Bat­man: Arkham Knight

Rock­steady pre­pares for knight­fall

EDGE - - GAMES -

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.

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