I mostly finished Arkham Knight.  (See the first part of the review here.) That is, I defeated Scarecrow.  I’ve locked up a bunch of supervillains, but there’s a few more to go, and approximately one gazillion Riddler trophies.

Let's test your graphics card with particle effects

Let’s test your graphics card with particle effects

Overall: I have some major reservations, but it’s mostly good.  There’s a conceptual unity to the story that I have to respect.  The other Arkham games were dark but comic-bookish: a really long and difficult night for the Bat, with not much indication that his career choices ever get him down.  He’s dour and a he’s a bit of a dick to Robin, but that’s as far as it goes.  In AK piling on Batman’s weak points isn’t a joke or a side issue, it’s the main thing. It’s a relentless exploration of the idea that Bats needs his friends, pushes them away because of the danger, and gets them in trouble anyway.  And it all comes back on him in one night.

You can quibble with this story or its resolution, but it’s clearly the story Rocksteady wanted to tell… it’s not really useful to say you wanted a different story. There’s a million Batman stories out there, take your pick.

There may be spoilers from here on out; run away screaming if that’s what you need to do.

Storywise, I wasn’t sure I liked the reappearance of the Joker, but in retrospect I see what they were doing. He may be a delusion caused by Joker blood, but the idea that he could take over under the influence of Scarecrow toxin is clever, and pays off very well at the end. Plus, heck, it’s fun to hear Mark Hamill again, and way more fun than the other two villains’ taunting. (I guess you have to have a lot of self-confidence to be a supervillain, but don’t they ever learn that boasting about how dead Batman is going to be starts to sound hollow as the night goes on?)

Will you like the big reveal of the Arkham Knight’s identity? I dunno; I have to confess that I don’t know enough Batman lore to have guessed, or to be bothered or impressed.

In terms of gameplay, there are a number of What Were They Thinking? problems.

First: the goddamn car. There was one sequence I could barely get through– Arkham Knight and his excavator. You have to get the excavator’s attention, then drive like a maniac down a tunnel, avoiding various obstacles, and if you screw up by a microsecond you’re toast. It’s not fun and it doesn’t fit with either the combat (which rewards careful, non-panicked attacking) or the predator bits (which reward patience and opportunity-seeking). It’s like a twitchy Mario level snuck into the game.

One of the Riddler challenges is just as bad; I haven’t beaten it and I don’t know if I will. It involves driving on the wall with precise positioning and split-second button presses, and it pisses me off. It doesn’t help that the Batmobile handles terribly, and the wall-driving thing is incredibly sensitive to the path you start on, so if you almost get it on one try, your next try is likely to be way off.

Edit: I did get this one, and freed Catwoman.  Still, my feeling is “I’m glad I don’t have to do that again” rather than “That was fun, let me see if I can shave 5 seconds off my time.”

There are also endless tank battles, and they just pile on the tanks and missiles to make them harder. The only ones I ended up liking are the Cobra battles, where you have to drive up behind the tanks to take them out. It’s tricky but it at least rhymes with the predator challenges.

Second: why did they mess up the best part of the previous games, the challenge maps? In Arkham City you could take them on four times, for four playable characters, and sometimes I’d play ’em all night, ignoring the main game. In AK you get just four combat and four predator maps, compared to 12 each for the previous games.  You get just a few more if you spring for DLC.  And then you can only play each of them with one character. It’s just a stupid decision– “hey, let’s totally get rid of the most addictive and replayable part of our game!”

Edit: The latest patch adds the ability to play the combat and predator maps with multiple characters, which alone is enough to get me to put aside Fallout 4 for a bit.

And some of them are locked till you figure out the weird things that unlock them. E.g. there’s one where you are supposed to run off a roof and go immediately into a dive. I’ve tried it a dozen times, so far as I’m concerned I did just that, and no unlock, nor any indication of what I did wrong. I hate when games hide what they want you to do.

Third: the treatment of Catwoman and Oracle. There are a few bits of AK where you can switch to a different character, and it’s always fun. And again, it’s like Rocksteady decided, to hell with fun, let’s limit those elements. Why can’t we wander the city as Catwoman or Robin or Oracle?

Finally: you have to do all the side missions to get the full ending, yet they make it incredibly tedious to do so. Sometimes you can follow a marked route to get somewhere, which is fine. But often you have to just wait till you run into the element, and the city is big enough that scouring it in this way, for a dozen side missions, is no fun. Once I wanted to get all the militia watchtowers on one island. I’d gotten some, but there were 2 left. I found a walkthrough with maps, made a diagram, and checked out every watchtower location. And didn’t find anything. From playing later, it seems that some towers are added later in the game. Ugh.

I understand, I guess, developers’ resistance to providing map locations for everything right off. They want us to explore. But not knowing where things are is really not the gameplay funapalooza that developers seem to think it is. I’d be happy enough if there was a discovery mechanism that unlocks at some point, like the Collectible Finder in Saints Row 3, or even the Riddler informants in AC. (They’re back in AK, but of course they’re no help with finding the next militia point or whatever.)

Edit: Eventually you get ‘intel’ on missions, which gives you waypoints; Still can’t find two checkpoints, at 91% game completion.

A more minor complaint: you start with pretty much the same skills as in the earlier games, but then they add about a dozen new tricks and keystrokes on top of them. Honestly, I can’t even remember them all. On the plus side, I didn’t need most of them either.

I don’t know how many Riddler trophies I have, and I really doubt I’ll find them all.

Still, I ended the game feeling much better about it. What’s right with the game?

For one, there’s some really neat and gorgeous bits. When the Cloudburst appears, for one: it changes the look of the whole city, it looks awful and apocalyptic and yet somehow beautiful. The final confrontation with Scarecrow is also really well done. It has a nice callout back to Arkham Asylum, and it combines both the Scarecrow surrealism and the Joker crazy-murder into one package.

And despite my complaints, I appreciate that AK tried some new things– unlike Arkham Origins which was too much of a retread of the previous game. Some don’t work, but some do: having a place to accumulate arrested enemies; the remote hacking device; silent takedowns from a more forgiving angle; the medics; the fear takedown; quite a few neat levels and puzzles. Even the car, though I didn’t like it very much, represents an attempt to shake up the formula and try new things. And there are many missions that are genuinely fun, like the Nightwing ones, and stopping bank heists.  There’s also a couple of Chekhov’s gun moments I admire.