The following entry contains spoilers for the story of Arkham Knight (2015) and Arkham City (2011). Only read if you’ve finished the main campaigns.
Arkham Knight was always going to have it tough. As Rocksteady’s final part of the Arkham trilogy and being the first on this generation of hardware it had a lot to live up to. A bigger chunk of Gotham was expected, the Batmobile was confirmed fairly early on and Scarecrow’s looming face during the Sony presentation at E3 2014 confirmed that the alter ego of Jonathan Crane would be the main antagonist this time around. Doubt however remained in some, perhaps soured by the taste of Arkham Origins which felt more like a stop gap than a fully realised Gotham we were hoping for. Rocksteady quite simply couldn’t do it a third time of asking.
They did though, for the most part anyway.
I played through Arkham Knight’s main campaign and a fair few of the more interesting side missions within two weeks after release day. It wasn’t because of the fact I wanted to rush through it and get it traded in and I’m not usually in any position to be playing games for a few nights running as I have other stuff to do. I made time for Arkham Knight though, I wanted to see what would happen next, the story certainly led me through the game. I liked thwarting the bank heists organised by Two Face and I loved chasing Firefly through the streets in the Batmobile. I even took enjoyment from hunting down Manbat once I’d worked out where the heck he was in the skies above the city. Arkham Knight started to fall apart towards the end though, just when the Knight really begins to get desperate.
During the development of Arkham Knight we were informed that Rocksteady had worked with DC in putting a brand new character into Batman lore. Many theories were banded about to explain any number of characters the Arkham Knight could be. There was the possibility it could be Joker who died a little too close to a Lazarus Pit in Arkham City for comfort, another suggestion was Hush who had something of an unresolved participation in City and would have probably been open to the idea of being an alternative Batman. I remember at the time also reading a left field idea based on the Arkham Knight being Alfred, possibly taking revenge for Bruce Wayne always leaving his dinner to go cold.
Jason Todd is fairly heavily sign posted throughout the game as Bruce Wayne’s fearful nightmares about losing the second Robin at the hands of The Joker play out at certain moments in game. Most of the events in Arkham Knight are about Batman’s loss. The loss of his parents as the initial cause of his desire to keep Gotham safe, the loss of the people who help him now such as Oracle and the loss of those who have helped him in the past. Scarecrow is acutely aware of this throughout the entire story and so the recruitment of Batman’s one time companion as his new nemesis makes sense but the moment the Arkham Knight takes off the visor it’s more a ‘oh right’ than ‘oh my god’ exclamation..
In the lead up to this scene you’ve battled the Arkham Knight indirectly in what feels like hundreds of situations. There’s been the section in which the Cloudburst has spread Scarecrow’s fear toxic throughout Gotham, then the part where you have to work with Poison Ivy to protect her plants from attack by tanks and drones sent by Arkham Knight, then comes the Batmobile section when you have to sneak up on all the Cobra tanks before getting to the Cloudburst tank itself four times to make it overheat, then it’s the Arkham Knight’s base itself, then the tunnels underground in which the Knight tries to destroy you with an industrial drill and finally the face off with Jason Todd himself which is broken down into three separate predator sections. After all of this Jason Todd vanishes, only appearing back at the end to shoot Batman free from Scarecrow’s ‘media presentation’. I began to actually tire of the whole thing when I was hiding from seven Cobra tanks in my heavily armed Batmobile for about the third attempt. It seemed in places that Rocksteady had three ideas of how to end Arkham Knight’s story, thought long and hard but ended up choosing all of the above and trying to cram them in.
With Scarecrow finally locked up in GCPD I spent some time flying around Gotham trying to get rid of all the strongholds the Arkham Knight’s forces had set up. Having access to all the gadgets now made these a lot of fun and it wasn’t too long before there were no red lights patrolling the skies anymore. After that I had to read up how much more was left to do, Catwoman would have to stay locked in the orphanage with Riddler, the thought of trying to find every Riddler trophy in the game was a little too much to bear. The bombs would have to stay planted in the roads as I’d grown sick of the sight of tanks as well. Even the Red Hood and Harley DLC, given away with the PS4 version, has remained unused. Gotham is a wonderful game world but I think I’ve had my fill for now.
Arkham Asylum is the smallest of the Arkham trilogy, taking place only in one island and two or three buildings but there was a tension there that forced the story along. Batman was isolated from the mainland of Gotham city and had to work towards getting the Asylum back in quick order. City expanded the formula but was still set in a contained area. Knight meanwhile proves that giving the player a huge map sometimes dilutes the story a little. It’s hard to go off and find Riddler trophies when you’re well aware there’s a bomb about to go off that will spread fear toxin throughout America’s coastline.
Knight is still a great game and a fitting ending to Rocksteady’s time at the helm of DC’s most iconic hero (sorry, Mr Kent). Sometimes however, a little less goes a much longer way.