Rocksteady Studios proved with 2009's "Batman: Arkham Asylum" that a video game inspired by superhero mythology could be an impeccably cerebral affair, not just another name association money grab.
The company affirmed that with the 2011 follow-up, "Batman: Arkham City," by increasing the Dark Knight's wingspan in a larger landscape with more fluid movement.
In Rocksteady's final take on the Caped Crusader, "Batman: Arkham Knight" ( $59.99, for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC), the developer has again expanded its virtual Gotham, injected a playable Batmobile and raised the stakes for billionaire superhero Bruce Wayne . As a character ominously notes at the beginning of the adventure, this one is all about "how the Batman died."
Following years of peace and quiet from Gotham's supervillain population after the Joker perished at the end of "Arkham City," the mind-bending baddie Scarecrow has returned on Halloween night to threaten Gotham with a citywide chemical attack, forcing a mandatory evacuation of citizens — except the rioters, maniacs and militia members who stayed behind.
That militia is reporting to Scarecrow's cohort, a masked Batman lookalike calling himself the Arkham Knight. He has a very mysterious — and very personal — vendetta against Batman. Scarecrow is also coordinating chaos with other members of Batman's rouges' gallery, including repeat offenders Riddler, Two-Face and Penguin and newbies like Man-Bat and Firefly.
In response, Batman is bringing more superfriends to the fight. Rocksteady has smartly woven such allies as Alfred, Oracle, Robin, Catwoman and Nightwing into a plot that features more twists and turns than a roller coaster at an amusement park. He's also coming equipped with new gadgets like a voice modulator and weapon disruptor. Oh, and that tanklike Batmobile, too.
While much has been made of the introduction of the first interactive Batmobile in the "Arkham" series, it's hardly the game's most enthralling feature. In fact, it might be the least. At first, remotely calling on it while gliding through the air to battle Arkham Knight's army is a thrilling addition. After taking out a few dozen drones, it becomes a bit of a monotonous chore.
As with the previous "Arkham" games, including 2013's "Batman: Arkham Origins," which was developed by Warner Bros. Montreal instead of Rocksteady, "Arkham Knight" is at its best when Batman must systematically alternate among solving crimes, zipping around and punching thugs. Batman's more interconnected missions make for a richer experience overall.
It's evident when charging through Gotham in the Batmobile and soaring through the air in the Batsuit that Rocksteady has been building to this moment. "Arkham Knight" is an epic and satisfying conclusion to a groundbreaking series that proved a pop-culture icon could be thrillingly brought to life in a virtual world. Superman should be jealous. Four stars out of four.