Ace Chemicals has been taken over by the Arkham Knight and only Batman can reinstate its legitimate owners. The Commissioner Gordon-led police force is too afraid to go in alone, meaning it's up to Bats to get shit done. Thus opens the scene of our most recent hands-on with Rocksteady’s concluding entry into its Arkham trilogy.
Immediately there’s a sense of familiarity… the warm and welcome kind, as opposed to the outdated and aged kind. Batman perched high on a rooftop, the modern-gothic skyline of Gotham consumes the horizon, the next-gen shine adding extra ping to the neon and greater depth to the scale (the city is five times bigger than that in Arkham City, apparently).
This visual fidelity is matched in micro, with Batman’s hood showing scratches and dents inherited from past scuffles. A (literally) small detail, but a noticeable and impactful one. Arkham City is one of the best looking games at this year’s Gamescom and stands as a great example about what can be achieved when you concentrate on a single platform generation.
Back on point: getting into Ace Chemicals from this rooftop vantage point isn’t easy, the Arkham Knight having brought with him an army of grunts and a fleet of self-designed tanks. You can head straight into the battle or be sneakier, using grates and ledges to hide in wait for an enemy in a way that mirrors what we’ve played before.
New is a ‘fear takedown’ option, letting you knock out an enemy at the press of a button from within cover. Batman will automatically jump out and eliminate them and, if you’re fast enough, you can chain these attacks together and dispatch up to three grunts without pause.
The more overt action combat has seen little change, with your ability to correctly time and execute counter punches, dodges and direct attacks remaining core to progression. There are new animations that let you take better advantage of the environment by crashing enemy heads into walls and fuse boxes, but the structure is incredibly familiar.
What is different is the Batmobile, which takes centre stage in our Ace Chemicals infiltration. Pressing a shoulder transforms it into ‘battle mode’, enabling you to strafe from side to side and perform quick dodges to avoid missile attacks. Combine this with a machine gun and rocket launcher and you’ve got a combat unit of significant strength. What you can’t do in battle mode is use the boost function, preventing you from crossing gaps in which speeding up a ramp is essential.
The Batmobile is also necessary for solving puzzles and creating new pathways. A winch on the front of it lets you collapse walls, although only those that have been pre-programmed to allow you to interact with them can be altered. The winch is also used for mild puzzle solving, such as pulling blocks and other objects too heavy for Batman to move himself.
In one section of our demo the Arkham Knight traps Batman just as the Caped Crusader predictably tries to rescue a kidnapped Ace Chemicals employee. You’re completely surrounded by Knight and his goons and all hope seems lost.
It’s ‘lucky’, then, that the Batmobile can be controlled remotely. While Arkham Knight and his henchman are trained on Batman, you can use the car/tank’s turret and take out the most dangerous looking foes. The distraction gives you time to jump back into Batman’s shoes and defeat the rest.
Combining remote control of the Batmobile with Batman’s own skills seems to be core to succeeding in these more difficult moments, with an enhanced glide kick giving you the option of jumping straight out of the vehicle’s cockpit and into an unsuspecting face. Smartly linking your transitions between piloting the Batmobile and being on your feet feels like a requirement rather than a choice, given the sheer quantity of opponents we faced in our demo.
Due to that focus on transitioning and linking attacks together, the Batmobile feels somewhat natural to interact with despite the new options it provides. As far as combat is concerned the Arkham series has always granted most success to those that chain moves together and the Batmobile does nothing to change that.