Batman: Arkham Knight
Rocksteady prepares for knightfall
PC, PS4, Xbox One
There’s something of Burnout in Arkham Knight’s vision of Gotham City. It’s there in the brittle roadside infrastructure, and in road widths that have been calibrated for a big car to turn on a dime. Of course, here that car can only be the Batmobile, which careens so assuredly through the city’s sodden streets that you could believe it the work of a phalanx of ex-Criterion staff. Its handling is all down to Adam Doherty, however, the very same programmer who has designed Batman’s movement and feel across the series.
That’s no coincidence. Game director Sefton Hill required that Batman and his car should feel like the same entity, and that Arkham Knight shouldn’t simply feel like Batman with a driving mode. And so the Batmobile in motion looks weighty and unstoppable, just as Batman in the right hands can effortlessly advance through a brawl. It growls loudly and has the ground clearance of a supercar, clearly drawing from Christopher Nolan’s snub-nosed, militaristic take on WayneTech. And despite its weight, it’s fast and manoeuvrable, able to turn sharply to tear through Gotham’s organic crush of elevations and alleys.
This time around, DC’s infamous hive of scum and villainy has been designed around the Batmobile, and the city limits have been expanded to contain an area five times the size of the enclosed prison-state in Arkham City. That kind of space is both required for, and made manageable by, a speedy armoured car, but none of it would be possible without the power of new consoles. Producer Dax Ginn has spoken of the previous generation’s trade-off between detail and size; shorn of the need to cater for ten-year-old specs, Arkham Knight promises to have both.
It will have a strong narrative focus, too. A quiet year has passed since the events of City, but now the filthy urban sprawl has once again been turned over to chaos, thanks to the threat of a chemical attack by The Scarecrow. Jim Gordon has called for an evacuation of the citizens, leaving criminal gangs – including those of The Penguin, Harley Quinn and Two Face, plus a shadowy new enemy created by DC and Rocksteady called the Arkham Knight – free to roam the streets.
With such a large beat to cover, Batman can now move and fight faster than ever. Rocksteady is evidently conscious of not wanting to tie you to the Batmobile’s cockpit, but seems equally determined that using your new ride won’t add a tiresome extra layer of management and animation cycles. So Batman can eject from behind the wheel into the air and enter straight into a glide, switching from patrolling the streets to prowling the rooftops in an instant. It works the other way round, too: you can call the Batmobile to you at any time and dive back into the driver’s seat.
Bearing in mind Rocksteady’s pledge to make you feel like you know this city as well as Batman, navigation could still easily be a mess of open-world busywork icons. But Arkham Knight will instead largely rely on the Bat-Signal, which will always be in sight in the sky, along with clear differentiation of districts for orientation. It’s meant to help Gotham’s organic detail and atmosphere, and your immediate concerns, come to the fore. Gotham, however, will be filled with distractions, even if Riddler’s new set of challenges feels a little less naturally entwined with the main game than we’d hope. He’s somehow built a series of racetracks in the sewers and storm drains beneath the city. Each lap sees the course’s traps reconfigure themselves, all providing a showcase of those driving dynamics, if not an obvious priority for a man with a city to save.
That Riddler’s levels stand out at least shows how coherently the rest of the game fits together. Though the series has never felt as if it was missing a car, Rocksteady has made it indispensable in Arkham Knight. It seems that adhering to its principle of ‘being the Batman’ has paid dividends again.
How’s my driving?
The notion of unleashing a highspeed tank on crowded alleys at night seems likely to break Batman’s pledge never to kill within seconds of him taking to the streets. But Rocksteady is determined that Carmageddon isn’t coming to Gotham. Although its streets are filled with gangs of thugs, you’re not going to be able to run them down. They’ll run at the sight of the Batmobile’s brutally imposing profile, but hopefully not at the comically accelerated speed at which the original Driver’s pedestrians avoided collisions. Failing that, your car is armed with tasers, which will blast them out of danger should they collide with it.