Rocky Apr 18, 2014

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    Rocky Guest

    It's raining in Gotham City tonight. On the streets and the skyscrapers, on the cops and criminals, and on the one man who's gone further to protect its citizens than anyone else. Tonight, he faces his greatest threat yet.

    Rocksteady has been working on Arkham Knight since its previous game, Arkham City, shipped in 2011, and it's due for release in the not too distant future of winter 2014. It'll feature an open-world map roughly five times the size of Arkham City, it won't have any kind of multiplayer mode ("we wanted to focus on creating the best single-player experience that we possibly could"), and Rocksteady confirms former co-writer Paul Dini is no longer attached to the script this time around. And one last bombshell: Arkham Knight will serve as the final entry to Rocksteady's Arkham series.


    Set approximately one year after the events of Arkham City, and again taking place over the course of a single night, Arkham Knight begins with Gotham in the midst of a full-scale evacuation. Rocksteady won't be drawn on many story particulars right now, but it will say that this is Batman at the very peak of his power and physical prowess. The Joker is dead (as far as we know), and crime in Gotham is at an all-time low as the other supervillains have been quietly planning their next move: a huge, co-ordinated, personal assault on Batman himself. "This is the biggest Arkham game we've ever made," says game director Sefton Hill, as he introduces Arkham Knight to us at Rocksteady's London HQ, "but it's also the most personal. This is an attack on Batman; Gotham's supervillains are trying to destroy him and everything he stands for."

    We begin our hands-off demo at the start of the game, in the very heart of Gotham City. Scarecrow is on the loose again after his apparent death at the hands of Killer Croc, and he's preparing to launch a full-scale chemical weapon attack on the city's populace. Vigilant detectives may have already spotted hints towards Crane's imminent attack during Arkham City, where a hatch on an old, presumably abandoned boat moored in the North Gotham Docks could be unlocked and accessed using the passcode 'cityofterror', to reveal a sizeable shipment of fear toxin stored below deck. Not only that, but a series of coded messages in the game could be deciphered using the cryptographic sequencer, revealing a series of messages in which Scarecrow personally vows to take revenge on both Batman and the entire city.

    "Yesterday there were 6.3 million people in Gotham City," growls Arkham's opening voiceover from Commissioner Jim Gordon, as criminals run amok on the streets. "Today, not so many. It took just 24 hours for us to lose control of the city. Tonight, Gotham's relying on one man to save us all." We pan up for the hero shot; Batman standing tall on the edge of a skyscraper, silhouetted against the night sky and overlooking the entire city sprawled below.


    Batman's suit has undergone a bit of a makeover since Arkham City. It's darker, more menacing, and has much heavier armour. It suggests a more hardened Batman - one who'll be able to push further and fight harder. The Dark Knight is at the absolute top of his game, having had another year to hone his combat skills, and he means business. He's also brought to life once more by veteran Batman voice artist Kevin Conroy, who inadvertently let slip the existence of a new Arkham game last summer.

    From this opening reveal, it's a near-seamless transition from CG cinematic to gameplay. Even before Rocksteady later confirms it, it's immediately obvious that Arkham Knight is a true Xbox One game; nothing has been held back or compromised by the need for simultaneous development on Xbox 360. "This isn't a cross-generational game," confirms Hill. "It's a game designed purely to get the best out of the new consoles."

    As soon as control of the Caped Crusader is handed over to Hill, we're treated to a swoop down and over the city - it looks incredible. We can't help but ogle the way the rain patters off Batman's cape as he glides, or how the city lights twinkling through the rain bounce from the puddles collecting on the slickened streets. As Hill shows off some of the improvements made to gliding - faster grapple boosts, 180-degree flips and the like - the wind roars, the night envelops us, and we're itching to get our hands on the controller.

    The act of getting around the city seems more effortless than before, thanks to Batman's new suit and superior gadgets. And from the air at least, Gotham looks more vibrant and alive. It's a bit of a shame that it'll once again be populated almost exclusively by thugs, without any normal everyday citizens, but it does look like a real city this time, and not a smaller, closed-off version of one that's been left to rot.

    Gotham proper, the main setting for Arkham Knight, is a far more built-up and densely populated area than Arkham City. Because of that added height, at any time while you're gliding above Gotham, you can press the left trigger to have Batman fire out his line launcher between two buildings, thus creating a stationary perch to keep an eye on the streets from on-high.


    On top of that, Batman can now use certain gadgets while gliding. You can throw Batarangs just as you're swooping in on a crowd of thugs, for example - the game will helpfully go into slow-motion while you're targeting. Once you're fully into combat, things will feel familiar, but there are a few new systems being introduced to ensure that the classic Rocksteady combat still feels fresh. For example, when you're countering, you can push the thumb stick in the direction of the thug attacking you, and Batman will throw him, rewarding you with double damage. You can also pick up and smash your victims into other enemies - if you're fast enough.

    After a quick introductory tussle with a crowd of goons, we save a police officer and get a lead on the vehicle we've been chasing on behalf of Commissioner Gordon. There's no way we'll ever catch it on foot, but luckily Bats has a plan. With the full-throated roar of an engine, the Batmobile thunders onto the screen. In a first for the series, you'll be able to take control of one of fiction's most iconic vehicles and drive it around the streets of Gotham.

    It's a beast of a thing, looking a bit like a cross between the Tumbler of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight films and the more classic-looking Batmobile models of old. Rocksteady's aim, Hill says, was to create a game that featured the 'ultimate' car. We're told the team spent a lot of time working out how the Batmobile could comfortably integrate into a Batman: Arkham game after the Dark Knight had been hoofing it for so long. "We want it to feel like the Batmobile has always been there, ready for Batman to use," he explains. It does dovetail neatly with the man himself and his updated get-up - like the car and the suit evolved naturally side by side.


    The Batmobile is available to you at any time while you're exploring the city, by way of a simple button press that will call it to you. Hill takes us on a joyride through Gotham's Chinatown, as we chase down a car full of thugs in order to quiz them on Scarecrow's whereabouts. The Batmobile has the ability to lock-on to other vehicles with a specialised, non-lethal rocket launcher called the 'immobilizer', and the car itself can smash through pretty much any obstacle or material - from stone and steel to street lamps. And we won't lie - there's something oddly thrilling about watching someone do donuts in the Batmobile.

    It's clear the team have spent a fair amount of time and effort on getting every aspect of the Batmobile just so, from the squeal of the tyres - which have been customised with little Bat-symbol treads, naturally - to the crack and burst of nitrous flames from the exhaust every time you use the car's rechargable boost to accelerate. While you're inside the vehicle, there's no world mini-map - a deliberate design choice, we're told, as Rocksteady wants you to be paying attention to what's going on around you, rather than using a map display to navigate. "We've done a lot of work to ensure that the information for the objectives is within the city," Hill reassures us. You can, however, set waypoints, and tyre tracks will periodically appear on the ground to highlight the way ahead.


    And if you're wondering - as we certainly were - how Rocksteady could possibly ensure players wouldn't break Batman's one rule by chasing down bad guys in a vicious hit-and-run killing spree, it has got that covered. Pedestrians will always jump out of the way of the car, Midtown Madness-style, even if you're ploughing towards them at top speed. It's also fitted with a taser system so that if anyone comes up to it or does get hit, they will be knocked away, unconscious but relatively unscathed. One of the nice asymmetric things about the Batmobile, Hill says, is that, generally, thugs are terrified of it. It's invulnerable to machinegun fire, so while some criminals might fancy their chances with Batman mano a mano, none of them are brave enough to mess with him when he's safely inside his motor.

    However, picking and choosing when to use the Batmobile and when to just use Batman on-foot is a big part of the game. The car may be practically invincible, but Batman on his own has a superior stealth advantage, as well as that added element of verticality for getting on top of buildings. That said, gliding and driving don't have to be mutually exclusive. At any time while speeding through the streets in the Batmobile, it's possible for you to forcefully eject from the vehicle and use the generated velocity to glide further up and over the city.

    To show us what the machine can do, Hill briefly takes us off the main mission path to one of the Riddler's many hideouts, where he has constructed an underground racetrack of sorts to test the Great Detective's 'grotesque ego mobile'. Over three increasingly challenging laps, the Batmobile is able to perform jumps and barrel rolls, drive on walls and even, momentarily, drive upside down. It can also turn on the spot, for when you've invariably managed to wedge yourself into a lonely Gotham side-street. Rocksteady also implies, though won't confirm, that you'll be able to upgrade the Batmobile later in the game.

    With the Riddler temporarily bested, we return to the original objective of checking in with Oracle at her Clocktower hideout. Technically, this is part of Arkham Knight's main story mission, but Hill claims the game has been designed so that there wouldn't be just one main storyline and a lot of optional side objectives. "The city is full of all these different, co-ordinated attacks by the various supervillains," he says. "They're all designed to push Batman to his limit. We wanted it to feel like there isn't one key main path and [then] all these side missions; all of these different components and attacks by the supervillains have their own really interesting story that you can follow."


    Series stalwarts Penguin and Two-Face appear briefly in our demo during the opening cutscene, and Rocksteady confirms that Harley Quinn will also be returning (fans who found a certain Easter egg in Arkham City may remember that she's apparently pregnant with Joker's child). The developer isn't talking about any other villains or characters at the moment, but it does concede that certain storylines begun or teased in Arkham City - such as Hush's 'Identity Theft' side-missions or Azrael's mysterious prophecy that "Gotham will burn" - will likely be further explored and concluded in Arkham Knight.

    Inside the Clocktower, for the first time in the series, we meet with Barbara Gordon, aka Oracle, face-to-face - and she's just as feisty and razor-sharp as you'd expect her to be. There are some brief references to The Killing Joke during Babs and Bats' back and forth, but before long we're on our way again, with the intention of repurposing an antenna in the Falcone Ship Yard to track Scarecrow.

    While attempting to gain access to the guarded antenna, Hill talks us through a few tweaks that have been made to the game's Predator mode. You can now enter combat "in a spectacular fashion" by smashing through glass into a room full of hostiles. Batman also now has quicker, long-range access to floor grates - one button tap and he'll move towards the nearest spot automatically without you having to fumble at close quarters.

    You also now have access to a skill called the Fear Takedown, whereby Batman can instant-takedown groups of up to three isolated enemies simultaneously. The catch - because there's always a catch - is they need to be in close proximity, and you need to creep up to them while remaining completely unseen and undetected. It's an impressive display, and we free the cop they had been holding hostage, appropriating the antenna at the same time. As we leave the room there's a gunshot, and suddenly Batman is on his back, knocked down by some unseen force. "You're not going anywhere," a voice growls. "This ends tonight."







    A figure stalks into view. He's wearing a kind of robotic Batman-like cowl that covers his entire face, and there's a stylised 'A' symbol emblazoned on his heavily armoured chest. There are shades of Prometheus and Wrath about him, even a touch of Jason Todd's Red Hood in the pseudo military get-up he wears. Apparently, though, he's an original Rocksteady creation - a first for the franchise. His name is Arkham Knight, and he's clearly modelling himself as a kind of anti-Batman figure. Whoever he really is, he doesn't appear to be on the side of good, and he's certainly no amateur either, judging by how he managed to get the drop on Bats so easily. And there, tantalisingly, our demo ends.

    All told, we haven't seen a huge amount of Arkham Knight aside from the very broad strokes. There's a huge new area of Gotham to explore, Batman comes with a heap of new skills and gadgets, including his awesome new car, and Rocksteady has said that it will continue some of the storylines hinted at in Arkham City. It's perhaps not quite as ambitious as the long-rumoured Justice League game, but Batman: Arkham Knight looks like it's focusing its efforts on the aspects that have made this franchise great - making them bigger, better and even Battier than before. Rocksteady hasn't disappointed us yet. Let's see if that rain can't finally wash this city clean.

    Source - OXM

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