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It's common practice for game franchises to be driven into the ground with endless sequels. Batman: Arkham is fortunately the exception, with Arkham Knight ending the series on a high note.
In Batman: Arkham Knight, Scarecrow unleashes a new fear toxin on Gotham City. The civilians evacuate while he and a team of other villains gear up for an even larger attack. Batman must take on this entire rogues gallery to save the day.
While some of the twists in the plot were too predictable, I think Arkham Knight's story nails Batman as a character. Rocksteady understands the contradictions at the core of the Dark Knight. Batman doesn't want to kill criminals but what if killing his foes would save countless lives? His conflicted emotions toward his allies are also explored. He's developed a team of capable crime-fighters like Nightwing and Robin but doesn't want to involve them. He knows the stakes are so high and affect everyone in Gotham but he wants to put the full weight on his own shoulders. The game reminds me of Knights of the Old Republic 2 in that it presents the hero with an impossible challenge that puts their code to the test.
Rocksteady's deviation from comic book continuity is an asset for the story. They killed off important characters in Arkham City and they do the same here. There's no sequel to this story so Rocksteady doesn't have to worry about painting themselves into a corner. They were allowed to make a true ending to their series.
The hand-to-hand combat and stealth segments are still the stars of the show here. Rocksteady is fantastic at pacing each aspect of the game. As soon as you get a handle on things, the game throws a new challenge at you. For example, you'll begin seeing thugs with electrified armor in combat. Your attempts at stealth will be complicated by a henchman that can detect your position if you use Detective Mode too long. Picking off frightened guards one by one or pummeling a group of ten guards by yourself remains gratifying from beginning to end because it's always at least a little challenging.
The biggest addition to the gameplay is the Batmobile. Batman can summon his vehicle with a push of a button and use it to annihilate the unmanned drones now patrolling Gotham. It's tough not to feel like a super hero while you're racing through the streets in this tank or shredding up enemies with its sizable arsenal.
What surprised me about the Batmobile was how smoothly integrated it is into the rest of the game. You'll use the Batmobile's remote piloting and winch to solve puzzles throughout the game. You can also instantly pounce from the Batmobile cockpit onto enemies on foot. If you're battling in front of your vehicle, you can use its guns as a finishing move.
The Batmobile isn't quite as fun when it's the star of the show, though. The platforming segments with the Batmobile slow the game to an irritating crawl. The battles against drones can get repetitive quickly because of how few enemy types there are. Vehicle combat doesn't have same combo-driven intensity as the hand-to-hand battles. Instead, you just strafe back and forth and blast drones until you charge up your special abilities.
While the car drives just fine, there's an even better way to get around the city: flying. You can soar through the skies with your cape and gain altitude at will by grappling a nearby ledge and slinging yourself into the air. This is the way to travel because it lets you survey the gorgeous city Rocksteady has created and find wrongs that need to be righted.
While I appreciate how packed Arkham Knight's world is with optional tasks, they're a mixed bag. Some side quests are stretched out over multiple repetitive steps. For example, a string of missions starring Firefly require you to put out a fire with your Batmobile, then chase the villain through the streets and pounce on him when you're close enough. After giving him a few punches, he flies off to burn down another building and you have to do the whole process over. The thin plot and mechanics make it tough to recommend the side quests unless you either A) really need to level up or B) just finished the campaign.
Arkham Knight is a fitting send-off to the best super hero series ever made. It's not perfect but I'd rather Rocksteady leave the party too early rather than too late. I'd much rather see them use their considerable talents to now bring another super hero (Superman?) to life.
Note: Cinema Blend was provided with a review copy of the game for the purposes of this review.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment