Arkham Knight: A knight for a Batmobile
Updated: Feb 2
(Warning: I have received complaints regarding the facts behind my criticisms of the Arkham Knight and Scarecrow. It turns out I have misremembered events of the story. Please approach my critique of Scarecrow and the Arkham knight with caution.)
Those who follow my work will know that I don’t abide by the rules (man). I don’t game/ watch/read things in chronological order at the best of times. (It’s why I started with Saints Row 4 instead of the first, same with the Witcher series.) As it happens I review games out of chronological order as well (most of the time at least). So that is why I am reviewing Arkham Knight instead Arkham Asylum first (I will get to it, a fantastic game by the way). I am very bad at experiencing things in the correct order.
Scarecrow has returned and this time....it’s personal. Batman not only has to save Gotham city one final time from his old enemy. But he is also confronted from a new foe that appears to have a personal gripe with the caped crusader. Arkham Knight ‘s story and characterization has some good, bad and misguided attempts to bring something new to the narrative. I will examine the problems and positives in a paragraph or two. Please note that despite it I still finished the game not completely regretting my experience even if I didn’t enjoy myself all the time.
Saving the city from...what?
There is a little bit of an unavoidable plot hole (kind of like Joburg’s roads ), from the very start. Scarecrow in the opening cut scene releases his fear gas upon a diner. It is quite a horrific scene that captures a little of the potential that Scarecrow has in crafting a horror atmosphere.
Afterwards Scarecrow announces a wide scale attack on Gotham using said fear gas. As a result of this the city is evacuated with the exception Scarecrow’s own men. Batman is left to defend an empty city and Scarecrow to terrorize a city that only contains his own goons.
Why would Scarecrow even continue with the gassing if there is no one to gas? Why would Batman care about defending a city that has no one is in apart from a skeletal police force armed with gasmasks? These are questions that never get answered and are simply ignored. It makes Scarecrow’s threat rather hard to take seriously.
Why should I give a damn when the police are unaffected and there is no one to save. I cannot see Scarecrow being such a rubbish employer that he would gas his own men. Yet he seems to do just that. We are not saving criminals from themselves. Not when we are breaking their spines and leaving them to tear themselves apart in terror. Who are we saving? We don’t know and no one seems to care.
(Turns out this was not a plot hole but rather me misremembering events, Scarecrow wanted to give a demonstration of the toxin which would have covered the eastern seaboard of the USA (thanks to Simon Stagg). It was a ploy for news coverage. I have to admit it was pretty clever ploy. I misrepresented events of the game and I apologize for it.)
In theory I like John Noble as Scarecrow. He carries a quiet, deliberate menace that was absent from Dino Andrade’s performance in Arkham Asylum. There are times when I think he was even a little unsettling, that self assured, reserved air laced with a psychopathic intellect was quite intimidating.
But there is something missing. Dino Andrade’s performance was a memorably terrifying part of Asylum, he would slip Batman fear gas, twisting the world into a hell scrape that was utterly harrowing. Scarecrow’s voice: a strange mixture of feminine vocals mixed with a male voice was deeply unsettling. Scarecrow was an active member of the plot that could make even the Batman feel completely helpless.
John Noble’s Scarecrow on the other hand is not scary. His participation in the plot for a majority of the main plot is to call in and gloat about being better then Batman. A good vocal performance is wasted on John Noble getting regulated to dull repetitive news broadcasts.
Scarecrow’s presence is weak and as a result, becomes rather unremarkable. John Noble could have made a fascinating Scarecrow, but instead he talks instead of doing for a majority of the plot. He lectures while Arkham Asylum’s Scarecrow tormented Batman. Knight’s Scarecrow sat in a chair, Asylum’s Scarecrow was always in the room with Batman.
(This too is me misremembering events, Scarecrow was present when Batman was first poisoned,holding Barbra hostage and the grand finale. He uses the toxin to turn Batman into what he hated the most. I was wrong. I cannot always rely on memory when recalling the story.)
(Spoiler warnings for the Arkham Knight reveal)
I can respect John Nobel’s performance even if it was not utilised very well. I cannot however say the same the Arkham Knight. It might technically be well performed (Troy Baker is a voice god after all) but the delivery and (to an extent) writing is deeply flawed.
He comes across as a whiny child, someone who comes across less like a man twisted by the horrors of brainwashing and torture but rather a child angry at the grown up for taking away his best toy.
Please see the video for what I mean. That tone is consistent with all the voice acting. I do understand what Rocksteady were going for, Jason Todd was brainwashed so heavily that he became filled with emotional rage against the Batman. I can understand and respect what was Rocksteady tried but something (for me, it might be different for you) went wrong somewhere.
All I saw for the majority of my playthrough was a whiny man-child, petulant and filled with the rage of the average collage campus protester. As a result, it is difficult to take seriously when the Arkham Knight: a supposedly brilliant military commander and super villain is having another temper tantrum because I blew up his drones.
I should take some time to talk about the hype and the let down fans had post release. The Arkham Knight was hyped up as a completely unique villain for the DC rouge’s gallery. This turns out to be only half true. The identity was unique. The character was not.
Jason Todd is the Arkham Knight, an established character that anyone with a decent knowledge of the Batman universe would know about before the reveal.
I will not blame Rocksteady too much as it is difficult to tell how much of a say they had in the trailers. But one cannot help it being something of a missed opportunity. Jason Todd might have been thematically appropriate but sadly predictable .
(One does not need to say how Jason Todd was tortured, brainwashed and molded into hating Batman . The Arkham Knight does become better once the voice modulator goes. I suspect it was that modulated voice that rubbed me the wrong way. I can see what Rocksteady was going for, however for the majority of the game I was unsympathetic due to the voice. The ingredients were there but the modulation put a damper on everything. I hope you might experience things differently.)
What we most wanted
That is not to say that Arkham Knight does not use the rest of its rouge’s gallery well. It does very well. Arkham Knight includes an all star cast including the likes of Poison Ivy, Two Face, Penguin, Joker, Scarecrow and also Firefly. Joker as a visual hallucination (brought on by fear gas) is a fascinating story element. Like a mental cancer he gradually takes over Batman mind until an amazing FPS section set within Batman’s head. It is a wonderfully executed journey that sees Batman finally overcome his dark side. He is able to let go of the Joker and have him grow as a character.
The other villains mentioned also get their own missions and are very much a joy to go through. Even the Riddler races are somewhat enjoyable even though I am not good at racing games or driving the Batmobile. Rocksteady did a fantastic job with creating a story for every villain that is interesting and unique. (Gameplay aspect is a little mixed, more on that later)
I will go through each the my thoughts regarding the combat, design, Batmobile and the mission design. None of these are unenjoyable per say. But there are problems that are indicative of the modern open world AAA game. Perfectly fine if boring by design.
We all know and love the Arkham combat system. That pitch perfect mix of punching, blocking and combo building that is not only enjoyable but feels utterly great. Rocksteady uses brilliant sound design to make every punch, every kick and every takedown sound as satisfying and punchy (lol pun). Strategy is important too, certain foes need to be taken down in a certain way through certain combos. You had to isolate, then perform the combo without getting hit or interrupted in some way. You had to learn planning on the fly and remember combos in the heat of the fight.
The stealth too is perfect. With vantage points, vents and rafters offering a multitude of ways to dispatch foes without them even noticing. The sense of escalation is palpable, your opponents getting progressively more twitchy and terrified as you take out more of their ranks. There is nothing really wrong with either the combat or the stealth. If you have played any of the Arkham games in the past you will know what you are getting into. That is a thrilling yet careful stealth system and great combat.
F**k the Batmoblie
When you think of the Arkham Series that being a series of games focused on stealth and hand to hand combat, would you think car battles? If you answered yes then I would have to wonder what you were smoking. The Batmoblie was something of a unique selling point in the marketing. In practice however there is an inescapable sense of a mechanic being crowbared into a game that does not need it. The hook shot and glide abilities were perfectly fine in Arkham City and Origins and it is no different in Arkham Knight. The drone battles (while not badly designed) are completely at odds with the series’ identity and gameplay loops.
It also pushes the credibility of Batman’s main rule (do not kill). I find it difficult to believe that the average goon is perfectly fine when he get run over by a tank. Or that the average goon simply gets knocked out by a military grade gun. Not only are the loud, fanatic gunfights of the Batmobile completely at odds with the Arkham series. But also strain the player’s credibility of Batman’s moral compass.
Gotham is split into three islands. Each island has been taken over by the Arkham Knight’s goons, who have set up barricade, watch towers and drones all over the place. You might expect that this is setting up some sort of progression system; the more we take down the more of the map we unlock. You would be wrong. There is little to now gameplay benefit to shutting down the watch towers, the barricade and the drones’ asides from 100% completion.
It does not help that they make up the majority of the game, taking away screen time from villain side quests (who should have been the stars). It would not have been bad if liberating the map was not so repetitive and dull. This tends to be a problem in modern AAA open worlds, filled with meaningless guff in an effort to pad out the running time.
The real ending is locked behind the tedious copy paste side missions. On one hand, I can see why Rocksteady would want this; they want people to play Arkham Knight for as long as possible. I have no problem with playing side quests as long as they are interesting. However I do not really enjoy knowing that I am forcing through boring missions to achieve closure. For me it is a lose-lose situation.
Either I get the bad ending but at least have fun or I go into an unpaid job I hate in order to get an ending that I stopped caring for. I hate that you are forced to do a set amount of side quests before the ending even opens. Why couldn’t have Rocksteady have simply made me complete all the most wanted then open up the ending? Maybe have the missions be less boring and repetitive? If you enjoyed the base destroying missions then I am happy for you. I unfortunately just got bored.
Art style and graphics:
There is a graphical decline between the PC and the PS4 versions of Arkham Knight, that so much is true. However that is not to say that Arkham Knight does not look good or is impressive from a graphical standpoint. The glisten of rain on Batman’s shoulders, the texturing, the neon lights and decor of neo gothic skyscrapers, it is wonderful to look at. Arkham Knight, despite the graphical downgrade is an extremely beautiful game.
Mostly consistent with some minor dropping frame rate and the occasional freeze. Not bad and the occurrences were few and far between. The AI is not always the best, sometimes getting stuck in corners, failing to notice you when you are right in front of them .
However it was infrequent, I only encountered these problems a couple of times. We all know about the PC version’s horrid launch. Unless that has been fixed, you will be better off with the console version.
Arkham Knight is fine, a perfectly functional piece of entertainment. Flawed in its tedious busy work and misguided in its inclusion of the Batmobile, Arkham Knight being a whiny child with too much power and the Scarecrow becoming a dull villain. Arkham Knight is a very enjoyable if flawed experience. I am doubtful I would try again (unlike Arkham Asylum).
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Edit: 2020/02/02: Corrected misinformation regarding misinformation about the plot and characters.
Edit: corrected spelling mistake: who becomes hole.