Which is weird because the city of Gotham itself is just as over-the-top as it was in Arkham City. There's neon everywhere. All the buildings teem with unique art and visual design. It's a creative, comic book-esque take on the city and I love flying around it--but very few of these buildings actually factor into the story in any interesting way. They're just there to look pretty while you glide/drive around.
And I blame it on the Batmobile. I do. Arkham City had the same open-world setup as Arkham Knight, but it played completely differently. The city was essentially an enormous hub between the actual levels. Very little of the game took place in the city itself. Instead, you flew to wherever the next mission was, went inside, and then explored the building often for upwards of half an hour.
Arkham Knight is so afraid of letting you be inside, because what if...what if you forget about the Batmobile? As such, probably 60 percent of the main story and 80 percent of the side missions take place in the city itself. And the rest? It's mostly made up of quick hit-and-run beats. Two-Face's robberies, for instance--you're only inside for five to ten minutes, max. Then you're kicked back onto the street.
The result is a game that feels unfocused, that feels like it's shuttling you from empty mission to empty mission and discarding all its villains. Whereas Arkham City felt like it had potentially too many villains, Arkham Knight feels like it has too few--or at least too few that matter. It's basically Scarecrow (the main baddie) and the titular Arkham Knight. Everyone else is disposable.
Luckily Scarecrow carries some of the narrative weight, thanks to an excellent, truly wonderful performance by John Noble. Unfortunately, it's a Star Wars situation where you have a talented actor reading utter farce. On the other hand, he's so menacing you can forgive the occasional plot hole or telegraphed twist.
Sorry, when I said "occasional plot hole" I meant "Arkham Knight's plot is silly." Even with the spoiler tag above, I don't want to kill the whole plot for you.
But let's just say there's a point where Scarecrow announces his big back-up plan...and it's to cover Gotham in fear toxin. A Gotham that's already been evacuated. A Gotham that is only populated by a handful of police, Batman, Alfred, and a whole bunch of villains.
Go ahead, Scarecrow. Gas the city. See if I care.
The thing about Arkham Knight, about reviewing Arkham Knight, is I didn't even hate the game. It's a summer blockbuster. It's soda and popcorn. It's something that goes down smoothly (aside from the stupid tank sections), but at the end you've consumed nothing at all of value.
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