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Batman Arkham Knight preview: Rocksteady dares to build third masterpiece

By Nick Cowen on Wednesday 18th Jun 2014 at 8:27 AM UTC

The pitch for Batman Arkham Knight sees most of Gotham evacuated. The Scarecrow has planted a massive fear toxin bomb somewhere in Batman's hometown and, according to sources on the ground, if it goes off the gas cloud will cover the entire eastern seaboard.

Because of this, the only folk still wandering around the greater metropolitan Gotham area are criminals and psychopaths. Everyone else is on a train to Jersey. Or Metropolis. Or somewhere.

For Batman himself, it's a good thing that the residents have all left. Had they not, it's a fair bet that the Dark Knight may not be able to maintain his "no dead civilians" rule.

The reason being that the latest addition to Rocksteady's line of Batman games is the titular character's iron horse, the Batmobile, and it isn't so much a car as it is a wrecking ball on four wheels.

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Not only can it smash through road signs, street lights, traffic island paraphernalia, freeway barriers and even concrete walls - this baby can deploy a high powered winch to rip down walls and even twist pieces of broken road up into a ramp.

It can also transform into a tank, just by the way, equipped with a turret gun and a slew of missile racks capable of reducing enemy cars to burnt-out husks.

"The Batmobile isn't so much a car as it is a wrecking ball on four wheels"

Rocksteady says it has built the Batmobile as an extension to the Dark Knight, and with good reason. Firstly, Batman's set of wheels aren't just transportation and a tank - it's also a launch pad that can spit Batman up beyond the rooftops to glide for extended periods, or it can launch him into the face of any enemies in the vehicle's proximity.

Second, Batman - and by extension, the player - are going to get a lot of use out of the Batmobile. Given the size and scale of Arkham Knight's open world map, it makes sense to give players a quick and easy way to get around at ground level.

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The map here is roughly three time the size of the environment of last gen's Arkham City. Rather than a twisted rat-maze of narrow streets and dead-end alleys, the Gotham of Arkham Knight is a wide-open sandbox filled with tons of streets to tear down, barriers to knock over and walls to crash through.

To be frank, it'll be interesting to see if there's anything left of the place after Batman finally turns the engine off his Batmobile.

The size of Gotham has also necessitated a change in the gliding mechanics too. Batman can now glide far higher and longer than he could previously. Players are still able to use the BatClaw as a zipline into the sky, but the hang time they get is substantially longer.

Players can also pilot Batman down the odd open vent or through a roof as the first move he makes in an attack chain.

Speaking of fisticuffs, Rocksteady has also tossed a couple of new tweaks into their acclaimed combat system. Players can still move between opponents fluidly, counter incoming attacks and use a cape-flick to daze enemies and administer brutal beatdowns.

Now, however, they can also use parts of Batman's immediate environment to take out opponents, such as ceiling lights or fuse boxes. They're also able to throw enemies into each other with a judo toss.

Once again, these mechanics are balanced out by new additions in the game. Enemies can now grab Batman in a bear hug from behind, necessitating a new maneuver from the player where they hammer their attacker before other opponents close in for the kill.

There's also a new type of enemy in play: the combat specialist. This nimble, sword-wielding foe has the potential to flummox players as he dodges most initial attacks and immediately follows up with a counter.

Veterans will remember that a key part of the combat in the Arkham games is learning the rhythm of Batman's foes and the combat specialist may throw them a curveball at first.

"The player can also use parts of Batman's immediate environment, such as ceiling lights or fuse boxes, to take out foes"

As far as Predator Rooms go, the demo didn't really cover much ground. However, it did stop by a stealth section long enough to demonstrate that players can now use Batman to take out up to three enemies from a floor grate rather than jus the one.

Another major addition to the game, and perhaps its most intriguing prospect, is the titular new villain - the Arkham Knight. From the looks of things, this hollow-voiced bruiser has been built to be the equal of Batman, from his bulky frame to his lithe combat abilities to the fact that, unlike a lot of the Dark Knight's muscular villains (Bane, Killer Croc), he seems to possess a full set of frontal lobes.

The Arkham Knight seems to hate Batman with a passion that borders on fanatical, as evidenced early on in the demo when he tries to blow him up using an attack helicopter. The only reason this attack doesn't come off is because Scarecrow overrides the weapon system in the chopper remotely, presumably because he wants to toy with Batman for a while longer.

The Arkham Knight's identity is also an intriguing prospect. Very little is known about this character - Oracle can only find a few bits and pieces of crime data - but from snippets of conversation, Batman picks up through a surveillance sweep, players learn that the Arkham Knight's hatred of his foe seems to stem from somewhere personal.

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Everything about Batman: Arkham Knight feels like a widescreen version of its predecessors

Furthermore, the Arkham Knight knows quite a few intimate details about his quarry, as evidenced during a scene where he instructs his men to aim for the joints in Batman's armour - where it's weakest - and not as his breastplate "that's just a decoy".

Everything about Batman: Arkham Knight feels like a widescreen version of its predecessors. The map is bigger, the combat more brutal, the plot stakes are higher and even Batman's armour looks like Bruce Wayne decided to suit-up for the apocalypse.

This makes sense in a way; the first Arkham game came out of left-field and the second stumped expectations by building impressively on its predecessor and wowing audiences and critics alike.

Rocksteady knows that, with Arkham Knight, everyone sees them coming. Everyone has sky-high expectations, and that sound you hear in the distance is the sound of critics sharpening their nastiest knives...