Arkham Asylum, the first Batman game from Rocksteady Studios, had the sense of a fresh beginning for superhero action games. Batman: Arkham Knight has a sense of finality. It builds on the revolutionary strike-and-counter fighting style with powerful new moves and enemies; it expands on Arkham City’s open world with a larger, more detailed version of Gotham; it introduces a new fully playable Batmobile and makes it an important part of the action and puzzles; and it brings all of Batman’s closest family of Gotham superheroes and rogues together for an amazing, great-looking finale.
On with the show!
It’s impossible, at least for me, to encounter the fourth big entry in a wildly popular Batman series and not think of Batman and Robin, the disastrous 1997 Joel Schumacher movie that starred George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Uma Thurman. Batman and Robin did what the Joker, Riddler, and Penguin had been trying and failing to do for almost 60 years. It killed the Dark Knight (as a film franchise, at least), at the time seemingly for good.
Batman: Arkham Knight, the fourth major title in the Warner Bros. series of video games that began with 2009’s Arkham Asylum and the third to be helmed by the London studio Rocksteady, is not a debacle on the order of Batman and Robin. But well into the game, I feared that it would be. For several hours, it seemed that the opening lines—“This is how it happened. This is how the Batman died”—were not an omen that might or might not be paid off by Arkham Knight’s ending, but rather were a foreshadowing of what Arkham Knight was going to do to the reputation of the Arkham games as the only great superhero series in video games.
After a stylish opening, Arkham Knight miscalculates, badly. The decision to revolve so much of the game around the new Batmobile is an alienating move that robs Arkham Knight at the outset of the fantasy of becoming the Dark Knight. The great joy of the Arkham games has been how well they allow players to embody the Batman, gliding and grappling and duking it out with criminals using a combination of fists, feet, and gadgets. Arkham Knight jettisons much of this during its first couple of hours in favor of teaching the player how to drive the new Batmobile and use its weapons in tank battles on the streets of Gotham.
If this is in fact the last Rocksteady-developed Batman game, the series will end on a high note. Arkham Knight is the biggest Batman game yet, not just in map size, but in the wide range of different types of gameplay, and its collection of characters. The addition of tank combat thematically clashes with everything Batman stands for, but it is fun, and having access to the Batmobile for the first time gives us a new world of possibilities for interacting with Gotham City. Arkham Knight is an outstanding game on almost every level.