A transforming Batmobile is the ultimate gadget in Batman: Arkham Knight

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The Batmobile is as inseparable from Batman as Superman is from his cape. It’s unthinkable that Rocksteady Studios has gotten away with delivering two Arkham games that only featured the Dark Knight’s signature ride in brief cutscenes. That the studio did so with outstanding results is even more surprising. Here we are now, about to cap off the trilogy that Rocksteady kicked off in 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, and at last we have the full extent of an open world Gotham City to explore, and a fully functional Batmobile to speed up movement from A to B.

Not so fast though. Batman: Arkham Knight‘s vision of the Batmobile seesmore than just a car. Like everything else in the titular costumed vigilante’s arsenal, the vehicle is an extension of Batman himself. It’s just as much a gadget as  the Explosive Gel and Line Launcher that’ve helped us explore the worlds of multiple games now. Even the newly revealed Battle Mode — which allows the Batmobile to transform into a tank with the press of a button — serves a utilitarian purpose, as we learned during a recent pre-E3 hands-on event.

Story/Concept

Feel the fear. It’s Halloween in Gotham, and longtime Batman enemy Scarecrow is up to his usual tricks. The deranged shrink has fear toxin-filled bombs planted all throughout the city, triggering a mass evacuation that leaves Batman and GCPD alone to face Gotham’s worst villains. The latest Arkham rogue’s gallery includes an all-new character, a completely original creation from the minds at Rocksteady: the Arkham Knight.

Designed as a militarized foil to Batman’s do-gooding ways, the mysterious, armored Arkham Knight commands an army and possesses a sadistic streak a mile wide. Nothing is known at present time about the identity of the man behind the mask, and it’s likely to be one of the final game’s major spoilers.

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Drug trip. The chunk of gameplay featured in our demo brings Batman to the site of Ace Chemicals, which Scarecrow has taken control of — with the help of Arkham Knight’s army — to manufacture his fear toxin. Apparently, Scarecrow isn’t content to simply fear-bomb Gotham; the device he’s building at Ace Chemicals has enough blast power and toxin to blanket the entire east coast.

All of this unfolds during an early part of the game — specifically, the second chapter — and it serves as an introduction to the Batmobile’s multiple uses, combining the traditional puzzle-solving and combat that the series is known for with vehicle segments that inform and enhance everything.

Gameplay

Batmobile, roll out. Batman’s transforming Batmobile takes two forms. In standard Pursuit Mode, it’s a vehicle built for speed, controlling similarly to any other arcade-style video game race car (complete with a nitrous-style turbo boost). Battle Mode — currently activated by pressing and holding a button (though a toggle option may be added prior to release) — transforms the Batmobile into a slower-moving, strafe-capable tank armed with a chaingun, rockets, and a non-lethal riot cannon.

The Battle Mode Batmobile (which totally sounds like the name of a future toy) fills a couple of roles. It’s obviously combat-capable, and Arkham Knight features sequences in which Batman takes on tanks and other armored weapons of war. You’re not able to simply spam the cluster-fire rockets, by far the most damaging weapon in Batman’s arsenal; instead, you’ve got to keep the attack on as a meter fills up, and then unleash a salvo when you get a lock-on.

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The weaponized Batmobile is also a tool for Batman when it comes to solving certain puzzles. In one section of the demo, there’s an unpowered elevator that leads down below the Ace Chemicals facility to Batman’s target destination. To get there, you’ve got to use the Batmobile’s magnetic winch to lift the elevator car back up to the surface. You’re able to control the car using a remote control, so you then lower the elevator back down remotely once Batman is inside. In Battle Mode, the Batmobile can also pull down certain walls with its winch and blast through others with the help of its weapons.

In both forms, the Batmobile is also equipped with a containment unit. In a spot where most cars would have their trunk, Batman’s ride has a passenger-friendly space that can be used to ferry allies and enemies alike to target destinations. We use it in the demo to carry rescued Ace Chemicals workers to GCPD forces waiting outside the facility, but there are larger gameplay possibilities here with regards to catching criminals and carting them off to jail. We’ll have to wait and see how the Batmobile’s containment unit is put to use in the larger game.

A bigger Bat-Swiss Army knife. A new Batman game means new Bat-gadgets. The Batmobile is the undeniable highlight, but our Caped Crusader has another new toy to help him out during this latest adventure. The Bat Scanner reimagines the classic Batarang as a sort of remote-controlled UAV. Throw one out and you’ll switch to a view through the scanner’s camera as it travels in a slow, wide circle. From here, you can basically deploy Detective Mode on a larger scale, scanning for threats and mission-specific points of interest.

The Batmobile Remote also falls under the “new gadgets” designation. In addition to being able to take direct control of Batman’s ride without actually being inside it, you can also call the car in from anywhere. As long as you’re in a vehicle-accessible location, the Batmobile will roll up, ready to be driven.

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Arkham beatdown. Combat remains fundamentally the same as it’s always been, mixing simple, contextual attacks with simple, contextual counters that deflect incoming enemy strikes. One of the new twists, enabled by the Batmobile (naturally), allows Batman to eject out of the car with great force, either straight into the air or through a window (good for getting the drop on enemies).

There’s also a new “Fear Takendown” feature that allows multiple takedowns to be chained together at the start of a fight. While undetected, target one enemy and trigger the Fear Takedown, after which time slows down while you target the next enemy for attack. Highlighted enemies in the HUD indicate how many can be targeted by one of these new attacks (as many as three). Very effective for taking care of closely grouped baddies.

Presentation

Same Bat-channel. Arkham Knight looks like the Arkham Asylum Arkham City sequel you’d expect. The demo (running on a high-spec gaming PC) was perhaps a bit shinier and more detailed than we’ve seen on the console releases previously, and it served as a good peek at what to expect from the game’s appearance on newer console hardware. But the dark, dingy cityscape and flowing cape are very reminiscent of what we’ve seen before, particularly in Arkham City.

We didn’t get to explore much, but let’s not forget that — as much as this new game resembles its predecessors — it’s also roughly five times larger, with all of central Gotham City now open to players, spread across three islands. That’s a lot of territory to cover and a lot of criminal mischief to defuse.

Takeaway

Rocksteady Studios is back. After stepping away from Batman for Arkham Origins, the studio behind the series seems to be bringing fresh ideas and the expected high level of polish to its efforts for Arkham Knight. The recent delay to 2015 is unfortunate, but it’s best to view it as a necessary step toward making the game everything a Batman fan could want. The brief taste we got suggests that the dev team is on the right track.

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