Finally the craziness of Gotham City has arrived on the Xbox ONE with Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham Knight and it doesn’t disappoint as it delivers the kind of caped crusader experience that makes you feel like your living room has been turned into a secret annex of Wayne Mansions. It’s massive without feeling too dispersed, has an involving and fast paced storyline and gives you more Wayne tech than you’ll know what to do with, putting you closer than ever to the childhood dream of being Batman.
Released worldwide on the Xbox ONE, along with PC and PlayStation 4, on the 23rd June 2015, it was always going to be one of the year’s big releases from an anticipation point of view, but it’s managed to deliver the Dark Knight goods to meet pretty high expectations. It completes the Rocksteady trilogy and prequel with the developers confirming it will be the last in the series, following up on 2013’s Batman Arkham Origins as a direct sequel to 2011’s Arkham City.
As a campaign based game at heart, the story for the game is one of the most important elements of it, and it doesn’t disappoint; giving Nolan and Tim Burton a pretty good run for their money. The story setup makes for solid framework for the game to hang itself off. On Halloween night the Scarecrow has forced the entire populous to evacuate the city on pain of him releasing his ferociously psychotropic fear nerve toxin, leaving Batman with the unenviable challenge of sorting everything out.
It’s teaming with characters from the Batman universe with everyone from the Penguin, Riddler, Poisen Ivy, Harley Quin and Two Faces cropping up alongside Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, his butler Alfred and tech genius from Lucius Fox. It makes for a tour de force for everything Gotham and while the Joker died at the end of Arkham City, his presence is still pretty strong in the final installment as his legacy lives on in terrifying new ways.
However, for us the most exciting development, apart from the addition of the Batmobile, is the creation of a whole new baddass baddy, the Arkham Knight, for Batman to go toe-to-toe with. Developed as a part of the DC Comics and Rocksteady collaboration specifically for the game, the hi-tech suited villain has got a lot of menace to begin with, which gives him a strong presence in the development of the plot as he works with Scarecrow in their bid to bring down Batman and take the city as their own.
If that isnt enough, there’s also going to be a few DLC campaign additions to the game to add even more depth to what is already a dark and layered plot. This will include story-based mission DLC and playable characters focusing on Harley Quinn in a story that sees her attempting to rescue her partner in crime Poison Ivy, and Jason Todd as the Red Hood as he tries to track down Black Mask. There will also be a Scarecrow Nightmare DLC pack that presents the Bat with a Gotham City in which has fallen entirely under the control of the super-villain and his fear gas.
Overall the main story gets pretty dark even for Batman, as it explores the deeper fears of its main character, taking him to the very edge of his resolve and beyond. If you were looking for this to be a fun jaunt around Gotham then don’t focus on the main plot, as it goes from grim twist to grim twist, surprising you with the complexity of the characters on both the good and the bad side of Two Face’s coin.
As it’s all about the campaign with the Batman Arkham series , this is where the gameplay action takes place and for the most part it’s an absorbing superhero action adventure that puts you in the hot seat of the Batsuit and Batmobile in one fell swoop. It’s packed with missions and story developments to throw you deep into the action pretty early on.
We weren’t big fans of the very beginning of the game where you need to tap the A button to slowly incinerate the Joker, following his demise at the end of Arkham City. While it does sort of link things all up, there are definitely plenty of other ways Rocksteady could have threaded things together. However, once he’s finally good and cooked it doesn’t take too long for the game to swing into action and propel you into the sheer wonder of being Batman.
Even though you pick up a whole host of new abilities and tech along the way, what you start off with is pretty impressive in itself, with the ability to decimate baddies with blisteringly fast hand-to-hand combat, perform slick drop-down take-downs from above, fly an epic wing suit, throw a very destructive Baterang, grapnel yourself all over the city and drive the Batmobile like you’re literally the flying rat king of the road. All of these get progressively cooler as you gain new skills and tech throughout the game until you’re an unstoppable personification of rituous indignation with slo-mo Fear attacks, a monster winch for the car and improved Baterang functionality.
If we’re honest, the fight system is a little bit too slick against everyday minions, as they fall like flies with the simplest of attack combinations, but as you start to face tougher enemies and bosses the playing field does at least start to level out. The new additions to the hand-to-hand fighting do make the game the most sophisticated in the series, especially the Fear attack, which allows you to surprise a group of three enemies and knock them all out without them raising the alarm.
The open world environment of Arkham Knight is even bugger than its City predecessor with a vast amount of detailed environment to cover. This helps the game feel like the real deal as you can go pretty much anywhere in the sprawling cityscape.
With a larger game world to roam around in it makes sense that you have much more flexibility of movement than ever before. The wing-suit glider has been updated to allow you to be able to soar higher than in previous games, with incredible diving and grapnel gun combinations to make getting around Gotham a genuine joy.
This quick travel concept is added to by the Juggernaut that it the Batmobile in Arkham Knight, which is as close as you’re likely to get to the real thing this side of the 2020s. Others have criticised the reliance of the game on the new addition to the gameplay mix, but for us it just taps into the long-standing presence the Batmobile has had in DC’s comic book and movie franchises over the years.
It’s fast, responsive and destructive with bullet proof glass, super tough armour and the kind of weaponry the US army would be happy to call their own. It comes replete with two core modes, drive and battle, with the latter turning it into a heavily armoured and highly maneuverable tank with its own set of weaponry that includes a rail gun and rocket launcher. Taking out enemy tanks can be a bit on the dull side, but in otger portions of the game where you need to combine both modes to make it through an area effectively it becomes a very sweet tool to have at your beck and call, especially with the stunning leap entry snd ejector seat methods for getting in and out of the car.
For die-hard Arkham gamers that smash their way through the main Scarecrow storyline campaign like a knife through an Angel Delight mouse before it’s been set in the fridge, there are a whole lot of side missions for you to work you way through too. These are varied, challenging and time consuming, so expect to need to have your wits about you to crack them all, along with a good amount of determination, reaction speed and clue solving guile.
On the whole the game looks very impressive, with an expansive and impressively rendered Gotham City at your feet and wing to roam around in. The visuals are dark, gritty and expansive with more shadows to hide in than the heart of Mordor and the kind of atmospheric style that Bram Stoker would be comfortable writing about.
While there’s a lot of detail in the environment and main structure of vehicles and characters in the game, we’re not entirely convinced by the facial rendering and animation, which looks more 7th than 8th generation. It doesn’t really impact the gameplay at all, but it does represent the biggest tell that you’re playing a computer game and not fully immersed in the the real Batman experience.
On the whole, there are way more positives than negatives when it comes to the graphical element of the game. Yes, the faces don’t look perfect, Batman’s cape swirls a little too uniformly than it should do when he’s running and the fight animation can look a bit cartoony, but that takes little away from the stunning dark beauty that has been instilled into the visuals.
Playing Batman Arkham Knight is like every DC comics fan’s superhero damp dream, giving you the best opportunity you’ll have outside of the future realms of AR developments like the Occulus Rift headset of becoming the Bat. If you’ve ever watched a Batman movie or read one of the comics and wanted to walk in the crime fighting shoes of the caped crusader yourself, this is the game for you.
Batman Arkham Knight Xbox ONE review: 4/5