Batman: Arkham Knight – Preview

Title   Batman: Arkham Knight
Developer  Rocksteady Studios
Publisher  Warner Bros Interactive
Platform  PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre  Action-Adventure
Release Date  2015
Official Site

What a difference a year makes. Last year, the internet was going crazy over Ben Affleck being cast as Batman, Warner Montreal announced they were making a prequel to the award-winning Arkham series of games, and I finally finished watching all of The Wire. Fast-forward to the present and it turns out that Arkham Origins was lukewarmly received, nothing on TV remotely compares, and people are still really angry about Batfleck. A brief speck of hope was granted when Rocksteady announced they were working on the final part of their trilogy, but it was dashed quite expertly when it was subsequently delayed to 2015. However, that didn’t stop me donning a cowl and stalking the night until I got the chance to see it in action.

Set a year after the events of the previous game, Batman: Arkham Knight sees the caped crusader trying to take down Scarecrow, who is attempting to produce and release enough fear toxin to douse the entire East Coast. However, the villain’s plans are bolstered by the addition of a new member to his crew, the titular Arkham Knight, who is determined to exact their revenge on the man who is the bat. As the demo began outside an ACE Chemicals building, it was already clear just how much work Rocksteady have put in to make the finale one of the most visually appealing titles around. Bat’s new suit is appropriately intimidating, complete with new metallic components, and his cape still moves through the air with a satisfying swoosh. However, the graphical fidelity is truly something else, and has to be seen in action to be believed. The rain forms puddles, splashes off of our hero and, if you squint enough, you’ll swear you can see individual raindrops resting on the costume and bouncing off the in-motion cape.

This level of detail doesn’t end there. Batman’s new comms system takes the form of a holographic video display coming out of his forearm, allowing you to see the fully-rendered faces of whomever is trying to contact him. Even a computer that Mr Wayne interacts with for approximately five seconds shows a great level of detail, instead of Matrix lines of code. Not only does Arkham Knight look breathtakingly awesome and detailed, but it also has the gameplay to back it up.

As our hero attempts to enter the building, he’s accosted by the Arkham Knight, who makes clear their intention to kill him, shortly before being called off by Scarecrow. While their entire identity is shrouded in mystery, the costume is reminiscent of a mix between our hero’s get-up combined with Grey Fox’s cyborg ninja suit from Metal Gear Solid, forming something that eerily feels alive, while being cold and inhuman. As Batman attempts to scale the building, every gameplay tweak and addition feels like a natural evolution rather than a forced desire to be different.

There’s a new scanner batarang that allows you to employ your detective vision at a distance, and in the demo was used to locate several hostages as well as eavesdrop on the Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight. The grapnel boost makes a return and carries a greater sense of momentum to it, allowing you to soar to even greater heights if you use it effectively. You can also use it to instantly change directions during glides, and there’s the addition of a chain grapnel that can be activated by firing the gun twice while mid-air. There are more ways to enter each environment as well, thanks to the new ability to glide in through windows and glass roofs, as well as what’s been dubbed ‘seamless wall chute entry’.

The combat has also seen some significant evolutions since Arkham City. For one, Batman can now attack floored and prone enemies without it interrupting the combo meter, while disarming foes will now allow Batman to temporarily use their weapons – as long as they’re melee-based – against them, rather than instantly destroying them. While those additions will no doubt become life-savers, I found myself most intrigued by the new takedowns on offer.

The first are known as “Fear Takedowns”, and are used during the stealthy ‘predator’ sections that the series is so renowned for. While in cover, Batman can leap out and subdue his opponent in such a way that time is slowed and anyone else around that witnesses it is temporarily paralysed by fear, allowing the player to take out up to three enemies at once. The second is far more violent and satisfying, and that’s the new-found ability to use environmental takedowns mid-combat to instantly put a stop to any aggressors. In one fight sequence alone, Bats threw an enemy into a light fixture, while smashing another into a power generator, without breaking a sweat.

The new feature that’s been on everybody’s lips, however, is undoubtedly the addition of the Batmobile. Able to be summoned whenever outside, via the Batmobile remote, it allows our hero to traverse the environments in ways never seen before, and is by far one of the most impressive new innovations. While trying to enter the building using the vehicle, our hero blows apart some debris, uses the winch to pull it up and form a makeshift ramp, then uses the thrusters to boost over it and get some sweet air into the bargain. From there, Batman can then eject himself out of the vehicle mid-jump and straight into freestyle combat. In words it’s impressive, in action it’s something else entirely.

Having what is essentially a tank at your disposal seems a bit much for a man whose creed involves not killing anyone, and so the justification given is that combatants in vehicular combat are actually unmanned drones and cannons, allowing you to rain devastation on your foes without killing people. Add in the ability to fire missile barrages and use the thrusters to dodge attacks, and while it’s slightly rudimentary, Batmobile-based combat could turn out to be a lot of fun.

Where it truly earns its keep is in regular combat. At one stage of the demo, Batman is ambushed by the Arkham Knight and their minions, who are told to “aim for the weak points where the joints in his armour meet”. Seemingly given no way out, our hero activates the Batmobile, which blows a hole in the wall and significantly evens the playing field. While we were also introduced to new enemy types who specialised in aerial attacks, there was another new feature that practically blew me away – Batmobile-assisted takedowns.

Much like the quick-use gadgets in previous games, the player can also use the Batmobile mid-combat; Batman can uppercut enemies into the air, whereupon the vehicle will fire a non-lethal riot suppressor at your foe, instantly knocking them out and looking goddamn awesome doing it. We were also shown that it can also be used to store hostages and supervillains alike to be transported safely to the police, but after witnessing Batmobile-assisted takedowns, everything else was at risk of becoming background noise.

With all the myriad evolutions and innovations on display, there’s still a larger mystery at play that’s hidden in plain sight, and that’s the identity of the titular Arkham Knight. From the clues given in the demo, the Arkham Knight has only been about for the last year or so, has an intense desire to kill Batman (due to something the caped crusader did to them that the Scarecrow could ‘never understand’), their voice is provided through a robotic filter, and they know our hero’s combat and armour-based weaknesses. Considering both that this takes place a year after the events of Arkham City and what happened to Harley – a former psychiatrist and incredibly analytical mind – during the story and the Harley Quinn’s Revenge DLC, I’m placing my bets that she’s behind the mask. We’ll see.

Regardless of how the reveal plays out, I’ve no doubt in my mind that Batman: Arkham Knight will go down well when it’s released next year. Where Warner Montreal took an award-winning formula and universe and made it look tired and haggard, Rocksteady have provided little but innovation and evolution. The rest of the industry should be very afraid of the big bad bat.

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