If the Gotham City of the Arkham games were a real place, insurance premiums alone would be crippling. After multiple, devastating attacks on Batman’s city that threatened thousands and caused multiple evacuations, Gotham must be an awful, awful place to live. It’s only going to get worse when we return once more in Batman: Arkham Knight. But Gotham’s plight is our gain.
We had the chance to check out Batman: Arkham Knight at GDC 2014, and developers from Rocksteady were on hand to play us through a section. By their own words, this is the end of their Arkham trilogy. Others might take up the mantle just as Warner Bros. Games Montreal did with Batman: Arkham Origins, but this will be Rocksteady’s final outing with the Caped Crusader.
But while this might be the last Rocksteady Arkham game, it is marked by firsts. It will be the first of the series to appear on next-gen consoles. It will be the first Arkham game to offer a controllable Batmobile, which changes the way you approach Gotham City. It will also be the first appearance of the original, new villain that Batman will face off with. If this really is Rocksteady’s last Arkham game, it’s looking like they will go out on a high note.
American Gothic. Batman: Arkham Knight takes place one year after the events of Arkham City, which left a power vacuum in Gotham’s underworld. Batman is at the height of his abilities when Scarecrow returns to Gotham to threaten the citizens with a potentially devastating chemical attack. The average Gothamite is probably used to fleeing in terror at this point, which leaves the city overrun by thugs and psychos.
At this point in their relationship, Batman and Commissioner Gordon are partners, and the two work together to stop Scarecrow’s threat. Unbeknownst to the Commish, Batman is also helped along by his daughter Barbara Gordon, AKA Oracle. This Oracle is modeled off of the character prior to the recent DC reboot. She lives and works out of the Gotham Clocktower and deals in information, and like her earlier comic source, she is confined to a wheelchair. Barbara Gordon has appeared in the games before, but this is the first time we’ve actually seen, and not just heard her. In a knowing nod to longtime Batman fans, in order to access her lair you need to hit a switch hidden inside a bust of William Shakespeare (just like Adam West used to). Rocksteady knows its Batman.
Knightfall. While the games are, of course, based on the DC Comics, Arkham Knight features one completely original character known as, well, the Arkham Knight. In the demo we were shown, Batman investigates a location rumored to be used by Scarecrow. Shortly after arriving, he is attacked by the mysterious, new enemy. The demo ended with the Knight standing above a stunned Batman with a gun pointed at him, claiming “this ends tonight.”
There is a much bigger story beyond just the Scarecrow’s threat, and it all seems to center on this new character. When we pressed the devs on whether or not the person inside the Knight costume was someone we might know from either DC or the previous game, they were mum. That might be significant or a bit of misdirection. In either case, let the speculation begin!
Batman Returns. The core mechanics of the Arkham franchise return, and while there are some new tricks, the gameplay should be instantly familiar to fans. You once again return to the open world of Gotham, where gliding and grappling are the most common means of transportation. However, now you can use your gadgets while gliding, which opens up several new possibilities. You can now fire off ziplines to land on, or throw batarangs when descending on enemies. It’s something we’ll have to experiment with, but it adds a new level of depth to traversing Gotham.
The combat is also mostly the same, and once again relies on combos and counters. You now have the ability to throw enemies though, and you can also take their weapons and use them to a limited degree. It expands the combat without changing what has become one of the identifying features of the series.
Introducing the Batmobile. Without question, the most notable change between Arkham Knight and the previous games is the introduction of the Batmobile. In terms of looks, Rocksteady’s Batmobile is a cross between Tim Burton’s and Christopher Nolan’s from their respective films. It’s one part hot rod, one part tank. It’s also bulletproof and apparently indestructible (at least from what we saw in the demo), and it can easily take out other cars, the occasional bit of debris, and specific walls.
It is also fast, and can be called at any time. When summoned, the Batmobile initiates autopilot and comes to you. Batman can also launch himself out of the vehicle like a catapult, switch to the traditional glide and grapple methods, then meet the Batmobile, which can track you from the ground when you choose for it to do so.
There are complete sections of the game dedicated to the Batmobile, including car chases that use the Batmobile’s bevy of gadgets (including rockets), and side missions like Riddler’s puzzle races, which require you to drive a course under a time limit while remotely operating doors in front of you in the proper sequence. We only saw a small section, but the Batmobile seems to play a major role in the game.
Gotham unbound. The new Gotham is big – very big. According to Rocksteady, the game is 20 times larger than that of Arkham Asylum in terms of real estate. Gotham is also broken up into districts, with each district featuring its own look and feel. The next-gen graphics make the city look amazing, as rain and lightning help to highlight the use of color and light throughout the city. As Batman you operate at night, but that doesn’t mean Gotham is dark. Far from it.
The Dark Knight Returns. Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman in dozens of animated and video game properties including Rocksteady’s previous Arkham games, returns to the role. Further announcements regarding the cast will be made in the next few months.
By introducing its own, unique character into the Batman universe, Rocksteady may be risking the alienation of fans by stepping away from the established DC universe. We’ll still have several familiar faces to punch, including Two Face, Penguin, Harley Quinn, and more, but the main villain – as evidenced by the title of the game – is a creation of Rocksteady. The developer has earned the right to take that risk though, and so far there’s no reason to think it won’t pay off big.
(Images and video © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)