So, I've just spent my first night tearing around Gotham in the Batmobile. Rocksteady have taken their time recreating one of the most iconic cars of all time and the pressure was certainly on to do it justice as their trilogy of Batman games draws to a close with Arkham Knight. My review is coming later this week, but in many ways, the main question we're asking is, how's the Batmobile? How does it handle? Is it an empowering blast and buckets of fun? Or do the tank-like transformations betray Batman's Legacy? I'll tell you.
From the first time you unleash the Batmobile on the streets of Gotham, there's a volatile burst of aggression that makes it almost intimidating to handle. Steering can be very sensitive, resulting in much more fish-tailing than I'd care to admit. It got to the point where I was getting quite annoyed actually.
That's because I wanted to just dive in and be an expert straight away. But where's the fun or longevity in that? Over the course of the evening, I learned to respect the handling more and apply a little finesse when I only need a slight movement to dodge obstacles or make a slight turn and as a result, the Batmobile's backend isn't quite as slidey as my first few drives.
There's a more irritating issue that's taking me longer to get used to though and that's the controller layout. When controlling cars in games today, it's widely acknowledged that if accelerate is assigned to the R2 trigger, braking will be over on L2. Nope, braking is on Square. L2 is actually the transform button for the Batmobile's Battle Mode tank (more on that later).
So, you can imagine the mess when I'm chasing goon cars through the streets and my deeply-set muscle memory clutches L2 whenever I approach a corner. I smash into something straight on and curse my stupid memory and more than a few Rocksteady staffers. But to be fair, I'm getting used to it and it's not happening as much now and once I fully adjust, I imagine I'll forget it was ever an issue. Until I go and play a racing game and try to reverse the madness again.
If only that was the sole issue my hapless hands had to deal with. When facing armoured tanks, hold L2 and the Batmobile undergoes a pleasingly fast transformation to an extremely agile tank, with the handling completely changing to mirror the twin-stick controls of a first person shooter. There's nothing wrong with that. It handles very well actually, albeit too slowly to chase anything down. Instead, you need to let go of L2 to revert to car mode and drive off again. The thing is, I keep getting confused when driving in normal mode after extended tank sessions and start using the right stick to turn instead of the left one. Like the aforementioned problems, these are my own issues that I'll get used to over time. It's undeniably a thing though and part of me wonders if it may have been better if a more unified control system had been designed.
Well, enough about me clearly needing to put some L-plates on the Batmobile. Let's talk about how much fun it is. The car's tank-like armour means you can smash through so much of Gotham's scenery, be it boarded up gateways for shortcuts, statues, trees, low concrete walls or the sides of multi-tiered car parks. It's no wonder the thugs flee as soon as they spot you tearing down the street. Tradition says Batman doesn't kill, but his Batmobile clearly doesn't give two shits.
The Batmobile's brute force is hugely liberating and my cack driving skills greatly appreciated not being smashed to a halt for clipping weaker walls and not losing any speed for battering parked and moving cars aside with an aggressive joy I haven't experienced since Burnout: Paradise.
Burnout's takedowns are a clear inspiration for some of the driving missions too, as you bash enemies off the road and are treated to a slow-motion shot of the decisive collision. A lock-on immobiliser is useful when chasing convoys of crims, but boy does it take an age to lock on. A press of the X button and left or right results in a vicious side-swipe move that's not only effective in combat, but also as a way of dodging missiles or tucking in at the last second to avoid a crash.
Battle mode is the even more aggressive side of the Batmobile and turns the game into a basic mech shooter. The first-person controls gel well with the surprisingly nimble tank and its nifty dodge move. Do yourself a favour though and upgrade the reload speed on the 60mm cannon as soon as possible because the basic machine gun is all sorts of weak against the armoured drone tanks favoured by the Arkham Knight's forces.
Facing waves of tanks was a regular feature of my first night in Gotham and I'm hoping there are some more tricks up the Batmobile's sleeves, as I can see it getting a bit stale before long to be honest.
There's also the issue of why are tanks such a thing in the first place. Of all the elements in Rocksteady's excellent Arkham games, nothing has felt more out of place in terms of 'being Batman' than blasting away in a tank. I'm no Batman lore expert; I've enjoyed the movies (especially Tim Burtons') and adored the surprisingly dark 90's animated show, but will freely admit to knowing little about the comics. But... why is the Batmobile a tank? Did Rocksteady give the enemy tanks solely to justify this odd evolution of the Batmobile? It would seem so.
Let's not write off Battle Mode yet though. After all, it's only been one night and the Batmobile has many other fine qualities that I've not touched on yet. Launching Batman into the sky after ejecting from the car at speed will never get old and is going to make going back to Arkham City very difficult.
A power winch attachment can be used to pull apart Gotham in specific areas to create ramps, interact with Riddler puzzles, defuse bombs with careful touches of the accelerator and more. There are some clever uses when Batman is on foot too via remote control. When Batman's trapped by goons planning an ambush with turrets, the Batmobile can sneak up behind them and clear the way. Another scene let me use the winch to pull a broken elevator up a shaft from outside the building. Rocksteady has done really well so far at making the Batmobile feel like a natural fit for Batman's skillset. Well, apart from the tank bits maybe.
Who doesn't love summoning the Batmobile though and jumping into the driver's seat while it's still moving? Just the sight of the thing thundering down the street towards me puts a smile on my face. I've been playing a lot of Witcher III lately, and being able to summon the Batmobile is impossible to beat when compared with whistling for that creepy lurking horse, who's quite likely to get stuck running around a tent or caught chatting to local strumpets. That said, the Batmobile is rubbish at hiding in bushes.
We'll have more for you on Batman: Arkham Knight soon. Do let us know how you're finding the Batmobile and the rest of the game (no spoilers though, please). What do you think of the controls? Do the battle mode encounters feel right for a Batman game? Or is gliding actually still the best way to travel around Gotham?