Bat­man: Arkham Knight

EDGE - - PLAY - Pub­lisher Warner Bros Devel­oper Rock­steady For­mat PC, PS4 (ver­sion tested), Xbox One Out now

For bet­ter and worse, power creep is an ac­cepted fact of su­per­hero media. The es­capades of cos­tumed cru­saders rely largely on spec­ta­cle, on the drama of over­com­ing, and so es­ca­la­tion is in­evitable when seek­ing ways to tax a be­ing who can al­ready put the fear of God into a room full of crooks faster than Lord Sugar.

As the clos­ing part of Rock­steady’s Arkham tril­ogy, and the first in the se­ries to leave be­hind old hard­ware, Bat­man: Arkham Knight is no ex­cep­tion. This is no longer the Bat­man of Arkham Asy­lum, caught on the hop and in a tightly bound trap, but a Bat­man with a bulging util­ity belt and move list from the off. He ex­ists within a game that flirts with the line be­tween more and ex­cess, but for the vast ma­jor­ity of the run­time nails push­ing its sys­tems to their lim­its, not be­yond them.

Gotham is the chief ben­e­fi­ciary of Arkham Knight’s sub­stan­tial de­vel­op­ment time, its siz­able, bridge-linked is­lands feel­ing like the full re­al­i­sa­tion of what Arkham City be­gan. It’s a sub­stan­tial feat, ca­pa­cious yet densely packed with rain-slicked ar­chi­tec­ture, its land­marks recog­nis­able yet part of an ut­terly con­vinc­ing whole. These sights dot the city, rather than clus­ter to­gether for warmth, but ev­ery an­gle still tells a story. In a Ca­nary Wharf-like dis­trict, glass nee­dles claw at the heav­ens to es­cape their moul­der­ing foun­da­tions; else­where, Or­a­cle’s clock tower stands sen­tinel over a war­ren of ram­shackle con­crete and sickly neon. This Gotham is nei­ther gam­ing’s largest nor most vis­ually var­ied open world – per­pet­ual night and a gritty tone al­low only a few ac­cent colours, such as the muted reds of Chi­na­town and flu­o­res­cent Rid­dler green – but it is no less an evoca­tive play­ground for that, and no inch is closed off be­hind load­ing screens. It is a marvel that, like Yhar­nam, jus­ti­fies leav­ing past con­soles be­hind.

There’s more to it than lay­out, though. De­spite be­ing cleared of civil­ians, these streets are invit­ingly full, brim­ming with crims, side sto­ries and Rid­dler tro­phies. Rock­steady steadily un­furls more and more as this long Hal­loween wears on. In­tel drops for Most Wanted quests, which feed into in­car­cer­at­ing a chunk of the rogues gallery, are gated by your over­all pro­gres­sion per­cent­age, while the Rid­dler boasts of de­ploy­ing more of his tro­phy puzzles through­out the night. Com­bined with the smart mis­sion wheel, it makes for a game that al­ways feels busy, but has a fo­cus that has long eluded the packed maps and blaz­ing icons of its peers.

Bat­man him­self has seen a few up­grades since he went fist-to-brain with Hugo Strange, quickly ac­quir­ing an even more ca­pa­ble bat­suit. In freeflow com­bat, well­timed re­ac­tions can grant you throw coun­ters, let­ting you push back en­cir­cling goons. In Preda­tor stealth seg­ments, the suit en­ables the fear take­down, used to turn out pock­ets of armed re­sis­tance by knock­ing down up to three clus­tered gun­men (more with up­grades) in quick suc­ces­sion. While it must be recharged with a silent take­down, in Arkham games past that still might have al­lowed Bats to steam through these chal­lenges, un­der­min­ing the threat of armed gun­men. Cru­cially, in both freeflow com­bat and stealth sec­tions, Rock­steady un­der­stands that Bat­man still needs vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, so piles on new pres­sures that force you to pri­ori­tise and push you to­wards dig­ging deep into the gad­gets menu, but still leave a lot of flex­i­bil­ity in your ap­proach. The Medic strad­dles both sides of be­ing the Bat­man, and pro­vides an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple. Ca­pa­ble of re­viv­ing up to three KO’d mooks and cov­er­ing fist­fight­ing com­bat­ants in an elec­tri­fied shield so they can­not be coun­tered safely, these white-suited sup­port ex­perts are a pri­or­ity. In a fist fight, you could choose to deal with this by glide-kick­ing one’s face in and do­ing a ground take­down be­fore any­one can rush to his aid, or use up one of your lim­ited en­vi­ron­men­tal take­downs (Square and Cross when you’re near the ob­ject) to take him in­stantly out of play. A quick­fire bat­claw to reel him in from the side­lines will in­ter­rupt his in­ter­fer­ence, and you might choose to fol­low that up with a dam­ag­ing punch. In Preda­tor are­nas, where ev­ery downed man draws un­wanted at­ten­tion sooner or later, this en­emy type is an ob­vi­ous early tar­get, but whether you go loud and use the re­mote hack­ing de­vice to det­o­nate a nearby can­is­ter, wait for a clus­ter to gather for a fear take­down, or sim­ply silently choke the guy in a cor­ner is up to you.

These are the re­ac­tive, flex­i­ble sys­tems that made Arkham City and Asy­lum class-lead­ing, and an ex­pertly judged flow of new abil­i­ties and threats means they’re bet­ter than ever for old hands seek­ing a fresh chal­lenge. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of en­emy types that re­quire spe­cific re­sponses – blade wield­ers, mooks with riot shields, charg­ing goons best coun­tered with a quick batarang, mini­gun heav­ies who are im­mune to silent take­downs – does mean the learn­ing curve is steep now, but a suite of AR train­ing and con­tex­tual prompts of­fers first­timers the means to sur­mount it, while not frus­trat­ing those with hun­dreds of hours un­der their util­ity belts.

Bat­man has never been more pow­er­ful, or more vul­ner­a­ble. But where Arkham Knight comes off the cen­tral reser­va­tion, of­ten in a cloud of ma­sonry shards, is with its Bat­mo­bile. Gad­get, tank, melee fin­isher and race car, Rock­steady’s burli­est ad­di­tion to the for­mula is an able aide, but one that’s too fre­quently al­lowed to steal the bat-em­blem-cov­ered spotlight.

Even so, Rock­steady gets a lot right. As a mode of trans­porta­tion, it’s a won­der­ful op­tion, sum­moned with a bumper tap and left just as easily. Its slip­pery han­dling is com­ple­mented with a Burnout- style power slide and afterburner, and hooning around Gotham on your way to your next ob­jec­tive is soon sec­ond na­ture. Like­wise, as a puz­zle tool, it only ex­pands the fan­tasy, its winch, ejec­tor seat and wall-crum­bling main cannon all adding

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