Thursday, 24 September 2015

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Batman: Arkham Knight | #NOTplaying Review

After a bit of a false start, I finally find myself playing Arkham Knight on PC and I'm happy to report that this may very well be Rocksteady's best Batman game to date and a fine note to leave the series on (if this is indeed to be their last game in the franchise).

This will be of no surprise to console owners or PC Gamers with powerful enough hardware to brute-force their way through the port's myriad of problems back when the game was released in June, but for fans who wanted the best experience on a modest to high-end gaming rig, it's only since the latest interim patch dropped in September that we've been able to see beyond the controversy.

My biggest concern with the pitch for Arkham Knight, the fourth game in the Arkham series, but only Rocksteady's third (Arkham: Origins was a cynical attempt at franchise annualisation farmed out to an internal WB Studio), was that the inclusion of the Batmobile would necessitate a bigger open and somewhat less dense world to play in.

Thankfully Rocksteady have over-compensated if anything, but not in the same way that Bioware made up for map repetition in Dragon Age 2 by giving us 10 different 'planet-sized' zones to collect gems in ‘Inquisition’. In fact, for all it's open-ness, Arkham Knight revels in focussing on what's directly in front of you.

Sure, there's a map, but it's quite intentionally at a lower elevation than most games of this ilk and objectives are handed out over time so you don't feel overwhelmed straight-away. There's also a handy quest wheel, which as well as documenting progress also tells you how far away each objective is should you feel the need to deviate from the core story missions, which honestly is well worth doing...

The Riddler missions this time around make extensive use of the Batmobile, but Arkham Knight also has one more trick up it's sleeve: switching between multiple characters. Indeed, the first of these might be the Batmobile itself, since you're able to control it remotely, but later in the game you will find yourself seamlessly switching between Batman and allies such as Catwoman & Nightwing - sometimes in completely different parts of the city or in combat side by side, to the point where you can even engage in combo takedown manoeuvres reminiscent of the classic 1960s TV show.

In contrast, a lot of the other side objectives feel like necessary filler for an open world of this size, like the towers that need to be shut down or the cars that need to be chased, but because some offer up genuine story beats, like the bodies that keep turning up, or the scientists dabbling with gene research (you can guess how well that turns out) I found myself compelled to try them all out and the variance in gameplay between each of them provided some welcome variety between the exposition heavy story missions. It's a shame that characters like Two Face and The Penguin are kind of relegated to sidelines, but there's quite enough going on in the main story as it is!

To say anything more about the story would be to drop spoilers on not just this game but it's predecessor too, suffice it to say it's as loyal to and reverent of the fiction as it's ever been. And while they go to great pains to excuse the insane levels of carnage the Batmobile is capable of by stressing that Batman isn't actually killing anyone, this does kind of play into the plot a little and that really is all I will say.

It feels crazy to laud Arkham Knight as some kind of technical masterpiece after all the issues with the PC Port (it still grinds to a halt at times on my rig, despite my graphics settings being in the green on the recently added VRAM Monitor), but if you can forgive that it's hard not to be blown away by all the things this game is doing. Like the Witcher 3 and GTA V this is next-gen gaming through and through. The shift in scale between driving the batmobile and launching up into the sky, switching to detective mode and then pouncing down onto an unsuspecting foe, chaining together multiple 'Fear' Takedowns then rappelling up to the top of a skyscraper to survey the vast city below is absolutely 100% pure Batman.

If you’re mourning the conclusion of the Nolan Movies and have a spare 20-30 hours to throw at a very well constructed open-world game, there’s plenty of fun to be had with the Dark Knight here.

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