If this really is it for Rocksteady and the Arkham series, Batman: Arkham Knight should take it out with a bang.
The Warner Bros. Interactive booth at E3 had the newest and allegedly last game in the franchise playable in closed-door sessions with developers from Rocksteady to walk people through roughly 20 minutes of gameplay (if you’re a pro) or more (if you’re like me). For starters, the visuals make an immediate impact. Batman really comes to life with the power of eighth-gen consoles behind him, as does Gotham City itself. According to the developer at my station, the focus on the environments was to make them taller and give them more of a sense of verticality than in previous games. Luckily, Batman has some new tricks to help traverse the bigger world, which is around five times the area in Batman: Arkham City. He can now string together multiple grapples with a single button press, and the Batmobile can launch him out on the go, effectively transferring all of its speed into height for Batman, allowing him to glide to some truly lofty perches.
Ah yes, the Batmobile. As shown in the game’s trailers, it’s a big part of the gameplay this time around, and it’s capable of all kinds of stunts. In pursuit mode, the Batmobile can run down fleeing foes and rocket itself to impressive speed with the help of afterburners. Switching to battle mode makes it move slower but handle precisely in any direction, pack enough weaponry to blow up all kinds of stuff and fire a winch that can help solve multiple kinds of puzzles. It can even be run by remote to take down bad guys with non-lethal cannon rounds or combine with Batman’s counter moves for a new kind of car-assisted takedown.
That makes a nice segue into combat, which has the same tactile, bone-crunching feel that Arkham games have always had in spades. Environmental knockouts are a lot of fun, utilizing objects in certain rooms to help clobber or incapacitate foes, and the fear takedowns are super helpful in clearing out groups of henchmen. Batman can pop up from a grate or breakable floor and take out the closest thug with one button press. Time then slows down, allowing you to turn the camera, and if you can find another bad guy in range in time, Batman simply leaps from one takedown to the next. I was able to get four in one chain, but even more might be possible.
Detective mode, explosive gel and all the gizmos from previous installments are all back and as useful as ever. Batman seems like he’ll need all these tricks and more to overcome the tag team of Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight, and all signs point to this being an incredible send-off for the series.
Other random notes from my play session:
- Oracle has a bigger presence in this game. The developer who showed me the ropes said she’ll not only feed Batman information, she’ll also take a more active role in solving some of the game’s puzzles.
- The playable portion of the game featured a brief run-in with the Arkham Knight, who seemed to know a lot about Batman and his suit. That gives one the impression that the Knight is someone close to Batman, as he certainly seems to have a personal beef. A lot of online speculation has centered around the Joker, but I’m not sure he can pull off the persona of the Knight for very long. Could it be someone even closer to the Dark Knight, like an Arkham universe version of Jason Todd? It’s a great mystery to have out there.
- A full size version of the in-game Batmobile was on the E3 show floor, and it was surrounded by a constant crowd of picture-takers any time I was near the booth.