As I mentioned in a recent article, I adore every game in the Batman: Arkham franchise. I’m currently one achievement away from 100% completing Arkham Asylum. Arkham City was the first of a select few relatively recent games which managed to evoke a genuine emotional response from me when I first finished it and still manages to evoke a similar response every time I replay it. I quite enjoyed Arkham Origins despite most reviewers being lukewarm about it at best. That brings me to the game I’ll be reviewing today, Arkham Knight; more specifically, the deeply flawed PC port of that particular title.
I’ve played through Arkham Knight about three and a half times at the time of this writing. My last playthrough of it was rather recent, so I’ll be able to discuss my opinions about it and memories of it in more vivid detail than I would be able to muster about any of the other games in the franchise. Ordinarily, the quite lackluster quality of the PC port would be enough to push me away from this particular game, but I enjoy the game enough to keep playing through it as many times as I have due to its’ plot and certain other aspects, all of which I’ll discuss in further detail shortly.
Before I discuss why I enjoy the game as much as I do in any significant detail, however, I’d like to discuss what I dislike most about it. That is, as I’ve already mentioned twice within this review, the rather poor quality of its PC port. I don’t consider myself to be one of those PC gaming elitists who demands that every game run flawlessly at 60 frames per second on ultra settings, but I’d like to think I know enough about PC gaming to know a poor-quality port when I see one.
Even if that wasn’t the case, my intuition tells me it probably isn’t a good sign when a game is pulled from Steam for a period of just over four months after its’ release. It was pulled so that its’ port could be (presumably) worked on further, and hopefully, significantly improved. Although I had an unshakable feeling it could prove to be a mistake, I bought the Steam version of Arkham Knight shortly after its’ re-release. After all, it was another Batman game developed by Rocksteady, who had made the outstanding Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. How bad could it be, right?
Well, as it turns out, it could be quite poor indeed. The main reason for this is that, from my understanding, the PC port of Arkham Knight wasn’t directly developed by Rocksteady as the console versions were. Instead, the PC version was developed by a different company, namely Iron Galaxy Studios, whom you might know as the developers of Divekick. I’ve seen several people say it was Iron Galaxy’s inexperience that led to the critical panning of Arkham Knight’s PC port even after its’ re-release. I neither agree nor disagree with that sentiment, and I don’t feel it’s my place to speculate on such things.
What is it about the PC port of Arkham Knight that’s bad enough to make me harp on about it for this long, then? Well, I think the fact that none of the high-end computers upon which I’ve run the game can manage anything resembling a stable frame rate, 60 FPS or otherwise, even while running on medium settings, is a good place to start. That’s not even mentioning the occasional repeated crashes, which force me to verify the game’s files within Steam. What really saddens me is that I can tell that the game is doing its’ best to run as stably as possible, but the game’s port is so poorly-optimized that it just can’t manage it.
Right, then that’s quite enough of me harping on about the PC port of Arkham Knight. It’s high time I began discussing what I actually like about this particular Batman game, and what it is about it that keeps me coming back, despite the less-than-ideal way I have to play it. I suppose the best place to start would be with this game’s plot. I should warn you, however, there may end up being minor spoilers of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, though I absolutely will not spoil anything specific to Arkham Knight. If you’re not familiar with the events of those games and would, therefore, be affected by said spoilers, I highly suggest you go play them.
The events of Arkham Knight take place entirely because of certain events which took place near the end of Arkham Asylum. After Batman finally defeats the source of his fear-induced hallucinations, namely Scarecrow, Batman ensures Scarecrow ends up in Arkham Asylum’s sewers where Scarecrow is then mauled by Killer Croc. From that point on, Scarecrow has been plotting his revenge against Batman and Gotham City as a whole. Some time after these events, Scarecrow finds the perfect moment to strike: Halloween night.
Scarecrow publicly announces that he intends to detonate a massive bomb containing his trademark fear toxin in order to transform Gotham into a “city of fear.” Gotham’s government officials, deciding to err on the side of caution, order the entirety of Gotham evacuated with the exceptions of the Gotham City Police Department and Batman himself. As GCPD’s commissioner Jim Gordon states at the beginning of the game, the citizens of Gotham are “counting on one man to save us all.”
As Batman goes through the motions of putting a stop to Scarecrow’s nefarious plots, he’s attacked by squads of unmanned, heavily-armed tanks and well-trained militiamen. Batman enlists Alfred and Oracle to find out who is controlling the tanks and commanding the militia, while he works on defeating both them and Scarecrow. A short time later, Oracle informs Batman that she has located a secret training facility in Venezuela which houses soldiers who bear the same insignia as the militiamen currently trying to eliminate Batman.
Oracle reveals that the militia’s commander is the so-called “Arkham Knight.” Batman recognizes that the Knight and his militia are legitimate threats, and thus tasks Alfred and Oracle with discovering the Knight’s identity as quickly as possible. Batman must now divide his attention between the Knight and Scarecrow, as the two appear to be working together with the ultimate goal of killing Batman. The more impatient Knight has several opportunities to kill Batman immediately, but Scarecrow forces the Knight to wait.
Scarecrow explains that “in death, Batman has nothing left to fear,” and states that he doesn’t want Batman to die until after Scarecrow’s ultimate plan has reached fruition. Scarecrow goes on to explain that he doesn’t just want to kill Batman as a man, he wants to kill Batman as a legacy, a mythos. How he intends to accomplish this isn’t revealed until the end of the game, so I won’t spoil anything about that aspect of Scarecrow’s plans.
When Batman encounters his first squad of the aforementioned unmanned tanks, he knows he can’t defeat them with his traditional utility belt full of gadgets. He subsequently introduces what becomes one of Arkham Knight’s central gameplay mechanics: the Batmobile. With the Batmobile’s heavier weaponry at his disposal, Batman can easily destroy legions of these unmanned drone tanks, provided they don’t destroy him first, that is. He can also choose several upgrades for the Batmobile’s weapons systems over the course of the game’s main campaign, such as an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) blast which damages nearby drones and destroys incoming enemy missiles.
It is later revealed that virtually every villain remaining in Gotham has joined forces with Scarecrow and the Knight, to some extent, in order to put a bounty on Batman’s head. Batman knows he needs to put a stop to each villain’s individual plots, but decides that stopping Scarecrow and the Knight must come first. Thus, the act of defeating every other villain who isn’t the Knight or Scarecrow becomes a series of side missions which you can attend to in whichever order you see fit. Periodically, after certain events in the main story, Alfred will inform Batman that something has come up which he suggests Batman should investigate; this usually means a new side mission chain has appeared.
The main purpose of completing these side mission chains is gaining WayneTech upgrade points, which you can use to make Batman and the Batmobile stronger and more efficient in combat. You’ll get quite a few upgrade points as you progress through the main story, but side missions and the optional augmented-reality (AR) challenges are good ways to get even more of them. Getting as many upgrades as you can is a great idea if you intend to replay the game via its’ more difficult new game plus mode. New game plus lets you keep any upgrades you acquired during your first play through of the game’s campaign.
While the upgrade points and subsequent purchasable upgrades that come from side missions can definitely come in handy, however, I find that many of the side missions feel like little more than busywork. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain side mission chains that I really enjoy, such as the chain wherein you work with Nightwing to stop Penguin from smuggling weapons into Gotham and have the option to momentarily play as Nightwing while you fight several of Penguin’s thugs. On the other hand, though, I’m less receptive to other missions that can get repetitive quickly, such as the missions that revolve around Batman thwarting the Knight’s militia in some way or another.
Additionally, since I’m on the topic of gameplay aspects to which I’m less receptive, the Batmobile is certainly nice to have for what I’ve taken to calling the “cool factor” that it offers. Yet, I agree with certain other reviewers in questioning the need for the Batmobile as a way of getting around, in light of the fact that the standard Arkham method of traversal via grapnel gun and gliding is still quite effective. In fact, you even get upgrades to your grapnel gun throughout the course of the game, and there are several points during the later story where you’re completely unable to drive the Batmobile.
With that said, aside from enabling Batman to blow up the occasional militia tank or ten; or chase down and interrogate thugs who happen to work for the Riddler, in return for the locations of the Riddler’s ubiquitous trophies and puzzles, I feel that the Batmobile is just kind of there for the sake of being there. Saying so somewhat disappoints me, as the Batmobile has established itself as a necessary icon of Batman’s mythos, but I honestly don’t think it lives up to its’ full potential within the world of Arkham Knight.
Considering everything I’ve said throughout this review, however, I still wholeheartedly consider Arkham Knight to be an enjoyable game and a worthy conclusion to the Arkham franchise. Despite the fact that I’ve played through its’ story as many times as I have and therefore know exactly what to expect, there are still some points in the story that can evoke genuine emotional reactions within me, similar to the way that Arkham City’s ending still does. If you haven’t played Arkham Knight for any reason – maybe you were put off by what you may have read about the quality of its PC port, or maybe you just haven’t gotten around to it yet – I absolutely recommend that you do so. Don’t let its negative aspects deter you. I assure you it’s worth your time if you consider yourself any degree of a Batman fan.