Thanks to great villains, a compelling story, and the Batmobile, Rocksteady has delivered one of the year's best games.
Christopher Nolan had a good run, but with Rocksteady Studios’ third crack at the Bat, they’ve officially delivered my favorite adaptation of the caped crusader with Batman: Arkham Knight. It’s not terribly surprising considering that the previous games in the series were some of the best of the last console generation. But what is surprising is how well the series’ formula has held up since 2009’s Arkham Asylum. With each subsequent game, Rocksteady has added more—more villains, a bigger city, and now the Batmobile—but the game’s core mechanics are never overshadowed, remaining just as satisfying as ever.
Arkham Knight feels like a truly new-gen title, as if Rocksteady was at last unfettered by hardware limitations and could finally deliver the game it always wanted to (on console at least; the PC version still isn’t working properly). Arkham Knight is an evolution, not a revolution, and yet still feels revelatory. Nolan’s films let you see the Dark Knight, but Rocksteady’s games let you be him, and it’s more than just a marketing hashtag; it’s absolutely exhilarating gliding around Gotham with a utility belt full of gadgets at your disposal, deciding what to tackle next. Gameplay will be familiar to anyone who played its predecessors, but it’s so refined and polished that it still feels fresh. Rocksteady may not have reinvented the wheel, but they did finally let Batman take control of it.
For the first time, you can drive the Batmobile, and it’s a game changer. Arkham Knight‘s world is reportedly five times larger than Arkham City’s, and Batman is constantly traveling across the map. But traversal is never a chore because the Batmobile is so fun to control. It’s an absolute blast crashing through the streets of Gotham with reckless abandon and taking down enemies Burnout-style (cinematic crash cam included), or launching yourself like a cannonball from the cockpit into an effortless glide.
Gliding is still a fantastic way to get around and take in the gorgeous rain- and neon-drenched sights of Gotham City, but there’s something super satisfying about diving toward the ground, pressing a button to summon the Batmobile, and landing directly in the driver’s seat. The Batmobile has been by far the most controversial aspect of the game, and it seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it situation. I loved the new dynamics it brings to the series and the way it’s incorporated into racing and environmental puzzles.
Well, I loved most of them. With the pull of a trigger, you can transform the Batmobile into a tank to take on the Arkham Knight’s army (don’t worry, they’re all unmanned drones!), and unfortunately, Rocksteady leans a bit too heavily on the tank combat. These battles slow things to a crawl, and until you level up the Batmobile’s weapons, they can be a bit of a slog. Even worse are the Batmobile stealth missions where you have to sneak up behind powerful enemy tanks and take them out. Stealth. In a tank. I guess unmanned drones can’t hear the Batmobile’s engines roaring loudly behind them?
That misstep aside, there’s so much that Arkham Knight gets right. The combat is still the best in the business, and the addition of the dual play system that lets you pair up with characters such as Robin and Catwoman to deliver tag-team beatdowns is immensely enjoyable. I also liked the way the side missions are organized, focusing on a particular villain each, and letting you decide which to take on at any time. Arkham Knight is one of the few open-world games that feels organic to me. Rather than staring at the map and picking what to do, I simply glided around Gotham, discovering new situations and taking them on as I desired.
If I haven’t said anything about the game’s story it’s because I really don’t want to spoil it. But I found it to be the best in the series, propelling you along with great urgency. Like Batman’s best tales, it’s dark and tortured, and there are several gasp-worthy moments throughout when major things happen to major characters. Rocksteady has said this is their last Batman game, and there’s a finality to the ending that makes me believe them (even if publisher WB won’t be able to resist continuing the franchise in some form.) Arkham Knight ends the trilogy on a high note, and is one of the best games available for the current console generation, as well as one of the best iterations of the Dark Knight, period. Good luck, Zack Snyder; you’re gonna need it.