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Batman: Arkham Knight has finally arrived and I played the game thoroughly, making sure I explored every nook & cranny, complete every side mission, and yes – grinded to find all 243 Riddler challenges.  It’s been four years since I revisited the world cultivated by Rocksteady Studios and I was particularly excited to see how their efforts look on next gen consoles.  So, what did I think about the game?  After emerging from the depths of Gotham City’s scourge of the underworld with my cape tattered and my virtual body battered and bruised, I feel compelled to dissect my experience and jot down what worked and what didn’t, if, for nothing else, to exercise my gamer / designer mind – bringing my various sub conscious reactions into a tangible explanation.  Before continuing, I want to provide the obligatory disclaimer and caution readers that spoilers are ahead, so consider yourself warned!  Let’s begin…

 

STORY

 

 In my opinion, one of the necessary pillars to making a successful game is a good story.  Batman already has a rich background to draw from with the comic laying the ground work, setting up the continuation of the mythos for future narratives and Rocksteady is no slouch in picking up this responsibility and provide fans with an immersive plot.  For the third outing at a high level, the Scarecrow is the mastermind with a more potent version of his fear toxin in tow.  He’s been able to convince a fair amount of the other Gotham Rogues to be accessories to his ultimate plan of unleashing his toxin in his bid to permanently terrorize Gotham and quite possibly the world.  I was a bit pleasantly surprised at how it was decided to mainly focus on the twisted psychiatrist side of Dr. Crane.  As I reminisce about Scarecrow’s purpose to the story, the focus was more about his desire to play psychological warfare with Batman’s failures in the past, present, and future, though some of those instances were generated from Batman inhaling various amounts of Scarecrow’s fear toxin, causing Batman’s guilt to produce hallucinations of events that were out of his control.  Approaching the character in this regard added more depth to what could have easily been simply a scary looking character, which was pretty much what Scarecrow was in Arkham Asylum.  Even though I liked the concept of this idea, I don’t think they went far enough with it.  For instance, introducing Commissioner Gordan’s daughter Barbara aka Oracle into the trilogy and then using her as a vehicle to strain Batman’s relationships with both Gordan and Robin was a really nice idea.  It would have been even better to continue down this path by compromising every ally of Batman; Alfred, Nightwing, Robin, Catwoman, Lucious Fox, and Gordan could have at one point or another in the story been stripped from Batman, which plays into Scarecrow’s narrative of failure.  Due to Scarecrow not knowing the true identity of Batman, this approach would fall mainly onto the shoulders of the Arkham Knight, who has intimate knowledge to those closest to Batman (just like he did with Barbara).  They did flirt with the idea in various capacities such as the Riddler kidnapping Catwoman and Thomas Elliot putting Lucious Fox into harm’s way, but approaching it the way I suggested would have added more potency and dread to the character of Scarecrow.  As it stands, I feel as though Rocksteady’s approach to Scarecrow is a bit like Hugo Strange v2.0 from Arkham City with his deep, steady voice booming over Gotham, his ability to calmly manipulate other people for his nefarious purposes, and having command of a militia.  As a result there is a vibe of “been there, done that”, although it’s not so prominent that it ruins the enjoyment of the character or the story.

 

Another surprise was the lack of pushing the idea that Scarecrow chose Halloween night to launch his campaign.  It’s a no brainer for him to pick Halloween as it just begs for all kinds of juicy scenarios.  However, aside from the occasional thug mentioning on Batman’s radio frequency that it’s Halloween, or a few Halloween decorations hanging in the GCPD, you really have NO IDEA at all.  I cannot believe Rocksteady didn’t splurge on taking advantage of this plot point.  The game does start out with a terrifying intro, but then shy’s away from it immediately after.  Recalling the hallucination sections from Asylum and City, I was very impressed with the supernatural / otherworldly approach and it provided a tantalizing “what if?” as to the visual potential with the next gen hardware.  We do see a glimpse of what could’ve been done in the intro of AK regarding the wall tile disintegrating as the cop begins to hallucinate – taking this further, imagining the possibilities of exploring various instances throughout the city of Gotham would provide unpredictable events, immersing the gamer for a very fitting Halloween themed night.

 

Perhaps one of the coolest moments in the story, is the relationship between Batman and Poison Ivy.  Rocksteady did an outstanding job of playing with the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” with these two characters forming a wary alliance to take down Scarecrow.  I really thought that Poison Ivy was going to turn on Batman at some point as their teaming up was unlikely to last, but she stayed true to the end, which I found to be very satisfying.  Her death, although fantastical in its celestial transition, was something I found myself accepting.  I enjoy complex, mature relationships in stories and the world of Batman is full of them, which is why the storytelling is so rich.

 

The over arching part of the story is the relationship between Batman and “newcomer” Arkham Knight, who we discover is actually left-for-dead Jason Todd.  Throughout most of the game, the plot doesn’t reveal a lot about the Arkham Knight; just that he seems to know a lot about Batman’s methods and he holds a grudge.  I think the style choice to Arkham Knight’s voice doesn’t work.  It’s too whiny and the pitch level for the voice masking causes Arkham Knight to sound more like a nuisance than a bonafide threat.  Having said that, I did enjoy his voice when he spoke at lower pitches as it created what I feel was more appropriate for this archetype.  It wasn’t until the second half of the game when I began to thoroughly enjoy the relationship dynamic of Batman and Jason.  During the climactic scene when Jason raises his mask, revealing the branded “J” scarred on his cheek, the bitterness, hatred, and sense of betrayal he has toward Batman is palpable and makes for a wonderful memorable moment, especially when considering the clever hallucinating flashbacks Batman has over the course of the game when Jason Todd was at the mercy of the Joker.  These flashbacks succeed at showing the contrast of how susceptible Jason was and that by being exposed to the prolonged, merciless torment of the Joker, it caused a major negative impact to his psyche in the form of a haunted suggestion that he was abandoned by his mentor, his father figure, his confidant.  Despite Batman somewhat winning Jason back (from a villain to a neutral character), it isn’t a cut and dry situation; it sets the course for Jason to become Red Hood, who is a vigilante that callously executes criminals without hesitation or remorse.  I love how this allows us a glimpse into what some could argue as the recipe for crossing Batman’s blood red line of no killing.  See, Batman’s pain stems only from the loss of his parents while Jason’s pain not only stems from the loss of his own parents, but also the loss of the person who was supposed to shield him and channel his loss into righteous purpose.  This single-handedly caused me to do a 180 degree turn on my interest in Jason Todd and become enamored with his newly found path of reckoning.

 

Speaking of the Joker, I ADORED the posthumous purpose of being attached to Batman’s psyche.  I was curious if the Joker was going to be in the game at all, having been the main antagonist in the previous two games, not to mention being killed at the end of City and not be a part of the advertising campaign for the game.  The end sequence in particular was epic with Joker briefly running amuck and taking control of Bruce’s mind / sanity.  It was extremely satisfying to take control of Joker and genuinely get a taste of what it’s like to be the prince of crime.  I must admit that my gaming nature was noticeably altered as a result and that is a very gratifying realization indeed.  Experiencing what it’s like to be on the “other side” and be on the receiving end of Bruce slowly regaining control of his mind, caused a feeling of existential duality, becoming acutely sensitive to the figment of Joker’s existence and almost sympathetic….almost.

 

The ending is something I’m still deciding whether or not I like.  Bruce seemingly killing himself only to be replaced with someone or something much more terrifying does the job of keeping it open-ended, but it leaves the gamer puzzled as to the supernatural component.  I realize that it’s an artistic way to complete the story, leaving it up to interpretation, but it doesn’t leave me with a satisfying feeling that an end of a trilogy should convey.  Overall, this is a great example of how good storytelling can enrich a game.

 

ART DIRECTION

 

The graphics in this game are downright gorgeous.  I was eagerly anticipating the release of this title due to the preview pics / videos doled out over the remaining months leading up to the game’s launch because it was the first title since Ryse that showcased a true leap into the next generation of hardware.  It had taken 2 years of companies short-changing gamers by developing for previous gen consoles and then up-res the textures for next gen before we finally got a game that can be truly classified as a next gen experience.  The sheer detail is breathtaking and presents a technical / artistic breakthrough for games.

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Ever since Asylum, Rocksteady has done a wonderful job with the environments.  Personally, I am a fan of art deco, so you can imagine my excitement as I played through this trilogy.  Every prop, texture, building, and vehicle has been given the TLC treatment to the point where I find myself continuously stopping my hunt for criminals to just marvel over sections of the environment.  I mean, it really does look like Gotham City!  Elements such as rain, fog, lightening, steam, etc. have been methodically created to enhance Gotham, further increasing the immersive quality and character that this city is known for.  Seeing the color of the rain dynamically change based on what light source was illuminating it is a new step forward as it’s taking into account transparency / translucency in real time.  For example, I loved gliding up to the point where the moon causes volumetric shadows around Batman and turning the rain a pale blue hue before I pitched and yawed through the streets of Gotham, gliding by a pink neon “Vicky Vale” sign, causing the color of the rain falling only in front of that sign to turn bright pink.  A lot of this is thanks to the Unreal Engine with its latest release placing a dynamic emphasis on all things real time.  Special mention is given to the look of the environment soaked in a constant downpour, which is a sight to behold; water running down the side of walls, water droplets creating mini splashes in puddles, and rooftops / roads laced with water-beaded surfaces all look terrific and add to the ambiance.

 

The art direction for the characters is sublime.  Over the decades, we have seen multiple interpretations of how these beloved characters look and as I compare the design evolution over the last three Rocksteady titles in particular, I can say without a doubt that Arkham Knight contains my favorite character designs.  I’m glad they decided to go with a more realistic approach rather than the stylistic approach they started with Asylum.  Batman’s upgraded suit is just awesome looking, with multiple armor pieces separating and rejoining based on Batman’s bodily movements as well as the bold approach to giving the color of the suit a lighter gun metal grey color instead of black.

PoisonIvy-Arkham-Knight

Poison Ivy was given a lovely makeover, causing her to look more believable, while still maintaining fantastical elements to her overall appearance.  The sub surface scattering is particularly impressive, seeing her skin stretch and retract over her joints & muscles with the light giving her that translucent glow.

Two-Face-Arkham-Knight

Harvey Dent’s crispy side feels painful and looks delightfully sinister with his exposed, twisted muscle and burned threads.

Catwoman-Arkham-Knight

Catwoman’s suit is actually one of my favorites in the game as they really captured her persona into the outfit.  Looking closely, you see how cats were incorporated such as the “catified” version of silver brass knuckles on her gloves or the various cat clasps.

Robin-Arkham-Knight

Robin is a tricky character because of the sentiment that his outfit traditionally has been so goofy, it’s hard to take him seriously.  I can say with certainty that Rocksteady’s offering turns the tables on this entirely.  He actually now looks like someone who can hold his own in a fight.  I appreciate how a decision was made not to abandon Robin’s color scheme as I believe that is a core attribute to what defines the Robin character.  The addition of a staff also generates intrigue as well as a unique fighting style to keep things fresh.

Riddler-Arkham-Knight

The Riddler this time around has a bit more of an understated approach to his outfit, foregoing the green suite and bowler hat for a more mechanic look.  He does wear a short-sleave collared shirt containing multiple instances his iconic question mark.  For me, it was a fun departure, although I do still prefer his traditional look.

Harley-Arkham-Knight

Harley Quinn has had quite the fashion run over the last three games and her latest design is one of my favorites.  Perhaps the most striking aspect of her updated look isn’t her outfit, but her face; she looks much more realistic with her caked on white makeup, blood shot eyes, and stained yellow teeth.  Even her lip gloss is, well, glossy.  Having said that, her outfit is fun, spunky, and – pardon the pun – fitting for her character.

Nightwing-Arkham-Knight

Nightwing is a popular character in the Batman mythos, so I was curious to see Rocksteady’s interpretation.  The suit itself is done really well, taking a military / utilitarian approach to the design and the different textures give the impression of a padded / hard surface combo.  Also, the shiny purple accents to the outfit provides just the right amount of “bling” if you will.  The only aspect to this look that just doesn’t work for me, is the exposed hair.  His mask covers up half of his face, but to have his head exposed just seems like a design flaw for someone who puts himself in harm’s way.  I know that DC originally designed him that way and it looks alright in the cartoon, but it becomes apparent when doing a more realistic approach to the character that some kind of head protection is warranted.  From a visual standpoint, at least Robin’s head is shaved to give it that UFC fighter look and has a hood, not that the hood would protect him, but at least it helps to disguise his identity.  Perhaps a different hair style would tie better into the overall aesthetic.

AK-Arkham-Knight

Arkham Knight, who the game is named after, DOES have protective head gear.  In fact, he has two layers of it that encompasses his entire head, although in this instance, I’ll critique just the outer layer.  I like the idea Rocksteady had of exploring a villain, who due to his prior relationship to Batman, creates a new challenge in terms of tech and methodology, which is reflected in this character design.  Now that I think about it, I’m surprised that DC to my knowledge hasn’t created a villain in this capacity before, although, I haven’t read the Batman comics for several years, so I may be mistaken.  The face mask is very cool, having an animated HUD and an overall look that both mimics and mocks Batman.  AK’s suit is very military from the ground up, which is an extension of the almost martial law theme that this game explores.  While I think it’s a great video game character, I don’t feel like it holds its own to the rest of the Rogues gallery.  Mind you, it’s no easy task when designing a villain that can successfully mesh with the other Batman villains, which is why the world of Batman contains the richest lineup of villains; it’s an extremely high bar to reach.  Another component to the design that prevents it from joining the Rogue’s gallery, is the huge Arkham “A” on AK’s chest.  I understand that this is the Arkham trilogy, but it feels misplaced to be on a character as the logo itself was originally the logo for the Arkham Asylum and Rocksteady decided to implemented it not only into this character, but also in Arkham City, which again – doesn’t make sense from a logical perspective.  Having said that, its purpose is to be a shell, housing who the surprise character is inside until the full reveal.

Batman-Arkham-Knight-Red-Hood-Wallpaper

Red Hood by comparison, fits MUCH more nicely into the Rogues gallery, but this is a character that was already created by DC several years ago.  Still, it is a treat to see this character get the Rocksteady treatment.  It’s amazing how with a few slight tweaks, the design suddenly works and works beautifully.  I find that the red face mask is more striking, probably due to Jason Todd’s history as Robin.  The Robin / Bat symbol etched onto his chest looks like it was done using blood, which plays right into what this character has gone through.  The dual handguns that combine to make a sniper rifle is also gratifyingly clever.  Viewing Red Hood up close in the “showcase” gallery from the game reveals a plethora of gorgeous texture work; stains, rust, fabric, stitching, wetness, grunge, reflective surfaces, and more help in bringing this character to life.  Seeing Red Hood as a neutral character that was once good, then bad, and now on a tortured path to redemption, causes a stir in me regarding his use of guns and furthermore, his numbness to murder.  I think it is the finality of his outlook on dealing with criminals that visually translates through to his guns, acting as an extension to the totality of his decision.  The *only* part to this design that I just can’t get behind, is his jacket.  Granted, it’s a stylish motorcycle jacket, but in my opinion, it clashes with his technologically advanced, military outfit and honestly feels like pandering to the current urban fads; if you want to disguise yourself  and blend in, you are going to fail at doing so if all you rely on is a motorcycle jacket.  I will submit that it does work better in the picture above, but then again, his entire outfit is hidden with him wearing leather pants and a shirt over his suit.

Oracle-Arkham-Knight

Oracle, aka Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl for that matter), makes her debut in the Arkham trilogy and contributes another dimension to the game in multiple ways; she takes an active role in providing Batman with intel (it used to be just Alfred), she aides in various fights via hacking environmental elements, and she plays a pivotal role in the main story.  I couldn’t be happier with Rocksteady’s interpretation of Jim Gordon’s daughter.  Barbara’s hair color has often ping ponged between blonde, brunette, and red head, so I was curious to see this iteration and was pleased they decided to go with red.  They really nailed the facial structure of Oracle, managing to balance an athletic look with a tech geek look.  Perhaps my favorite aspect to her facial expressions is the underlying pained fragility, which serves as a constant visual reminder of her traumatic encounter with the Joker that left her paralyzed from the waist down.  It’s refreshing to see a supporting female character like this as I feel like the cold-hearted, tough as nails, can-do-it-better-than-a-man female role is played out.  Why?  Because with Oracle, I sympathize with her situation, I respect her for continuing to do what she can to fight evil, and it resonates with me as a man to want to protect what semblance of innocence she has left.  In other words, this character has depth.  Small details such as her ear buds, backpack with various items, a pin labelled The Flying Graysons, charm bracelet, wrist tattoo, necklace with Robin’s “R” logo, and her overall outfit containing the same color scheme as her Batgirl suit are all nice touches that round out this character.

Batman-Arkham-Knight-Scarecrow-Poster-Wallpaper

Scarecrow, who is this game’s top antagonist, has been given a massive overhaul for the better.  As I previously mentioned, Scarecrow had more of an exaggerated, stylized look in Asylum, which is what they were going for.  Comparing the two designs side by side, there is no question in my mind that he looks amazing in Arkham Knight.  Discarding the cartoony in favor of realism, this iteration of Scarecrow is a terrifying sight to behold.  I certainly would not want to bump into him in a dark alley.  The color scheme of black, brown, tan, and orange makes one think of Halloween, while the stained, dilapidated, torn burlap textures of his hooded jacket and face mask really up the creepy factor.  I especially love the leg brace as it succeeds in communicating that this character is physically weak, but ultimately works as a unsettling prop to his overall visage.  Wrapping himself in his fear toxin as if it’s his armor was a great idea.  Updating the needles to be attached to a gauntlet apparatus instead of on each finger was a sensible decision.  Honestly, I don’t know what I would add or do different as to me, this is the quintessential Scarecrow.

 

GAME DESIGN

 

The Arkham trilogy has introduced gamers to revolutionary gameplay mechanics, such as the free flow combat, predator mode, gliding (pitch and yaw goodness), and detective mode.  With Arkham Knight, Rocksteady introduced the Batmobile, Gotham City, team takedowns, and the fear multi-takedown.  So how did it all come together?  It’s a mixed bag.

 

The Batmobile is a great mechanic that was executed in the wrong capacity.  Racing frantically through Gotham, you feel powerful as you can plow through just about everything, but the streets aren’t quite wide enough as most streets are one or two lanes, which causes you you to ricochet from one building into another.  Peeling out in place before letting the brakes loose and igniting the afterburner is very satisfying and NEVER gets old.  Having the ability to use sonar, hack into drones to have them fight on your behalf, and the utilitarian quality of a winch to perform multiple tasks is all well and good and the ability to eject from the Batmobile at full speed and transition into a long-lasting glide is great.  Unfortunately, these are all overshadowed by two issues.  The first issue deals with the absurd race tracks created by the Riddler.  These just DO NOT fit into this game, as it feels more like Mario Kart than Batman.  It’s just plain silly and is a flawed way of introducing a driving tutorial more than anything else.  Each time I had to participate in yet another unrealistic race, I was completely taken out of the moment.  The second issue is tank mode.  Oh how they abused tank mode.  You can tell that they fell in love with the tank battle mechanic as they are prominent; make your way through ACE chemicals?  Tank Battle.  Disarm each roadside bomb?  Tank Battle.  Gain access to each island?  Tank Battle.  Defend GCPD?  Tank Battle.  Confront Arkham Knight with the cloud burst?  Tank Battle.  Rescue Oracle from certain death?  Tank Battle.  Driving along minding your own business along the streets of Gotham?  Tank Battle.  You get the picture.  To be fair, they were successful if you look at the tank battle mechanic by itself, but I think it should have been saved for one epic battle toward the end of the game.  It would’ve been fine if you happened to run into a drone every now and then throughout Gotham that you could dispatch in order to gain familiarity with that mode, but the unique trait about the Batmobile is its ability to fight while being driven at high speeds.  That’s part of what gives the Batmobile its mystique, its romanticism.  You lose that if the car is stationary with the occasional juke in order to dodge incoming shells.  Think about it – every time we see the Batmobile on film, whether it be the Tim Burton films, Joel Schumacher films, or the Christopher Nolan films, the Batmobile is 99% of the time in motion while battling enemies.  One of my favorite side missions in the game, is chasing down the Militia’s APCs because it’s fast, frantic, and exciting gameplay.  In fact, this is where I feel like more time should have been spent in development.  Imagine this:

 

You’re chasing down Mr. Freeze, who is in a tricked out monstrosity of a vehicle with a huge freeze ray gun mounted on top wreaking havok through the streets of Gotham City.  He has cronies that operate sections of this vehicle along with the occasional support vehicles that try to take you out.  Because this is a boss fight, you have to take out Mr. Freeze’s vehicle in sections, utilizing every feature in the Batmobile; homing missiles to attack vulnerable spots, hacking to cause supportive defensive capabilities to turn onto themselves, machine guns blazing to take out large ice debris that fall off onto the road, the winch hooks onto buildings and towers if you drive on sections of ice on the road, allowing the Batmobile to make 90 degree hairpin turns, EMP blasts that temporarily disable the freeze ray gun, etc. must be used in order to win this boss fight.  As you’re fighting Mr. Freeze, his ray gun is freezing every part of the environment it touches, whether its buildings, the road, hapless bystanders, parked cars and so forth, thus changing both the aesthetic and the gameplay of those specific areas for the rest of the game (kinda like how Poison Ivy’s huge plants forever changed the Gotham City landscape, but this idea is taking the concept a bit farther).   You could even have the ability to call in the Batwing for special strafing runs based on your combo meter (if they had a Batmobile version of it).  The end of the boss fight has Mr. Freeze’s vehicle careen off the road and into the water, causing a huge section of the water to freeze, with you going fisticuffs against Mr. Freeze on this newly formed ice arena in grand finale goodness.

 

Now THAT is what the Batmobile was designed for and what gamers clamor to experience!  Just imagine if you had two or three additional unique vehicular boss battles with, say, the Penguin and Scarecrow.  Huge opportunities for creativity and memorable moments.

 

The game design approach to unfolding events of Gotham City while decent, has a number of missed opportunities as well that I need to cover.  First and foremost, is the linear progression.  I do not like to be forced into doing a little bit of each side story mission in order to have previous side missions that I couldn’t continue pursuing, open up.  Period.  This is bad game design.  In today’s gaming world, we are used to completely open worlds such as Red Dead Redemption and the GTA series that allow you to pursue whatever, whenever.  If I want to solely focus on taking out the Penguin or Two-Face, I should be able to do so at will.  This game mechanic is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity.  I do think that having a couple of side missions can have timed countdowns in between each occurrence, such as tracking down Man Bat multiple times and I do approve of how if you lose track of Firefly and he escapes, the gamer is penalized with having to wait it out awhile before he reemerges because that is a realistic situation.

Speaking of realistic situations, I wish that the citizens of Gotham were trapped on the islands because it would have generated urgency and a heightened sense of accountability to the gamer playing as Batman.  Half the time I was playing, I caught myself thinking that if these islands were to fall, it wouldn’t be all that bad because the only people left are criminals.  Using the GTA games as examples, you have your bad people mixed in with your good people, which enriches the environment for a more immersive experience.  Rocksteady toyed with this idea a little bit in Arkham City, where you stumble upon a poor soul in the process of getting mugged, which was rewarding as it gave me the opportunity to save the good people of Gotham from time to time.  Also, Gotham just felt too empty – as in all I saw were buildings and empty streets with the occasional car driving around.  It just needs more lively activity populated throughout.

 

Dual Takedowns.  Oh how I LOVE dual takedowns.  This is the kind of gameplay feature that leaves my inner child doing the happy dance.  Tag teaming with an ally to fight large amounts of baddies is highly rewarding as I just love how the camera swoops in for a cinematic angle to show off an amazing finishing move before allowing you to take control of the character you essentially “tagged” into the fight.  Why oh why did Rocksteady limit this awesome feature to only a few specific fights?!  This should have been implemented throughout the entire game, allowing the gamer to call in backup at will when fighting any given baddies.  As it stands, I feel like I didn’t get enough opportunities to fight as Catwoman, Robin, or Nightwing to fully explore and discover all their moves and abilities, which brings me to yet another missed game design opportunity.

 

The decision to not have the ability to switch between Batman, Catwoman, Robin, and Nightwing in real time, is a glaring oversight, especially when you consider that they did it in Arkham City between Batman and Catwoman.  Once again, using GTA as an example, there should have been unique stories for each protagonist that interweave with each other, being unique on their own merits, yet act as vehicles toward the main plot.  In my opinion, this is a HUGELY missed opportunity to experience Gotham in different gameplay capacities, depending on who I’m currently playing as and would be constantly refreshing to change up at will to see what that particular character is up to while I was playing as someone else.  Maybe there just wasn’t enough time to tackle these ideas, but then again, they had 4 years to develop this title.  By comparison, Rock Star I believe had 5 years to make GTA 5 – maybe that extra year makes all the difference?

 

Moving on to another little gem: Fear Multi-Takedowns.  OH MY.  This is just plain badass.  To work your way into a position where you have the element of surprise and activate this gameplay feature is so gratifying and never gets boring.  So, SO cool.  You feel powerful and endowed with Batman’s elite training as you go into a Matrix-like bullet time mode, sequentially choosing each butthole-puckering thug for ultimate swift justice.  Cinematic gameplay experience at its finest.  Bravo.

 

Finally, there is one more idea I’d like to address.  It was brought up in the “Story” section of this post: Hallucination.  With Scarecrow basically running the show this time around, here was an amazing opportunity to really open Pandora’s box and find unexpected ways of messing with the gamer.  I mean REALLY mess with the gamer.  The hallucinations Rocksteady included are cool in their own right, but what if they went farther to the point where maybe it’s causing you as the gamer to wonder if you are really losing your mind?  There is an old game for the Nintendo Gamecube called “Eternal Darkness”, which is hands down one of the best games for that system.  For those of you who never played it, the developers made it a point to cause hallucinations to occur that were downright brilliant and quite revolutionary – I’m talking about events the likes no one had ever seen or experienced before that brought the fear into your living room.  Here are some examples:

 

While playing the game, a blue screen of death takes over the screen, making it look like your game just did a nasty hard crash and when you “press any button to continue”, it returns you to your game still intact

Sometimes the game will switch tv inputs, from “video 1” to “video 2” before returning back to where you left off

The game will act like it did a soft crash by all of a sudden returning to the title screen menu in the middle of gameplay – once you press the start button, it returns to where you left off

On occasion, the game will mute itself, causing the “MUTE” text to appear on your tv for a period of time

Instead of saving your game, it appears as if it’s deleting your saved game

The volume control will suddenly appear on your tv and you’ll watch helplessly as the bars go all the way to zero, causing all sound to be muted

Weapons & items sometimes will be missing when the HUD is accessed, but will eventually reappear later

Environmental assets will come alive in scary ways

A realistic looking bug will begin to “crawl” across your TV screen while playing, causing you to get up from  your couch and physically attempt to get rid of said bug

Sounds of footsteps coming at you or someone aggressively pounding on a door you just closed only to have nobody there

The standard “controller has been unplugged” prompt appears when your controller is in fact connected

Discover a room with tons of valuable items to collect, thinking you hit the jackpot, only to realize it’s not real

Collision detection suddenly turns off, causing it to look like the game is glitching with the character falling through the world’s floor or ghosting between walls

Main character enters a room and suddenly looks like an enemy, controls how that enemy moves / fights for a temporary amount of time before returning back to the normal character

 

The last example was used at the end with gamers taking control of the Joker, which was one of the high points of the entire game.  I think there could’ve been a lot of fun approaches to this, especially with the next gen hardware.  What they did integrate into the gameplay was good though, such as the Jason Todd Robin sequences and the random spots that Joker would appear to taunt Batman.

SOUND

 

One of the strongest aspects to each one of the games in the Arkham trilogy, is the sound.  The voice acting has always been top notch and it just goes to show what a difference it makes to hire professional talent for a game.  Rocksteady was very wise to get a large portion of the voice talent from Batman: The Animated Series from the get go as they bring with them a wealth of experience in bringing characters they’ve voiced for the last 20 years to life.  Having said that, I also love who they chose to voice characters like Scarecrow (John Noble) and Oracle (Ashley Greene) for the first time.  I don’t care what anyone says: Kevin Conroy is THE voice of Batman and Mark Hamill is THE voice of Joker.  I can’t get enough of them!  Listening to the orchestral arrangement is a treat for the ears as I believe they have found their sound after three games.  The first two titles had decent music, but ultimately didn’t sound very Batman to me.  This time around, they nailed the core essence of the Batman mythos.  There is only one critique I have and that is, at no point in the game did the music ever swell and become fast paced.  When I think of the Batman movies, there has always been a “Batman March” with lots of brass and pounding drums to generate excitement because he is after all, a super hero.  Regardless, I purchased the soundtrack to this game and appreciate the approach to the various arrangements.  Very nice.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Batman: Arkham Knight is an outstanding game, one that deserves respect from developers and gamers alike.  Since 2009, Rocksteady is responsible for showing us just how rad a comic book game can be, which is saying a lot considering just how many other attempts by developers have been made over the years that have yielded average results at best.  You can just tell that each one of the Arkham titles is a labor of love and that is rare thing to find in this day and age.  I happily tip my hat in congratulating Rocksteady Studios on a job well done in this regard as there are simply not enough studios out there who understand and harness what it takes to make this caliber of game.  I have been working in the gaming industry for over half of my career and I can tell you that it confounds me sometimes as to how many studios will be on the cusp of something amazing, only to have a decision get passed down to abandon it in favor of something else that is infinitely less successful.  To be candid for a moment, I had applied for a marketing artist position at Rocksteady for this very title, but never heard back, which I halfway expected to happen as I’m sure they received an enormous amount of applications.  I am not ashamed to say that I am jealous of the lucky ones that got picked to shoulder this mammoth of a project as this was a huge opportunity to be a part of something special.  Was Batman: Arkham Knight perfect?  No.  Missed story opportunities and game design opportunities are apparent.  However, it was pretty close to being so.  If I were to rate which Arkham game I like best, I’d  have to say Asylum was a perfect 10.  Honestly, I would absolutely love it if Rocksteady were to release a next gen version of Asylum using their Arkham Knight engine as I would buy that in a heartbeat.  Now if you’ll excuse me, the bat signal has illuminated the sky once more and I will heed its beckoning call.  I’m Batman.

 

 

 

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