Stepping back into Rocksteady’s Arkham series of Batman games is a little like putting on your favourite fitted spandex bodysuit, cowl and cape or, if you can’t relate to Batman’s most traditional garb, a pair of well worn boots. Even a passing knowledge of the previous games should let you feel right at home with Batman: Arkham Knight.
It should really come as no surprise that this game looks like a higher resolution, more polished and more refined version of what went before and what worked so well. It’s running on an enhanced version of Unreal Engine 3, from what I can gather, but pushes on in terms of the game resolution and adds more granular details.
This is epitomised by the new Batsuit, which features a lot of moving armour parts that you likely won’t notice unless looking really close, but this helps it have some common ground with the newly added Batmobile. Its design, which was apparent from the very first Arkham Knight trailer, feels roughly in line with that of the Nolan universe’s Tumbler, but with a few twists of its own.
It’s not just about getting places quickly, but also about being able to deal with threats that you face on the ground. Holding down the left trigger switches it to Battle Mode, in which gives you much more flexibility of motion, allowing you to strafe from side to side and always face towards enemy vehicles. This also brings the riot gun into play as well as a rocket launcher, to tackle tougher enemy vehicles, and things like a grappling hook, so you can pull objects out of the way or into different forms to create a ramp.
However, this flexibility comes at the cost of a slightly awkward and unintuitive control scheme. As I’m used to driving games and any number of vehicular combat games, having the right trigger handle acceleration in drive mode made sense, but the use of the left trigger for Battle Mode meant that braking and reversing needs to be on a face button, and Battle Mode additionally flipped the right trigger to being the trigger for the Batmobile’s guns.
But then again, the Arkham series has never really stuck to what other people are doing, and this is part of what has helped it set the bar for the acrobatic combat in the game. It means that it’s tricky to pick up and play, even if you’ve finished the previous games, but once you get into the swing of things, it’s fast, fluid, and without comparison.
Melee combat has been quite heavily augmented for Arkham Knight, taking away some of the stumbling blocks for those that struggle with their timing. The core foundations are still there, with counter attacking and dodging attacks vital to building up combos to earn takedowns, but the barrier for success is lowered with the addition of environmental takedowns that aren’t tied to your combo and, when it’s nearby, the exquisitely timed Batmobile takedowns that see it fire a riot round into an enemy that you’ve punched into the air. I think this bit made me laugh out loud with its sheer brilliance.
However, the enemy have also got a little bit tougher, and even though this section (previously shown at E3, but brought out for our first hands on) was supposed to be just a few hours into the game, some of the combat sequences featured a plethora of gun-toting enemies and tougher sword-bearing foes. Disarming the former as quickly as possible was important, of course, while those with swords required ever-so-slightly quicker reflexes to counter, and were sometimes able to dodge my attacks. Occasionally an enemy would have a red warning pop up to show they would be unblockable, and need to either have a Batarang chucked at them, or be dodged.
All of this and a few other tweaks like being able to pick up enemy weapons and do “Fear” takedowns when bursting out from grates or through windows, to string together a trio of takedowns in slow motion, replete with panicked gunfire from the enemy goons, make this quite a compelling step up over the combat in Arkham City. It’s interesting to note certain similarities to the enemies added in WB Montreal’s Arkham Origins.
It’s all wrapped up by the intriguing titular character and enemy in the game, the Arkham Knight. There’s a great interplay between him wanting to go off the hook and kill Batman, but always being restrained by Scarecrow, who we assume is the primary villain (and hope isn’t somehow the Joker in disguise). One encounter made it quite abundantly clear that the Arkham Knight knows the ins and outs of Batman’s modus operandi, pointing out the weak spots in his armour and how he thinks when he thinks he has him cornered.
That he knows how Batman works is bound to have people already guessing at his true identity, and ahead of a release early next year, it’s the perfect hook to grab peoples’ attention for what could be the perfect conclusion to Rocksteady’s trilogy.