By Sean McConnell and Jarrod Jones. This is LOAD FILE, where we feel that certain game reviews demand an epilogue. This week, we’ve asked Sean McConnell, of Progressive Cinema Scorecard, to help us weigh in on our final thoughts concerning Rocksteady’s monstrous finale to its Arkham series, Batman: Arkham Knight.
No spoilers are sacred. If you haven’t finished Arkham Knight, you can read our spoiler-free review here.
YOU ALREADY KNOW HOW THIS WILL END, DON’T YOU
SM: The Scarecrow wants to scare the Batman… only really bad this time. (Not like last time, when he only scared him a little.) To help with this, he’s teamed up with a whiny, mysterious new villain. A villain so mysterious, that he mysteriously decides to kind of dress like the Batman, only with more LEDs. Unfortunately for them, Batman’s super-stoked to bust out his most deadly crime fighting gadget yet… The Batmotank. Also, The Riddler shows up to quickly wear out his welcome. Oh, and the Joker’s back because Mark Hamill desperately needed a good time.
JJ: Gotham City is under siege for the first time since Batman: Arkham Origins, which is fine, because we could have done better than that. Scarecrow adopts the exact same methods employed by Hugo Strange and Ra’s al Ghul in Arkham City, and it works out about as well. The Arkham Knight is Jason Todd, which is only a surprise if you haven’t read a Batman comic book in ten years. (His twin firearms raised my suspicions before the game’s release, and the second I heard the impertinence in his voice, the ruse was over.) Jim Gordon keeps telling us this is the story of how Batman died, and if this is really the end for Rocksteady and Batman (which, let’s cut the shit, it ain’t), dude. Bruce Wayne went out like a chump. A brutal, chaotic, and above all else, fucking mopey end to an otherwise thrilling series. (Seriously, if you finish Story Mode with plenty of side missions left over, get ready to watch Bruce Wayne just give up.)
EVERYBODY (EXCEPT DEATHSTROKE) WAS KUNG-FU FIGHTING
SM: Gone is the fluidity of previous entries. Fight after fight, I launched into the guy I was trying to avoid, and the counter function seemed to work only half the time, forcing me to ditch it in favor of punching in the direction of the would-be attacker. As a result, large confrontations felt about as fluid as stirring toffee. The Multi-Fear Takedown was a neat addition right up until it didn’t work, which was often. And where did all the predator sequences go? It became clear fairly soon that I wasn’t supposed to be the Batman, I was supposed to be a very specific Batman. Let’s call him, Bully Batman.
JJ: Freeflow Combat became Freewheelin’ Combat during my tenure as Gotham City’s resident Dark Knight. Like Sean said, Countering only worked sporadically, which made button smashing my way through most engagements almost a necessity. With every street-level shithead prepared to tackle your ass to the ground (an indignity you will suffer far more than once, trust me), building combos became an increasingly tricky thing to accomplish. Predator missions remained the best bit about being the Batman, and while the Multi-Fear Takedowns were pretty damned cool, they made clearing a room full of baddies far, far too easy. But my major beef ultimately came from all the work I put into upgrading my combat abilities, which amounted to nothing — mostly because the Boss Fights would require none of them.
BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELTS; IT’S GONNA BE A LONG, LONG RIDE
SM: How excited were we for the Batmobile? Pretty excited, I’d say! Everything was great until twenty-minutes in, when I found myself platforming this car across a rooftop that, given the dilapidated state of the building, seemed incapable of supporting such a machine. Uh-oh. Driving through the city was fun until I realized… this is the whole game. Is this what they think we want, a Batman who drives over people? They think we’ll like it when he’s blasting the city he’s protecting? No wonder they threw out the stealth combat. Bully Batman doesn’t have time for sneaking. He likes to blow shit up. He’s hardcore.
JJ: I’m not going to get into the gripes about the weaponry on “The Car” — thematically, all of it makes perfect sense, and remember the Caped Crusader pulled similar shit in Tim Burton’s Batman — once I realized how clear it was that no one was sitting in those drones, I chilled out on all that. What I’m pissed about is the sheer luck you’ll need to complete a mission when all you have at your disposal is that car. Just when you think you’ve got the hang of how this thing handles — which is miles ahead of anything you’ll drive in GTA V, by the way — you have an insane Riddler race to complete that throws the physics of how this car handles right out the window, or you have the Arkham Knight looking to shove a gigantic drill up your tailpipe with mere seconds to make snap decisions as to where you should turn next. If any part of the game had me flinging my rather pricey DualShock controller across the room, it was the Batmobile.
DLC? NOT FOR ME
SM: Ugh, no thanks. Hanging with a disturbingly misogynistic Penguin, and watching Harley break out her buddy Poison Ivy from jail (just so you can later go pick her up and drive her back, thus cementing Batman’s status as Gotham’s most elaborate Uber driver), is not how I would define “bonus content”. Still, thanks for making me feel like I dodged a bullet in not purchasing that Season Pass.
JJ: Oh, Sean. How I lament my Season Pass purchase. When Rocksteady announced that Arkham Knight would be coming out of the gate with not one, but two DLC Story Packs, it felt like the Season Pass would not only be a shrewd investment, but a consistently gratifying one. Batgirl: A Matter of Family aside, both the Red Hood and Harley Quinn packs offered only a mere half hour of straightforward gameplay, with Rocksteady jettisoning any opportunity for replay value. The Harley’s Revenge DLC for Arkham City was quickly forgiven with Arkham Origins’ Cold, Cold Heart, but so far Arkham Knight‘s DLC elicits a king-sized shrug. Oh, and those Scarecrow missions are hard as shit, and not in a fun way.
FINAL THOUGHTS, OR: KNIGHT TIME
SM: If this game did anything for me, it crystallized something I’ve known for a long time but never really felt comfortable saying for fear of hurting the feelings of that kid who found a copy of Year One in a used bookstore way back in the day. And that is: Batman is an asshole.
The hero I thought most about when playing Arkham Knight was Captain America from The Winter Soldier. That Captain America tells Nick Fury, unequivocally, that, “SHEILD, HYDRA, it all goes.”; that Captain America has the nerve to look into the eyes of a hardened spy and tell him that the purpose of his existence has been fundamentally corrupted and is no longer viable; that Captain America has the self-awareness to see through the nostalgic trappings of his origins and into the dark heart of the corrupt system that grew out of his own mythology; that Captain America goes all WikiLeaks on NSA/CIA SHIELD because he isn’t afraid of change. He’s a hero who’s willing to face the chaos that could result from making a decision that actually matters. He isn’t afraid. He isn’t interested in protecting his sandbox. He’s feels compelled to build a better one. He helps us by giving us the tools/information to protect/defend ourselves, as opposed to the paternalistic need to protect us from ourselves. Where’s his game?
What the Scarecrow would notice if he bothered to pay attention, is that what Bully Batman is really afraid of is change. He isn’t a champion. He’s a guardian. He’s not looking beyond his own experience to see the lives of others. He’s a solipsist with a tank.
In the end, this game did something I thought was impossible. It made me hate the Bully Batman. Not all of Batman, mind you. (I’m not crazy!) But definitely the Batman at the heart of this expired franchise.
Jarrod, can you help a brother out and find me anything by Paul Dini (who was beyond sorely missed from this game) and a copy of Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls? I think that’s where I’ll be getting my Batman from now on.
JJ: I stand by everything I said in my original review, but ultimately Arkham Knight is a game that deserves to be experienced. It’s a monstrous, unrelenting, nerve-wracking event that will put every player that encounters it through an emotional grinder. You can see the love and care Rocksteady put into widening the scope of its Arkham series, but in its ambition it lost sight of what’s most important, which is to depict what it truly means to be a hero. Arkham Knight supplies only half of a character arc for the Caped Crusader’s finale, confidently dropping the mic right after it reached “sacrifice”. That confidence is misguided.
The ad campaign for Arkham Knight tempted all of us with the opportunity to “Be The Batman”, and then it threw to us the directionless havoc that might come with an elaborate Arkham slashfic. It deconstructed what it means to be the Dark Knight, and then forgot to put him back together again. And those Boss Fights straight-up stunk.
Oh, and Sean? Seek out Paul Dini’s Detective Comics run. It’s the perfect balm for Arkham Knight‘s burn.
Agree? Disagree? What did YOU think of Batman: Arkham Knight? Sound off in the comments below.