Batman: Arkham Asylum was a good game. It was also a good licensed game; which meant that people -- particularly people with an affinity for the Caped Crusader (like myself) -- may have been a little prone to hyperbole when discussing one of the better games of 2009. Still, there was no denying that it looked amazing, the punching and kicking felt appropriately hefty, and the boss fights did justice to the Rogues Gallery.
Fast forward to 2011, and Arkham City seemed to lack everything that made its predecessor a revelation. A large environment with a lot of dead space, featuring unlikeable interpretations of some of my favourite characters, and strung together by an absolute fizzer of a story. What stuck with me most, however, was the feeling that Bats had almost too many gadgets. I would often forget how to use or find the gadget I needed to progress. Compounding this was the near necessity of integrating gadget use into the previously enjoyable combat system. It was a big, forced, flop.
Arkham Origins felt like more of the same, and it was the first game in the series I failed to complete. A similarly dreary environment, a painfully slow start, and the most powerfully frustrating boss fight I've endured in years was enough to force a premature exit.
Why the history lesson? To give a little bit of enthusiast games press-style context, and to show that my expectations for the series followed a classic bell curve (low, high, low, lower). On the topic of the games press, I'd also witnessed a litany of complaints about the omnipresent Batmobile's role in Arkham Knight.
I was ready to have my expectations met. I was ready for another tedious stroll through Gotham.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually enjoyed Arkham Knight. More than that, I actually liked the Batmobile-based combat sections.
Don't get me wrong, the game is far from the embarrassing hyperbole of "Next-level next-gen..." (yes, someone actually wrote that sentence). Much like Arkham City, Knight suffers from an overabundance of gadgetry. Worse still, some of the items in your inventory seem to have no use outside of cinematic sequences. Control of everything from the UI, to Batman himself, to the combat (mainly in the later stages), to the Batmobile is overly complicated. This is a feature-bloated romp that could've done with some editorial wrangling.
More troubling is the role of women in the video game version of Gotham. They exist to be saved or to be killed. They exist for titillation and motive. One of the game's many elaborate, multi-stage side quests exists solely for the purpose of rescuing one of the comic book's stronger women characters (by that I mean, she hasn't been immune to the damsel in distress trope, but she can kick buttocks) from a gruesome, explosive fate. The story as a whole is pretty unsatisfying and, much like the recent 'Death of the Family' arc, major punches end up being pulled.
Batman's motto of never killing bad dudes and dudettes is also mind-bogglingly adhered to through the Batmobile electrocuting people on impact, rather than crushing them. Moreover, the ragdoll physics produce some God-defying body crumpling.
Most of these are minor quibbles, but if you go in with lower expectations, I can guarantee you'll have fun with Bats this time around.
What I loved most about Arkham Knight was its near wholesale abandonment of boss fights. In Asylum they looked and played well, but in City it was all sizzle and no steak. This time around, the focus is primarily stealth (with a refreshing lack of insta-fail segments), and the usually satisfying one man army brawling.
As mentioned previously, the Batmobile also gets its fair share of the spotlight. Batmobile combat is super agile tank against more fallible, less agile tanks and I actually found myself going out of my way to shoot shit. The racing and tailing sections are less compelling, but by the end, I was still happy to press L1 and jump in that iconic hulk of an automobile.
One final note on the Batmobile: mixing up rooftop traversal with vehicle segments worked really well for mine, as I found it tedious grapnel(ugh) hooking, bashing X, and maintaining glide after a few hours in the last two sandbox affairs. I realise it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I loved me some Batmobile (unless the Riddler was involved).
I liked Arkham Knight. I'm pretty sure I won't revisit it, but I found it far more entertaining (and less tedious) than the last few iterations. This is a fitting end to the Arkham series, and well worth playing if you've previously enjoyed Rocksteady's brand of awkward stealth and solid fisticuffs.