Over the last few years (six, it's been six!) I've spent no small amount of words on the delights of being Batman in Rocksteady's (and WB Montreal's, that one time) Arkham series. Here is a series of games that, for the first time, has created a pretty clear sense of what it's like to don the lightweight tactical armour and spandex of one of Western pop culture's greatest heroes. The stealth, the tactical thinking, the finely-tuned timing in life or death situations...
But you can only take that so far before you run into problems. As bat-fans, we typically only get treated to the dramatic edited highlights of the Dark Knight's life. That time he got his back broken. The moment the Joker tricked all Bruce's pals into thinking he'd cut off their faces then served them up for dinner. Getting shot by a cosmic space god then having to travel forward in time from the dawn of man to reclaim the cowl. The good stuff that makes strong story sense.
You never see the inevitable nights he spends cruising around Gotham, but he just can't find anyone to crimefight. Or, how he's sick of just eating steak and raw veggies and can't he just have some goddamn carbs? Or Damian-Robin just won't quit badmouthing Tim-Robin because whatever. Being Batman is probably six hours of boring/frustrating followed by two minutes of super-intense stress.
Or, like in Arkham Knight
, he's trying to get shit done but there's just too much stuff
going off. He's trying
to deal with the Scarecrow and solve the mystery of who this damn Arkham Knight (a super-handy way to shoehorn the word 'Arkham' into the game's title, BTW) is. But, the Riddler has kidnapped Catwoman (and no way
can an ultra-experienced cat burgler-cum-vigilante deal with that on her own) and wants you to drive around doing his challenges. And there's that fireman who's been in trouble all damn night. And some murders you maybe ought to investigate. And wouldn't now be a great time to do some augmented reality training?
And are you going to enlist those other superheroes who are crawling all over Gotham to help you with all of this? Probably not. You're Batman, and you do things the Batman way (the Batman way is the way in which you pretend to be a lone wolf while keeping as many people around you as is humanly possible).
Are you ever going to get to that fireman? Probably not. Defying the mathematics dictated by our planet's rotation, you're probably going to sink 20 hours or more into this one Gotham night and never get to that guy. Sorry.
So, sometimes Batman: Arkham Knight
feels a little crowded. You have this open world which, while it's not exactly Skyrim, is much bigger than the worlds of previous series entries. And it is chock full of things for you to do, and stuff for you to use, and ways to spend your XP on making your stuff better. On the one hand, all that content is great. Arkham Knight
will keep you going for so bloody long, if you're that way inclined. On the other hand, it all feels a bit like it's getting in the way.
After dabbling in various side missions and challenges, I thought 'fuck it, I'm going to nail the story first and I'll come back to everything else later if I can be arsed'. And, lo and behold, that's fine. Apart from occasionally accidentally finding yourself in a tank fight, you can proceed along what is actually a very linear campaign, despite everyone nagging you to do all this other stuff. Which is probably exactly what life's like for Batman, trying to look after this big city. But, in the context of what used to be a finely tuned Batman sim (that's a thing, right?) this overload of stuff feels like a pizza with too many toppings. There's a lack of focus.