All That Remains…
Fear. Responsibility. Guilt. It’s fitting that the final installment of the Arkham franchise would be a culmination of everything introduced into the series thus far. The fact that this culmination far exceeds anything we’ve seen is an added bonus. The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.
Warner Bros. and Rocksteady had given us the defining piece in an already seminal series. The amazing finale to Batman’s saga is a feat often strived for, but rarely attained; a thoughtful story, emotional closure, and world brought to life.
Asylum and City were two great games. They were fun, they were beautiful, and they were entertaining. Arkham Knight, however, delivers us something far more impactful…conviction. We’ve seen Batman square off against thugs, robots, and villains. We’ve seen him make tough decisions and sacrifice parts of himself. But we’ve never seen it take its toll like we do here.
Despite being a bigger, badder game, this story is far more personal than anything we’ve seen thus far. It’s a character study of Bruce Wayne…a look into the mind of the Dark Knight. Batman is driven by fear. He’s moved by responsibility. And he’s haunted by guilt. The combination of the three form a fractured and tortured soul. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, no endgame, no reward for a life of servitude. No recompense can ultimately cover the cost of being a hero.
The questions raised by this game regarding personal sacrifice and moral responsibility are incredibly thoughtful and profound. The story carries a weight that is moving and engaging, an achievement not often met. Arkham Knight manages to tie up loose ends from the previous two games and introduce a handful of new elements to the mix. The story had a lot of issues to address, and each one worked perfectly with the others, creating a beautiful and cohesive narrative that rivals that of any film we’ve seen thus far.
Part of that is due to the cinematography. The game is simply gorgeous to look at. From the sprawling cityscape to the underground tunnels, the level of detail in the game is breathtaking. Furthermore, the gameplay transitions to cutscenes seamlessly. Every conversation, action shot, and panorama is sutured masterfully into the game, creating one of the most cohesive visual experiences ever seen in a video game. The transitions between cutscene and gameplay were so smooth, in fact, that there were instances in which I would be waiting for something to happen before I realized that I was back behind the wheel. Throughout the gameplay, I was leaning, lurching, and craning simply because I was engrossed by what was going on in-game.
Exploring Gotham works exactly as you’d expect. Controlling Batman functions largely the same way as it did in previous games. There are a few added measures and extra tools to keep the process of traversing the massive city from becoming overwhelming. Combat, likewise, works in much the same way. Countering and combos are the necessary to clear the room of thugs, and the ability to quickfire tools during a fight is invaluable. Batman’s mechanics remain tight and manageable.
The Batmobile, on the other hand, can take some getting used to. High speed chases will result in more than a few crashes into trees and streetlights, and when the stakes are high, you may find yourself dying behind the wheel more than on foot. Once the Batmobile switches from car to tank, however, it becomes another vehicle entirely. Combat mode is almost preferable, as it’s movements are less sporadic and allows for a wider array of gameplay styles.
And a wide array of styles is what we get. Yes, there are all-out Tank vs. Drone battles in the streets of Gotham, but there are just as many puzzles that utilize the Batmobile as well. The idea of conducting a stealth mission with a tank may seem laughable, but the game takes full advantage of Gotham’s complex network of roads and paths in order to give us the ability to sneak around enemy vehicles and disarm overpowered foes.
While these elements can become redundant from time to time, even becoming decently stale by the end of the game, the vehicle does serve other purposes. The Batmobile provides enough diverse functionality in puzzles and quests that it earns is place in the story, rather than existing as a superfluous element to sell more game copies. It is a welcomed addition that will please gamers and comic book purists alike.
Fans of the series will likewise be pleased with the characters in the game, as well. New and recurring villains are presented well, both from a character design standpoint AND a voice acting one. The top-notch animation is augmented by the stellar voice work of the actors in the game, contributing to an incredibly engrossing cinematic experience. Even the titular Arkham Knight, an original character, is brought to life incredibly well. The only complaint some fans may have is the dramatic change in appearance and voice of Scarecrow, whose voice has deepened and whose costume has intensified quite a bit since his last appearance. Gamers like myself who loved the original character design may be disappointed by the new take, but this is a very small complaint, especially given the introduction to the new look in the early trailers.
It should be noted, also, that I played this game on my PC, not a console. Despite the widespread reports of framerate drops and crashes, my experience was primarily smooth. Gotham City is composed of three or four massive islands, each with a distinct look and feel. On occasion, the graphics would falter when moving from one island to another, however these instances where incredibly brief and would have gone almost largely unnoticed if not for my heightened awareness about the issue. This does not, of course, absolve the developers completely. There is an entire conversation still to be had on the responsibilities of studios regarding production and development, but those are topics for another day.
In the end, the game is ultimately an incredibly successful finale and, dare I say, work of art. With a story that takes full advantage of its characters and environment, Arkham Knight delivers one of the most engrossing games ever made. With stellar visuals, voice acting, and controls, we’re given an amazing Batman story that stands tall not only among video games, but any comic book story ever told. It’s a masterpiece that shows us just how much it takes to be the Batman.
As mentioned before, this is a story about guilt. It’s man coming to terms with his past failures. The Arkham Knight is the perfect physical representation of this failure. I mentioned before that the Knight is an original character…but that’s not entirely true. No, the Arkham Knight is actually Jason Todd, one of the men who in years past was Batman’s iconic sidekick Robin. Captured by the Joker, beaten and tortured, and, to our knowledge, killed, Todd represents Batman’s inability to be omnipotent. Todd’s death is the ultimate defeat for Batman. Now his past comes back to haunt him.
This has been controversial for some fans, who felt that Rocksteady lied about creating a new character or because Todd was the “obvious” choice for this character, despite not having been set up in previous games. While both of these facts are true, they don’t lessen the emotional blow to Batman in the context of the game. In a story about guilt and failure, the character works extremely well. After all, it’s Batman’s story.
And while the Arkham Knight might be the main external representation of guilt for Batman, the Joker is the main internal threat. Despite being his arch-rival, Batman still blames himself for the Joker’s death at the end of Arkham City. Throughout the game, the Joker’s appearance serves as Batman’s subconscious. He’s the little voice in your head reminding you that you are flawed, fallible, and, ultimately, human. He’s there to remind you that you can, and sometimes will, fail.
This makes for some of the most moving storytelling in video game history. The use of the Joker gives us some of the most heartfelt and, sometimes, horrifying moments in series. In fact, the Joker gets a character arc as well…one that explores the mind of the Joker without ruining the character by providing backstory or explanation. The game’s finale handles the Joker masterfully, and it’s a perfect farewell to the character.
In fact, the finale is so brilliant because it works as a farewell to both Batman and the Joker. In lieu of a final boss battle, which we instead got about 85% of the way through the story, the final moments feature a psychological standoff, rather than a physical one. Scarecrow’s toxin torments Batman’s inner-Joker. The Clown Prince of Chaos confronts his one true fear…being forgotten. The idea that Harley could move on, that Gotham wouldn’t remember the clown who burned Arkham Asylum, that his legacy would amount to nothing is terrifying to the Joker. And that’s just what happened…Batman ultimately locks Joker into the deep recesses of his mind to be forgotten, alleviating the torturous guilt and defeating Joker in the most powerful way possible. It’s an amazing climax, as Batman finally wins, if only to find inner peace.
There is more to the game, of course. The Arkham Knight makes one final, redemptive move to save his one-time mentor. Other villains ravage the city and are ultimately put to justice as Batman uses his last night in Gotham to restore order. Heroes fight alongside The Dark Knight to take back their lives. Saving the side quests for the end comes down to preferences, as it will either kill the momentum of the finale, or allow for a victory lap for the character as he ties up loose ends…its a matter of preference.
The grand, ultimate, complete ending for the character is decidedly ambiguous. It’s only been a week, and already speculation is running wild on how things turn out for the hero. Whether or not the studio will return to Bruce Wayne, we don’t know. We might get a spin-off game for Catwoman. Or maybe Superman will get his own title. Or just maybe the Batman will return again.
The future for the character is up in the air. But one thing is for certain, wherever Batman is, whatever he’s doing, he is at peace. The battle is over and he’s reached the finish line. No more fear. No more responsibility. No more guilt.
Alex Russo likes to talk. A lot. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.