The Batman: Arkham series did for superhero video games what the Tim Burton Batman films did for cinema. They re-legitimized them in popular culture and forced audiences to take the genre seriously. Up until 2009's release of Arkham Asylum, most superhero games weren't worth the plastic boxes they shipped in.
Arkham Asylum changed all that. Developer Rocksteady Studios made becoming the Bat a fantastic experience. And it wasn't just precision controls, the freedom of gliding around and a now industry-standard melee combat system. Asylum perfectly nailed the prestigious Batman lore, honoring nearly every character in the universe and keeping intact the mythology that so many have come to adore.
Now arrives Batman: Arkham Knight, the third and final game in the series from Rocksteady (and the fourth Batman console game overall if you're keeping score at home). Arkham Knight has had roughly twice the amount of down time as there was between Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, not to mention it was delayed twice during development.
Regardless, Arkham Knight is easily one of 2015's most anticipated titles and Rocksteady's blockbuster send-off for what's already been a masterful series. Now let's see how well the trilogy ends (spoiler-free, I promise!).
Batman's come a long way since the days of Arkham Asylum. He's got a lot more firepower now. The suit he wears in Arkham Knight makes him look like some kind of mechanized warrior, a far cry from his appearance the last time he faced Scarecrow.
But Scarecrow has grown up, too. He also has a new arsenal at his disposal. Gotham City is now filled with tanks and buzzing drones that monitor the skies. Arkham Knight feels very evolved, often representing what might be a futuristic imagining of Batman.
If you're a sucker for eye candy, Arkham Knight has you covered. I played through the campaign on a PS4 build of the game and was very impressed with Gotham's larger-than-life environments, its creepy towering architecture and the rainbow array of glowing neon peppered throughout the city. In a way, I found myself remembering my first introduction to BioShock's underwater city of Rapture.
Rocksteady has nailed the technicalities. Frame rate slowdowns are infrequent, and the game barely has any loading. For the most part, it's entirely seamless -- you'll never have to wait for anything.
The game is played at night (seriously, does the sun ever rise in Gotham City?) during a nasty rainstorm, so you're treated to a handful of granular weather effects. And of course, with most new-generation games, there's a smattering of the usual lens flares and artful glares that really add to the atmosphere.
I'd seen Arkham Knight played a number of times, so I wasn't worried about the visuals (and let's be honest, at this point no one should be overly concerned with graphical prowess). What I was concerned with was Arkham Knight's most notable new feature, the one thing die-hards had been clamoring for: the Batmobile.
My fear was real. I didn't want Arkham Knight to turn into some kind of bizarro "Grand Theft Gotham" situation where you'd rather drive to a waypoint instead of zip-lining and gliding your way there. At the same time, I wanted the Batmobile's implementation to be practical and unforced. I wanted variety that would seamlessly give me a balance of everything. For the most part, that's what you get -- but that's no guarantee you'll enjoy the gameplay mechanics it has to offer.
Batman can eject out of the Batmobile and transition into a glide. Once airborne you can call the vehicle to snatch you up as you dive your way down to the surface. Pulling off an ejection to a glide and then diving back down into the Batmobile is endlessly awesome.
Driving the Batmobile can be overwhelming at times, quite silly at others and immensely fun all in the same breath. It's a massive beast of a vehicle, ripping up nearly everything it touches. Railings fly off roadways, newspaper stands get obliterated and even the concrete corners of buildings and bridge support beams crumble in its wake. And that's all before you've tried out Battle Mode.
Holding the left trigger turns the Batmobile into Battle Mode, a super-maneuverable tank state that arms a machine gun and powerful cannon. Battle Mode changes the control scheme for the Batmobile, too, and you'll find it much more satisfying and responsive. It allows you to spin on a dime and strafe in any direction as opposed to the loose and easy-to-fishtail standard driving scheme. Switching between the two can be jarring. If you've ever played a game with universal vehicular controls, you'll often enter Battle Mode when you're really trying to apply the brakes instead.
Battle Mode is used to interact with certain items in the world and even complete puzzles and side missions. You'll also fight unmanned drones in Battle Mode, which introduces a brand-new dynamic for the Arkham series. This layer of gameplay feels much more like a watered down military tank sim than superhero game, but it's all fun nevertheless. It just doesn't feel, well, Batman-y.