Friday, September 4, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight: A Tale of two Heroes!

Batman: Arkham Knight
A Tale of two Heroes…..dividing and delighting gamers alike !

This review of the ps4 version of the game is 100% story-wise and gameplay-wise spoiler-free to keep your gaming goodness intact while playing this game.

Secret (totally fictional but completely probable) Conversations overheard in the HQ of Rocksteady :

“But what could be greater than Batman? He is our hero, the reason people play these games, the World’s greatest Detective!”

..…pondered the brilliant brains at Rocksteady. What could make this detective, this puzzle solver who pieces together clues and sneaks up on villains without a rustle, create the biggest explosions ever and make him enter the next-gen with a bang and a bang louder than any other game can ever muster?

“The Batmobile!”

Shouted a brain mightier than others.

“ How could we have missed that ! Batmobile is the solution to it all! It’s his coolest gadget just waiting to be unleashed !”

Now that would be cool J ! This one gadget in the arsenal of the millionaire superhero is the one which makes more of a spectacle than anything else he specializes in. Batmobile guarantees a grand entrance, a dazzling display of pyrotechnics and deafening roar to numb any thug’s false hopes of winning over Batman ever!

“It is time to break the silence that Batman that lurks around in, it is time for letting in the next-gen Batman ! “

(Gleeful sinister laughter echoes in the silence…….)

Jump along, lets deep-dive into the dark skies of Gotham, with Batman and his whacky troupe in toe……..

The Adventure: Tanks, Explosions and Jetsons !
Rocksteady introduces the world of Gotham with a touch of mystique and flamboyance that instantly catches attention. Things are set in motion within minutes in a very theatrical way and soon we have the stage set for Batman, the saviour, to arrive and save the day ! …...or to be literal, start saving the night.

The action gets going relentlessly and people who like flash and bang action will love the start and people who were looking for the cerebral detective Batman may not. The beautiful city makes a supreme first impression dazzling you with stunning graphics and a perpetual rain so dense that it in itself becomes a spectacle during the free flowing flights of the Batman and the tense chases involving the other hero of our game, literally the second protagonist of the game: The Batmobile !

You are going to either hate it or love it but Batmobile has a presence in the game equaling or , to be honest, surpassing Batman and frankly, it stops being a gadget or a car and becomes the second playable character to an extent that can annoy some people while delighting others with its gameplay literally reminding them of their cheerful childhood evenings spent playing Battletanks ( or not if you weren't a biological entity yet back then, in which case you will have no memories to fall back on, sorry, sometimes being older has its perks !). The game integrates Batmobile with Batman so smoothly that playing from within the car and as Batman feels seamless. The game lets you switch between them absolutely seamlessly creating a flow of traversal so fluid that it easily gets addicting to just zip in and out of the car just to see how cool it all is. Oh and the rest of the game also shares that philosophy of coolness.

           The whole focus is on high octane action in this game! Dazzling graphics with lots of explosions thanks to our new found Battletank ! Batman’s on foot sneaking and brawling abilities are fully fledged out only in the side missions scattered around in the open world of Gotham City while the main story continues swinging along with the escapades of the Batmobile. So much so that , without spoiling anything specific, some Boss fights turn out very very anti-climatic because of it ! The side missions do make up for it and make sure you do not leave with a bad taste after the main campaign. In fact, the side missions are very well integrated in to the theme of the game and you can easily get distracted from the campaign completing separate independent mini quest-lines while earning those much needed Wayne points to level up your character, gadgets and Batmobile.

            The game as a whole is fun and the variety of gameplay that Batmobile brings to the game actually keeps things fresh and frantic. While the sneaking can feel familiar and placid sometimes, especially after two (rather three) previous games, the fresh infusion of car chases and tank battles never do. They are always fast and tense keeping the tempo high and bring much needed excitement into this grim tale. Whether they fit into the Batman’s detective world or not, is a debate I will keep away from here. Are they overused? Definitely yes, the game feels like a Batmobile game instead of a Batman game. A little less focus on the Batmobile could have made this game better and could have increased our empathy levels towards Batman, in my humble opinion, as playing for too long as a tank breaks one’s immersion of being Batman…….and that requires no debate.

                Another aspect that can break immersion very strongly are the tutorials in the beginning of the game in the form of Augmented Reality Challenges. The icons pop up right inside the game world, in the middle of all the chaos and the player is asked to perform various make-believe tasks, like taking out thugs and busting virtual tanks, while victims are being held hostage literally 5 meters away.I still can't fathom Batman punching air to train himself smack in the middle of real thugs....I am sure newspapers would carry news of Batman's insanity the next !

Playing alongside Sidekicks is a lot of fun !

That brings us to another new gameplay system introduced in Arkham Knight : The Sidekicks ! You can smoothly switch between Batman and a sidekick during combat and even issue small commands to the sidekicks for quitter takedowns. This is a very welcome addition and I, for one, love this feature. It is well implemented and very fun to play and smoothly integrates into the freeflow combat system of Batman. In fact, it feels strange that the sidekicks are used only in a handful of missions in the game. They add a layer of excitement to the standard brawls and show a promise of adding a layer of strategy if fleshed out and used in majority of the missions. Here’s hoping sidekicks play a major role in the next Rocksteady title. Dual takedown all the way, please !!! :)

The Stories: Heroes, Villains and a wisdom full of Insanity!

             The story is on the lines of standard comic book fare but it does try to explore a bit deeper than usual and succeeds too. It’s good fare, not V for Vendetta or From Hell good, but it does try to veer thematically towards the Neil Gaiman stories of Batman, exploring Batman’s inner thoughts and dilemmas a bit more than a standard comic would.

The undercurrent of Batman seeing the good in everyone is strong here and the story goes on to break the hero/villain stereotypes of various characters. The definitions keep veering around the edge of either and this also serves well as a backdrop for the self-revelatory journey Batman is on. Events and expositions tug us around on a stage-full of unpredictable characters with what seems like insanity edging on the brink of wisdom and being justified either way by the well-presented cast. The game can really get under your skin sometimes, creating surreal moments of wonder and the anticipation of the unknown.

           I am sure, one can safely say that Rocksteady has done one of the best fan-services in interpreting these comic book caricatures as relatable characters. A Hero or a villain, each presents a somewhat eccentric, yet relatable and realistic point of view of this world. Give and take a few notches, Rocksteady has toed the line wonderfully, if not exceptionally, on the theme, given the set cast of characters and the world of Gotham.

                         The game also satisfies the innate Batman fan by roping in a lot of the series’ villains and characters in fitting roles. Complete optional quest-lines (side activities in the open world) are dedicated to particular characters which take you through mini stories woven around them replete with a boss fight in the end. This approach by Rocksteady works out very well and serves the dual purpose of providing worthy context to side activities while letting multiple villains have noticeable presence in the game without overtly straining or muddling the main story. Rest assured that you will meet a lot of Villains and you can have your sweet time with them.

Gotham at its finest:
The open world is heavy, moody, huge and yet claustrophobic in every alley you traverse! The outdoors are simply stunning and it is safe to say that this is the best Gotham city you can roam around in your waking life. The beautiful indoors are similarly very well crafted and moodily lit and keep evoking my dream of seeing a next-gen Bioshock soon. The colours, the atmosphere and the art are spot on here and sometimes you feel a zen moment just gliding through the sparkling rain while zipping around the rooftops or admiring the beautiful indoors that have an uncanny sense of unease to them ( as if they have imbibed the spirit of the Joker in them!). During the course of the game the city changes many moods and each one seems to induce the same wow feeling as the previous one.

                    The city is alive in more ways than one and the constant contextually correct banter from the NPCs keeps the immersion alive while also lightening the mood occasionally. Some of the chatter between thugs is genuinely funny and can make you stop and just listen to them for a while. Similarly, Rocksteady has paid a lot of attention to little details to make you, the player, feel the change he brings to the world. Thugs you apprehend start filling up the GCPD cells and taunt you while you walk around the place. People you rescue also show up in the safe haven and converse with you and intelligently comment on the most recent threats of the villains, as do the GCPD cops. Their reactions to your actions, however small, really make them a bit more believable and your actions a bit more palpable than would otherwise feel.

              It is these little details which create a sense of belonging to this doomed city. As an example, there is this little moment of two cops taking a selfie with the Batmobile while you are away and they scramble around and apologise to you profusely as soon as you reach the spot. That one little conversation suddenly turned those two NPCs into real people with families and responsibilities and really made me stop and take notice apart from breaking into laughter, of course. The Last of Us brought these little in game interactions to the fore and Rocksteady seems to be picking their inspirations from the right places !

An Open world yet eerily claustrophobic !

As for the sound design, well, it’s punchy and loud, like an action game sounds should be. The soundtrack does not catch attention but does not get in the way of the game either.

Final thoughts:

      It's almost as if Rocksteady decided that Batmobile was to be THE GAME in Batman: Arkham Knight. The whole main campaign and the City are designed around it. They have provided for the classic Batman gameplay in the side missions you can optionally tackle, but this still remains a very polarizing aspect of the game. If you end up not enjoying the Tank gameplay, the appeal of the game will drop considerably. At least for the main story, you are almost always in your Tank. So, the merit of the game lies a lot on whether the player falls in love with or abhors the Bat-Tank set free here! And there-in lies the dilemma in passing any judgment on this game.

The game redeems itself with a very satisfying end to the campaign and all is forgiven for the way the manic characters and the finale is treated in this game. Also, the side activities involving the Riddler are just too good to be ignored. In fact, I found myself more interested in acquiring the Riddler trophies and stopping Two Face from looting banks than actually catching the Arkham Knight during my time with the game.

If you have played the previous Batman games then you have to play it simply to see how it ends and gratifying it is to play that final chapter of the game. If you have not played the previous games then chances of feeling disappointed are diminished as you do not have a preconceived notion of how Batman game should play and the tank sections might not trouble you that much. Either way, if you have time for another game, go for it. It is not the best fare this year has to offer, but it sure is fun ! This is the best Gotham you will get to play until at least next or next-next generation of consoles arrive so savour it while you can but be prepared to be a Tank rather than a flying bat…..or a detective !

+Stunning visuals with the best slick, grimy and wet Gotham City you can experience in your waking life.

+Well realized memorable characters.

+Batmobile’s gameplay keeps the action fresh and fun

+A very gratifying Finale.

+ The side missions with the classic Batman gameplay.

+Riddler puzzles !

-Lopsided focus on the Batmobile. Feels like a Batmobile game, not a Batman game.

-off putting and odd boss battles in the main campaign.

-Some immersion breaking choices in presentation.

-No real Detective work for the World’s greatest detective.


“A fun romp throughout and a fitting end to the series. Best to try out the new Batmobile gameplay before buying, though.”

(*all screenshots taken with the Share button on a PS4 system)

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