Rocksteady’s swan song is in full effect and the Knight will never again be the same. In what we all presume is the final “Arkham” game featuring Batman (if you believe them, that is), gamers all around will be treated to a beautiful looking, next generation, high production value, AAA title that once again empowers the player to be vengeance; to be the night. Arkham Asylum (2009) and Arkham City (2011) made people believe in super hero video games again. They didn’t have to be shameless and senseless movie tie-ins without vision. They could produce atmospheric immersion as edgy as Chris Nolan’s “Bat” films. They could reach deep into the treasure trove of “Bat” mythos established in the comic books. They could deliver fast-paced gameplay that was both satisfying in its ease of use and difficulty to master. Arkham Knight is one of 2015’s highly anticipated games, and in some instances this game meets all the hype with a knockout smash.
However, there is no such thing as a perfect game, and there is a laundry list of issues associated with this product that cannot be ignored in light of the average consumer needing to be as smart as possible when it comes to their cash. When AAA game productions boast so much money in their budgets and employ so many talented professionals, everything needs to be taken into account to properly separate Game of the Year contenders from the pretenders.
Let’s start with the big one:
PC sales of Arkham Knight were suspended indefinitely (starting June 24th) by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment due to multi-dimensional software failure. Gamers who remember the rocky release of Assassin’s Creed: Unity last year know what I’m talking about when it comes to describing a game as being “broken.” The PC version of Arkham Knight is apparently worse. Bugs, glitches, sporadic freezes and frame rate stutters are running rampant like a jailbreak from Blackgate Prison. The main culprit appears to be the massive performance discrepancy between this game’s system requirements and the capabilities of AMD graphics cards. Users on STEAM are absolutely irate (and rightly so!) delivering a 70% unfavorable rating for this game. The console versions are by no means functioning with full fluidity either. I played my version of Arkham Knight on a PS4, and I too experienced some frame rate issues as well as two instances of complete freeze/crashes – one during the middle of a massive hand-to-hand fight and the other when I was opening the door to a building.
Can this news get any worse? According to Kotaku, anonymous quality assurance testers have stated that WB Interactive knew precisely how much of a mess the PC version of this game was and pushed ahead with the release anyway. Before we grab our torches and pitchforks, we do need to realize that the PC translation was subcontracted out to developer Iron Galaxy. Then we need to appreciate the relationship between software developers and distributors/publishers. Developers usually want more time and resources to finish their projects while distributors want return on their investment ASAP and push hard for deadlines; sometimes so hard that the end result isn’t pretty. No one gets a pass here. Rocksteady, Iron Galaxy and WB Interactive deserve poor marks for their choices regarding the PC port.
Arkham Knight’s Season Pass pricing set at $40 seems too high. I do not believe that downloadable content is or should be priced at some proportional ratio to the content provided by a “complete” game. However, I completely understand how anyone could compare the price points and think exactly that. I consider DLC as a separate entity that may or may not enhance the original product for the player. I don’t care about the pricing so long as I know what I’m paying for, and that is specifically the problem with Arkham Knight’s pass. Season passes in general don’t do a good job at identifying its own content because the trick to snagging early sales is by pushing the impulse buy that the hype of a game release such as this can generate. Most season passes do not deliver any form of content right away and investing in them early on can be a gamble. What if you’re only interested in certain parts of it?
I personally do not recommend the season pass for Arkham Knight as this series of games has a history of producing a ton of aesthetic skins to dress Batman up like a Ken doll as a major component of the overall content that is provided later on. I would change my tune in an instant if the “Batman Beyond” skin would allow me to turn invisible and jetpack around the city as opposed to gliding. Unfortunately, these skins never have and never will alter the gameplay and therefore have no value to me. Story levels have been promised as part of the season pass which will allow the player to control other marquee personalities stalking Gotham City (like Batgirl, Harley Quinn and the Red Hood), but I need to know details such as how much time it takes to clear this content before having any measuring stick to determine worth.
What the hell happened with those “Batmobile” Collector’s Editions? This SNAFU is not to be laid at Rocksteady’s feet as it is usually the corporate conglomerate’s desire to increase sales through cross promotions and tie-ins, and it is WB Interactive’s authority to determine who to partner with and how so. Details are sketchy as to which company is to blame for making these “fully transformable” Batmobiles a quality control issue. According to WB, “unforeseen circumstances that greatly compromised the quality,” are to blame. This corporate rhetoric can translate to any number of excuses, but none of them matter for those that pre-ordered the $200 dollar version of Arkham Knight. Nobody is getting it now. I’m not sure what’s more pathetic, the fact that the “New 52” skin pack is being offered to everyone for free as some kind of apology or that this edition was officially cancelled less than a week prior to its retail release?
How many times has this game been delayed? Twice. Arkham Knight was originally slated for a holiday release in 2014, then it got pushed to June 2nd of 2015 until finally settling on June 23rd. Now that we have passed the release date and everyone is loving (or loathing) the game, it is natural to forget about those pesky delays that felt so soul crushing at the time. Considering the technical difficulties that have cloud burst the PC iteration, one can’t help but think about what Rocksteady (and Iron Galaxy) was doing with the extended time? Delays, unfortunately, have become hard wired into the very essence of the video game industry. Teasing the general population with cut scene videos and quarterly window release periods is the norm because there’s some fundamental miscommunication happening between distributors and developers. To suffer almost a year’s worth of delays for some to receive an unplayable game is inexcusable. Avoiding such a travesty is worth additional delays for problematic platforms, at least. Better time management and detailed communication in the first place would have been better.
Yay! The Batmobile is a major part of Arkham Knight. But how much is enough? Do you know that feeling when a software company introduces a new mechanic to a game and when you start playing it, it seems like all you are doing is that very same game mechanic? That’s exactly the situation regarding the Batmobile in Arkham Knight. Having completed the main story and a number of all the side quests, I’d estimate that Batmobile centric activity in this game is at least 50% of the whole shot, and that’s a huge amount considering this entire series has been about “being the Batman” which is considerably more than simply “being his car.” And what does that car do? Well, it’s mostly a tank that gets into a ton of tank battles on the streets of Gotham where shells don’t penetrate buildings, damage dealt to sidewalks and parked cars regenerate and pedestrians don’t get “run over” by the car, they get “knocked out” and pushed to the side of the road. Huh?
Do you know what the “car” mechanic means in the video game industry? It means races and time trials. Do you know what the Batmobile brings to the “Arkham” series? Races and time trials (and tank battles?). Now, if you’re a fan of these, chances are you are familiar with games that do these better like Forza, Gran Turismo or Midnight Club. If you’re a fan of “Arkham” games, get used to the learning curve of driving this really fast, heavily armored, and poor handling contraption that gives you the ability to power slide corners, but chances are you are just going to crash through the corner, every corner, all the time. Rocksteady’s intent was to make the Batmobile more than one of Batman’s tools and more than a mode of transportation. The Batmobile is essentially a new character, but no character should ever steal the player’s attention from Batman himself in a game like this.
Conclusion: Arkham Knight still plays well on Xbox Ones and PS4s. Gamers that have said platforms should at least try this game out via rental or borrowing if they happen to be on the fence. This game is only to be considered as an absolute buy for “Bat” fanatics and fans of the Arkham series. Those that are looking to ride out the dog days of the summer with ANY new game should reconsider, especially if this one is still selling at the full asking price.
The elements that underwhelm me are more than just the historic bullet points I mentioned in the body of this article. Batmobile transit has completely supplanted methodical exploration on foot. The story is too fragmented. There are no proper “boss” fights (see Poison Ivy from Asylum and Mr. Freeze from City). And the best parts about this game are things I can’t even talk about because of major spoilers early and throughout as well as the ending itself which is very fun to experience.
This is not how Rocksteady wanted to wrap up their “Bat” trilogy. The Arkham games have been celebrated for getting the player into Batman’s head unlike any other, but I didn’t feel like the Dark Knight playing this game at all. I felt like his life model decoy that was running errands that he himself simply could not be bothered with. I spend too much time dealing with the Riddler when he’s contributed zilch to Scarecrow’s siege on Gotham. I drive around way too much when I feel I should be lurking in the shadows. Fear takedowns are so overpowered that stealth is all but a waste of time. Ping combat was great, but there seemed to be less moments where situations called for it.
Arkham Knight is a big budget pretender for Game of the Year. Its sheer size and name will assure its presence on every website’s and media conglomerate’s “Top 5” lists, but make no mistake; this game has already been outshined by the likes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and the big boys of the Fall like Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, Halo 5: Guardians, Fallout 4, Star Wars Battlefront, and Rainbow Six: Siege all show enough potential for gamers to say “Bat who?”