Fight And Flight: Hands On With Batman: Arkham Knight

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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9 Comments

  1. As much as I like the Arkham series, I can’t help but feel as though they’ve come a bit thick and fast. I’ve only just got around to replaying City and will probably pick up Origins at some point. However, with Knight on the horizon, I may just have to skip it.

    • Knight isn’t until early next year, if it doesn’t get pushed further back to find a release sweetspot. Origins came out at the end of last year, admittedly, but Arkham City was out at the end of 2011, so this would be a 3.5 year gap between Rocksteady’s games.

      God help the Assassin’s Creed franchise if you think there’s too many Batman games!

    • You would be better off skipping Origins tbh – Whilst it is still a solid ‘Arkham’ game (which is quite remarkable considering it wasn’t Rocksteady), you will eventually come away disappointed that they saw fit to include a multiplayer, but couldn’t be arsed to actually make it work.

      It’s all the more disappointing as it has some nice ideas & doesn’t play too badly at all when you can get into a game, but if your experience is anything like mine you’ll find that you are disconnected 99% of the time (& that’s if you can find a game to connect to in the first place!).

      • absolutely right mate..skip origins.not a bad game just not as good as the first 2.didn’t really have any sense of direction.you can take any mission on when you want and you become lost.as for the multiplayer its gash it just doesn’t work

  2. This is yet another game I’m in 2 minds about.
    All I hear is how good the previous games are but I just don’t particularly like Batman. I think it due to how ridiculous his costume looks with the stupid little bat ears. I’ve probably just upset 99% of the TSA community ;)
    Surely it would make sense for a super hero called Batman to be blind too & use some sort of sonar to get about.
    Saying that, I still think Batfink was pretty cool. In fact if people insist on making Indie games, make a Batfink game!

    • Haha, I think objecting to a game because of the main characters ears is a new one :) It’s fair though, if you don’t like a character then it’s perfectly understandable that you won’t be interested in the game. I’ve always liked Batman, even the crazy Adam West vs rubber shark period, and don’t mind the ears at all. Although it would be good if they had more of a purpose, what if they shot something like maybe pepper-spray flavoured earwax?

    • Arkham City was on PS+ early last year, so you might have it in your collection and be able to give it a go to see if the gameplay suits you.

      As for disliking the character, well, that’s up to you. Generally super heroes combine the better attributes, so Spider-man gets the sticking to walls stuff, but less of the willy falling off, but Batman doesn’t have super powers, he’s just a bloke who’s taken the imagery and embraced it. All of his abilities are through human strength (admittedly, at action hero levels), skill, mental acuity and tons of gadgets.

      I think you could play through the Arkham games with X-ray vision turned on 100% of the time, if you’re after a bit of a Sonar vibe to the game. Or just watch that bit with the phones in The Dark Knight on a loop.

  3. One of the few games I’m excited about right now. I can’t imagine it’ll be much different to the previous games but I enjoyed the hell out of both AA and AC (skipped AO for obvious reasons) all the challenges and riddles really kept me going back to them.

    I’l be happy with more of the same to be honest which would usually puts me off a game but if this one is a little more focused on street crime (I felt a lot of my time in AC was fighting on the roofs) and more of the riddler, perhaps with a more fleshed out story then I’ll be as happy as Jason Todd in a bat cowl with guns.

  4. In this gameplay, the combat is more realistic or does it keeps showing batman jumping every time he has to deliver a fist or a kick? Also, when you mentioned plethora of gun-toting enemies, you meant thugs carrying pistols or thugs carrying machineguns?

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