All of us wanted to be heroes as children. We wanted to wear long cloaks or capes and wear masks, to protect the weak from the invincible evil, stand guard over justice, punishing the guilty. As the years passed, we began to realize that the world it’s not just black and white, it’s not just bad people and good people, the weak and the strong, good and evil. The earlier this understanding came, the less we were attracted to the idea of definitive superheroes and supervillains. And in the comics and in the movies, we began to be attracted by very different characters, hero-villains, who, even if they do good deeds, it can’t be said that they are the good guys. But this is only one side of the coin. On the other side is Batman, the hero, who has remained true to himself since 1939. He was always a hero who, despite the gloomy image, was good, fair, and had a strange quality for today’s standards – he never killed anyone, and would rather put his head on the guillotine than let someone take someone else’s life, even the life of an enemy. Someone will say, “You fool! Why save the lives of bastards and maniacs? Why exchange your life for someone else, when you can still save people in the future?!“ Let them talk, let them shout about it. Such people just don’t understand what a real hero is and the sacrifices he has to make to stay that way.
Batman has come a long way: he’s broken into television and film adaptations, into radio plays and theatre, in to animation and even musicals from the pages of comics. From Lewis Wilson to Ben Affleck, he has always been Batman, though each of the new writers or actors (if we’re talking movies) was trying to add something of himself to the image. We have seen various Batmans: murderers and rescuers, leaders and outcasts, but when it comes to Batman video games, the brainchild of Rocksteady Studios instantly pops up in my mind. They have created a project so ambitious that it will be talked about even when the current hype settles down, even when Rocksteady once again say that the third game was the last, even when they start to make something different, and perhaps no less cult. They created their Batman who was quite canon at first, but due to the action of the plot became an independent branch of the same stories, not unlike Tim Burton’s movies, for example. Starting with the second part (“Arkham City”) Rocksteady took liberties. They took a huge bunch of characters from the comic books and rewrote their destinies forever deleting them from their universe. And remember – the characters of the Batman comics (especially the villains) never die. Even in the first part, “Arkham Asylum”, all of who allegedly died, got resurrected, though covered in scars.
So starting from the second part the canon had gone. Heroes died, villains died, the usual order of things changed. Even the Joker, as immortal a character as he is iconic, also kicked the bucket. Thus, Rocksteady didn’t make “another DC Comics-licensed project”, instead they concentrated on their narrative. A good writer knows how to surprise and knows what needs to be done. This approach has become a resounding success, “Arkham City” became a game even greater than the first part, and Rocksteady again behaved like true artists, saying that they will end their story in the third part of the project and will never go back to it. I think you’ll agree that this is a very good quality for any author, when they realise that it’s time to put the pencils away into the desk drawer, even if this work brings them money. Money is only money, and art is above all.
And here it is, the third part, called “Batman: Arkham Knight”. The last concert of the last tour. The masks are dropped, and flowers fly onto the stage. Rocksteady haven’t gone against their word and have brought their Batman story to a full stop. Whoever tries composing after them – that story would be unconvincing, because the main story is complete with such pomp that further words would be superfluous. So …
In the long history of Batman he’d had a wide variety of enemies, some of which have become classics, while others likely never will (goodbye, Rainbow Creature!), but there are fewer and fewer newbies. It’s easier to make another comic about the Joker, than to come up with something original, which might be not understood or accepted. However, once again Rocksteady ventured and created a new enemy for Batman, again thoroughly braking comic canons. His name is Arkham Knight, and he turned out to be not the most interesting of villains. He is a typical hysterical mercenary whose only outstanding feature is that he knows all the secrets and techniques of Batman, for he used to be very well acquainted with him in the past. Fans of the comics will understand who he is even halfway through the story; the rest will just shrug when his identity is revealed. It’s all too straightforward and unsophisticated, even the Arkham Knight, despite the fact that the game was named in his honour, isn’t the main villain of the game. It all had been plotted by Scarecrow, who had always been a side villain doing others’ will. Now he has become an influential strategist and leader capable of bringing the entire city to its knees.
To show everything delicious in the game itself, and leave plot complications out, DC Comics have released a new Batman comic book series of the same name. They are a large prequel, which tells why the city is so altered, why Scarecrow had become even more frightening as the villain, and where Batman got the game’s Batmobile from – his transport, which is more like a tank than a regular car. It’s not really necessary to read the comics, there are relatively few interesting things in it (well, except for the passionate kiss between Harley Quinn and Oswald Cobblepot), but the fact is that the prequel is supposed to lead us to the plot of the game. Briefly: Scarecrow gets a new toxin and a way to throw it at Gotham. Because of this, the town is evacuated, and anarchy and lawlessness blooms on the streets. Batman has his work cut out for the night.
Meanwhile, an extraordinary conflict with street thugs turned into a real war for the city: Scarecrow and Arkham Knight, teaming up with other classic archenemies, took control of a huge army with weapons, armoured vehicles, tanks and aircraft. However, Batman won’t be fighting against the mighty forces alone. Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman (she’s of little use, will have to help her), the Oracle, and the remains of the city police – these allies are not enough, of course, but this is a good story, and it will deliver as much trouble as possible for the main character and we get to see how he gets out.
I liked the story best in “Arkham Knight”, by the way. Large-scale action, detective investigation, racing, metamorphosis of consciousness (this is a big spoiler, which I don’t want to reveal entirely), locked up in the framework of a new grand story about the Dark Knight, create a perfect combination. It really is a new level of storytelling that Rocksteady have effortlessly overcome.
But, as we know, the story isn’t the limit of it all. To catch 11 arch-villains we’d have to properly run and study the new city and complete a number of side quests. Some will be revealed by the plot, others require care and logical thinking. The latter refers mainly to the Riddler’s quests, for this lover of question marks once again can’t be caught, unless you perform all his tasks (about 300).
Naturally, we have seen all of that ever since “Arkham Asylum”, but the gameplay involving the Batmobile – this is something new. Of course, the locations can still be studied by night flights over the city, but the game can’t be won without transport. The Batmobile – a universal device, transport and combat vehicle, a racing car, pursuit vehicle, tracking device and even a portable prison for transporting important and highly dangerous individuals. In addition, it is a very smart machine that can be controlled remotely, and which can help in the fight when Batman is outside the cockpit. In general, the Batmobile will be your best friend, even if you don’t get to ride it too often – even though the major game location has been increased to three times the size of “Arkham City”, it is still very small, and it’s faster to cross by means of the wings and the Grapnel Gun. All in all, everything would have been great, but …
The game developed problems from a completely unexpected source. A dozen of strange people seemingly unrelated to Rocksteady coders were in charge of porting the game onto PC, and the result is scandalous: an incredible number of bugs in conjunction with no actual optimization have caused the righteous anger of the players. This resulted in an en-masse cancellation of pre-orders and returning of physical and digital copies back to the store. The scandal came to the point that the game had even been removed from the Steam store, and for those who still have the game, patches were quickly made. Currently almost all bugs have been fixed, and the players have to wait only for that shining moment when the game stops to lag even at medium graphics settings. Personally, as the owner of the PC-version of the game, I simply put all graphics on minimum and comfortably played through. Alas for those who want visual beauty, there isn’t anything special here, but even without it the game was excellent: the plot, the gameplay and the beauty of being able to destroy everything that isn’t nailed down – it’s enough to forgive “Batman: Arkham Knight” its little release failure.
Excellent storyline and lots of side quests
Batmobile as a way to destroy everything around
A loud final in the Dark Knight story from Rocksteady
Can’t defeat one of the main villains without many hours of collecting trophies
Too small and short additions
Porting to PC leaves much to be desired.