Rock-a-bye Batsy, I’m getting free
When Joker takes over you won’t feel a thing
You’ve seen the reviews of Batman: Arkham Knight so far. Things aren’t pretty for Rocksteady right now, especially since they’ve halted PC sales of the game. I wanted to wait until the first patch was released to review the game so that I could write about something other than the horrendous performance issues, but with PC sales suspended, I don’t expect the patch soon. If you haven’t played the game, or at least played it on a PC, maybe you’re wondering what the big deal is; why are people so up in arms about a game that was expected to be one of the best this year, a game that fans preordered en masse?
Well, short version: Arkham Knight is a hot mess.
About eight hours before the game released, Rocksteady announced that requirements previously given for PC users was on the low side of things and that was a wee bit of an understatement. Some have said that in its current state, Arkham Knight is unplayable. For me, it was playable in the loosest sense of the word, but it certainly wasn’t enjoyable.
If you’re looking for something that might speed up the game while waiting for the first patch, give these suggestions a go. I run AMD and upping the FPS and disabling motion blur (though not all motion blur settings because it will crash your game harder than the Batmobile) helped but my FPS stayed around 25 inside buildings and a solid 15 outside. And that was with everything on the lowest possible settings.
Things started off well. I ogled at the opening scene even though, much like in the other three games, about halfway through I found myself bored and wanting to skip ahead. Gotham is in peril, yet again, and this time it’s Scarecrow behind the panic, threatening to set off an extremely volatile toxin that would cause riots, murder, and all manner of wholesome fun. It’s up to Batman to stop the lunatic with the bag on his head, except now that lunatic has a new friend he met at the playground: the Arkham Knight. The Knight appears to have a history with the Bat but Bruce goes all Joey Tribbiani and can’t seem to remember where he knows the Knight from. The latter gets understandably miffed over the matter and in a tantrum sends out tanks and drones all over Gotham. That being said, there’s a decent story in Arkham Knight, as Batman struggles outwardly with the Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight, he’s also struggling internally against the Joker. It could have been fantastic, but I will voice my frustration over that matter in another article.
But don’t you worry your pretty little head about those tanks because Batman has the Batmobile and that’s basically a cheat code in this game. Not only can you summon the Batmobile like Epona, but you can also store two of your friends in its trunk!
I have a lot of issues with Bat-Pona. Not only does it seem to be the main cause of lag in the poorly optimized game (dropping the FPS down to nil whenever it appears in a cutscene), but even worse, the game rams it down your throat so hard there’s a bat symbol embedded in your esophagus. Fans were excited to drive Bat-Pona, but I don’t think they were THIS excited. Mission after stupid mission requires you to blow up the endless barrage of tanks sent by the Arkham Knight. There’s nothing exciting about it. Dodge. Pew Pew. Boom. Pew Pew. Do that about 30 times and that’s a single mission. It isn’t difficult, just tedious.
And I suppose that’s my biggest gripe with the game: optimization issues aside, there isn’t much challenge in the beat ’em up missions. Instead of adding worthy changes or story additions, Rocksteady simply throws more bodies at Batman. There is a nice mechanic about a third of the way through where the goon squad starts to learn your fight tactics and you have to adapt accordingly, using all of Batman’s skills to take out brutes with mini-guns and sentry drones. However, that mechanic eventually falls to the wayside and you’re instead thrown into situations where you’re just mashing counter with 25 dudes around you.
This repetition led me to go after the smaller side missions, like the manbat, rescuing Lucius, and even the Riddler’s challenges. And I HATE the Riddler in every single Batman game because not only is he obnoxious but like the fights, it seems quantity trumps quality and I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to waste time getting 100% completion because of his stupid quests.
Batman has never been favorite of mine but he comes across as especially dull in this sequel. I’m not sure if Kevin Conroy wasn’t into it while recording this sequel or if Batman is supposed to be that disconnected but he’s even more monotone than usual. Scenes that required at least some emotion flat-lined. And then of course there are his facial expressions, or lack thereof. Look at Batman’s dead little eyes.
As for the baddies this go around, the Scarecrow is a one-trick pony who likes hearing himself talk (Gotham really should uninstall all those speakers around town) and the titular Knight just likes screaming, “I WILL KILL YOU.” Poison Ivy had the potential to be exciting as enemy turned ally, if only she had been given more time. The other side characters, Oracle, Gordon, Robin, Nightwing, and a whole host of others from Batman’s past are empty plot devices for Batman to rescue. The only interesting character, yet again, is the imaginary best friend Joker who has infiltrated Batman’s mind. Joker is the bright spot in a rather dark sequel, offering the most hilarious dialogue in the game. He was so interesting I found myself rooting for him to take over Batman’s mind.
Things aren’t all bad in Arkham Knight. The UI is vastly improved from its predecessors; skills are easier to skim through while trying to decide where to spend those Wayne Dollars. Simulations are set up throughout Gotham to learn combos, fight mechanics, and the boring intricacies of the Bat-Pona all offer Batman a chance to hone his skills while earning even more Wayne Dollars. The side mission wheel was nice, as was the rather large gadget wheel. However, opening the map often caused a significant FPS drop while led me to not use it, but it’s not like using the map has ever been that important in a Batman game. It’s a shame that the map is unnecessary because Gotham is huge. You certainly won’t be lacking for places to explore or goons to beat up.
A big thank you to the developers for not making Detective Mode as OP as it was in previous games. In the first three about 90% of my time was spent with Detective Mode on but this time around there isn’t much of an emphasis on the skill and as a bonus, there are repercussions for using it too much in fights.
Combat feels more polished in Arkham Knight with a shiny new suit that adds a Fear Takedown you can use to slow time and quickly demolish unaware enemies. This skill is especially useful when taking on hordes of armed thugs. Another added feature is the ability to use the environment around Batman to knock out your enemies. With the right button combo you can jump up, grab a hanging lamp, and smash it over the heads of your totally-not-dead foes.
The best new combat feature is the ability to fight alongside (or fight as) Batman’s allies. Catwoman, Robin, and Nightwing all join Batman briefly throughout the game which leads to large battles with dual takedown options. Pressing the “switch” button at any time allows you to fight as one of the three members of the Bat family, getting to see up close and personal some of the differences between the way each hero fights. Don’t worry about having to learn any new mechanics because their controls are the same as Batman’s.
You can still realistically get by with slamming attack and counter interchangeably but it’s so much more fun to electrocute someone, yank them around with the batclaw, and then whip them across the face with a few batarangs. Most of the gadgets offered to Batman are ones you’ve seen before including: the Disruptor to jam enemies’ weapons, the Freeze Blast, the Remote Hacking Device, and the Remote Electrical Charge. (I’m just thankful we don’t have to use the awful Cryptographic Sequencer from Origins again.)
The only real new gadget in Batman’s arsenal is the batmobile. The tankmobile, actually, because that’s what it truly is. Equipped with a vulcan cannon and missile launchers, the Bat-Pona can take out just about anything. And it does. Driving around the streets of Gotham you’ll find it can ram through iron gates, rows of parked cars, and stone pillars with ease. But it’s also light enough to drive on Gotham’s precarious rooftops without falling to its doom because of physics reasons I don’t understand. Lucius occasionally calls Batman with news of a choice of upgrades for the Bat-Pona, but why he withholds the technology from Gotham’s savior is beyond me. (Either offer it one at a time or not at all, Fox!) On top of the plethora of weapons that totally aren’t meant to kill people, the Bat-Pona also comes with a winch used to ruin the structural integrity of buildings and tunnels all over the city! Oh, and the Bat-Pona comes with a remote control so now your highly destructive toy can take down thugs without you in the front seat, ridding you of all guilt over their totally-not-bloody corpses. That remote comes in handy too when you need to interrogate thugs.
If you think the Bat-Pona sounds over-powered, it’s because it really is, but that isn’t much different from its driver. Not only is Batman Boring McBoringson (whose parents were SPOILER ALERT murdered), but he’s also pretty infallible. Throughout the game he makes crappy choices which lead to the capture of several of his closest acquaintances but there aren’t any repercussions for his actions. I know he’s the hero of the game and he’s supposed to save the day, but I never felt like Batman was ever in any real danger, which is kind of sad for a game that opens with a voice-over about the night Batman died.
Batman: Arkham Knight truly is a beautiful game, but only if you stand perfectly still, otherwise your PC might crash and I’m told you can’t play a game well when it crashes incessantly. I’d love to praise the cutscenes and effects that were likely so painstakingly rendered into the game but I can’t because they stuttered throughout and even up through the end I had to guess what might have occurred. However, the game is fun if you don’t look too closely at the plot holes or physics or any of that real world nonsense. It is still a video game, albeit at the moment an unserviceable one for PC users, a game that strives to entertain the player, which it does do, just don’t expect it to hold your interest very long, especially once you realize that you’ll only get a proper ending after 100% competition (yes, including those stupid Riddler quests). And even then the ending isn’t satisfying, especially the resolution with the Arkham Knight’s character.
It’s a shame Rocksteady’s trilogy has to end on such a poor note, but it’s release is an accurate reflection of the gaming industry as a whole right now. Developers are now being forced to own up to their mistakes, answer for releasing an unfinished game. Arkham Knight was supposed to be one of the best, and instead, it’s become the villain.