by Brian Robbins

I’m pleased to have finally finished Batman: Arkham Knight. It was the most punishing game of the entire franchise, but without a doubt the most satisfying.  With the introduction of new gadgets, characters and the Batmobile, Rocksteady studios’ Arkham Knight delivers the best console gaming experience in 2015.

When you step back into the boots of Batman, you’ll find the city of Gotham in relative peace. Of course in Gotham, nothing stays calm forever. Breaking the peace this time is the deviously sinister Scarecrow (brilliantly voiced by John Noble), who unleashes a plan to rule Gotham with his signature brew of fear gas.

To further his own ends, Scarecrow frees several of Gotham’s other notorious villains such as the Riddler, Two-Face, the Penguin and Poison Ivy to wreck utter chaos in Batman’s backyard. Each of the villains has their own unique storylines that Batman can fight through in order to stop their maniacal plans.  All of which can be played during, or after, you finish the main storyline.

The most notable and mysterious villain is the newly introduced Arkham Knight. He becomes Scarecrow’s number one partner in their attempt to crush the Dark Knight.  Throughout the lengthy campaign, you’ll slowly unravel his true identity. This feels like something of a treat in the beginning, but you do not have to be the world’s greatest detective to make an educated guess early on, and his identity is quite easy to deduce towards the end of the game.

Arkham Knight excels at what many single player focused games fail to achieve – keeping the gameplay just as compelling as the story. As Batman you’ll have access to almost all of the previous gadgets, moves and tools he used in prior Arkham games. There are new gadgets thrown in there as well, helping to keep the polished and free flowing combat running as well as a the finely tuned engine of the Batmobile.

For me, the highlight of Arkham Knight is simply soaring through Gotham’s skyline, landing on a goon and crunching the bones of their fellow henchmen. This is when the game is at its most fun; when you’re playing as Batman himself, patrolling the streets of Gotham City. The hand-to-hand combat has been perfected after all these years, and the Caped Crusader even gets a new batsuit about an hour into the storyline. This new armor allows him to move faster and strike harder than his previous protection. It looks great and also helps show off how technically impressive Arkham Knight truly is.

On the flipside, the biggest pet peeve I have with the game is Batman’s ride – the Batmobile. At first it’s great. You’ll use the car (or jet engine with wheels) to solve various environmental puzzles, slam against other vehicles and even rip open doors and vents. The Batmobile can also enable a battle mode , which essentially tranforms the Batmobile into a tank, even featuring a machinegun and a 60mm cannon. Conveniently, all the enemy vehicles are drones, so when Batman destroys the adversaries no one is hurt. I found it as a cheap scapegoat, but it’s still a blast to utterly wreck opposing machines of destruction. Eventually, thanks to Rocksteady’s overuse of the concept, the newness of it all wears thin. Even though the Batmobile is fun to use, especially in combat, I thought the game forced it upon you just too frequently.

Whether you’re uncharacteristically destroying Gotham in the Batmobile (uncharacteristic for Batman anyway, I don’t know what you do in your spare time), or grappling off the sides of buildings – Arkham Knight looks absolutely stunning. If you just purchased an Xbox One or a Playstation 4, this is the title to show off your new system.

From the constant raindrops falling off of Batman’s cape as he glides through the air, to the detail found on Gotham’s streets – I strongly believe this title is the prettiest ever released on a console thus far. I didn’t think there would be a better looking game than Witcher 3: Wild Hunt so soon but here it is.

Though, the graphics (much like Bloodborne) come with a price. If you fall in combat, the load screens are horrendously long. You’ll have a villain taunt you after you’re defeated, then the game will take another 30 seconds or so before you continue where you left off. This is utterly painful when encountering a particularly tough enemy or boss, when you’re constantly dying as you try to learn the villain’s attack patterns.

Even despite my few minor gripes, Batman: Arkham Knight is a must own for any gamer who has either the Xbox One or the Playstation 4. The game is almost perfect, but slow loading times and overuse of the Batmobile might ruffle a few feathers. Still, if you are still deciding on a  game to get you through the summer, Arkham Knight is a clear winner.

4.5-star-turtle