maanantai 15. toukokuuta 2017

REVIEW - Batman: Arkham Knight

GENRE(S): Action-adventure, Open-world, Stealth
AVAILABLE ON: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
DEVELOPER(S): Rocksteady Studios, WB Games Montréal, Iron Galaxy Studios (Windows)
PUBLISHER(S): Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: June 23, 2015

NOTE: This is a re-stylized, mildly edited, and shortened (!) version of a review I wrote back in late 2015 or early 2016 during VGMania's downtime, hence the lack of my own screenshots (the game takes up a freaky amount of hard drive space on the PS4). I decided to publish it now to celebrate the DC Comics ensemble fighting game Injustice 2, which is out in the United States tomorrow and in the rest of the world by the end of the week. I'll be here to review that one ASAP, as well.

Riddle me this: do you remember a little humble indie game called something like, um... what was it... Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots? Do you remember how director Hideo Kojima told us, as we were pissing in our pants out of pure excitement, how Metal Gear Solid 4 was going to be the last Metal Gear game ever? Well, as it turned out: it wasn't. Kojima himself went on to direct Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, released two years later, passed his baby over to Platinum Games another two years later for the creation of Metal Gear Rising, then directed the mammoth known as Metal Gear Solid V before getting unceremoniously canned by Konami - who are now working on their very own installment in the franchise, I like to call "Metal Gear Crash 'n' Burn". Well, even though Metal Gear Solid 4 wasn't the end it was so gloriously and gratuitously hyped up to be, it was indeed the end of an era, the final Metal Gear game in the Tactical Espionage Action series, and the last to feature its original protagonist, Solid Snake. In the summer of 2015, after a few delays and a simply disastrous launch campaign, Rocksteady Studios finally unleashed Batman: Arkham Knight - the "FINAL" game in the Arkham series. We all knew it wasn't going to be the last one - but it is most definitely the last major Arkham title created by the original crew, and thus, in my opinion, should be treated as the last true Arkham game, the ultimate "Be the Batman" experience. Now I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me on this, but that's exactly what it is. Batman: Arkham Knight is a jaw-breaking, fantastic climax to one of the most exciting trilogies ever seen in video game history.

Blinded by fear

Months after the decommission of Arkham City, Gotham City's crime rate has dropped almost completely; all of the surviving supervillains in the city have gone into hiding, leaving the swarms of street thugs to fend for their own against the most powerful law enforcement set-up in the world. On Halloween, everything changes. Scarecrow re-emerges two years after his disappearance following the Arkham Asylum incident, with Gotham's worst by his side, and manages to evacuate most of Gotham City with the threat of a city-wide chemical attack - counting on one man to stay behind and attempt to stop him. Together with allies brave enough to stay and stand by him, Batman embarks on what could be his last crusade against Scarecrow - unknowing that the mad doctor has allied himself with a new, mysterious villain calling himself the Arkham Knight, and his vast and powerful military forces.

When I first finished - and immediately reviewed - Batman: Arkham City in late 2011, I honestly thought that was it. Rocksteady went all in with that game; the gameplay neared perfection, and with the death of Batman's greatest nemesis (not such a secret anymore), the Arkham story arc reached an imperfect but satisfying conclusion. There was nothing even close as exciting Rocksteady could've delivered with a third game than the whole comprised of two halves, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Warner Bros. developed the prequel Arkham Origins (and its portable counterpart) themselves, fueling the already common belief that Rocksteady had moved on. At this point, people didn't really care; Arkham Origins was, in part, a testament to the claims these Batman games had run out of ideas. However, once the first teaser for a new game called Batman: Arkham Knight emerged, the gaming community simply exploded out of excitement. This eighth-generation mammoth of a Batman adventure was set to answer all of our burning questions about past events in this universe and their ultimate consequences. Instead of simply remastering and redesigning the already familiar Gotham map used in both Arkham City and Arkham Origins, Rocksteady flushed that map and created a new, epic Gotham City from scratch, which you could finally be able to explore not just by running and gliding through the night sky, but by your trusty steed, which was done making cameo appearances - the Batmobile. Rocksteady also made it very clear from the start, that Arkham Knight would be THEIR last Arkham game - after this, Warner Bros. could do whatever they wanted with the series, but as much as they loved their product, Rocksteady would not touch it again. That speaks volumes - volumes of the greatest Batman story ever told. Batman: Arkham Knight is not that by itself - but it is the greatest part of a three-part story that IS the greatest Batman story ever told. I was always disappointed in the ending of Arkham City - ever since this game arrived, I've had no beef with it. It feels right.

Robin, get in the car. ...Or don't.
The original landing of Batman: Arkham Knight was far from smooth. First of all, the PC launch version was a well-known, disfunctional piece of trash that got pulled out of the market almost immediately for a later relaunch, leaving many PC gamers harboring deep hatred towards Rocksteady and Warner Bros., as there was virtually nothing wrong with the console versions of the game. Especially after so many delays - the game was originally supposed to come out sometime in late 2014 - I can imagine their disappointment. (This is me feeling genuinely sorry for the master race, I think I've grown up some.) The $250 Batmobile Edition of the game got cancelled THREE DAYS before the game's launch, 'cause apparently hundreds of the Batmobile replicas that were the edition's main hook had broken to pieces during the launch shipment to the States and Europe. This left major game retailers harboring a grudge towards Warner Bros. as well, 'cause now they had to put up with shit from customers who had pre-ordered and already paid for the game - including yours truly! Well, GameStop, as great as they are, came up with just about the perfect solution to ease my personal disappointment. I got the Special Edition of the game, coupled with the Season Pass, a free retail game of my choice, a limited edition Arkham Knight action figure, and a vintage Batman coffee cup to cover all of my expenses. THAT'S service.

After playing the game for about an hour and a half in the small hours between June 22nd and 23rd, 2015, I had fallen in love with it. I loved it from the start 'til the fake ending, and immediately took it upon myself to beat the game to 100% to see the true ending, which I loved even more. After finishing the game four times, I'm still pretty convinced that this is THE Batman game of all time. It's the small things that make it so - there are so many details, so many easter eggs, so many juicy, dark plotline twists that it really feels like you're living in a comic book, as the dark brooding hero of its pages.

The next day, came the reviews - and fanboy rants. While just about everyone agreed that storywise, Arkham Knight was fabulous, full of surprises and surprise guest stars, an epic love letter to the most dedicated DC and Batman fans, many felt that the game contradicted not only the earlier Arkham games, but also Batman's methods by having the Batmobile in such an important role in exploration, puzzle-solving and most of all, heavy artillery combat. "Suddenly Batman has become a mass murderer", blah blah blah. Before venting my own thoughts about the Batmobile, as well as the whole game, let's be clear about one thing here: Batman does not kill anyone during the course of the game. It's made clear early on, that all of the tanks Batman destroys in this game are radio-controlled, and the firepower he uses on individual people are concussive shots. Stop spreading false information. Thank you. Now let's move on - let's review this most awesome game.

The Darker Knight Rises

There's one thing I simply cannot do here: keep this short. Since I'm such a Bat-fan, I predict to delve deeper into the story than I probably should, or deeper than necessary at the very least. I'll keep this spoiler-free, though I'm counting on you having played through the previous parts of the trilogy. If not, skip to the next headline.

Let's start with Batman himself, once again voiced by the one and only Kevin Conroy. Since Arkham City, this guy's been a wreck, since not only did he lose the only true love of his life, but also his arch nemesis, who was more important to him than he'd ever like to admit. Although deep down he knows it's not the truth, he holds himself responsible for the Joker's death, and therefore feels to have broken the only rule he ever lived by. Even with the Joker's memory plaguing his mind all the time, Batman stops at nothing when his city's in danger. However, when you're dealing with a guy like Scarecrow, and his notorious fear gas, you really shouldn't rush in with a head full of demons... just sayin'...

Scarecrow has had one demonic makeover since the Asylum days. Not only does he look like a messenger from hell, he also sounds like one, courtesy of John Noble, who I remember best as Denethor in Lord of the Rings, as well as Leland Monroe, one of the main antagonists in L.A. Noire - creepy sons of bitches, both of them, but even with their powers combined, they can't match the new Scarecrow. Dr. Crane's mere presence takes us through pure psychological hell in this game, not to mention the lengths he goes to help deliver one of the darkest stories told in this whole franchise - definitely the darkest Batman video game storyline ever created, by far.

The Dark Knight vs. The Arkham Knight.
To steer this review towards Christopher Nolan's films for just a small jiffy, the Arkham Knight (voiced by the almighty and ever so versatile Troy Baker, who also reprises his other roles from previous games) is this game series' equivalent of Bane. Bane has appeared in every Arkham game released thus far, but clearly more influenced by his comic book persona, while Arkham Knight seems to take a lot of influence from Nolan and Goyer's more realistic interpretation of Bane. He's a powerhouse both mentally and physically - which balances out the Joker business of previous games, just like Nolan deliberately balanced out his own Joker business by introducing his Bane - he has his very own private army specifically trained to fight Batman, and knows everything there is to know about Batman, as well as his true identity, secret allies, even his gadgetry. He's ALWAYS one step ahead, nearly impossible to subdue. However, his recklessness and homicidal hatred towards the Dark Knight will be his most likely downfall. We'll have to see, won't we? ...Stay tuned for the conclusion, it's awesome.

The length of the guest list for this bashfest is just borderline insane. Many survivors of the Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, and even Arkham Origins storylines make an appearance; if not in the base game, then in the Season of Infamy expansion pack which I'll briefly be going over at the end of the review. Once again, many long-burning questions are answered, many new secrets unfolded, many points of closure finally achieved. The game has a sick amount of easter eggs relating not only to Batman, but other major players in the DC Universe, including Oliver Queen and Barry Allen, who have recently skyrocketed in popularity due to their respective TV shows - Arrow, and the first (and by far the best) of its many spin-offs, The Flash. There are also a couple of long-forgotten, one-off comic book heroes and villains that are made so much more interesting by being adapted into fleshed out characters. Nightwing makes his first voiced appearance here, and both Robin (the Tim Drake version) and Catwoman appear, big time - not quite as big as before, but yeah, you get to play as them both alright, and they both have their own sets of challenge rooms waiting for you after the game, as before in the case of Arkham City. Only this time in the base game itself, and not (only) as DLC.

To tuck the story into a nutshell: it's very, very dark. It goes into places we've expected to visit since Arkham Asylum; almost every major plot twist in the game was written to rattle you psychologically by some degree, and the side missions in the game keep pushing that very same envelope. Arkham City already had you tracking down a serial killer, but here a similar side mission is not only more brutal and haunting, the conclusion is also a bit more disturbing. You can safely expect that not everyone will survive this night of terror - like in many good TV shows, that goes for EVERYONE. Before this turns into a spoiler merry-go-round, let's finally get into the game, how it (arguably) improves on the existing Arkham formula, and all that new stuff which admittedly goes both ways.

Knight Rider

Gotham City, as you knew it in Arkham City and Arkham Origins, is gone. What we have here is a sprawling, flashy, but still kinda dark, polluted and depressing metropolis most influenced by the Gotham City we've seen in Batman live features in the last 30 years, with less of that comic book-influenced style and architecture at least I felt in the previous games. All of the landmarks most important to the Batman mythos are most definitely there, and well, to me, this is the Bat-game sandbox most recognizable as Gotham City; after all, I'm more of a film- than comic book freak.

To navigate the complex roads of Gotham City, you have the one and only Batmobile - the one core feature fans always wanted since Batman went open-world, yet when it was finally added to the fray, these same fans wanted it out. The Batmobile is not just a sick vehicle for speed chasing, underground racing and the much-chastised tank and drone disposal, it's a multi-tool needed to make about 60% of progress in the main story; it's essential in many side missions, and about half of the Riddler puzzles in this game need the Batmobile's capabilities to be solved. While I do agree that the Batmobile's part in this whole scenario is way too big, I think the game is much more balanced than the next guy would have you understand. The main campaign alone is very lengthy, which means you'll have plenty of those freeflow and predator challenges, which made this series, to overcome. It's not all about blasting the shit out of tanks.

That means Batman has also got some new moves at his disposal, and a long list of WayneTech upgrades that's simply impossible to complete during a casual playthrough of the game; that's why you need to be fully aware and in control of what you pick, which upgrade category is most essential to your goals and playing style, and read the descriptions of the abilities carefully, 'cause else this game is going to turn frustratingly hard for you really quick, and the upgrades get really expensive even quicker (...and some of them are just useless crap, like any glide-gadgets). Even casual street fights with lowly thugs can be ugly; assault rifles, stun batons and knives are free game in the City of Fear. If you don't have the means to counter these weapons, you'd best stay up in the air. Or in your car. Batman's new suit, designed by series debutant Lucius Fox - fantastic performance, by the way - has these micr... micro... pulse... THINGS, that allow him to capitalize on his natural speed and strength. What this means for the game, is that Batman has a truckload of more forceful and acrobatic takedown abilities, which corrects many previous inconsistencies and simply makes confrontations more fun in both main categories. Building up epic combos has never been this fun.

The most important addition to the list of Batman's predator skills is Fear Takedown; by executing one standard Silent Takedown, you gain the possibility to take out a whole group of thugs with one swift combo of takedowns, possibly without them or their comrades ever knowing you were there. If this sounds too easy to you, keep in mind that the predator levels in this game are not much bigger than they were in the previous games, but they are much more complex by design and there are a lot more guys - who are highly intelligent, and completely adaptable to your tactics. Some sure-fire stunts will not work twice during a single confrontation, these guys tend to check each wall and floor vent whenever they're on alert, and finally, there are some specialized personnel you need to watch out for in addition to those that are already known, such as medics (a scourge in both combat categories) and hulking minigunners.

The side missions can (mostly) be completed at your own pace and leisure, but let it be known right now, that these aren't really "side missions". You need to complete all but ONE single side mission to be able to bring the game to an actual conclusion, and if you complete them all, you'll get the real ending for your troubles. Some of the side missions are not even available until you've finished with the story, which has its own logic. What's not very logical, is a main or side scenario where you're supposed to save an ally from an imminent attack, perhaps as imminent as having a gun to his/her temple at that exact moment - yet, you find time to do something else before butting in and saving your buddy, such as collecting a nearby Riddler Trophy or breaking into a nearby militia compound. Just because they're there and you "have nothing better to do". This is how open-world games work, of course, there's no real order to things, that's ultimately OK, but on the hand of contradiction, Arkham Knight also has plenty of those long stretches of having to take care of something before being able to sidestep; I already hated that in Arkham City, the main campaign of which had very few points that allowed you to embark on a Riddler quest or other side missions. At its worst, Arkham Knight can be somewhat of an incoherent mess; there's too much going on at the same time. Just to drag it down a little bit, to once again propel it high up.

Selina's a mixed bag of influences. I'm even seeing a little of
the Gotham series in her.
People seriously hate the Riddler in Arkham Knight. Here are SOME of people's problems with this guy. He talks, talks, talks ALL THE TIME, especially after you've conquered the main game and every other side mission; the Riddler's side mission is most likely the one you'll do last, because there are so many puzzles and Trophies in general, with a good deal of 'em hidden in levels and outdoor locations for other side missions. For the first time in the Arkham series, the Riddler appears as an actual boss after you've done everything relating to his conundrum, which in a way makes him the final boss of the game - a real disappointment, there, I can understand that. Like the main campaign of the game, the Riddler mission has A conclusion (which ends in the rescue of your ally from his Saw-influenced death trap) and a real one (where you'll fight him). To get to the first conclusion, you don't need to find Riddler Trophies at all - this is the puzzle-lite version of the game, so to speak. Instead, you need to go out into the world and conquer a number of "Mario Kart goes dark"-type of race tracks created by the Riddler, as well as puzzles mostly based on the advanced features of the Batmobile. Yeah, that's where most of the hatred for both the Riddler and the Batmobile stems from. Then you need to solve some much more tolerable puzzles together with your ally, to "finish" the mission. Of course any true Arkham fan will go for the true ending, it's not really optional for us, but casual players might appreciate the fact that you don't have to find every stinking Trophy and solve every puzzle in the game to reach some conclusion to this mission and the whole game.

Finally, that good old challenge room is already plastered with a fine amount of different challenges of all categories - joining the classic Freeflow and Predator Challenges are tank battles, races, and chases - and each piece of DLC comes with its own stack of additional levels and skins. The coolest of these packs allow you to relive Batman's history in film by giving you access to Batmobiles from ages past, as well as Batsuits from ages past, and finally, levels inspired by the past, all the way from the 1960's to Nolan's film trilogy - each level even comes complete with its own theme music! All that's missing is a set of levels inspired by the 90's animated series.

The huge amount of DLC also allows you to use a whole cavalcade of different characters even in challenges designed for someone else (and perhaps do a lot better from time to time by using an alternate character...) Simply put, the huge amount of DLC for this game makes the AR Challenge Room an infinite land of fun for those of you out there who always loved these the most about Arkham games, and even without the DLC, it's a vast, well-balanced hub of ass kicking you can go to "relax" any time you want. In addition to being listed in the main menu, every challenge in the base game is also accessible from within the open world.

Holy Season Pass, Batman

In addition to challenge-based DLC, Batman: Arkham Knight also has a fine amount of story-driven DLC starring someone other than the Dark Knight himself, in the style of the Catwoman Pack for Arkham City. Unlike the Catwoman Pack, however, these are completely detached from the main campaign and vary in quality. Season of Infamy is different; it's integrated into the main campaign, brings four more villains (ergo, four more storylines) from Arkham's past into the mix, and I don't know about you, but I think it's awesome. It makes the game even better and more whole than it felt during that launch playthrough, and succeeds in bringing even more depth and closure to these characters' storylines as they are imagined in the Arkham universe. Usually, I would've made a DLC guide, but since I'm not into spoiling this particular game, I wanted to mention Season of Infamy and its awesomeness briefly here, leaving the other add-ons for you to get familiar with and judge them as you see fit.


Yeah, sure, there's that VR game which no one played, and a fifth major Arkham title coming perhaps even as early as the end of the year, but it's safe to say that Batman: Arkham Knight is the last true hurrah, the climax, of this fantastic series of games. It's one of the best Batman stories ever written for any type of media - even without Paul Dini! - a well-balanced, action-packed, immersive, exciting adventure full of guest stars and easter eggs from all over the DC Universe. It's arguably the best comic book license ever made - even if you're to argue, I'm pretty sure your personal favourite comes from this very same series, so let's not fight over it. To each his own. Mine's Arkham Knight.

+ An illustrious, brilliant cast of characters to tell an illustrious, brilliant story
+ Music, voiceover work, sound effects, all top of the line
+ A massive open world with very little, if any filler - and it's none other than Gotham City
+ The vintage combat mechanics and predator tactics are refined to absolute perfection
+ Remarkable balance between each gameplay style within the campaign as well as the line of side missions
+ The Batmobile balances things out even further...

- ...But the Batmobile is also way too important to the big picture
- The side missions aren't really optional; you have to finish all but one of them to be able to reach some conclusion to the main campaign
- Some incoherence and inconsistency here and there; at many points, you're forced to make hours of progress in the storyline to be able to access the side missions again; while at some critical points where you feel like you should proceed with the story, you are allowed to do whatever you wish
- Some outright useless combat and exploration upgrades which will be of no use to anyone; however, you have to use them at least once during gameplay to be able to unlock every AR Challenge in the game

< 9.3 >

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