Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9.5 out of 10
Batman: Arkham Knight is an open-world third-person action adventure game available from retail stores and for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4.
Batman originated as a character in issue 27 of Detective Comics in May 1939 having been created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. Batman transcends multiple entertainment mediums as the character was elevated from a comic strip hero into having entire lines of toys, a 1943 15 chapter serial film by Columbia Pictures with a further 15 chapter serial film released in 1949 called Batman and Robin followed by a 1966 television series starring Adam West as the caped crusader which spanned 3 seasons and a spin-off film. Further forays into the cinematic world followed throughout the late 1980s and 1990s with Tim Burton directing Michael Keaton as Batman in 1989 and Batman Returns in 1992, while Joel Schumacher took over as director with Val Kilmer starring in the lead role of Batman Forever in 1995 before George Clooney stepped in to star as Batman in Batman and Robin in 1997.
Arguably the most popular Batman films are Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy which starred Christian Bale as Batman starting with Batman Begins in 2005, evolving into the masterful The Dark Knight in 2008 which saw Heath Ledger’s superb take on The Joker making for arguably the best Batman film to date and concluded with The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. In most recent years; Batman’s presence on television has spanned hundreds of animated cartoon episodes in such series as Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond and Batman: The Brave and the Bold accompanied by animated feature films such as Batman: Gotham Knight and Batman: Year One, while Gotham is providing a unique take on the origins of Batman in a live action presentation with the production values and style of a blockbuster film.
The first-ever Batman game was from an isometric perspective and was released for the ZX Spectrum in 1986 and was published by Manchester based Ocean Software before Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond created the retro classic Head Over Heels the following year which also utilised the Batman game engine, alongside numerous retro games on platforms such as the Amiga, Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum, with some inspired by the story of the films and others creating their spin on the subject matter.
The series of LEGO Batman games are popular for portraying Batman with the trademark humour of LEGO games and opening up Batman games to a younger audience, while there have been many games that have featured Batman as a character such as Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and Injustice: Gods Among Us. Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series began with Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009 followed by Batman: Arkham City in 2011 as well as the prequel games Batman: Arkham Origins on PS3 from Warner Bros Montreal and Batman: Arkham Origins – Blackgate on PlayStation Vita by Armature Studio in 2013. Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series is the most highly regarded Batman games due to their gritty depiction of Batman and the villains that inhabit Gotham City, but will Batman: Arkham Knight surpass the plethora of Batman games that have went before it and Rocksteady’s previous entries into their series in order to provide the appropriate send-off for the apparent finale of the Batman Arkham series?
The story revolves around Scarecrow clearing out the population of Gotham City’s citizens with a threat of unleashing his fear toxin after giving a smaller scale demonstration in a diner, while a rival from Batman’s past returns under the mysterious appearance of the Arkham Knight who aligns himself with Scarecrow in order to have the opportunity to take down Batman, although Batman also has to deal with The Riddler up to his usual craziness and strained relationships.
The mission variety throughout the story is certainly a positive design choice with such important activities as saving hostages including firemen and Ace Chemicals staff; tracking clues to find the location of specific allies or villains; interrogation of thugs and villains such as The Penguin and infiltrating and destroying enemy assets such as militia drone tanks. There are actually three separate endings to the story with the original ending for completing the story missions as well as a second ending which will be offered after having completed the story missions followed by seven side missions and the third ending is for completing the story missions and all of the side missions.
Most Wanted is an extensive set of side missions which include major villains commanding Batman’s time to stop them as The Riddler returns for revenge with a set of 243 riddles involving trophies and collectibles through a range of on foot and Batmobile trials and exploration which is for the purpose of collecting a total of 8 keys in order to save Catwoman’s life as she has an explosive collar placed around her neck which The Riddler will detonate if Batman does not participate in his games despite Batman’s necessity in saving Gotham from Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight. Meanwhile, there are also side missions including such villains as The Penguin in Gunrunner, Two-Face in Two-Faced Bandit, Deathstroke in Campaign for Disarmament, Firefly in Gotham on Fire, Hush in Friend In Need, Deacon Blackfire in Lamb to the Slaughter and Professor Pyg in The Perfect Crime.
New Story Plus is a game mode which is unlocked upon the completion of the story which is significantly harder in regards to the ability of the A.I. enemies faced, although it is fairly counterbalanced by allowing the player to retain all of Batman’s gadgets and upgrades.
A feature referred to as Dual Play allows the player to change control of Batman to another ally character as the story progresses which is made possible by the characters being controlled by the very capable A.I. with the first instance being when Batman attempts to free Catwoman from The Riddler as the player can switch control between Batman and Catwoman to fight The Riddler’s villains who attack in a large group, while there are other such scenarios in which the player can play as Robin and Nightwing, although Dual Play is limited to certain fights and is not available throughout the entire game.
Augmented Reality Challenges (AR Challenges) consist of a number of tutorials which are unlockable by meeting certain requirements with the purpose of instructing how to get the most out of Batman’s artillery with a wide range of categories including: training, combat, predator, Batmobile race, Batmobile combat and Batmobile hybrid with every AR Challenge providing between 1 to 3 stars depending upon the amount of points earned or the time it takes to complete the challenge as a WayneTech point is awarded for 3 stars, while anything above the 3 star requirements will provide rival points for every second under a time limit or for every additional 1,000 points which contributes to your overall Gotham’s Greatest score. Weapon Energy Diagnostics helps to unleash the true potential of the Batmobile by destroying enemy targets and evading incoming fire to charge the secondary weapon energy and activate the Missile Barrage which has a lock-on for up to four enemy vehicles. Combo Master allows the player to practice chaining together as many combat moves on enemies as possible without breaking the flow of combat for even a second, while One Man Army involves battling the militia’s drone tank army with the necessity of destroying targets quickly without receiving damage to achieve the best score, alongside Road Rage racing against the clock to chase down the armoured militia transport vehicles with a time extension earned for each destroyed vehicle, amongst many more AR Challenges.
The showcase feature is excellent as it allows players the ability to view multiple versions of the Batmobile as well as alternative Batman costumes, a total of 62 characters and 25 vehicles after having unlocked them; which can be individually selected to provide an astonishing intricately detailed 3D model with an automatically panning camera which can be zoomed in or out and can be manually panned, alongside the option of viewing the model in different states such as the Batmobile transitioning from a car into a weaponised vehicle and Batman having tones of colour around him to being very dark and intensely moody in the style of the Ben Affleck’s Batman.
The extras comprise of a story synopsis including captioned still images of each important event of the story the player has experienced so far; 60 pieces of unlockable concept art providing an artistic vision of environments and credits.
The character design will be appreciated by any long-time reader of Batman comics and players of previous Batman Arkham games as the extensive detail of every character model is on another planet to anything that has came before it; regardless of how important the character is such as a thug on the streets of Gotham is just as detailed as Batman, Commissioner James Gordon, The Joker, Scarecrow, Arkham Knight, The Riddler or anyone else for that matter.
The environment design is as faithful to the subject matter as the character design as Gotham City is portrayed as a character in itself with a vast open-world to explore on foot or by Batmobile comprising a stunning amount of detail throughout an enormous of buildings, roads and landscapes of all shapes, sizes and surfaces to traverse in any way you choose to do so.
Batman’s core weapons and gadgets all return such as his signature weapon in the form of the Batarang which is perfect for stunning unaware enemies or quickly knocking down up to three enemies when outnumbered during combat, while smoke pellets can be used to unleash disorientating smoke throughout an area allowing Batman to take enemies down during their confusion or to alternatively blanket the location in order to escape when under heavy fire. The remote controlled Batarang is capable of flipping switches and moving objects that are out of reach, while a projectile which latches onto out of reach objects and pulls them towards the character’s location, although it can also be used during combat to destabilise enemies; the line launcher allows for horizontal traversing at speed with the ability to also create an advantage point above the city streets and to change course without dropping to the ground, alongside an explosive gel which is mostly used to break through structural weaknesses, although it can be used to incapacitate enemies too.
The biggest addition to Batman’s arsenal is his Batmobile which is capable of transforming from a car to a weaponised vehicle equipped with primary and secondary weapons, alongside a claw to latch onto certain surfaces and pull them back to destroy an obstructing wall in order to create a passage through close confines for the Batmobile or even move a broken elevator to allow Batman to escort a hostage to the car as well as a power winch which enables Batman to connect the Batmobile to an inactive power box and power it up by revving the engine to open the door or enable electrical equipment it is connected to or even utilising the power winch to carry out controlled explosions to make the streets safer from the Arkham Knight.
There is an extensive range of weapons and gadgets in Batman’s arsenal which is referred to as WayneTech and is spread across 7 categories including: gadget tech, gadget skills, combat, batsuit, Batmobile and Batmobile weapons. Every category has a plethora of upgrades which requires the player to earn XP gained from fighting enemies with combos in an effort to gain enough XP to level up in order to be rewarded with a WayneTech upgrade point which can be assigned to a specific category. There are 20 gadget tech upgrades, 13 gadget skills upgrades, 16 combat upgrades, 15 batsuit upgrades, 10 Batmobile upgrades and 9 Batmobile weapons upgrades for a total of 83 WayneTech upgrades, although there are some additional upgrades which are earned naturally by progressing through the game in which a circumstance will require an upgrade resulting in a conversation between Batman and Lucius Fox, followed by a Batwing delivery containing an upgraded batsuit or a new component for the Batmobile.
Predator awareness brings Batman’s auditory awareness to life by identifying when an armed thug has raised their weapon in preparation to attack Batman, therefore providing a brief moment to prevent the villain from being able to begin any form of attack which also reduces the chances of Batman receiving damage.
Detective mode allows the player to scan the surrounding environment for enemies in order to create a plan of attack in the scenario of criminals holding hostages with the detective mode working by outlining enemy foot soldiers and vehicles in orange and hostages in blue with detailed information on how many hostiles and hostages are nearby as well as how many hostiles are armed, their condition such as calm, nervous or unconscious and their heart rate, therefore providing a clear depiction of who needs to be protected and who needs to be brought to justice by Batman. However, there is even more to the detective mode as there is also environmental analysis such as highlighting obstructive objects which need to be destroyed to be able to progress as well as walls and surfaces which can be breached by utilising Batman’s explosive gel.
Third-person and first-person perspectives during on foot exploration, while driving the Batmobile has a first-person perspective as well as two third-person perspectives positioned behind the Batmobile with the first close behind and the second further back, while all third-person perspectives can be panned around Batman and the Batmobile for the preferred camera positioning for the direction headed in.
There is an incredible amount of Easter eggs hidden throughout the game which shows Rocksteady’s amazing knowledge of comic books and accurate research which is highly commendable in itself with a variety of references to Superman such as a number of voice messages left by Lex Luthor on Bruce Wayne’s answering machine at Wayne Tower enquiring about a purchase of the Applied Sciences Division of Wayne Enterprises, while LexCorp billboards are scattered throughout Gotham City. There are also a number of DC Universe references including some thugs discussing other cities such as Metropolis, Bludhaven, Keystone and Central City as well as discussing other DC heroes, while there are buildings which are owned by well known DC heroes and villains such as the hero Green Arrow having Queen Industries buildings located in Gotham City, alongside Barbara Gordon’s computer in the Clocktower base containing communication with The Huntress and a Birds of Prey logo.
The downloadable content is also referred to as Arkham Episodes with each release available separately or as part of a season pass bundling all of the content together at a cheaper price of £32.99* comprising of Batgirl: A Matter of Family from the developer of Batman: Arkham Origins and is set prior to the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum in which Batgirl and Robin take on The Joker who has kidnapped Commissioner Gordon in an attempt to save him. The remainder of the content will be from Rocksteady Studios including the Harley Quinn Story Pack, Red Hood Story Pack and Scarecrow Nightmare Missions, alongside regular fresh content for six months including new story missions, saving Gotham City from the hands of even more supervillains, advanced challenge maps, new race tracks, legendary Batmobiles and alternative character skins.
The performance during remote play is on par with the stunning graphics, audio and general performance of the PS4 version, while the control scheme has been partially optimised with the map moving from the touch pad to the touch screen, while Batman’s combat controls remain largely the same other than for L2 and R2 moving to the left and right of the rear touch pad respectively which does not affect gameplay; the Batmobile controls see the same changes, but with a greater importance as the left of the rear touch pad has to be held to remain in battle mode which is capable of exiting battle mode even with the slightest of movements, therefore potentially spoiling a battle against drones, so perhaps battle mode should have moved to L and acceleration and firing moved to R to tighten up the battle mode controls, although if the player can avoid a slip of a finger; then the remote play performance is as full of quality as it is on the PS4.
The controls are well mapped to the DualShock 4 controller consisting of Batman’s general control scheme from previous games with the majority of Batman’s attacks including button combinations such as pressing O followed by square three times, while Batmobile’s battle and pursuit modes handling with precision and are certainly in line with controls expected of driving games. Tapping the touch pad provides a detailed map and list of main objectives as well as access to the Batcomputer and WayneTech, while the DualShock 4 controller vibrates during tense moments and explosions, although there is no light bar implementation which is surprising as it could have produced colours based upon Batman’s physical condition during combat and after he has been attacked by thugs or to clarify when Batman has remained undetected, when thugs are suspicious after having heard a noise or a thug has alerted someone to Batman’s position and when thugs are locked onto Batman’s position as well as the condition of the Batmobile’s armour.
The graphics easily surpass those of previous Batman Arkham games by achieving true new-generation quality with stunning particle effects and rain droplets, excellent lighting and shadow effects, highly detailed character models with superb animations, while the facial expressions of non-playable characters during conversations convey appropriate emotions in accordance with the subject matter, alongside an authentic open-world Gotham City to explore.
The presentation of the game is solid with a great user interface across various menus such as the main, extras, options and gameplay menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, directional pad and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and touch pad. The background of the menu screens consists of a panning camera which cinematically shows Batman’s mask, body armour, clenched fists, utility belt and more besides which certainly prepares the player for the epic battles ahead.
Batman: Arkham Knight possesses a phenomenal voice-over cast consisting of many returning vocal talents from previous Batman Arkham games including Kevin Conroy voicing Batman/Bruce Wayne having also voiced the same roles in many of Batman related games and television series, while Martin Jarvis reprises his role as Alfred Pennyworth; Mark Hamill returns as The Joker and Tara Strong as Harley Quinn; Nolan North as The Penguin; Troy Baker not only returning as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, but also as new characters such as Arkham Knight, Jason Todd and Red Hood. Wally Wingert voices Edward Nigma/The Riddler; Danny Jacobs as Victor Zsasz; Tasia Valenza as Pamela Isley and Poison Ivy; Grey Griffin as Selina Kyle/ Catwoman and Vicki Vale. However, there are also some re-casting of characters such as Jonathan Banks voicing James Gordon; Dave Fennoy as Lucius Fox and John Noble as Dr. Jonathan Crane and Scarecrow, while there are voice-over artists returning to voice different characters in comparison to previous games in the Batman Arkham series such as Matthew Mercer as Tim Drake and Robin.
Sound effects include combat manoeuvres such as punching, kicking and takedowns; utilising weapons from Batman’s utility belt; weapons being fired; explosions; and the grunt of the Batmobile’s powerful engine, while there is a wide variety of music from Frank Sinatra’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin during the opening sequence to original music composed by audio director Nick Arundel and co-composer David Buckley which compliments specific scenes and highlights the cinematic qualities of the game. The DualShock 4 speaker produces radio chatter from thugs on the streets as well as the sound effect of navigating the menu options, although an audio mix that allowed for radio chatter to be produced by just the DualShock 4 speaker instead of both the television and speaker would have provided a more efficient layering of the audio.
The trophy list includes 65 trophies with 62 bronze, 1 silver, 1 gold and 1 platinum trophy, while each of the downloadable content packs contain their own trophy lists including A Matter of Family which has 6 bronze trophies and 2 silver trophies followed by the Harley Quinn Story Pack, Red Hood Story Pack and Scarecrow Nightmare Missions which each have a single silver trophy. Almost a third of the trophies can be naturally earned by completing story related missions, while the Most Wanted side missions, The Riddler challenges and AR challenges are related to completing each area of the game outside of the story campaign. There are still many more different types of activities to perform beyond missions and challenges such as the Blunt Trauma bronze trophy for performing every type of predator takedown; the Brutality 101 bronze trophy for performing 15 different combat moves in one FreeFlow; and the Death and Glory bronze trophy for taking out 20 thugs with fear takedowns, while the Batmobile also gets in on the action with the A Leap of Faith bronze trophy for completing 8 different jumps of over 100 metres; the Choice of Weapons bronze trophy for successfully using all 5 Batmobile weapons in a single tank battle; and the Dirty Tricks bronze trophy for accumulating 3 minutes of drifting in the Batmobile. The hardest trophy has to be The Long Halloween silver trophy for completing New Story Plus as it is permanently set to the hardest difficulty level. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 40 to 50 hours to platinum the trophy list.
There are initially three difficulty levels including easy, normal and hard with the major differences being an increase in the damage Batman will receive from enemies and a decrease in the damage Batman will inflict upon enemies requiring the player to evade more efficiently due to the increased aggressiveness of enemies and land quick combos. New Story Plus is actually an entirely higher difficulty level called Knightmare which amplifies everything from the hard difficulty as well as drones shooting faster and having more armour and no symbols indicating counters or charging appearing during fights.
There are multiple sets of online leaderboards comprising of Gotham’s Greatest and AR challenges, although the Dual Play feature is a missed opportunity as it could have paved the way for drop-in/drop-out local and online co-operative multiplayer which is really the only thing the game is missing, while there is scope for local and online competitive multiplayer such as heroes or villains fighting each other, players racing to complete a mission first for a reward or races in Batmobiles, drones and even on foot and aerial traversal.
The replayability stems from a huge amount of areas with a lengthy story complimented by extensive Most Wanted side missions, a New Story Plus mode, four difficulty levels, AR challenges, competitive online leaderboards, many secrets and references to be found, plenty of upgrades and unlockable content all contained within an expansive open-world environment which will collectively keep players returning for many hours.
Overall, Batman: Arkham Knight is the most gripping Batman game to date with relentless pacing throughout the story and side missions set in the biggest open-world environment of any Batman game in history. If you are a fan of Batman, DC Comics or games in general, then it does not get any better than this as it should be known if this truly is Rocksteady’s final Batman game; they are going out the way anything should and that is on a high note with their very best game.
- Title: Batman: Arkham Knight
- Developer: Rocksteady Studios
- Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment
- System: PS4
- Format: Blu-Ray Disc/PSN Download
- Cross-Buy: No
- Cross-Play: No
- Players: 1 (Online Leaderboards)
- Hard Drive Space Required: 52.15GB (Version 1.03)
- *Correct at time of publishing