This review contains spoilers for “Batman: Arkham Knight”.
It’s hard to follow up projects that consumers still see as the pinnacle of a
genre. This is the mountain that Rocksteady has been attempting to climb with its series of
“Arkham” games since it released “Batman: Arkham Asylum” in 2009.
“Asylum” revolutionized licensed games while also revolutionizing combat in third-person action
games. Its careful blend of fast-paced, frenetic mashing and careful counters is a gameplay choice
that has been copied time and time again since. The “Asylum” story was gripping, and, most
importantly, it made you feel like the Batman. You became a badass, silent guardian swooping into
combat and kicking thugs down with a variety of gadgets and martial arts. For fans of Batman, or
just people who wanted to feel powerful, “Asylum” gave them an experience unlike anything that
had come before.
Fast-forward seven years and Rocksteady has released the third follow-up to “Arkham Asylum”
with “Batman: Arkham Knight”. The previous two follow-ups, “Batman: Arkham City” and “Batman:
Arkham Origins”, were both evolutions of the series while also having major flaws that held them
back. “City”, opting for an open-world and more free experience, was undone by some bizarre
combat choices and an interesting but somewhat empty open space. “Origins”, which
I’ve never played, focused more on the narrative while allowing the combat to edge away
into ramshackle boss encounters that all focused in odd ways. It seemed, truly, that “Arkham” had
peaked with its beginning, starting the show with the show-stopper.
As it turns out, Rocksteady still had some cards to play, and “Arkham Knight” is one of the
most pure and powerful executions of a game I have ever played. It carries its roots in “Asylum”
forward while also cherry-picking the parts of “City” and “Origins” that were great additions to the
series. The open world remains, but with the additions of a new way to traverse the landscape in the
Batmobile and some clever innovations to flying above the city, so it never feels particularly empty.
There’s always some challenge around the corner or a group of thugs willing to accept some
fists to the face.
The combat has been freshened up with the addition of dual-character combat
and a more cinematic slow down to countering and jumping about, and the gadgets feel like
they are no longer tools simply for puzzles. Things like the Remote Electrical Charge and Batclaw
are vital to tougher encounters as the game unfolds, and, most importantly, the story
the game weaves is gripping and intense. From the opening bell, Batman is launched into a
story that will change his entire world, summed up in the opening lines from Commissioner
Gordon: “This is the story of how the Batman died.”
Set one year following the events of “Arkham City”, with the Joker dead and cremated,
Gotham has been existing in a state of almost peace. Some crime bosses such as the Penguin
and Two-Face have been continuing their activities, but for the most part, Gotham’s streets are
quiet. Then, an attack by Scarecrow in a diner sets the world on fire. With a threat of a massive
fear gas attack, Gotham is evacuated save the criminal lords, the police and the Batman. This
is the “Arkham Knight” playground: the expansive city of Gotham, stretched across three islands full
of thugs and mercenaries hired by Scarecrow and the mysterious new Arkham Knight, who
seems to hold some deep vendetta against Batman. The streets are open for Batman to take
his new tool, the Batmobile, out and search for Scarecrow before he has a chance to unleash
his deadly toxin.
Helping you on this journey is the usual cast of the Bat-family. Oracle, aka Barbara Gordon, once again takes her place as your main contact, with characters such as Alfred and Lucius Fox providing support in key moments. Other members of the family such as Nightwing and Robin make appearances as well, leading to some fantastic moments of dual combat (and as a die-hard Nightwing fan, a number of fan-girlish squealing from me).
Countering them is also the usual cast of Batman’s rogues gallery such as Poison Ivy, Two-
Face and the Penguin with some lesser-known villains tossed in such as Hush and Firefly. All
of these characters weave around each other in interesting and vibrant ways, brought to life by
some brilliant voice work. Kevin Conroy is incredible as Bruce Wayne, bringing a level of
grounding and pathos to his character that is not always seen in games. This next section
contains MASSIVE spoilers for “Arkham Knight”, and should be avoided until after completing the
Seriously, folks. Here be spoilers.
But none are as close to perfection as Mark Hamill’s Joker. His level of psychosis and
the gripping power to his speeches are astonishing. I found myself both repulsed and enraptured by
the Joker in “Arkham Knight”, though I will not explain how he remains a player within this world. I
will say he is dead, very dead. But that may not stop the Clown Prince of Crime.
Drifting out of spoiler territory, “Arkham Knight” juggles its story missions and side
missions elegantly. There were times when I felt distracted by the side content and I just wanted to
charge forward and find out what happens next within the main story. However, the side content is
not optional; in order to gain access to both the basic ending and true ending, certain amounts of the
side missions must be completed. That being said, much of the side content is fun and interesting
and definitely worth completing. These self-contained pockets of story add new layers to Gotham
and the Batman himself, allowing players a new look into the mind of Batman. A few of the side
missions are a little too fetch-quest heavy, but for the most part the stories they tell are worth the
The combat within “Arkham Knight” is the most refined version of the combat introduced in
“Arkham Asylum”. The punches and combos feel snappy and engaging and are beneficial to players
who master each flip and counter, while also remaining simple enough to the casual player who
just wants to mash their way through it. Each new enemy type introduced has a dynamic hook
to beating them that blends easily into the already quick action sequences. Large goons with
gatling guns and scurrying medics add layers to the combat, creating a fast-paced but tactical
experience needed for surviving later game conflicts.
Visually, the team at Rocksteady added small aspects of motion-blur and slow-down to Batman as
he zips from corner to corner. It creates an almost cinematic element to the combat that mirrors the
more cinematic touches in cut scenes and presentation. It all feels like a dynamic and visually
pleasing affair that makes you feel like the power is all in your hands, as long as you take a step back
and evaluate your targets.
The Predator sequences of previous “Arkham” games returns as well, with new hooks such as
automated drones and smarter enemies that will change their ways of navigating the battlefield. In
order to combat these more intelligent foes, Batman has come armed with a new suit and a new
system called the FEAR take-down system. Charged by performing silent take- downs, the FEAR
system allows Batman to zip from enemy to enemy in an instant take-down, providing the player an
opportunity to level the playing field a bit. These sequences remain my favorite parts of “Arkham
Knight” as they give the player the most honest feeling of being Batman, of being this incredibly
intelligent and tactical person who can beat you with their fists or their mind. These light strategy
elements are welcome breaks from the raw, fast-paced combat sequences from other parts of the
However, not every gameplay bit of “Arkham Knight” holds up to the high bar set by the
combat and exploration. The Batmobile, while a clever addition, falls apart in execution and is a
nuisance more than a welcome part of the “Arkham” formula. It’s not the controlling part of the car
either; the controls are snappy and responsive, and it genuinely feel like you would expect
the Batmobile to feel. Sequences where you are chasing other vehicles through the streets
of Gotham are fun and feel pretty good. The problem comes from every other sequence
involving the Batmobile, things like stealthily shifting around enemies or attempting to guide it
through tight cave paths and thin rails. The sequences are simply poorly designed and don’t
allow for the player to feel any amount of power. Scenarios like tank-battling hordes of drones
are overused in both story and side content. While I respect the addition of the Batmobile to
“Arkham Knight”, I advise players to only use it when needed. There are few feelings
as cathartic as grappling and gliding through Gotham anyway, so simply fly above rather than
drive below. As for the required sections with the Batmobile, there are unfortunately many and
they may lead to headaches. Forge through them, however, and work your way to much more
interesting parts of the game.
Worse still is the execution of Riddler missions in the game. There are too many trophies and races
to be done to complete the Riddler’s content, to the point that I gave up searching for every single
trophy very quickly. I have never been enthralled by the inclusion of Riddler trophies in the
“Arkham” games, so your mileage may vary. But for me, there was too much and no real reason to
work my way through it.
Regardless, the only word I can fully use to describe “Arkham Knight” is stunning. Both visually and
mechanically, the game feels next generation in a way few games have since the beginning of
this console generation. Gotham is a dark and neon wonderland, with gorgeous rain and lighting
effects. The mechanics are sound and responsive, fully immersing players in the world of
Gotham. Besides the Batmobile and Riddler missions, “Arkham Knight” has a cohesive and
decisive experience worth being explored by fans and newcomers alike. Most importantly, the
story of “Arkham Knight” is heartbreaking and enthralling, break-neck and well-paced, soul-
crushing and uplifting. “Arkham Knight” should be a model for years to come for how to tell a
powerful story in a game. This is the story of how the Batman died, but more than that, this is the
game that proved that Rocksteady had an encore just waiting to knock us off our feet.
This review is of the Play Station 4 version of “Batman: Arkham Knight” and does not pertain to other versions.