There are a number of reasons to get a current/new-gen console right now. Destiny is almost here, The Master Chief Collection is just over the horizon, and there is a now a decent backlog of launch titles to pick through. The thing is, as good as all as those games may be I haven’t had the feeling of “OH DEAR GOD I NEED IT RIGHT NOW” like I have done in previous generations. At this year’s Gamescom that all changed, and it’s all down to the hands-on session I had with Arkham Knight.
Actually, I’ll be most specific – it was the Batmobile.
I was given the opportunity to sit down with a small section that take place near the start, as Batman is sent into the ACE Chemicals Plant to rescue some hostages and see who’s up to no good. Unfortunately this meant I didn’t get a sense of how big the city of Gotham is this time around – one of my biggest queries about the game – but I did get to see how the Batmobile can be an asset to the Caped Crusader when face to face with the bad guys. The short of it is that’s incredibly satisfying, but I’m guessing you more want details so let me tell you story all about how Batman & the Batmobile kicked some ass.
An in-engine cutscene kicked things off, showing Commissioner Gordon and Batman discussing the current situation when a helicopter appears and blows up the bridge leading to the main gate. It turns out to be the titular antagonist, the Arkham Knight, but interestingly enough it appears he’s under orders from someone else who tells him to leave the Bat be. This is where the gameplay began, although it was a familiar affair for the most part – infiltrate the Chemical Plant, hack a satellite terminal and learn where the hostages are. As always, traversing the environment was a slick affair, but then again this is Rocksteady we’re talking about – they’ve got two games worth of experience behind them. What I’m trying to say it, from a control standpoint, fans of the series will be able to jump back in with little to no problems.
It’s a similar story with the combat, with the same skills and counters as before, but it was here that I was shown one of the new moves in Batman’s arsenal – the fear takedown. Lurking in underground grates allows Batman to dominate weaker foes and gain the upper hand when more than one enemy is above him. I found it to be a welcome addition, as it gives players more choice in how to approach groups of thugs.
Once the locations of the hostages had been revealed, it was time to call in the Batmobile – literally. Batman used a remote link to control his vehicle from a different location, using its battle mode to fire a grapple hook and raise the damaged bridge outside to create a ramp. Being in Battle Mode was simple – just hold down the shoulder button to operate the battle tank in a third person manner. Once the ramp had been created, it was a simple case of letting go of the shoulder button to return the Batmobile to normal. Using its afterburner to make the jump into the courtyard, Batman then glided through the air and into the cockpit to assume direct control. This is where a battle against a group of drones, along with one larger one, occurred. Combat in the Batmobile was a fluid affair, with a main heavy weapon for the big damage and lighter gun to keep up the pressure. There’s also a dodge mechanic to move out of the way of more lethal attacks, which made the combat a much more visually engaging affair, as well as feeling fast paced.
With the tanks destroyed, it was back to finding the hostages, but the first one I encountered was a trap, with the Arkham Knight and his goons appearing to kill the Batman. Unfortunately for them, they failed to notice the Batmobile behind them, and this is where things took a rather awesome turn. Using the remote control, Batman was able to take out a couple of the goons before engaging them directly. It was here that some context-sensitive takedowns appeared specific to the Batmobile. Batman sets up the unfortunate foe with an uppercut to put them in the air, upon which the Batmobile shoots them like it’s a game of Duck Hunt. From a visual standpoint, it looked glorious, and I’m not sure I’m going to get tired of watching it happen.
The rest of my time with the demo highlighted a few other things. The first of which was how seamless it was for Batman to get in and out of the Batmobile, with the ability to launch himself out and glide away, or even glide back into the vehicle. Likewise, in a section later on Batman couldn’t progress down a corridor due to a pipe emitting some hot steam. Using the Batmobile remotely to break the pipe on the outside of the building, Batman was able to carry on in yet another example of how his vehicle is instrumental to other aspects of the gameplay.
There were two other things of note. The first was that, at long last, Batman can use discarded weapons in the environment. I turned round to the developer next to me and pointed out how great it was that Batman could do that (although no – he’ll still be giving guns a wide berth. His one rule, and all that.) If anything, it helps to vary up the encounters from a visual standpoint, as well as providing new ways to stun or take down enemies. The final observation from the demo was how the graphical presentation of the game was overwhelming. The level of detail in Batman’s armour was jaw-dropping, and the Batmobile even more so. It appears Rocksteady are making good use of the Unreal Engine yet again, and the fact the game looks this good in live gameplay deserves some serious kudos.
While it would have been great to see the scale of the open world, the slice of gameplay I got sampled more than raised my excitement levels for the return to Gotham City. The visuals and slickness of the action proved that this really is a new/current-gen title, and will hopefully be one that will raise the bar for what we expect from our console titles in the future.