I didn’t love Batman: Arkham Knight, but I did like it. Just not at first. For at least a few hours, I worried that I was going to give the game a “No” under Kotaku’s binary rating system.
I ended up getting to 95 percent completion—falling one tank battle and a couple hundred Riddler trophies shy of the full 100—so clearly I changed my mind. I had more fun cleaning up a dozen or so watchtowers and militia checkpoints in Arkham Knight’s mop-up mode than I did in the game’s snoozeworthy first act. That’s a sign of a robust interactive system, yes, but it’s also a sign that you’re taking too long to dole it out.
One of my favorite moments in the entire game, in fact, was the very last thing I accomplished in my first playthrough.
Here’s what happened: My Batman stood atop a building and scanned the surrounding area in the game’s “detective mode” to find the last militia checkpoint, the only thing preventing me from a faceoff with the final “Most Wanted” villain whom I intended to lock up at Gotham PD. (My Batman has no time for the Riddler once Catwoman is free. Mr. Nigma’s trophies aren’t hurting anybody.) After locating the checkpoint, which was in a pit beneath a building, my Batman tightrope-walked over the pit and spotted a lock on a nearby wall. I used the hacking device to open it, which lowered a ramp above the pit. I then used the Batmobile remote control to bring my wheels around to the ramp and shoot everyone and everything inside.
At that moment, I felt I had finally learned what Arkham Knight was trying to teach me. It just took too long to teach. The game smartly doles out sidequests in parsimonious fashion, which gives the player new things to check out late in the game and allows the designer to control the pace, somewhat, of the main storyline. Less smart is how stingy the game is with Batman’s equipment.
Late in the game, you find yourself unlocking still more gadgets as the plot races to its conclusion. Because the game is so frugal with these toys, my Batman was not as skilled at using them as he was at punching people in the face.
For example, in the final mission against the criminals who have been kidnapping Gotham’s firefighters, my Batman was faced with an array of foes, armed with guns and mines and all the rest. I scoped out the area a couple of times, using my disruptor gun and other gadgets to neutralize enemies as I tried to take them down quietly, one at a time.
Instead, I died twice. Then I accidentally surfaced from a grate and punched about 20 armed criminals into submission in about 30 seconds.
Here’s an idea for whoever takes over this series from Rocksteady (and let’s not pretend that there’s not going to be another Arkham game): Next time, overwhelm me! Give me a bunch of tools at the very beginning and let me play with them. Use level design and environmental design to nudge me—without forcing me—to use different gadgets, instead of parceling them out to me one at a time over 20 hours. I’ve played four Arkham games. I can take it.
Whaddya say, Lucius Fox? Just give me my damn utility belt. I’m Batman.
Chris Suellentrop is the critic at large for Kotaku and a host of the podcast Shall We Play a Game? Contact him by writing email@example.com or find him on Twitter at @suellentrop.