Even before "Batman: Arkham Knight" was released on June 23, gamers were told in promo videos they would learn "how the Batman died.
Maybe that prophecy comes to pass and maybe it doesn't. You'll have to play it yourself to find out and it's worth the journey.
"Arkham Knight" is the final installment in developer Rocksteady Studios' "Batman: Arkham" trilogy -- 2013's prequel "Batman: Arkham Origins" was developed instead by Warner Bros. Games Montreal and is peripheral to the main series.
The story appears simple enough on the surface. Scarecrow is threatening Gotham with fear toxin and all the civilians are evacuated, leaving Batman, the police and the criminals alone in the streets. The villain isalso working with mysterious newcomer the Arkham Knight and his army of mercenaries who have taken over the empty city.
But the simplicity ends there and the plot begins to take surprising turns very early in the campaign. Most will see the conclusion of this terrific story in 12-14 hours, longer if opting to clear the 14 largely enjoyable types of side quests along the way. But be aware, only gamers who clear the story 100% will be granted a gander at the true and final ending to this story. It's a great hook to stick with "Arkham Knight" all the way through.
The latest installment will feel very familiar to series veterans. The third-person actioner mixes deft combat and seamless open-world travel with stealth portions and some (mostly optional) puzzle solving. It's Batman in a sandbox, and what wasn't broken before remains stellar in its next-gen console debut.
What separates "Arkham Knight" from its forebearers is the integration of Batman's legendary vehicle: the Batmobile. And it's not a simple gimmick used once in awhile. You'll spend just as much time in the car/tank hybrid as you will in hand-to-hand combat or stealth "predator" situations.
That's a good thing on the whole. Vehicle chases on the streets of Gotham feel like justification for why Bruce Wayne decided, "Maybe I need a car." They're a thrill and never seem to get old. And driving around the city is a breeze. Don't feel bad ramming into criminals in cars or on foot -- instead of being roadkill, they get a shock. The Batmobile's integration into hand-to-hand combat and puzzle solving makes it a true part of the world and not a separate one altogether.
The tank-on-tank battles that crop up can grow tedious, however. Unlike fistfights, the combat here is not deep enough to make it feel like anything but simply blowing up tanks and flying drones until they stop coming. There's a certain intensity to these battles, but they are the weakest aspect of the game and come up enough that they could produce a few eyerolls.
From a visual standpoint, the game is a home run. Batman's rain-streaked cape and cowl make Gotham feel more alive. Occasional frame-rate issues pop up, but never at a game-breaking level or at the wrong time.
What it boils down to is this: "Arkham Knight" is a must-play game that won't demand weeks of your life, but offers a meaty and rewarding experience.
"Batman: Arkham Knight," from developer Rocksteady Studios and publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC, OS X and Linux
NOTE: The game was tested on PS4, but the Windows edition experienced major technical issues at launch that led to Warner Bros. offering refunds.