Sunday 25 September 2016

Batman Arkham Knight review: More power to you

Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4/XOne/PC); rating: 9/10; age 18+

Published 07/07/2015 | 12:36

Batman: Arkham Knight – launching at speed from the Batmobile never gets old
Batman: Arkham Knight – launching at speed from the Batmobile never gets old

POWER fantasies form the core of many a videogame but few take it to the max as Arkham Knight does. In this final chapter of the trilogy from developer Rocksteady, Batman has become a nigh-on unstoppable machine despite sometimes overwhelming opposition.

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Rocksteady has assembled a sweeping line-up of heroes and villains and stuffed them into every nook and cranny of Gotham, providing a vast playground to explore. Scarecrow hogs the limelight initially with a deadly nerve toxin but it’s the titular Arkham Knight who poses the most danger.

It’s no spoiler to reveal the cast includes almost everyone notable in Batman’s storied history, from Penguin and Riddler to Catwoman and Nightwing. Some of your allies are intermittently playable, when Batman tag-teams gangs of henchmen in short set-pieces.

While the Dark Knight’s move-set and gadget arsenal have expanded a little, his greatest threat derives from the driveable Batmobile, a frighteningly potent tank disguised as a car. It’s near-indestructible, possessed of devastating firepower and extraordinarily manoeuvrable. It shifts the odds decisively in your favour out on the streets – perhaps too much so, even if the power fantasy is enjoyable.

Harley Quinn puts in an appearance, as does practically every other major character in Batman's history
Harley Quinn puts in an appearance, as does practically every other major character in Batman's history

Happily, the Bat spends plenty of time out of the driving seat thanks to a multi-layered storyline, a raft of intriguing side-quests and a stunningly detailed depiction of Gotham.

The gameplay continues the well oiled hand-to-hand combat of its predecessors, chaining rhythmic strikes and counter-strikes into satisfying takedowns. Here too, though, it often feels as if no one can touch the Bat, with a dozen opponents or more easily succumbing to your frantic button-mashing, even on normal difficulty level.

Read more: Enter the Batgirl - New Batman:Arkham Knight content announced

But just traversing the city is a pleasure in itself, whether behind the wheel or grappling and gliding from one lofty perch to another. Prowling like a predator looking for trouble trumps almost everything Rocksteady puts in your quest log.

The Arkham Knight is probably the least interesting foe in the game
The Arkham Knight is probably the least interesting foe in the game

However, Arkham Knight’s most enduring appeal, for me anyway, is the deftly interwoven sub-plots. Most memorably, Batman descends into madness due to Scarecrow’s toxic gas, triggering some fantastically surreal encounters with an old enemy. Rocksteady’s assured writing backs up visual tricks that interchange humour and the heebie-jeebies.

Technically, the console versions hold together superbly, the dark gloom of Gotham rendered smoothly at 30fps and the leaderboards fixed after a patch. The same isn’t true of the PC edition, which has been pulled from sale due to its shockingly poor performance.

Like many open-world games, Arkham Knight suffers from mission padding. But in contrast to the likes of Assassin’s Creed, it nonetheless feels dense, complex and rewarding. It’s also violent, brutal and occasionally chilling – rated 18 unlike previous chapters. Just don’t let the power go to your head.

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