ALL IN THE FAM­ILY

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Team-ups are lim­ited to self­con­tained mo­ments of the game, but the min­utes spent with the Bat fam­ily are among Arkham Knight’s best. A big part of what a team­mate brings is com­bat scale, up­ping the thug count but giv­ing you a quickly recharg­ing dual take­down move, which of­fers a dol­lop of achingly cool spec­ta­cle and swaps you into the body of your part­ner when trig­gered. You’ll also work with Cat­woman to over­come a spe­cial set of Rid­dler puzzles built for two, and di­rect Robin for a slice of co-op stealth mid­way through the cen­tral arc, briefly al­low­ing you to easily over­come en­e­mies that Bat­man alone has to de­feat the hard way. These mo­ments won­der­fully com­mu­ni­cate the strengths of Wayne’s sup­port net­work, even as Scare­crow works to ex­pose its flaws. Knight, mean­while, is an Olympic-level whiner, and the mys­tery sur­round­ing him is thin, too, fore­shad­owed so heav­ily that there’s only one per­son who could be un­der the mask hours be­fore it comes off. Worse, con­ve­nience regularly trumps con­sis­tency, with no end of dilem­mas solved by hav­ing a win but­ton in­stalled for the oc­ca­sion.

Again, these low points are dis­played in the harsh­est light by con­trast. Else­where, the Rid­dler is as pi­quant a wit as ever, pur­veyor of cru­elly bril­liant ob­ser­va­tions. Poi­son Ivy’s in­sou­ciance is spot on, and some af­fect­ing mo­ments with the ex­tended Bat fam­ily await in the cap­ti­vat­ing side sto­ries. It’s not like the main thread doesn’t have bright spots: the seg­ment in Gotham’s old movie stu­dios when you team up with Robin for co-op stealth and brawl­ing is full of screen magic, Al­fred’s Mar­tini-dry de­liv­ery is a stel­lar coun­ter­point to Con­roy’s in­sti­tu­tion of a Bat­growl, and a more hand­soff ap­proach to in­ves­ti­ga­tion scenes is lib­er­at­ing. It also bears know­ing that not all the twists lack im­pact, and even feed into the game’s best bit: lux­u­ri­at­ing in this open world and sam­pling freely from its di­ver­sions.

It’s a shame Rock­steady’s fi­nal Bat­man game comes with caveats at all, but what might buckle lesser ti­tles here serves to high­light the strengths of all the stu­dio has in­tro­duced. The Arkham se­ries’ sys­tems are now part of the lex­i­con of gam­ing, but Knight again proves that no one knows how to es­ca­late them bet­ter than the out­fit that showed the world why cap­tur­ing the hero fan­tasy is as much about weak­ness as power. Its big­gest ad­ven­ture to date isn’t flaw­less, but the Dark Knight’s re­turn is far from one to un­der­es­ti­mate.

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