By ArtelinaRose 4 Comments
This was originally going to be a response to Charlize's blog post about Arkham Knight but kinda turned into its own thing. I tend to write off the top of my head and not proofread anything I do write so I am sorry if this is a wreck. I may touch it up at a later juncture, but for now it exists deeply flawed, as all things are.
It's really interesting to compare the "last"(we'll see.) of the Arkham games(Knight) to the first(Asylum) and notice that as the series has progressed and included more and more aspects of being Batman, such as the Batmobile, Gotham City, a wider range of moves to perform and obstacles to overcome, the games have sort of lost the laser focus that Asylum had and was only really capable of because of its smaller size and limited scope.
I felt this way several times while playing Arkham Knight. While I reached the end of the game feeling like I was glad to have experienced it, I also found that there were several points that I just felt frustrated with how much the game was trying to do all at once. In City the combat was maybe the best it's ever been. It ramped up the difficulty of the combat encounters gradually, introducing new enemy types as the game advanced, and only after giving you enough time to get comfortable with the latest variation introduced.
In Knight it feels like the game just constantly throws new enemy types at you with every other encounter and without giving you much room to breathe. There's many more variations than there have ever been in any of the Arkham games. By the time you get to the end of the game these specialist type enemies make up at least 80% of any given group and it just gets so fuuuuuckinnn teeediouuusss having to cape stun a big guy, jump over him, do a beatdown that is constantly interrupted by these enemies that are using attacks that you can't counter so you have to redo the whole cape stun into beatdown thing and just UGH. And more than any other Arkham game, the enemies are allllll about picking up dropped equipment so if you're not using the special move that destroys weapons enemies are holding, they will just pick them up over and over and over and over and over. Figure that with regularly faulty targeting that makes me attack people holding shields or stun batons instead of people that aren't and it just gets really annoying.
Anyway. The game is loaded with side stuff that isn't necessarily worth doing in that it doesn't really contribute anything to the overall story and really feels very strange and out of place given the immediate urgency of every single main mission. Like, Batman's going to drop a hostage situation or hold off on saving one of his best friends because a dead body was found strung up? I got a real Ubisoft open world game feel from playing Arkham Knight in that it feels like there's a ton of side stuff in this game because there's an expectation for there to be and not because it necessarily NEEDS it, you know? It often feels like the developers are saying "There are Militia checkpoints to deal with because we needed more side content!" And the game is cooooonstantly reminding you to go do side stuff. If you don't have an active objective, there's a big ol' prompt telling you that you need to have one. After finishing every three or four main missions, Alfred will chime in like "Hey buddy, maybe you should go check on those firefighters instead of stopping Scarecrow? Just a thought."
And even in some of the side stuff there's all of this buildup and then just pulling the rug out from under your feet because OOPS you haven't found the next step in the world so you either waste your time trying to find it(you have to get VERY close to some of these objectives to put them on the map) or just keep doing main missions until the game mercifully grants you the next waypoint. It's different when you're just collecting Riddler trophies or Sea Shanty lyrics or doing backyard brawls or whatever, but to have these side threads involving named villains that are mini plots in their own right gated off or just put on hold for periods of time until you progress far enough in this way feels a bit strange. It kills the mood.
People have said enough about the Batmobile. I think it's just fine in its implementation and isn't necessarily overused, just underutilized. With a few more tools at the car's disposal it could have been really cool, but by the fourth or fifth time I was shooting something to pull it down to become a ramp or an entrance for Batman to get into on foot I was like "okay, I get it."
BUT, I have been digressing as I am wont to do. Sort of. All of that stuff serves in contrast of Asylum's lack of all of these things. Asylum didn't have a huge open world, it was very Metroidvania in its design; you go and find a new gadget that allows you to return to different areas and bypass previous obstacles, which then allows you to delve deeper into the story it was telling and further into this very meticulously crafted environment created by people who clearly had a reverence and love for the source material with tons of references to villains and characters that weren't showing up in person in the game's story. You dealt with a number of villains that had their time to shine that fit into the story as a whole, and a lot of work was put into making you really feel like you were trapped in the lair of the beast. (But because you're Batman you have the advantage) There were a ton of really cool moments in Asylum that can't really be replicated with the open world design mindset, such as the fear toxin sections which Knight tries to recreate but doesn't do so nearly as effectively, the opening moment of being introduced to the Asylum and reacting to it all going very badly(that initial fight and frantic run down the hallway covered in chattering wind up teeth comes to mind) and many others. Thinking about it now, you totally run over Bane with the Batmobile in Asylum. Why were there no boss fights in Knight that utilized the Batmobile beyond "drive away from it" or "shoot it because your car is also a tank"?? Perhaps the last encounter with the Riddler does this? I didn't get that far in that storyline because fuck Riddler puzzles.
It's an argument to be had about the differences between a smaller scale experience and how the developers can really work with the environments and mechanics to hit the player with very focused moments, and a larger playspace that has fewer "ooh, ahh" moments but more personal freedoms. There's a place for both of these things, but when it comes to a Batman game I think the first one works better because a Batman game should be about empowerment and focusing on his rogues gallery and Batman's interactions with them. In a more open setting, you don't really have many opportunities to engage with the villains aside from them spouting a monologue at you from time to time as Scarecrow does from the screens all over Gotham in Knight or being a fight at the end of a series of missions because it pulls the player away from the focus of so much to do!!! I don't really think there's much room for argument in saying that in this regard, City is the best of the games because it marries the open world with smaller Zelda-esque "dungeons" that involve villains other than the "main" one even though City isn't my personal favorite of the series.