To see such an introspective emphasis in a big-budget action game about a costumed vigilante is a real step up, even from the already excellent work by Paul Dini in Asylum and City. It doesn't plunge as deeply into the psychology of the character as it could, but what it does achieve is superbly delivered. It's a dark game at times, but it never forgets the more playful elements either. Humour arrives from an unexpected source which ties in brilliantly with the Arkham City storyline. And the game loves to play with perspective, often shuffling character placement and level design when you aren't looking, to represent Batman's fracturing state of mind.
The supporting cast is more uneven. Of the villains, Scarecrow is easily the best, far more menacing than his earlier incarnation in Asylum. He's a good replacement for Joker as Batman's primary antagonist. Different but equally dangerous. The eponymous Arkham Knight is less successful, often coming across as petulant rather than threatening, and lacking the charisma to reasonably command the massive mercenary force that he does. There are solid story reasons behind his attitude, but I think it could have been approached better. Other regular villains like Catwoman, Two-Face and the Penguin are roughly sketched caricatures who have evolved little from their earlier incarnations, and the Riddler lays on the "I'm smarter than you" shtick far too thickly. After four games it just grates, and I would have liked to see Rocksteady attempt something different with the character.
More generally, the structure of the story, and the missions that push it forward, are reminiscent of a more dispersed Asylum; that ingenious, seamless blend of environment puzzles, brutal combat and predator stealth. A few even equal that same level of quality. The section set in ACE Chemical Plant, the first large mission in Arkham Knight, is one of the best self-contained sequences in any of the Arkham games.
Is Knight a better game than Asylum? No. As with City, the increased size and complexity means Arkham Knight loses the laser focus and perfect pacing of the first game. That's not to say I would prefer another Asylum-style game. City and Knight each provide a different Batman experience, and that's great. Nevertheless, at times you can see Knight struggling to keep all of its plates spinning. The beautifully streamlined combat of Asylum is now massively overcomplicated. On PC, performing some of the takedowns requires some incredible feats of keyboard acrobatics. Several aren't even bound to keys by default, although this could be a symptom of the poor-quality PC port.
Speaking of which, as I said, the problems we encountered weren't anything like those which have been reported by many other reviewers and players. Yet, even running on a GTX Titan, after several hours' play the game would begin to stutter, and then rapidly slow to an unplayable crawl, necessitating a re-start at which point the game would run fine for another few hours. Then there's the missing visual features present on the Playstation, although there's little point going over this now the game has been pulled from shelves until further notice.
Lastly, as Arkham Knight barrels toward its conclusion, it begins to lose its way again, although in a different sense to the beginning. There are a couple of irksome boss fights, one involving navigating the Batmobile through obstacle courses it isn't particularly well suited for. There are also some extremely tough set-pieces, which after twenty-odd hours of the game I just wasn't in the mood for. The ending itself is satisfying, although ultimately not quite as brave as its earlier trajectory suggests.
I enjoyed my time with Arkham Knight, despite Warner Bros' apparent best efforts to prevent that. It's a fitting conclusion to Rocksteady's Arkham trilogy, albeit one that's uneven in places. If you've got a PS4 or Xbox One, I'd certainly recommend donning the cowl one last time. As for the PC version, well, let's just hope the problems are resolvable, because the game Rocksteady have created is undoubtedly worth playing.