I have covered the PC technical problems extensively in the article 'Who killed the Batman?' so apart from a quick mention I will focus this review on the rest of the experience. All screenshots were taken from my own gameplay. This review does contain mild spoilers but I have tried to avoid as many as I can.
As I watch my four year old son grow I see many themes and traditions playing out as I experienced myself when growing up. Heroes are all around us these days and my lad already has a Batman, Spiderman and Fireman Sam outfit. The idea of heroes isn't a new one but in my opinion kids have never had it so good. As a gamer it was almost convention that any game based on a registered IP was going to be a generic waste of time. There were exceptions of course: I have very fond memories of a few Robocop games and the Batman game on ZX Spectum but it was Batman Arkham Asylum that flew out of the dark like the Batman himself and smacked hero games on their arse.
Myself and a few friends have always loved Batman above all the rest of the brooding heros, for me it was always because he didn't have superpowers or a radioactive left foot. No, Bruce Wayne had to hone every facet of his being in order to become the Batman and if anyone did ever fancy becoming a superhero Batman exists in the realms of the possible (if highly unlikely!). I think this was partly why the Nolan Batman was such a success, it took the Batman and grounded him in a conceivable world as opposed to the fantastical. Part of the reason why I rate the first Arkham game so much is because it captured the very essence of Batman from the way he attacks his foes to the constant need to never kill an adversary. The art direction and design choices were also sublime, the whole game felt right, I felt like I was playing Batman.
So here we are with the (allegedly) final chapter in the Batman Arkham series: let's dive in. In the opening scene you briefly take control of a ill fated cop who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the introduction unfolds we learn the Scarecrow has developed a new potent fear toxin that causes all who inhale it to become homicidal animals driven mad with fear. The game introduction concluded with Scarecrow announcing his plan to gas Gothham and a stampede for the hills ensues. With only a fraction of the population left, Gotham has now descended into a war zone and many of the master criminals who are Batman's regular adversaries have returned to the city.
Those who have played previous Arkham games will immediately feel right at home: the look and texture of the gameworld feels exactly the same as the other open city romps like Arkham City and Origins. Like the Nolan series of films there's a very tangible sense of escalation and now we are in the third (not including Origins) phase, the stage is set for an epic showdown. I know, some people really rate Arkham Asylum as the perfect formula; a smaller and almost claustrophobic experience. However I feel like in this final game they have perfected the blueprints, refined the process and really pushed the experience to new heights.
If we were to rate this game's success on one simple test - does this game make me feel like Batman? - then it would be triumph beyond measure because it really does. Every subtle nuance and every single aspect of the Dark Knight seems to have been distilled into digital DNA and infused into the glue that holds the game together. You are a raging storm of carbon fibre pain in one second and in the next you can almost hear Gotham hold its breath because they don't know where you are... only that you're coming for them.
The predator sections of the game now appear in various parts of the city, from stopping Two Face stealing money from Gotham's banks to taking on the outposts and fortifications set up by the Arkham Knight. These (for me personally) don't feel as contrived as in other games (for example in Farcry 4's towers) and instead you are far more likely to happen upon one as opposed to checking them off in the missions wheel. The combat in AK has also hit a new level of excellence because like the best action games you have lots of choice on how you approach any given situation. Old favourites from previous games have been carried over such as setting up your own line launcher wires or diving up through grates to take goons down. There is also a plethora of new tricks which I will not even attempt to list here but one of my favourites is using a voice synthesiser to give commands to goons from their respective leaders: the mischief you can cause with this is hilarious. Another nice addition to combat is the more inclusive environmental take downs: ramming a goon's face into a circuit breaker at high speed never gets old. There is also a very cool fear mechanic which allows you to very quickly (and brutally) take down a few goons before they even have chance to react. I think overall everything seems less bogged down, your actions are slicker and the entire experience has been polished to a fine sheen.
One of the most surprising and satisfying parts of Arkham Knight (AK) is the way you can double up with various sidekicks to take down the bad guys. I've always been in awe of the combat in the Arkham games but seeing Batman catapult a goon into the air and Nightwing/Robin/Catwoman leap across their path and finish them midair is spectacular. This is it, right here, the moment you fade away and for a few seconds and you are in the game, dealing out pain and punishment to the criminals of Gotham. For the sake of avoiding spoilers I will not go any further with this but I have been really impressed that in a game where there was already enough story, background and tying -up of loose ends, they spent a considerable amount of time looking at the stories and histories between Batman and his various helpers. Be warned, not all conclude with a happy ending.
Sightseeing in Gotham.
As is usual form, there is a central plot that you chip away at and in turn this unlocks new parts of the game, including side missions. I found the pacing was really well done and never felt like the game was forcing me into doing something I didn't want to do. Once a few side missions do unlock you have a wheel which show new items of interest as well as distance to them. Whilst initially fairly limited, once you've advanced the central plot a little you have plenty to keep you busy. Most of your progress is put into a visual feedback when you return to Gotham Police Command, from master criminals shouting abuse at you from behind their new bars to gratitude from firefighters you've plucked from a grizzly fate. I also love how various NPCs comment on things you've done or events that have occurred; this is excellent attention to detail and adds to the experience so much.
I have been playing on a GTX 980 and have also installed it on my SSD so I think I've managed to avoid most of the problems that others have been experiencing. In fact most of the time the game has been running beautifully, the only time I've ever seen my frame rate chugging is when the Batmobile is pumping a lot of smoke from the wheels. If I'm really honest, if I didn't know there are problems I would not have guessed but after seeing a PC and PS4 comparison video it's clear textures are missing and the PC version doesn't look anywhere near as good as it could.
That said Gotham has never looked so incredible and this includes the characters who occupy it. The constant rain washes over everything from glass, metal and Batman's cape (which also finally looks amazing). Lighting has always been pretty good in the Arkham games, now the red streets glow with red neon, real time shadows creep up alleyways as yobs scream past in stolen cars and it's just a joy to glide across the night sky looking down on Gotham in all its glory.
Thou shall not kill.
So Batman being a fellow of moral fibre means he does not kill his enemies under any circumstances: a fact his nefarious chums have used against him again and again. This theme has been embraced by Rock Steady in previous games and, while many of the thugs that cross Batman's path will never walk again or eat solid food, they are technically alive. This idea filters into Batman's combat style with takedowns, knockouts and bad guys left dangling like Christmas decorations. I would always argue with the big man that it's surely better to kill the Joker than let him maim and kill another twenty people tomorrow, but that's his thing so fair enough. In AK the developers have stretched this 'no killing' thing very thin indeed because you are literally hitting people at 100mph.. with a tank.. yeah. As far as the game is concerned every goon that touches the exterior of the Batmobile gets a hefty shock leaving them unconscious, regardless of the speed of impact. As the Batmobile ably morphs into a tank and starts firing 60mm shells here you would also think someone is going to be paying a visit to the pearly gates but a plot device making the tanks and exploding things in the game unmanned drones deals with this aspect.
Third party fire and theft.
Batman has many iconic tools at his disposal but one that stands above all others is the Batmobile and, for many, a character in itself. I remember falling in love with it while watching Keaton simply say 'shields' in the 1989 iconic Batman film. In 2005 Christopher Nolan gave us his take on the Batmobile and again I loved the direction he took it: like the rest of the film it was based firmly in the realms of 'this could be a thing'. Now it's clear that, like the dirty buggers who put Marmite on toast, some people love it and others just don't; I sit squarely in the former camp and here's why: I enjoy seeing people use ingenuity (or plain stubbornness) to make something go beyond what it was originally designed for and in the roof scene in Batman Begins Bale pushes the vehicle to its limits. I found the first section of the game - where you are introduced to the winch and it literally makes a ramp by pulling the road up - excellent fun. I even enjoyed the subsequent puzzle areas using the car, despite many stating they thought they were forced, too long and kept them away from parts of the game they prefer.
So here's the thing, within the first five minutes of driving the Batmobile I caused more destruction of property than your average nuke. It got to the point where I was expecting the Arkham Knight to call me and just say "fair enough Batman you've fucked Gotham up so much I might as well go and catch the end of Game of Thrones". Support pillars, entire walls, cars (hundreds) and pretty much anything else in my path is obliterated... and I love it. From the very first roar of the engines to the way you evade missiles mid chase or how you can use the car's momentum to catapult Batman into the Gotham sky is incredible. If there's one thing that jars (no pun intended) when driving in games is when you hit something that in real life wouldn't even stop a shopping trolley and yet in game your car bounces back like it just hit the edge of space and time. In AK the developers have made a wonderful job of how the environment reacts to you hitting stuff and this makes the driving far more enjoyable than it could have been.
As most of you will know the car also morphs into a tank and is able to reign death on most adversaries. The transition is slick and also gives you more precise control over the car's movement. Again, the way it crawls over roof tiles and debris is for me very satisfying indeed. I do understand that many found the 'tank' car lacking as the basic formula never changes: dodge, fire, dodge. Again, for me personally, I wasn't bothered at all and in fact found the change of pace great.
Is it very PC?
So this is the section I will cover on all reviews where I look at how the PC version of game stacks up to other formats, oh boy.
So I have covered this in depth in my 'Who Killed the Batman?' article but I will just run through the main points here as well as my own experiences. In short, Warner Bros and Rock Steady have decided to outsource the entire PC port to Iron Galaxy Studios so they could focus on the console versions. As the game released across all platforms PC gamers were very quick to point out the version we had received was suffering from a litany of problems: crashing, missing textures, game stuttering, crippling frame rate issues and the stock FPS being locked at 30FPS.
Warner Bros initially seemed surprised by these problems but stated they were taking the situation very seriously; what has come to light since I published my article is both disturbing and infuriating. Two insiders who worked on AK testing (who have remained anonymous which is fair enough) have dropped WB right in the proverbial, stating that they knew the PC version was in a mess and that it was deemed 'good enough' for release. Further to this the QA team was ninety percent focused on the console version and only lower resolutions on PC were tested at all. These two testers have also stated the development team had real problems getting the game to run on consoles and so this took up far more time than they anticipated and so the PC version was left while they diverted pretty much all their resources into getting the PS4 and Xbox One versions running well. As if that wasn't bad enough, the article in Kotaku reminded me that Nvidia published a video prior to release showing the PC version running at 60Fps with all the bells and whistles like volumetric smoke and plenty of physics candy everywhere. So it follows if the game was locked at 30fps surely Nvidia knew something was amiss didn't they?
Why for the love of god would you treat your customers like this? Did WB think PC gamers just wouldn't mind the game was broken for many? I honestly have been through it many times and I cannot see how a single one of these companies could sit down and decide this was the best way to go. While we all love PC games getting a simultaneous release if the game is not ready hold it back until it is. Releasing in this state has done the IP, the developers involved and the company a huge amount of damage both financially and in terms of reputation. I would say to the gamers out there that we need to change the way we interact with these companies and stop pre-ordering games until the company has earned that trust. Okay, I've got a separate article on this in the post so let's move on.
If you look at reviews out there (for PS4 and XB) this game has been well received: the most common gripe surprisingly has been the inclusion of the Batmobile, or more that it have been forced upon the player in various ways. I have some sympathy for the developers here because I think it's true that there was so much expectation there would always be some disappointment. I personally think the Batmobile looks and feels incredible to drive and I like they have at least attempted to give it more purpose other than to save Batman his bus fare.
It's probably obvious that I loved this game from start to finish and feel like it's a truly excellent final game for the Arkham series. Yes, many times while playing I'd sit back and think it was such a shame that it will never be thought of in this way but instead be associated with the mess the problems on the PC version have caused (at least for PC gamers). Looking at things with a positive slant I really think WB and Rock Steady will be taking something away from this game. In addition, I'm looking forward to seeing the improvements they make when 'the patch' arrives. I will very much look forward to running through this game again; in fact I'm planning a playthrough of all the Arkham games from start to finish once the DLC wheel has stopped turning for AK (maybe spring next year).
Right now if you don't already have a copy of AK then you will have to wait until WB open up sales again but assuming the game is patched and fixed I cannot recommend this game enough.