The story of Batman, a highly trained vigilante who wears a suit resembling a bat, may have begun in comic books, but it has since infiltrated every storytelling medium possible. Television shows, animated series, movies, and with Batman: Arkham Asylum, the story of Batman was legitimized in video game form. Arkham Asylum was gritty and dark and forced gamers to take Batman seriously. Much like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the Arkham series of video games told a story of Batman that was intense and reminiscent of some of the stories comic book readers have grown to love about Batman. As a video game, the stories were told in a way that made them perhaps more memorable because of the player interaction with the narrative.
The Arkham series has been one of the most popular video games in history and certainly the most popular superhero video game series, and fans have been long awaiting the promised end to the Arkham trilogy. Batman: Arkham Knight is the promised end, and as the end of a trilogy, it pulls out all the stops. This is one of the most intense video games around, earning a “M” for Mature rating for some of its more disturbing moments. This is a game that takes the Batman narrative to some dark places, but it’s also a game where gameplay is important. This is about a Batman who has plenty of battles to fight, and knowing how to maneuver the Dark Knight in a fight is vitally important.
Arkham Knight takes the stakes much higher than previous games, claiming at the beginning to be the story of how Batman died. If you haven’t play Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, the events that take place in those games now seem like the setup to the real story the Arkham series was meant to tell. Arkham Knight takes place one year after the events of Arkham City. That means one year after the Joker, Gotham’s most oppressive and insanity-driven villain, died. Without the Joker running the city’s criminal activities, the citizens of Gotham learn to live in hope that their city can be free of oppression and crime.
But the Joker was only Batman’s most formidable foe among many others, and Batman’s greatest villains decide to team up to end the Dark Knight once and for all. The Scarecrow, who seems an unlikely candidate among Batman’s villains, takes the lead in uniting Batman’s greatest enemies, including Two-Face, the Penguin, Harley Quinn, and the Riddler. On the night of Halloween, the Scarecrow succeeds in causing a mass evacuation of Gotham City’s residents by threatening to release a new and more powerful fear toxin. With only the city’s criminals and the Gotham City Police Department left, Scarecrow and company almost unlimited free reign over the city. Except for Batman, who is as committed as ever to the cause of protecting Gotham City.
As threatening as Batman’s enemies united can be, Scarecrow has an ace in his pocket in the form of the game’s most mysterious villain, the Arkham Knight. Arkham Knight looks like an amped-up militarized version of Batman himself, and he knows all of Batman’s tricks. In fact, he knows Batman so well that he poses more of a threat than any of the other villains. (SPOILER ALERT: the Arkham Knight is later revealed to be Jason Todd, who was once Robin and was tortured by the Joker and thought to be dead. This explains how he knows so much about Batman and why he’s in a position to defeat Batman.)
With Arkham Knight, it seems Rocksteady, the developers behind the game, were determined to layer on as much conflict as possible, and it doesn’t stop with the Arkham Knight, who seems to know every move Batman is likely to make. No, the conflict goes much deeper. So deep that it’s found inside of Batman himself. The Joker may have died at the end of Arkham City, but the Joker doesn’t allow himself to get killed without having a plan to keep himself in the game somehow. He doesn’t want the dance with Batman to end that easily. Batman and several others were injected with the Joker’s infected blood in Arkham Knight. This blood, combined with the Scarecrow’s fear toxin, is bringing the Joker’s consciousness to life in those who have his blood running through their veins.
This is an interesting plot twist as Batman has to battle not only his enemies on the outside, but his greatest enemy on the inside as the Joker fights for control of Batman’s mind and body. For fans who wondered how a Jokerless Batman game could be as good, given that the Joker definitively died in Arkham City, this was a pleasant surprise. Batman has a lot going against him, which makes Arkham Knight a game that feels weightier than games for which story isn’t as central a component.
As for gameplay, players will be excited about the ability to explore so much of Gotham City, even getting to fly over large portions of the city with Batman’s cape. Also exciting is the ability to switch between characters in Battle, utilizing the skills of Robin, Nightwing, or the Catwoman. The Batmobile is even a playable vehicle in this game, and it looks impressive, although it’s not without fault.
Both the gameplay and the storyline of Arkham Knight are intense. As the end of a trilogy, this game delivers in a way that is better than expected. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy created some fundamental moments in the Batman mythology for film, just as the Arkham series has done for gaming. Arkham Knight and the Arkham series will be remembered for a long time as one of the best and most innovative treatments of the Batman story.
Batman: Arkham Knight is currently available for Playstation 4 and Xbox One.