Batman: Arkham Knight review: the good fight

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform Win, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer Rocksteady Studios
Release Date Jun 23, 2015

Before Batman: Arkham Knight, I didn't think I needed to play another Batman game. Blame the sour taste left by Arkham Origins, blame plain old Batman fatigue, but I didn't have a burning desire to don the cowl again.

I was an idiot.

Arkham Knight picks up after Batman: Arkham City and, by extension, the end of The Joker's reign of terror ... and life. He's dead, I mean. But Gotham, eager to cling to its status of Just The Worst City to Live In on the Planet, moves right into an abusive relationship with Scarecrow. The Villain Formerly Known as Jonathan Crane is threatening an attack on Gotham, which prompts a city-wide evacuation.

The vacuum left by the decent, oft-terrorized citizens is quickly filled by thugs, scumbags and hoodlums or, in other words, Batman Bait. The Caped Crusader wastes no time in launching a war against the forces of darkness, specifically the super-villains plotting to kill him.

The good news about the Gotham evacuation is it turns the entire city into a playground for Batman, who has gone from impressive grapnel-assisted gliding in Gotham City to basically being able to fly once fully upgraded. It's a welcome boost in power, too, since Gotham is roughly five times the size of the chunk carved out in Arkham City.

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Despite the game's size, Batman's on the same beat he's been since Arkham Asylum, broadly speaking: hunting for clues and grabbing gadgets that get him ever closer to catching the bad guy behind it all. But Rocksteady has honed that formula in Arkham Knight to something approximating perfection.

It's not all wonderful toys and detective work; Batman also beats the living hell out of a whole lot of lackeys as he hunts Scarecrow. Arkham's combat has been aped by many games since the release of Asylum, but Knight is a fantastic reminder that no one's yet been able to match it. It's brutal, fluid and so beautifully animated it's hard to believe it's being created on the fly.

Batman has picked up the ability to destroy thug fodder with environmental takedowns like smashing them into an electrical conduit. He's also now able to pick up baseball bats and crates wielded by enemies and pummel them into submission (why that trick only just occurred to him is anybody's guess).

Arkham Knight refuses to give you all the answers

The other new tactic is instant team-up takedowns, available when Batman is joined by playable buddies like Robin and Catwoman. You can switch to them at any time during fights and they each have their own individual move sets that feel just different enough from the Bat to keep things interesting.

Batman's final and most persistent partner-in-takedowns is the Batmobile, which can be summoned at almost any time with a button press. (You'll even drop directly into the cockpit if you summon it while in midair.)

I wasn't crazy about the idea of tooling around the city in Batman's car, but it's surprisingly fun zipping through the streets of Gotham when you've got a long trip ahead of you. Besides, if land-based travel gets too dull, you can double-tap a button and rocket into the air like you're being fired out of a cannon. It's delightful.

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Pulling a trigger converts the Batmobile into a rolling tank capable of blowing enemy drones into last week. While I didn't take to Arkham Knight's car combat right away, once the tank had been outfitted with drone-disabling EMPs and a virus that took control of enemies, it felt a lot less like a roadblock keeping me from more gliding and punching.

Arkham Knight ticks all the boxes for the fourth entry in a AAA franchise: It's bigger, there's more to do, it looks better. But that reductionist approach misses what sets Batman: Arkham Knight apart.

Most of the really, truly special touches wouldn't make the back of the box. They're in the way that a fully revved Batmobile sounds like a militarized roller coaster threatening to go off the rails. They're in the feel of soaring through a rainy, beautifully rendered Gotham without a hint of stutter.

The most notable non-feature of Arkham Knight is in the way it refuses to give you all the answers. It gives you the tools to pretend to be Batman and then trusts that you'll be able to make your way. When you're trapped with a monologuing enemy, Arkham Knight doesn't remind you that you can remotely blast enemies with the Batmobile; it waits patiently for you to come to it on your own.

When reconstructing a hologram of a crime scene, The World's Greatest Detective actually has to use logic and deduction. Riddler puzzles? Actually kind of puzzling. The feeling of having to intellectually engage with your environment and abilities makes for the most satisfying simulation of Batman yet.

In an era where my hand is chapped from being held by every AAA game on the market, Arkham Knight feels nothing short of revolutionary.

In an era of hand-holding, Arkham Knight is revolutionary

It also evolves open-world gaming in some incredibly smart, subtle ways. There's dialogue whenever you switch to tracking a side mission between Batman and Alfred, which contextualizes your actions and keeps them from feeling like a list of chores. (It doesn't hurt that most of them, especially hunting the Penguin with Nightwing at your side, are fabulous and, most importantly, never repetitive.)

When Batman is tasked with rescuing a captured firefighter, he doesn't get the exact location of the prisoner; he gets an area to search with Detective Vision until he finds the silhouette of the prisoner. It makes the process of completing these side missions a lot more organic and makes Gotham feel so much more alive.

I'm purposely avoiding talking about the story, which is packed with so many stellar, memorable moments and reaches an unbelievably dark conclusion that fits Batman like a titanium-dipped tri-weave glove. This decision to avoid the narrative is keeping me from talking about some of the best parts of the game, but it's worth it to preserve every bit of fist-pumping joy and mouth-gaping terror for your first playthrough. I don't want to ruin a second of it.

Wrap Up:

Arkham Knight is Batman perfected

Rocksteady has said this is its last Batman game, and I'm praying to the New Gods that they're on the level. After Arkham Knight, trying to find more meat on the Batman bone would define futility. After Arkham Knight, Batman has been perfected — and the end result is the best game of this console generation.

Batman: Arkham Knight was reviewed using a debug PS4 review build provided by Warner Bros. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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10 PS4