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Is Batman Arkham Knight the most underrated game in the series?

(Image via Rocksteady)
(Image via Rocksteady)
Rahul Bhushan
ANALYST
Modified 30 Mar 2021
Feature

Batman Arkham Knight was Rocksteady's biggest undertaking, and many fans have often wondered whether the studio was able to stick the landing. The Batman Arkham franchise was also one of the biggest challenges in game development.

Not many characters have captivated the minds of an entire generation like Batman has in the modern era. At the turn of the century, the character had been relegated to camp territory after the Joel Schumacher movies.

The 2000s saw Christopher Nolan deliver one of the most gratifying and revolutionary takes into the Batman universe since Frank Miller's work. Batman then became the collective obsession of a generation, and any game with the Caped Crusader was going to invite a lot of scrutiny.

Rocksteady ultimately knocked it out of the park, delivering one of the landmark video game titles of the 2000s: Batman Arkham Asylum.

What followed was a masterpiece of a follow-up, a great but misunderstood spin-off, and one of the most divisive endings to a trilogy.

Is Batman Arkham Knight the most underrated game in the series?

Batman Arkham Knight, despite its greatness, left a lot of players wondering if the game had managed to be the swan song it was meant to be. There was a lot of praise around the game and critical acclaim, but there was also a significant amount of criticism leveled at it.

Mechanically, Rocksteady had pretty much reached exactly where it needed to with the franchise. Arkham Knight is undoubtedly the most technologically sound game in the series. So, where did it go wrong?

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Gameplay

Combat

For many, the sole reason they picked up a Batman game was to punch goons across the face and look cool doing it.

The Arkham combat system has inspired tons of other games as it has one of the best combat mechanics ever. It is challenging enough while also giving players a good sense of how Bruce Wayne himself would fight.

Given that Arkham Knight was one of the first few titles on the PS4/Xbox One, Rocksteady wanted to showcase just how powerful the new technology is. It took advantage of the new console hardware, and there were far more enemies on the screen than before, including ones in drones and tanks.

Batman Arkham Knight features the best version of the signature Arkham combat system with polished movements and challenging reaction times.

The smoothness of each animation and how it blends with others is astounding and never fails to impress. Clearing an entire room of enemies without taking a single hit or breaking the combo never seems to get old.

Predator

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The Batman Arkham games have always been games with two sides to them. One where Batman is essentially a one-man army, sending goons flying through the air with punches and kicks.

The other, where Batman must use his gadgets, skill, and stealth to dispatch enemies from the shadow. The Predator section truly brings out the best aspects of Batman Arkham Knight as each section is masterfully designed.

While in Arkham City, many predator sections felt repetitive as a result of most rooms having a decent amount of gargoyle positions. In Arkham Knight, rooftops, drones, sentry guns, and enemy defenses go a long way in raising the challenge.

Players must be mindful of enemy tools like Detective Mode that essentially penalize players for overusing the feature. As a result, each section presents a new challenge and makes a puzzle game out of Batman Arkham Knight.

Creatively hacking and luring enemies into traps is a feeling players can't get enough of. Batman Arkham Knight forces players to think outside the box and utilize each gadget present in Batman's utility belt.

Story

The Arkham franchise has managed to tell not only one of the most quintessential Batman stories but also one of the Joker's best arcs. Instead of existing outside the existing canon of comics, the Arkham franchise builds on top of it to create meaningful arcs for each character.

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The Joker is the most dominant presence in the game, which inadvertently affects Scarecrow, who is supposed to be the big bad at the end of the tunnel. Arkham Knight, on the other hand, is the least surprising reveal in the game as the first line he utters gives a huge clue regarding his identity.

Rocksteady's claims of Arkham Knight being an entirely original character, while technically true, were ultimately underwhelming. The rest of the story is characterized by Batman essentially being hit with one adversity after the other.

Despite the punishment he took on in both City and Asylum, Arkham Knight sees Batman at his absolute lowest. He's held responsible for the "death" of his allies.

The story is a deep dive into Bruce Wayne's fears and his struggle to fight the Joker within his mind as well as take back control of Gotham. Arkham Knight does a great job of telling the story of the battle within Bruce Wayne, but the rest of the story boils down to a very formulaic pattern.

The best parts of Batman Arkham Knight's story comes from the creative sections involving Scarecrow's fear gas powering the Joker and Bruce Wayne struggling to maintain control.

The ending to Arkham Knight caps off a fairly strong story and ends the trilogy on quite a high note with regards to how the narrative comes to a close.

And now for the elephant in the room.

The Batmobile

The Batmobile was a collective obsession of the Batman Arkham fanbase. They clamored for it to be included in the last game of the series. The Batmobile was notoriously left out of Arkham Knight after Rocksteady discovered that the roads simply weren't wide enough for the player to have a decent experience.

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The Batmobile was finally unveiled in a glorious opening section of Batman Arkham Knight. That excitement gradually descended into confusion and ultimately into disappointment.

The reason being that even though the Batmobile was great fun to drive around and masterfully designed, it was forced into every pivotal moment of the game. Arkham Knight boss fight? Batmobile. Riddler Challenge? Batmobile? Highly anticipated throwdown with Deathstroke? Batmobile.

For some misguided reason, the creatives behind Batman Arkham Knight assumed that the Batmobile was the cornerstone of the game. In many ways, it was, but nothing feels better than a one-on-one fight in a Batman game.

The best bossfights in the series have been those where Batman goes toe-to-toe against the Rogues Gallery. The Deathstroke fight from Arkham Origins is a clear example of why those sequences are often the best.

As a character, Arkham Knight was ripe for a similar showdown with Batman. But alas, players had to settle for a rather uninteresting section involving the Batmobile.

Ultimately, Batman Arkham Knight is mechanically and gameplay-wise the best in the series. It is the best version of the Arkham-style of gameplay and Rocksteady's magnum opus. While it does more good than bad, the Batmobile ultimately leaves a sour taste.

The game is rightly panned for its overuse of the Batmobile, but the fact remains that it might just be the most underappreciated title in the series. It certainly does not deserve the tag of "disappointment" surrounding it.

Published 30 Mar 2021, 20:10 IST
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