Batman: Arkham Knight
For better and worse, power creep is an accepted fact of superhero media. The escapades of costumed crusaders rely largely on spectacle, on the drama of overcoming, and so escalation is inevitable when seeking ways to tax a being who can already put the fear of God into a room full of crooks faster than Lord Sugar.
As the closing part of Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy, and the first in the series to leave behind old hardware, Batman: Arkham Knight is no exception. This is no longer the Batman of Arkham Asylum, caught on the hop and in a tightly bound trap, but a Batman with a bulging utility belt and move list from the off. He exists within a game that flirts with the line between more and excess, but for the vast majority of the runtime nails pushing its systems to their limits, not beyond them.
Gotham is the chief beneficiary of Arkham Knight’s substantial development time, its sizable, bridge-linked islands feeling like the full realisation of what Arkham City began. It’s a substantial feat, capacious yet densely packed with rain-slicked architecture, its landmarks recognisable yet part of an utterly convincing whole. These sights dot the city, rather than cluster together for warmth, but every angle still tells a story. In a Canary Wharf-like district, glass needles claw at the heavens to escape their mouldering foundations; elsewhere, Oracle’s clock tower stands sentinel over a warren of ramshackle concrete and sickly neon. This Gotham is neither gaming’s largest nor most visually varied open world – perpetual night and a gritty tone allow only a few accent colours, such as the muted reds of Chinatown and fluorescent Riddler green – but it is no less an evocative playground for that, and no inch is closed off behind loading screens. It is a marvel that, like Yharnam, justifies leaving past consoles behind.
There’s more to it than layout, though. Despite being cleared of civilians, these streets are invitingly full, brimming with crims, side stories and Riddler trophies. Rocksteady steadily unfurls more and more as this long Halloween wears on. Intel drops for Most Wanted quests, which feed into incarcerating a chunk of the rogues gallery, are gated by your overall progression percentage, while the Riddler boasts of deploying more of his trophy puzzles throughout the night. Combined with the smart mission wheel, it makes for a game that always feels busy, but has a focus that has long eluded the packed maps and blazing icons of its peers.
Batman himself has seen a few upgrades since he went fist-to-brain with Hugo Strange, quickly acquiring an even more capable batsuit. In freeflow combat, welltimed reactions can grant you throw counters, letting you push back encircling goons. In Predator stealth segments, the suit enables the fear takedown, used to turn out pockets of armed resistance by knocking down up to three clustered gunmen (more with upgrades) in quick succession. While it must be recharged with a silent takedown, in Arkham games past that still might have allowed Bats to steam through these challenges, undermining the threat of armed gunmen. Crucially, in both freeflow combat and stealth sections, Rocksteady understands that Batman still needs vulnerabilities, so piles on new pressures that force you to prioritise and push you towards digging deep into the gadgets menu, but still leave a lot of flexibility in your approach. The Medic straddles both sides of being the Batman, and provides an excellent example. Capable of reviving up to three KO’d mooks and covering fistfighting combatants in an electrified shield so they cannot be countered safely, these white-suited support experts are a priority. In a fist fight, you could choose to deal with this by glide-kicking one’s face in and doing a ground takedown before anyone can rush to his aid, or use up one of your limited environmental takedowns (Square and Cross when you’re near the object) to take him instantly out of play. A quickfire batclaw to reel him in from the sidelines will interrupt his interference, and you might choose to follow that up with a damaging punch. In Predator arenas, where every downed man draws unwanted attention sooner or later, this enemy type is an obvious early target, but whether you go loud and use the remote hacking device to detonate a nearby canister, wait for a cluster to gather for a fear takedown, or simply silently choke the guy in a corner is up to you.
These are the reactive, flexible systems that made Arkham City and Asylum class-leading, and an expertly judged flow of new abilities and threats means they’re better than ever for old hands seeking a fresh challenge. The proliferation of enemy types that require specific responses – blade wielders, mooks with riot shields, charging goons best countered with a quick batarang, minigun heavies who are immune to silent takedowns – does mean the learning curve is steep now, but a suite of AR training and contextual prompts offers firsttimers the means to surmount it, while not frustrating those with hundreds of hours under their utility belts.
Batman has never been more powerful, or more vulnerable. But where Arkham Knight comes off the central reservation, often in a cloud of masonry shards, is with its Batmobile. Gadget, tank, melee finisher and race car, Rocksteady’s burliest addition to the formula is an able aide, but one that’s too frequently allowed to steal the bat-emblem-covered spotlight.
Even so, Rocksteady gets a lot right. As a mode of transportation, it’s a wonderful option, summoned with a bumper tap and left just as easily. Its slippery handling is complemented with a Burnout- style power slide and afterburner, and hooning around Gotham on your way to your next objective is soon second nature. Likewise, as a puzzle tool, it only expands the fantasy, its winch, ejector seat and wall-crumbling main cannon all adding