I’ve already expended a lot of words on how Arkham Knight tells one of the best Batman stories out there; better even than the much vaunted graphic novel The Killing Joke. That alone merits its place as one of the best videogames of 2015 – one of the few games that actually improves on its source material – but its excellent gameplay and gorgeous looks really cements its stature.
Now, let’s get the bad out of the way first: the Batmobile sections aren’t the best. Even as a staunch supporter of their inclusion (if only for variety’s sake) the driving is weak, the combat sections are poor, the platform sections are frustrating, and the stealth is downright awful. Rocksteady’s ambition to add something new to the franchise should be lauded, however, and it has to be said that not having a vehicle to traverse such a large world wouldn’t have made much sense.
And what a world. More vertical than Arkham City, this iteration of Batman’s hometown is dark and claustrophobic, the perfect playground for the great detective. Arkham Asylum is rightly praised for its dense, more linear environments, while City didn’t really make use of the sprawling location Rocksteady created, leaving it as a gap to be traversed rather than a world to be explored. Arkham Knight nails the balance though, making use of the open-world for its different missions, be they car chases or more traditional fights. Gone are the awkward transitions from outdoor to indoor too, now all is one, with Batman able to drop through skylights and windows, fully meshing the world together.
Of course at its core Arkham Knight has a combat system refined to perfection after four games – a system that was pretty damn close to perfect straight out of the box at that. Fights are brutal, and now larger than ever, with The Dark Knight joined by various allies throughout the game. Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, fighting alongside (and as) them is great fun, with dual finishers and excellent camerawork mid-fight bringing these sections alive.
Everything comes back to the story, though. The reveal of the Arkham Knight as Dick Grayson may have been a little weak. It was massively telegraphed, with clues from Batman aficionados very early on – but the Joker, good God the Joker.
Arkham City left Bats infected with the Joker’s blood, itself tainted by the Clown Prince of Crime’s failed Titan serum. Just when you think Batman has tackled the source of Scarecrow’s power, up pops the Joker and shoots our hero in the head, with the next segment putting you in control of Commissioner Gordon. It’s a disorientating moment, leaving you for a second thinking Batman really is dead. Instead it’s a flashback, with Batman explaining the Joker infection – albeit in relation to three infected innocents he is holding in cells.
From that point on, the Joker is your constant companion, offering quips, puns at Batman and even some encouragement – he only exists as long at Bruce Wayne survives, and he knows it. Statues out of the corner of your eye will have the Joker’s face, but turn back and they’ll revert to normal, causing you to question what you’re seeing. Thugs will suddenly turn into the mad clown, and towards the end the Joker even takes control of Batman for a while. It leaves you as the player doubting Batman’s perception of things, his position as a hero in this story.
With an ending that more than does justice to this part of the storyline, and solid core gameplay, Arkham Knight is the culmination of Rocksteady’s trilogy, one that’s truly grown with each game. It’s easy to see, then, why Batman: Arkham Knight makes our list of Best Games of 2015. Whatever its shortcomings, it certainly leaves us looking forward to whatever Rocksteady turns their hand to next.