Batman: Arkham Knight Xbox One Review
Rocksteady introduce the Batmobile
"This is how it happened. This is how the Batman died."Rocksteady are back handling development duties and - in true Spinal Tap fashion - all the dials have been set to eleven (and you could question whether the colour scheme could get any blacker as well).
The underwhelming Arkham Origins, an instalment developed by Warner Bros Montreal, is not merely a distant memory, but almost erased altogether; the back of the box proclaims Knight to be the “explosive finale to the Arkham trilogy.”
You'd be forgiven for thinking that with the Joker dead, all would be peaceful in Gotham, but the set-up of the calm before the storm is perfect.
Thanks to some Scarecrow-inspired carnage, the inhabitants of the City flee, which handily leaves the streets of Gotham to the criminals. Luckily for you this transforms it into a hit-anything-that-moves playground for you and your shiny new set of wheels.
BatmobileAnd what a set of wheels it is. Far from leaving its arrival as a tempting reward for later in the game, Rocksteady positively throw you into the Batmobile from the off, introducing it - and its many capabilities - with suitable bombast.
The interesting aspect of its integration is that it's not just used for City traversal. If there's one criticism of the streets of Gotham, it's that they can feel a bit samey (well, there are a lot of them, it's by far the biggest environment yet). Since Arkham City, it's been clear that the best elements of the game design have been kept for when verticality is used, so the landmarks and such like are visible from the sky.
On foot, one alley looks much like another, so the idea of freewheeling to make progress might not sound quite so tantalising. The road markings, pointing towards your destination, make it easier to navigate, but even with the fun of jumps dotted around the City it's not really engaging you in the same way that hurtling skyward in the sun-drenched locales of a GTA game might.
Rocksteady positively throw you into the Batmobile from the off
That's because the car, in isolation, is much like any other WayneTech tool; it only really becomes fun when it adds variety, and you use it with that in mind. The eject function, which sends you shooting into the night sky, along with the ability to call the Batmobile to your location, means City traversal becomes more about chaining the moments together. Hurtling with the afterburner on, starting to lose control, then ejecting into the stratosphere to continue your pursuit keeps the excitement escalating, and makes getting from location to location a faster paced thrill ride than its been before.
It's a car, but it's also a tankIt's a veritable swiss army knife of a vehicle too. When you engage battle mode, the wheels enable you to pivot on the spot, turning on the proverbial sixpence, to outflank opponents. This change of wheel stance brings out your guns too, which are needed to take on the new enemy vehicles that roam the streets.
These can range from chance encounters to scripted missions, but the end result is much the same; what unfolds is akin to a simplistic tank game. The unmanned drones (well, they had to be unmanned, otherwise Batman couldn't glibly blow them up) have lines of fire that turn red when they have you in their cross hairs, and you need to strafe and shoot to outmanoeuvre them, utilising buildings to obscure lines of fire if necessary.
It's only really in numbers that they trouble you, but given the admittedly limited variety they offer, it remains fun. Someone, somewhere, has wisely chosen not to overcomplicate the giddy lure of shooting things with a big gun mounted on the Batmobile.
What unfolds is akin to a simplistic tank game
Strangely, if there is a criticism of the Batmobile's presence in Knight, it's that it's so well integrated. Some puzzles have been designed with it in mind, including the abundance of Riddler conundrums that dot the City and will represent the real longevity of the game. If you like the Batmobile (and I do) then what Rocksteady have done is to mesh an entirely new item into the very core of what makes the series great, to the point that its absence would affect how you play. However, if you'd rather eschew those wheels, and prefer slower paced flight, then it may come across as an aspect that's slightly overplayed.
If it ain't broke...Away from your new ride, the core formula remains much the same. The brawling action is just as honed as it's ever been; the tight system of melee strikes, combos, takedowns and counters is all present and correct, without being unnecessarily altered. There is the addition of "Dual play" where you can change control to an ally character mid-brawl, but other than the momentary interest in seeing a tag-team knockdown it's just a fun but forgettable scene to mix things up a bit thanks to the Batman roster. I don't know about you, but once I've been Batman, I have no wish to be Robin or Catwoman, other than for curiosity's sake.
Change control to an ally character mid-brawl
Similarly mixing things up is the use of enemy watchtowers, motion sensors and flying drones, that curtail your ability to dominate the skyline. It doesn't go as far as to force you to sneak on foot, but it adds an extra touch of satisfaction to clearing them out and once again owning the skies.
It's these kind of additional layers that make Knight evoke the purported end of a trilogy, the culmination of ideas, both gameplay and story-wise, reaching a logical conclusion where you’re given all the possible skills Batman would have, and set up to unfold in as cinematic a fashion as possible; Rocksteady don't even miss the chance to show off the flourish of the Batmobile's wheel skidding to a halt if it's there to be shown.
The mission progression, and the manner in which the islands open up for you is well structured, with some side-missions being triggered by events that can take you by surprise. Yes, some of the locations and rescue missions can be a bit cut-and-paste (I genuinely thought I'd lost a save at one point, as I assumed I was replaying the same one), but the onus is on you, as the player, to vary things. If you do, and jump from the story, to a grisly murder, to a riddle or two, to a mysterious beast circling the skies, then the game feels far more organic, and you'll get far more from it. Just as long as you like the Batmobile.
- Same excellent formula
- Good story
- Some interesting side missions
Batsuit with nipples
- If you don't like the Batmobile...
Batman: Arkham Knight Xbox One ReviewIt'd be wrong to define Arkham Knight based solely on the Batmobile's presence, but it's all too easy to focus on the heavily armoured, gun-toting, afterburner-rocket firing WayneTech behemoth in which you'll patrol the streets. It's not just another gadget, which you can choose to use or ignore, but rather something that Rocksteady have carefully integrated into the various aspects that make the series great.
Like Arkham City, it doesn't have the close attention to combat set-ups that highlighted why so many loved Arkham Asylum, but in the box of tricks at your disposal, including a new suit and lots to upgrade, Arkham Knight gives you everything to tackle Gotham in the way you choose, with a story that utilises a similar box of tricks and a supporting cast worthy of a big screen Bat outing.
The combat's still tight, there's a City to explore, secrets to uncover and a wealth of WayneTech upgrades and moves to unlock. It's a fitting end to Rocksteady's trilogy.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £49.99
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