The fourth entry in Rocksteady’s Arkham video games, Batman: Arkham Knight is a welcomed installment to not only the series, but also the Batman universe as a whole. Taking place a year after the events of Arkham City, the game begins with Gotham City at peace, but an uneasy one, because it’s Gotham and when has their peace ever gone uninterrupted. The action starts with the Scarecrow releasing his famed toxin throughout the city on Halloween, turning Gotham into a ghost town inhabited by villains, thugs, GCPD, and the Batman himself. The game superficially mimics Arkham City in terms of gameplay and narrative structure, but at the its core of the game reveals itself to be an emotionally charged experience, built around a reverence for the Batman canon.
The mystery of Knight is the appearance of the titular character, a robotic vigilante who shows up in the wake of Scarecrow’s attack, hellbent on killing the Dark Knight. The character’s identity turns out to be Jason Todd, the second Robin, which is not exactly a surprise to the gamer. That being said, the reveal of Jason Todd as the Arkham Knight does not find power in how it shocks the audience, but rather how it forces the Batman to deal with those whom he has let down. The narrative is in some sense a redemption story for Batman, who is being forced to deal with the consequences of his questionably moral war against injustice. While he has saved Gotham time and time again, he has created monsters and compromised the safety of his closest friends in the process. This is no more evident with Jason Todd, who was famously kidnapped, tortured, and eventually killed by the Joker in the 1988 installment “A Death in the Family.” Forcing Batman to reckon with one of his greatest failures packs an emotional punch surprising to many casual gamers.
The game also draws from another 1988 installment, the one-shot Batman: The Killing Joke, which stands as one of the best entries in the Batman universe. The graphic novel is famous for the paralysis of Barbara Gordon, who the Joker shoots in an attempt to drive her father to insanity. In the Arkham series, Barbara Gordon shows up as Oracle, Batman’s computer operator who generally guides the game forward. Scarecrow kidnaps her early on in Knight, becoming another person Batman has recklessly put in danger. Batman’s quest to find Barbara and save her from the Scarecrow becomes the most emotionally rewarding aspect of the game (and therefore will no longer be discussed).
On top of this is Batman’s internal battle with the Joker. The villain died at the end of Arkham City, but thanks to the “Joker Virus” at the center of the game, is able to stick around inside the mind of “Bats.” The Joker is an absolute joy in this game. Voiced by Mark Hamill, who is great as always, the Joker follows Batman as a hallucination trying to wrestle for control of his consciousness. This provides an interesting layer to the storylines with Jason Todd and Barbara Gordon, who both were harmed at the hands of Batman’s nemesis. His jubilant jokes and facetious apologies about their fates provide an element of dark humor, while making his character improbably more rich and layered. Despite being dead, the game provides a deep look inside of the Joker, which comes to a head in a bonkers, hallucinatory dream sequence towards the end. Ultimately, the Joker brings out the best of Batman as a foil, always giving us more insight into the psyche of our masked hero than anyone else.
But let’s not forget again that this is a video game and a fun one at that. Although, the introduction of the Batmobile did at times turn out to be an annoyance, it was fun to get behind the sticks drive the vehicle fast and furiously through the Gotham streets. The side missions, specifically the Riddler challenges, also provide a fun expansion of the game universe. While in past games, the goal has been to pick up Riddler trophies before confronting the villain in person(which I never had the time for to be honest), in Knight the Riddler offers a series of challenges all hinged on saving Catwoman’s life. They’re a bit of light hearted amusement in the midst of what is a pretty heavy game.
As someone who does not generally play video games, Arkham Knight captured me. Driven by a compelling narrative, a strong emotional core, and an understanding of what makes the Batman universe so incredible, it is an excellent game, as well as an entry into the canon of Batman.
By Alex Sniatkowski