PIC 1: Screenshot
The last patch for the PC port for Batman Arkham Knight was released on March 2016. But there is a dearth of online reviews on the performance of this game after the release of all these patches.
Being a PC player and an avid Arkham games fan I waited for Warner Brothers and Rocksteady Studios to release all the patches before I bought what some people had called “the game with the worst PC port ever”.
Now that I have played the game I have decided to share my views on it. So, if anyone had postponed buying the game till all the patches were out and its PC port has been improved as much as it could have been- then then this review is for you.
Graphics (and its associated problems)
The most important issue surrounding the PC port of Batman Arkham Knight was the graphics. I play on a medium range gaming laptop with a – i7 4720 processor, 8 GB RAM, and a NVIDIA GTX 950 2 GB graphics card.
So, I was quite apprehensive of whether I would be able to play this game or not and sure enough when I double clicked the game icon for the first time the screen started flickering like crazy. But the when I adjusted the display to “windowed borderless” instead of “fullscreen” and increased the resolution to the highest (1920 x 1080) the flickering problem was solved. Here are the settings that I played with-
Pic 2: Settings
Now, let me tell you about an associated problem about why so many PC reviewers even when they played on their top of the line PCs hated this game but why I loved it even when I was playing on my laptop. It is the game’s fault not the reviewers. Let me explain this further.
This year has been very busy for me. I bought this game in April 2016, and could start playing it only from August 2016. Also I played this game in 3 sittings in a day, everyday for 2 months- 30 minutes in the morning, 45 minutes in the evening and 1 hour at night. But if I played the game for more than 1 hour at a time there were significant frame rate drops and the screen would freeze frequently. When that happened, I would just exit the game, shut down my computer and walk away. But this could be a nightmare for professional gamers or game reviewers who frequently play 10+ hours at a stretch.
This brings us to the crux of the “graphics” related problems in the PC port- which was that Rocksteady did not develop the PC port instead they outsourced it to another company. So, when the PC port was released it was badly optimised, had several compatibility issues, it suffered from terrible frame rate drops and had so many glitches that WB studios pulled it off steam, gave refunds and did not release the game for another four months.
Now, during these months and the months after that, Rocksteady released several DLCs which were basically glorified challenge maps. But ironically these cash grabbing DLCs revealed the true potential of Rocksteady. You can play these DLCs or challenge maps for hours without any frame rate drops or screen freezing over- but it is a shame that most of them were only around 15 minutes long.
PIC 4(SOURCE): Ibid
Fittingly enough, the only DLC released along with the main game which has Harley Quinn playing the protagonist is the only DLC where I experienced a game breaking glitch. This was because after the initial release and the backlash from its customers- Rocksteady developed the DLCs for the PC port on their own or under their strict supervision- instead of outsourcing it to a third party.
So, how does the Game Look now?
Given my computer’s abilities I was able to play the game at 30 (+ or – 5) FPS at all times and I was quite satisfied with it. There were hardly any glitches worth mentioning or ones that should irritate the players.
The graphics in this game are clearly next gen- be it the rain effects, facial features or any other special effects. Gotham City is huge and highly detailed. All the major character designs and NPCs are very well done- EXCEPT for the female rogues- Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Harley Quinn. I don’t know what happened but they looked just plain ugly in this game.
Now Poison Ivy and Catwoman are supposed to be two of the most beautiful women in the DC Universe and previous games like Arkham Asylum and Arkham City had treated them as such. But something happened to the character designers of this game and despite Ivy being almost naked, Catwoman wearing her full body latex suit and Harley Quinn walking around in her “sexy clown costume” the developers have somehow managed to make them look ugly.
Pic 6(SOURCE): Batman Arkham Knight PC
As far as gameplay is concerned let us first deal with the elephant in the room- the batmobile. The batmobile is a very important part of the game (and this is most probably an understatement). You will be doing four main things with the batmobile- going from point A to point B, chasing, fighting tanks and solving Riddler’s puzzles.
No one I know (me included) has had a problem with the first two activities. I have dealt with the Riddler issue later on in this review. But a lot of people have had a problem with the tank battles- and my feelings regarding it are mixed.
First off I loved the tank battles. But it might be because I played on my PC. The tank battles are a rare occasion when in my opinion the PC controls are better than the console controls. But I do not understand why a triple A game would waste its resources in giving us basically a 1990s tank game- where you have to move your tank forward- backward- left and right to avoid getting hit by other tanks- and the bigger the tank is, the more times you need to fire at it to destroy it.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the tank battles- but it did not feel like a very Batman thing to do.
Now, that we have dealt with the elephant let us come to the most important part of the gameplay- fight mechanics.
Amongst all the Arkham games, this game has the most complicated fight mechanics. You cannot survive this game by simply button smashing. The variety of enemies is huge and they all need different strategies to counter.
A cool fighting mechanics called “dual team takedown” has also been introduced which allows you to shift between two people as you take down the bad guys. It looks and feels quite good but the shift is not seamless and could be achieved only when the combo meter is full.
With regards to the predator mode there is a new take down called “fear takedown” that looks and feels amazing. Also you can now grapple up and down air vents which adds an additional layer to the stealth mechanics. The bad guys are also equipped with more gadgets than before to counter Batman during a predator challenge. But the AI is only slightly better than the previous game.
The gliding and grappling mechanics in this game are also very good. You could even be ejected from the batmobile in the glide mode. The problem of Arkham Origins that there weren’t sufficient grappling surfaces has been dealt with successfully here. You can now grapple further than any previous game which also means the gliding is also better.
The skill tree is quite simplified and is easier to follow than any of the previous games.
The detective mode has been integrated sufficiently to the main story and the side missions and does not include just one activity of looking at things with you detective mode on- but you also have to do other stuff like- checking CCTV cameras and tracking industrial manufacturing. But the detective mode sadly does not make us think or ponder like one of Riddler’s conundrums instead it just deals with using the direction keys, the mouse and the spacebar.
But now let us deal with the biggest problem in the gameplay- no boss battles. Arkham games always have had great boss battles. Off the top of my head my 5 favourite ones were- Poison Ivy and Scarecrow in Asylum, Ra’s al Ghul and Mr. Freeze in City and Bane in Origins.
Batman Arkham Knight has probably the biggest roster of batman rogues but there is almost a complete absence of boss battles which in my opinion is a missed opportunity. But thankfully this is a crime of omission- something that they did not include rather than something which is in the game and is bad.
I don’t know why I have not seen this mentioned more often, that the comic book story arc that has encouraged all the Arkham games except Asylum is “No Man’s Land”. In this arc there is a huge earthquake and it reduces Gotham into rubble. Most of the people are evacuated and amongst the people who remained were criminals, people who were too weak or stubborn to leave and do gooders like Commissioner Gordon and Dr. Leslie Thomkins. The plight of Gotham also forces Batman to have an existential crisis.
Batman Arkham Knight follows this script closely albeit with some obvious differences. Don’t worry with people saying that the identity of the Arkham Knight is obvious. It is not, at least till around 65% of the story is over- then the game itself wants you to know the identity of the Knight. But it hardly matters because the main villain of this game is undoubtedly Scarecrow.
The story in itself is not bad. It is not as good as the story in Arkham City- but it is definitely better than the story in Asylum and Origins.
Also I completely disagree with the notion that Scarecrow is not an adequate villain for this game. Scarecrow’s full potential as a brilliant Batman villain was realised in this game. But maybe the people who were dissatisfied with Scarecrow being the main villain were too used to Batman rogues like Joker who hatches crazy schemes with a twisted end game in mind or with villains like Bane who depend on their brilliant strategic minds and on their brute strength.
But Scarecrow is very different. He spells out his plan in Batman Arkham Knight at the beginning of the game itself- which was to mentally breakdown Batman not with a single powerful blow but with a thousand cuts to his soul and by exploring and discovering what he fears most.
PIC 9(SOURCE): Ibid
Now, most people (including me) like Batman Arkham City’s story the most because it is structured like a Robert Ludlum thriller novel. Almost all of Robert Ludlum’s novels (I am talking about the ones he wrote during his lifetime, not the ones released after he died) would follow three stages. During the first stage you assume something and proceed. The second stage will show that everything you believed in was totally false with the truth being something completely different. In the final stage you move forwards to resolve the dichotomies of the first two stages. This method was used to tell the story of Arkham City.
But the story of Batman Arkham Knight follows a completely different pattern. There are no breaks in the narration. There are surprises in the middle yes, but the basic premise does not change. So, the story of Arkham Knight has an elongated and twisted plot which looks quite impressive in hindsight so this game is highly replayable if not for anything else then just to have a better understanding how the plot unfolded. So, I began to replay the game within two days of finishing my first attempt.
But the really weird thing about the story is its ending. There are three endings- they are not 3 different endings but part of the same ending that a player can unlock one after another- the first ending that any player can unlock at the end of the game – is just brilliant. It elevates the story to a new level. But it is mainly psychological and heavy with symbolism and hence it is difficult for new Arkham players or players new to the Batman lore to understand. This ending shows the amazing understanding of the Batman character that Rocksteady has.
Then comes the second ending which you can unlock once you complete all the side missions. I had completed most of them before the first ending because most of them were quite fun to do.
Once you complete all the side missions you can then access the second ending, but once the second ending is over you are deprived of the viewing the 3rd ending and sent back to the main game to collect all of Riddler’s 250+ trophies spread all over the map of Gotham City.
This I absolutely refused to do. I had previously completed the race track and other Riddler challenges to free Catwoman to complete that particular side mission. Even those were extremely frustrating and irritating. But I did them because they were few in number (just 10). But to collect 250+ trophies is just plain ridiculous. So, I exited the game got on youtube and checked out the 3rd ending.
But this left a bad taste/feeling. I am a completionist but I have never been a big fan of collecting Riddler trophies. But none of the previous games deprived me of the story ending for not collecting all of those stupid meaningless trophies. Also I think that I do deserve to see the ending in the game after spending 70 hours playing it. And while we are at it- is Gotham located in the North Pole? Why else would its nights time be so long?
None of the story pack DLCs contributes anything substantial to the main story except the “Season of Infamy” DLC, which includes rogues like Mad Hatter, Ra’s al Ghul, Killer Croc and Mister Freeze. This DLC is a nice hat tip to the previous Arkham games, is nicely integrated into the game and has high nostalgia value.
As far as character development is concerned, I thought the treatment of the characters of Batman, Poison Ivy and Mister Freeze were handled brilliantly with the honourable mentions going to Scarecrow and Commissioner Gordon. The other characters did not have anything special to write home about.
Also some critics have complained about Batman constantly contacting his support staff mainly- Alfred, Lucius Fox and Barbara Gordon as he goes through the different challenges, as being irritating. But I do not think so at all. On the other hand Batman consulting his amazing crew gives a lot of credibility to the story and avoids glaring plot holes from appearing.
Directing and Acting:
It is difficult to direct a large open world game like Arkham Knight. So, we need to look at the cut scenes, dream sequences and hallucinations to evaluate how well it was done. The cut scenes in this game were nothing special, but the dream sequences and hallucinations were done really well.
With regards to the voice acting- Kevin Conroy’s Batman voice is finally developing some problems in it- but I just can’t put my finger on what it is. Don’t get me wrong, it is still good but not the same as before. Mark Hamill though does not seem to face similar problems. The rest of the voice actors provide a consistently good performance.
But, the stand out performance in the voice acting department was by John Noble as Scarecrow. He sounds menacing, scheming, intelligent and vile at the same time.
Explosions look and sound much better than the previous games.
But it needs to be mentioned that while I was playing the game I experienced frequent and significant lip sync problems- it was mildly distracting and irritating.
Final Verdict: My final verdict for this game is 3 out of 5 for this game. I loved playing this game no doubt about it. The story is good, character exploration is good, fight and flight mechanics is good. Voice acting and directing is good.
But this game did not have to be good. It had everything in it to make it excellent- ausgezeichnet.
Even though the game looks great, even at medium settings on my laptop- I was not amused when I was not able to play the game for more than 1 hour during my holidays and weekends without distracting screen freezes or frame rate drops. So, anyone planning to buy the game should check my computer’s specs (mentioned above) and treat it as the minimum required specs, as I have serious doubts how well the company released minimum requirements would work.
This game gives off the sense of missed opportunity every time you play one of the DLCs designed and built by Rocksteady and imagine how great it would have been if they did the same with the main game (for the PC port of course). You get the same sense of missed opportunity when you see the massive rogue’s gallery and ponder over the lack of boss battles.
Finally, after all the patches have been released for the PC port the game is free of almost all glitches. The unplayable version that was released back in June 2015 is no longer there- several graphics issues have been resolved. The game is very much playable now and is a worthy member of the Arkham series and whose biggest problem currently is that given its potential it was a let-down.