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Friday, 15 January 2016

Batman: Arkham Knight.

Arkham Knight.

Lately, it feels like a sentiment I'm expressing a lot is ''this franchise needs to just stop, for the good of all', and that's a very defeatist attitude, I think. It's a shame, in a way, that's it's also totally, objectively correct, and that it's a sentiment we're going to be expressing again today as we look at Arkham Knight, Rocksteady's latest (and possibly final, although they've said that before) Batman game. 

Shortly after the Joker's death in Arkham City, Batman is thrown into another crisis as Scarecrow and new, mysterious militia leader, the Arkham Knight, team up to take over Gotham and slowly destroy it with a new and potent strain of the Scarecrow's fear toxin. As Batman struggles to stop the two and to uncover the identity of the Arkham Knight, who seems to match no inmate ever committed to Arkham, he must himself deal with the fallout from being poisoned with the Joker's toxin-riddled blood, causing constant hallucinations of the Joker and a rapid decay in his morals and impulse control.

It's worth noting that there are some things this game does very well. The idea of a Batman on his last legs, slowly succumbing to an invasive presence in his mind that's decaying at everything that makes him Batman, is actually a really compelling one, and easily the most compelling part of the story. We get to see Batman tormented by a vision of the Joker that never really leaves him, and moreover, we see Batman's morals and ethics starting to decay over the course of the night, pushed along by Scarecrow's fear toxin and the stressful situation he's in. As the game goes on, it compels you to commit worse and worse acts of betrayal against both Batman's allies and his own principles, while always stopping short of having Batman become unrecognisable.

You could give us a whole game playing as the Red - I mean, as the Arkham Knight.

The writing team avoids a lot of the common pitfalls and cliches with this particular trope (and it is a pretty broadly used trope) by almost never having Batman acknowledge his hallucinations of the Joker, let alone engage them in conversation - in fact, when, about two thirds through the game, Batman does start reacting to a few of his hallucinations, it's considered a sign that he's starting to lose his grip on reality.

The rest of the plot isn't nearly so strong. Scarecrow's plan is fine, but the presence of an entire army in Gotham feels bizarre, to say the least, and the story completely bungles the mystery of the Arkham Knight's identity by not even referencing, even in passing, the character he's meant to be until near the end of the game. He's a comics character, so possibly they thought that it'd be obvious, but not everybody playing these games will be familiar with the comics.

The gameplay also leaves a significant amount to be desired. The new gimmick is the Batmobile, a slightly odd choice for what's essentially a stealth game, and the devs seemed determined to shoehorn it into every mission they could. Batman now never goes anywhere without his car, unless it's to flick a few switches and make a path for his car, creating the distinct impression that Batman's superpower is 'owning a driving license.'

Ivy, what are you even wearing.

The Batmobile also handles terribly. It has two modes, battle and transit - battle mode is fairly slow but quite agile and easy to control, which is fine, but transit mode is horrific. You slip and slide about like the entirety of Gotham is made of ice, with barely any control over the vehicle at all - which can make any chase sections intolerable, as the AI can make sharp corners that will send any human player careening into a wall.

The out-of-car gameplay also seems a bit anemic, with a handful of gadgets that you never really use, and stealth sections which are so poorly balanced that they'll generally end up being less about stealth and more about just seeing how many people you can punch before they think to start shooting you. The game tries to mix the on-foot sections up a bit by giving you dual character sections, fight and stealth sections where you can switch between Batman and another character (variously Catwoman, Nightwing, and Robin), but since they all play more or less identically anyway, it's a pretty pointless exercise.

Jim's too old for this malarkey, goshdarnit.

The thing is, Arkham Asylum was a great game, and I even quite liked Arkham City, even if it didn't appeal to me quite as much - but the latter half of this series has seen it plummet in quality, and at the very least, I think it's time to let the franchise rest for a few years, and come back to it later with fresh eyes and new ideas. Also, without the Batmobile, because that was terrible. It was just so terrible.

And let's not even get started on the totally broken PC port. It's alright for me, I was playing on the PS4, but Warner has another thing coming if they think I'm not even going to drop in a reference to their total failure to put out a working PC version.

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