down from buildings, landing a boot on the face of a grunt with all the elegance of a very violent feather. Side-quests involving a bunch of Gotham’s most evil bastards are all well-developed and nicely massaged into the meat of the story too, making Arkham Knight’s tale of a city overrun by a fear that extends to even its caped, angry vigilantes quite intriguing. Sadly, though, its weak and stretched story-telling, backed up by some questionably cheesy dialogue and voice-acting, undermine its initial strengths and its main story soon begins to be swamped by the amount of stuff in it.
In fact, Batman himself almost seems like a peripheral Dark Bastard here as Rocksteady seem over-keen on the nimble and slick but not-quite-what-we-bought-the-game-for Batmobile as a playable vehicle. Comprising of two modes, Battle and Pursuit, the latter allows you to scoot around the streets at breakneck speed, while the former transforms the bullet-proof beast into a far more agile machine that can edge its way around teensy platforms and strafe to avoid enemy fire. Your first experiences with the Batmobile are suitably impressive, but Rocksteady’s incessant demands for you to take the wheel become annoying. At times akin to the swapping mechanics of the Lego game series, Arkham Knight consistently requests you switch roles between Batman and his own fucking car to complete puzzles, like remotely winching bits of wall away or bombing enemy vehicles. Quickly, it’s easy to believe Batman and his car have a relationship and this peculiar lifestyle choice of the Dark Knight suddenly becomes darker and darker.
Hey, that’s understandable, it’s wholly easy to be smitten by the Batmobile at first, but it’s just a car (*sound of the Top Gear mob dropping their pint glasses, getting ready to punch this article*). Its overuse within the game reduce its vehicle combat moments to dull, repetitive slogs against unmanned drones, as you chain hits together to build up enough power to launch missile attacks. Automated drones telegraph a line of fire and strafing away is a fairly easy, and frequently irritating, tactic for the most part. What really does work, however, is combining Batman’s trademark fluid melee combat with the silken manoeuvrability of the vehicle. Moments that see you activate Pursuit mode, boost through Gotham, then leap out of the car, glide among its tall buildings, smash through a window, kick some chaps in the chops, then slide BACK THE FUCK INTO THE BATMOBILE are worth a million dire winch-based puzzles.
Outside that fucking car, Batman’s tried and tested stealthy, ninja-like combat remains as beautifully perfect as ever, sitting beside his forays into CSI: Gotham as he examines crime scenes and analyses threats, unseen and perched in the rafters. Most of the bat-gadgetry returns, as well as some new treats, like a voice imitation device that draws out enemies like that Talkboy from Home Alone 2. The usual upgrading affairs persist, with fairly lenient XP prices for decent, but limited, upgrades to, not only Batman’s suit and combat, but also the Batmobile itself. Because it’s obviously a fucking person and Batman won’t be happy if you don’t set a place at the table for it.
While there are a good amount of cameos from the rich bank of super-villains, the game’s title star is probably the series’ least menacing enemy. You’ll hear him whining on the radio, babbling to his henchmen almost constantly as you speed around the streets in the Batmobile. The game’s hammy dialogue and faux-pulp noir chatter from goons can be more irritating and distracting than fun because it truly is fucking non-stop, man.
Obvious flaws aside, Arkham Knight is hard to knock in terms of polish (on consoles, at least!). Its habit of piling on, perhaps, too much Batman shit feels like it’s a little uber-keen to please everyone rather than really pick an element of his character to elaborate on, thus undermining any of the personality the game could’ve had. But if you strip away all this – if you strip away its stretched roster of bad guys and persistent requests to play around with that fucking car – if it’d just let you enjoy Batman: Arkham Knight for what it is, then you’d be left with something nothing short of fantastic. Just don’t mention that bumbled PC release, eh?
Batman: Arkham Knight is available now for PS4, Xbox One, PC and Mac.