Well, they've had a rough couple of months really, haven't they? Putting out a AAA title like so many other publishers, incomplete and woefully unready for release, and just doing that smug, fat-cat shrug of "Oh, the suckers will buy it anyway. We'll pick it up in patches over the next six months. Whatever. Watch Dogs and Unity made a FORTUNE for Ubi and just look at what messes they were at launch!"
But that's not the way this one went, really. And it'd be impossible to talk about Arkham Knight without mentioning the furore around the hideously poorly-optimised travesty that was first released, nor would it be wholly fair to score the game without incorporating that initial distaste into the overall result. But I'm not going to dwell on it. Let's just talk about the game as it stands today instead, m'kay?
My biggest fear when Arkham Knight was on its way was that it would end up just rehashing Arkham City all over again, like Arkham Origins did. Because, sure, Origins was moderately pretty, and had an okay bat-storyline, but overall it just felt like Arkham City all over again. So I was relieved when, bit by bit, I saw how much the previous games had been improved on.
Arkham Knight isn't like Origins for a number of reasons. It's much nicer looking. Different areas of the city feel different, from the Times Square feel of Grand Avenue to the dimly-lit Docklands. Thanks to the Batmobile, you'll be spending far more time on street-level than you're used to doing in any Batman game since Arkham Asylum. If you have a long distance to cover, now there are two viable ways of getting there - soar over the rooftops like a bat, or scream through the streets in your terrifying tankcar. True to Rocksteady's ethos, both methods make you feel like Batman.
But what exactly does that feel like? I mean, sure, we all know Batman is a total badass with a cool car and more gadgets than Bill Gates' home-made mech suit. We all know he hangs out with a succession of young men, all of which he insists on calling 'Robin'. We know he hates crime and loves swooping down on unsuspecting goons. He has practically nothing in the way of a sense of humour, and is brooding. The series has all given us these aspects for three games now. But not so much his one remaining important characteristic - that of a man skirting the boundaries of insanity himself.
And this was where I initially fell in love with Arkham Knight. Oh, it's so hard to talk about the plot developments that really make this game so good without spoiling the best bits. So I won't.
You're never really short of things to do. Seeing as the city has been evacuated by everyone except card-carrying criminals and a few brave emergency services personnel, there are plenty of crimes to thwart ranging from bank heists to arson to identity theft. Yes, really. These new crimes crop up on your bat-crime-choosing-thing, and you can generally pursue them in any order you like, usually culminating with one of Gotham's 'Most Wanted' being dragged down to the station for a stern talking to. Sometimes it can feel a bit like you're checking boxes, hunting around the map for yet another fight to cross another militia checkpoint off the map, but there is some real variety in the missions, particularly where the Batmobile is concerned. From crowded firefights (which, due to the Batmobile's sensors, play out like unusual puzzles where you attempt to maneuver the car into a blind spot in the spider's web of ballistic trajectory maps) to tense games of cat-and-mouse over a whole district of the city to convoluted puzzles using the car's many gadgets and control methods. Nevertheless, it’s a familiar tingle, right there at the base of your skull, you know? The feeling that you’ve done all this before. If there are fifteen firemen trapped in the city, you'd best believe that each and every one will need rescuing in pretty much the exact same way, just like the checkpoints all need taking down in the same ways.
Combat remains unchanged for the most part – they’ve got it right, so why change it? The stacked unlocks of Arkham Origins, where you had to glide for fifty metres whilst throwing bat-bombs and playing the harmonica in order to unlock new abilities has been scaled back to the tried-and-tested “achieve stuff, get experience, improve” model that makes way more sense.
Rocksteady know their lore, and the cast of characters are introduced lovingly and with respect. One particular scene, famous with Batman comic book fans and completely unmentionable here for fear of massive spoilers, is delivered just like it happens in the comics. There’s a ready feeling of being involved in an established world of heroes, villains and the sometimes-complex interplay between them. Mind you, it’s Batman, and it’d be a pretty heinous crime to get that bit wrong.
So OK. I know I’m supposed to be frothing at the mouth. I know that something I was really looking forward to was passed off to me in an unfinished, slapdash state, and if there’d been less in the way of public outcry Warner would have happily taken the money and run. But after all the grief, and all the misery, there’s a really special game hidden here. A tightly-scripted, well-paced superhero simulator that captures the attention to detail that Gotham City deserves with care and respect. If you’re still willing to give it another chance, I doubt you’ll really be disappointed.