Sunday, July 5, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight Review!

                I have to be honest, a few years back materials with superheroes were not really my thing. But after watching The Dark Knight I gave this culture another shot and surrendered to my friend’s pressure to play Batman: Arkham Asylum. Surprisingly enough for me, the game was extremely good and it stood out in a market without many good action games on PC.
Rocksteady Studios’ series continued with Arkham City and a prequel made by Warner Bros. depicting Batman’s beginning as a hero while the main studio worked on the final act of the story.

                Nine months after Joker’s cremation (spam space to incinerate the Joker for increased immersion!) things are about to get crazy one last time. A shocking opening scene reveals Scarecrow, still obsessed with humiliating Batman and threatening Gotham City with a new version of his powerful hallucinogenic gas. Over six million people are evacuated and in less than twenty-four hours the city is out of the officials’ control leaving the streets of Gotham to thugs, criminals and the insane villains. Only Batman & Co stand in their way with little help from the overpowered yet still courageous GCPD with Commissioner Gordon as their leader.
Scarecrow might be behind this madness but a new mysterious villain has made an appearance in Gotham City and he is set on doing one thing: kill the Dark Knight. Arkham Knight knows Batman’s moves and tactics and has brought with him an army of heavily equipped mercenaries and drones to aid Scarecrow with his plan and eventually see his wish fulfilled.
With the streets flooded in criminal chaos, many villains take this opportunity to continue their dirty jobs unhindered. Penguin and Two-Face are set on making money and the Riddler which is as annoying as ever has filled the city with hundreds of challenges for Batman to complete (243). But the Dark Knight isn’t alone. Nightwing has come from Blüdhaven to aid with the situation, Robin is around doing an important job, Oracle is on support duty together with Alfred and Mister Lucius Fox has some toys prepared to tip the scale in Batman’s favor during this long night.
                After the first few missions the story evolves in an unexpected way that brings to the surface the best of the Arkham series. The ghosts of the past haunt Batman and his inner fight can be seen everywhere creating a feeling of unpredictability towards the hero’s actions. Friends and even foes are brought together by the madness engulfing the city in order to aid Batman.
As the situation spins out of control everyone is on the edge and things becomes harder to deal with leaving Batman in an almost hopeless situation where he has to face his fear in order to protect the ones he cares about and fight one last battle that will mark the end of the Arkham series.
                The story was great from the beginning to the very end. There weren’t many moments when I was disappointed about what happened and the events unfolding always intrigued me to see more.
I will stop you!
Batman's tech puts everything to shame!
Tonight we dine in hell!

                To distract the players from the main missions and provide some extra activities the world is filled with secondary missions and challenges. Most of the secondary missions are designed as a loop with multiple stages of progressions which are basically doing the same thing in different locations. The secondary missions are far from the quality of the main story but do stand out through their introduction of other villains and heroes than the ones involved directly in the main story adding an additional reason to complete them.  After destroying like four or five weapon caches in what seemed like a banal mission chain, something happened which made everything worthwhile.
I completed almost all these secondary missions and not only because I’m a completist but because I was curious to discover what interesting facets they added to the story. I skipped Riddler’s challenges, for which the last part of his mission is more obnoxious than actually listening to his constant self-gratification.
                The secondary missions are disappointing even if I enjoyed them. More complexity and a better connection with the game’s premise would have made the entire action feel as part of the main story (imagine how great would have been).
                For those who enjoy arcade missions, there are tones of challenges which put the players in timed situations where they have to complete various tasks. The AR challenges use everything that Batman has at his disposal. Batmobile races or overwhelming fights against drones, taking down enemies or stopping bank robberies are just some of the examples. Every challenge has a score rating and even some rewards for high scores and the performance is registered on a ladder where the players compete against their friends.
While these types of missions were never my style, I did have some fun with some the challenges and tried to turn the score upside down.
Sick bastard!
You are such a pussy!

                The gameplay has remained for the most part faithful to the series. As the game is set in an open world environment, Batman can take full advantage of his gliding cape to hover over large parts of the city. There is a wide variety of gadgets at Batman’s disposal each more versatile than the others. The batarang, batclaw, explosive gel and the now legendary detective mode make a return accompanied by many others, old and new. Some of the gadgets are unlocked progressively and together with them more content becomes available for completion. The world might be open and big, but not everything can be accessed at once and a balance should be found between advancing into the main story and completing secondary missions in order to enjoy the content properly and not hit roadblocks.
                Compared to the previous titles, the gameplay has an induced cinematic feeling which I can’t say I liked as it stopped me from doing what I wanted and kept slowing me down. Communicating with other characters by using the Batsuit incorporated screen stops almost every action aside of moving slowly until the dialogue is over. There are moments when hacking through systems locks out every other option in the game including exiting that activity which I found extremely bizarre. All these things felt like bad design choices as they took out my liberty and forced me to do or watch things unwillingly.
Somehow I don't fear the heights in this game!

                Rocksteady Studios has always played it safe after the big success of Arkham Asylum and the games to come have followed the same recipe with usually one major feature to improve over the predecessor. Arkham City has received the open world now carried on to Arkham Knight which in return got a controllable Batmobile as its new feature.
                The Batmobile is a versatile vehicle which allows Batman to travel extremely fast in the now bigger world and it gives Batman the strength to fight the paramilitary organization that is taking over the city. In its normal mode the Batmobile can be used to cruise around the city using its high speed, decent maneuverability and speed booster. The Batmobile tank like structure makes many obstacles obsolete as it can smash them into pieces. But driving is every car’s role so the Batmobile had to bring something more than that. With a simple touch of a button the Batmobile switches to Battle Mode which transforms it into an actual tank equipped with non-lethal weapons including a machinegun, a 60mm canon and a rocket launcher with more weapons added later on in the game. It’s quite hard to understand how a 60mm canon can be non-lethal or how driving with this enormous car over pedestrians doesn’t kill them and somehow electrocutes them out of the way, but Batman doesn’t kill and this applies to his car as well.
The Batmobile control defies the laws of physics. The switch between the two modes happens in an instant and the Battle Mode stops the car from cruising at a high speed in an instant with no momentum to it making this the best way to take a steer at high speed without any risks of losing control.
                Rocksteady has created something great with the Batmobile but they went too far. The world feels designed around the car and not the other way around and at times this is causing gameplay problems. There is more driving in Arkham Knight than some would expect and this comes with a price. The time spent with the Batmobile is time not spend as the actual Batman. Having to solve lots of the Riddler’s puzzles with the car shows how forced in this feature is. But the biggest problem comes from the fact that most of the boss battles in the game are fought with the Batmobile. I was expecting epic battles between the Dark Knight and the menaces of Gotham City like the fight with Poison Ivy, Bane or Joker in Arkham Asylum. Instead all I got were some tank battles that are nowhere near as challenging and fun as a hand to hand fight would have been.
                I actually loved the Batmobile. The versatility combined with the game’s physics and particle effects were a feast for the eyes and a pleasure to control even if the controls were arcady (I don’t think anyone was expecting a simulator). But sometimes it felt like the car was more important than the hero itself and it was taking away from the expected gameplay experience.

                The combat system in the Arkham series was never my cup of tea. The two buttons spamming for attacks and counters with combos and finishers left room for more complexity. But to my surprise this time I enjoyed the combat more than I did in the previous games. Maybe because I’m coming after The Witcher 3 where the combat experience was extremely glitchy and the problems of Arkham Knight are light compared to it. Or it actually improved over the previous games but it has been such a long time since I played an Arkham title that I can’t notice the changes. But enjoying something doesn’t mean it's perfect.
                The first thing that comes to mind about the game’s combat system is the control scheme. The PC controls use multifunctional keys and various combinations of multiple keys in order to get things done. Multifunctional keys make no sense as this game is not a complex simulator and doesn’t require an entire keyboard for its control scheme so I don’t see the point of subjecting one key to multiple tasks.
The combinations of multiple keys shouldn’t be a nuisance if done properly, but the way they are used makes them so. The game requires the press of two keys to go down a vent tunnel or to open a hatch door (really?!) and the same goes for using a gadget in combat and perform many other actions in or out of combat. The combinations sometimes overlap and in the heat of battle doing one thing might result in doing another. This problem feels like laziness in properly adjusting a rather simple game to the mouse and keyboard controls.
                 Aside of the annoying controls another problem that I have with the combat comes from the highlighted animations of Batman’s powerful hits. These animations are completely out of place in a game that takes itself more seriously. They might have worked if the artistic style was different and the game used onomatopoeias and other comic books related themes, but it doesn’t go along with the current imagining of the Gotham City. I think better body physics would have been a greater way to make Batman’s devastating hits more visible on his targets than coloring around his punches and kicks.
                The last but not least of Arkham Knight’s combat problems stands in the difficulty. The AI isn’t the greatest and the lack of serious boss fights diminishes greatly the level of enjoyment. The only real challenge stands in the uneven odds that Batman has to fight. At first the groups of enemies are small enough to defeat easily, but as the game progresses they grow in size and receive numerous abilities and weapons to stop Batman making things more complicated. The space is not always in Batman’s favor and sometimes these battles turn out into an everlasting hit and run scenario until most of the easy enemies are knocked out so there is enough space to deal with the stronger guys.
                In spite of its problems the combat system in Arkham Knight has to offer more than most of the latest 3rd person games do. The play style can be easily adjusted by the player as Batman always has options.
Going rampage on a group of enemies and kicking them until they are down can be one of the ways to solve things for almost every situation in the game even if most of the times it’s the hardest way.
Taking a more tactical approach by disabling the enemy’s guns, hacking into their security system and laying some traps crippling the enemy forces before the fight begins it’s another way to do things.
Even stealth is an option with the help of detective mode and some of the gadgets. By taking advantage of the great level design which allows for multiple pathways, Batman can sneak around and take the enemies down one by one.
                The styles can be combined and adjusted on the fly resulting in spectacular improvised moments that feel great to pull off.  And when things go crazy and even Batman isn’t enough, Catwoman, Nightwing or Robin might lend a hand if they are around. The fights with the help of other heroes are extremely fun as the game allows switching from one hero to another and executing dual takedowns on enemies. The only downside is that these duet moments aren’t seen very often in the game.
Blurry combat!
Let's see what happens if I detonate this here!

                Almost everything that Batman can use is subject to upgrades. There is a leveling system based on the experience gained through fights or missions awarding Wayne points which can be spent on various upgrades. Batman’s combat moves can be enhanced with new combos and finishers enhancing the existing ones. The Batsuit can receive numerous upgrades to sustain more damage from both melee weapons and firearms and other combat enhancements and the same way goes for the Batmobile. Even the gadgets can be heavily upgraded increasing not only their utility in the world, but also their combat usefulness.
The leveling system is nothing too complex, but opens up more options for different play styles and adds greater value to completing secondary missions and challenges.
I need to grind more!

                All things put together, Arkham Knight might not have the best combat and it doesn't lack problems, but has enough options to it to make it enjoyable for the entire duration of the game. The Carmageddon style car chases and the tank battles from which the game switches easily to violent and dynamic hand to hand combat or stealth sections create an action cocktail that has to be at least slightly tasteful for anyone.

                So far so good, the game has its ups and downs but everything is rounded in a positive way, but apparently Rocksteady Studios and Warner Bros. couldn’t keep this tone until the very end. There have been AAA games that messed up badly in the past like Watch Dogs or Assassin’s Creed: Unity, but these games messed with no discrimination and had problems on all the platforms, but such is not the case for Arkham Knight. While the game runs smoothly and without problems on consoles, on the PC things are more of a slideshow than an actual game (you know… cinematic experience).
                The game is unplayable for the most players and having a powerful rig hardly makes any difference. The fps is locked at 30 (because what PC gamer doesn’t want that, right?!?!) and has problems even staying at 30 with constant freezes and fps drops. A violent motion blur is slapped on to cover for this without any way to remove it or tune it down from the graphics options menu. Because of the amount of blur it was impossible for me to take a proper combat screenshot, but things get even worse. The game has such memory leak problems on a scale I've never seen before, there are reports of the game taking up to 12gb of RAM memory causing even more performance problems.
The graphics options menu looks like more like a commercial to Nvidia than what a graphics menu for a AAA title should look in 2015 (or you can pick any year since pixel shader 2.0) with the Nvidia GameWorks settings being as many as the standard settings (to be more precise: four). There are no options for high quality textures (because parity!) and the textures themselves have problems loading up in-game. The ambient occlusion and enhanced lighting are nowhere to be found in the options or in game (some of the features can be disabled or adjusted from the game's .ini).
                Basically, Batman: Arkham Knight PC version received little attention and was released together with the other version of the game in disregard to its state (it is absolutely impossible for the publisher and the developer of this game not to be aware about the situation of the PC version). The PC customers sank the game in bad reviews and Warner Bros. first response was to increase the price on Steam from 50 to 55 (…).  As a result to the huge number of complaints and the pilling stacks of refund tickets the game was retracted from most authorized stores (long live the first protecting law for the consumers of digital products!!!).
                I feel sorry for the fate of this game, it deserved much more than a simple port and the same goes for its fans (ironically enough aside of the optimization problems the game is bugs free). The quality of Arkham Knight surpasses that of most of the action games released on PC in the past years and I’d be lying if I said that the game doesn’t look good despite its lack of common graphical effects and high resolution textures.
                A night in Gotham City has never looked better, but also never symbolized as much as it does now. The rainy night combined with the dark tone of the graphics create a shady atmosphere that intensifies the intrigue of the story and the fact that this is the last game in the series.
The world design is amazing and the game’s verticality plays right into Batman’s hand allowing him to use the gadgets as he pleases. The attention to graphic details is high and there seems to be nothing out of place in the world.
Something is clearly not right!
That smoke!

                The thing that impressed me the most about this game’s technical part and that doesn’t get used enough in other games is the physics. Gotham City could easily be a map for a Carmageddon match as the amount of destructible environment is impressive. In the Batmobile there are hardly any obstacles. Cars, gates, supporting pillars and so many other things can be destroyed. Batman runs through everything in his way in order to save Gotham City one last time and probably causes millions of dollars worth of property damage, but who cares when it’s so much fun (!!!). Almost everything that seems destructible is destructible with few exceptions and I had a blast using the Batmobile’s power to wreak havoc in the city. Arkham Knight stands as a great example of how important physics is in a video game and how underrated and ignored this technology is right now and proves once again its valor in a game’s feeling and enjoyment.

                On the audio part I have nothing to reproach. The sound effects are top notch quality and the music is in tone with the series. Yet the technical part doesn’t stand out as much as the voice acting does.  With Kevin Conroy back to reprise his role as Batman and many of the previous voice actors coming back for the last part of the series, the voice acting is excellent and the actors do a great job to enter in the mind of some of the insane characters and bring them to life through their work.

Apparently I can't get rid of you.
Batman & Co.
There's something wrong with your face!
Superman confirmed?!?!

                I liked this game a lot (this is quite clear from the fact that I continued to play it in the current state), but the terrible quality of the port cannot be ignored and the publisher has to be condemned for outsourcing the PC version to a small studio of twelve people for a game with a price tag of 50 euros (55?! Plus DLCs). It shows a lack of respect for the PC market and its customers and they probably would have gotten away and sold millions (just like Watch Dogs did) if there wasn’t the option for refunds. Let this be a lesson to any publisher that tries to screw up the PC gamers, as we are vocal and we made ourselves heard, through refunds and overwhelmingly negative scores that are not necessarily justifiable to the game’s quality but reflect our frustration towards this treachery.
But is the problematic port making Batman: Arkham Knight a bad game? Nowhere near close to that. It is a true and true action game, without selectable dialogues or moral choices just for the sake of it as this is not a role playing but rather a very interactive experience as Batman following his rules and his unchangeable story. The story is flawlessly written and plays out in an unpredictable way putting an end to a six years long series that has done to superheroes video games what the Dark Knight series has done with superheroes movies (Can I get a Green Lantern series like these ones?!).
                I can’t say that the game is worth buying now as its technical state is still a mess and playing at 30fps with heavily forced in motion blur is tiring. But in a few weeks or months when most of the problems are fixed it might be a title that should not be missed by fans of the genre and Batman alike.

+ Excellent story
+ Great world design
+ Good graphics and physics
+ High quality voice acting
+ Lots of villains and heroes from the Batman universe
+ Addictive gameplay
+ Batmobile
+ 40+ hours of gameplay
+ Puzzles
+ Completist’s heaven

- Horrible performance problems
- Locked at 30fps (even if it's unlocked from .ini it is still unstable)
- Lacks important graphics features and options
- Multifunctional keys
- Secondary missions can be repetitive
- No serious boss fights
- Batmobile is overused


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