As I’m always reminding people: Critiquing games isn’t an all-or-nothing deal. It’s okay to hate aspects of a wonderful game or love aspects of an awful game. As long as you’re not one of the poor sods who has to boil a game down to a single score, you’re allowed to have nuance and you can pick and choose which parts of a game worked for you and which didn’t.
As someone who plays a lot of games, it’s these “mixed” titles that sting the most. I can shrug and ignore a game that’s mediocre, but it’s a lot harder to dismiss a game with fantastic gameplay and some extremely annoying flaws. Batman: Arkham Knight is one of those games.
The Batmobile in Batman: Arkham Knight is a mess. It’s a bad feature trapped in a good game, and it drags the entire experience down. It was a bad idea, badly implemented, and then over-hyped before release.
Here are as many things wrong the the Batmobile as I can fit into my allotted column space:
1. Arkham‘s Batmobile-Tank is thematically wrong for the character.
Batman doesn’t use guns. This is one of the central design elements of the character, just like “Batman doesn’t kill.” But in Arkham Knight they give us a Batmobile that transforms into a tank with turret, a mounted machine gun, and a missile launcher. This attempt to do an end-run around the rules of the character doesn’t work.
This doesn’t look like a Batman device, it looks like one of Michael Bay’s Transformers with Batman hubcaps.
2. The Batmobile makes Batman [look like] a killer.
The opening cutscene of the very first Arkham game shows what we expect it to look like when Batman drives the Batmobile: Sleek, fast, and flawless. But because it’s forced into combat situations, the Batmobile we get in Arkham Knight looks more like Death Race 2000. When you slam into pedestrians, they are “knocked out” by an electrical stun field as the car slams into them. The game pretends that tasering someone while running them over is somehow less lethal than just running them over, but it’s hard to see that tumbling ragdoll as anything other than a corpse that will only be identifiable via DNA testing.
The fact that Rocksteady decided to take such a massive jump towards photorealism this time around made this problem much worse, by making the violence and destruction look so much more “real”, and less acceptable as a cartoony abstraction
Some of the vehicles you fight are unmanned drones, but some are driven by people. And when a dude in a car slams into a concrete wall at 80 miles an hour and goes flying through the air in a ball of fire and twisted metal, he is dead. I don’t care if Batman can scan him afterward and the game promises that he’s just “unconscious”. I know what a fatal car crash looks like, and Batman causes a lot of them in this game.
3. The Batmobile is much too destructive.
The sheer scale of the destruction is shocking. Cars, buildings, and rioters get smashed by your rocket-powered wrecking ball, and it doesn’t look like the kind of thing Batman would do in his fight against crime. In fact, if some other vigilante smashed up Gotham like this trying to fight crime, Batman would hunt them down and stop them.
It looks absurd to have Batman cause all these millions of dollars in property damage tearing through the city he’s sworn to protect. Yes, you can claim “he had no choice”, but that’s not what I’m complaining about. Like the Man of Steel movie, having our hero bash the crap out of the city he’s trying to protect is thematically wrong, even if there’s an excuse offered for it in the story.
4. Tank fights feel long because they have no sense of progression.
In the wonderful Arkham brawling mechanics, you can get a feel for how the fight is going. You start off in a room full of guys, and the crowd gradually thins out as you work. In the tank fights, you have no such visual cue. You’re fighting (say) five tanks at once, and those tanks will always be quickly replaced until the enemy runs out of reinforcements. The last wave feels exactly like the first, and you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere.
5. Actually, tank fights ARE long.
A brawl against mooks might last a minute or two. The tank battles drag on for ages. Even a short one will take five minutes, and some of the big boss encounters (yes there are multiple boss tank battles) can drag on for about half an hour. And often you’ll have several tank fights back-to-back, so you’ll spend ages in these tank fights.
6. The tank controls are awful.
By default, you have to hold down the left trigger to stay in Tank mode. Given the sheer length of these fights, this design choice is insane. I had to stop playing at one point because I had carpal-like aches in the back of my hand and cramps in my trigger finger. Basic ergonomics 101 would teach you that if the player needs to spend hours of the game holding down a button, then it’s probably time to re-think the controls.
It turns out there’s a menu option to change this behavior, but that’s no excuse for having such an awful design choice in the first place.
7. Tank fights are dull and mechanically shallow.
In the core brawling mechanics, there are over a dozen foes with different types of weapons and attack patterns: Brawlers, brawlers with melee weapons, guys with stun batons, guys with shields, ninjas, guys with guns, snipers, guys who can set up turrets, guys with knives, and guys who can revive foes you’ve taken out. Then there are huge brutes, who can be carrying a variety of weapons. Batman himself has a massive list of moves, and a huge arsenal of gadgets to use in a fight. As the game goes on, he gains more of both. On top of this, there are a multitude of different sorts of places to fight and a ton of environmental details Batman can use to his advantage.
The point is that the brawling mechanics in Arkham Knight are deep, varied, interesting, and complex. In contrast, the tank fights are tedious, dull, and one-dimensional. There are a few different types of foes, but they have basically two kind of of attacks. Use your machine guns on one, the cannon on the other. The last tank fights in the game look exactly like the first tank fights, except much longer.
8. The tank fights are far removed from your goals.
The main villain of the game is Scarecrow, and he’s the one threatening to kill the city. But in the tank fights, you’re actually fighting his sidekick, the Arkham Knight. Except, you’re not fighting the Knight himself, you’re fighting one of his lieutenants. Actually, you’re not fighting the lieutenant, you’re fighting the drones the lieutenant is piloting. The whole time, you can hear the Knight haranguing the lieutenant like a dim-witted, micromanaging boss. The fights feel like a dumb petty waste of time, like Superman going to Lex Luthor’s house and smashing up his housekeeper’s car.
9. The car is an unwelcome burden.
A lot of the puzzles in this game involve opening a door for your car so you can use the car to open another door for yourself to open a door for the car. It’s stupid, circular, self-justifying nonsense. It’s also really irritating to have to jump in and out of the car constantly.
You don’t even need the car to get around. It’s much faster to glide over the city. The car feels horribly contrived and forced, like they added the car, realized nobody wanted it, and then added a bunch of doors that could only be opened by the car to make you use it anyway.
10. There is entirely too much Batmobile in this game.
The Batmobile might have made for a nice diversion from the core game. It might have been fine in moderation. But you’ll spend a huge portion of this Batman game driving a tank, doing un-Batman things (blowing crap up) to un-Batman foes (military guys) and it completely smothers the core mechanics. It’s like a Prince of Persia title where you spend half the game shooting dudes from behind cover. It doesn’t matter how good the shooting is, this is the wrong game for that.
At one point in the game I was sick and tired of driving the stupid tank and I was itching for some good old-fashioned Arkham brawling, which is the reason I play these games to begin with. Since the main story wasn’t offering me any non-tank gameplay at that point, I just went off-mission. I found some dudes rioting in the street and tried to give them a proper Batman beatdown.
Thirty seconds into the fight, a tank rolled in and instantly killed me. Apparently I was supposed to spend several hours on tank fights to “earn” the privilege of being Batman again.