Batman: Arkham Knight is the final game in the Arkham series. During our brief demo at E3 2014, we were able to get a glimpse of the plot. Johnathan Crane, the Scarecrow, wants to cover the city in a toxic fear gas, so he takes over the Ace Chemical Plant. As Batman and Commissioner Gordon plan to stop him, but an armored figure shows up to assist the Scarecrow. We only saw a bit of the titular Arkham Knight, but he seems to be a heck of a villain. He clearly has a chip on his shoulder and knows Batman's weaknesses inside and out. There's a lot in Arkham Knight's design and personality that calls to mind Jason Todd, the second Robin and current Red Hood, but too much about the character is shrouded in mystery to make any guesses on his identity.
Combat in Arkham Knight is at once familiar and new. The core Arkham City mechanics are still here, but they've been polished in a number of ways. The classic combat takedowns have been amplified. Environmental objects can be used for special takedowns as long as the enemy is in the proper place, signified by both the enemy and the object glowing light blue. Batman uses the object to take down an enemy, like smashing them into a wall or dropping a hanging light on them or hitting them with a box. These takedowns don't instantly defeat the enemies, though. Instead, the damage is determined by your combo multiplier, so it's worthwhile to build that up first. It makes positioning more important than ever.
Downed enemies can be pulled to their feet, preventing you from missing a hit because an enemy collapsed at the wrong moment. After you block enemies, you can redirect and throw them at other foes. You can now steal weapons from enemies. If an enemy is armed with a (non-lethal) weapon like a lead pipe, Batman can stun him with his cape and steal the weapon, temporarily arming him with greater reach and more damage. All of his other moves are still available, including takedowns and the ever-brutal beatdown, which is more extreme with a pipe in hand.
The Predator mode has been updated with more dangerous abilities. When performing a dive-kick, you can now use gadgets while gliding. You can crash through skylights or windows to attack enemies, a first for the franchise and a heck of a way to make an entrance. Vents and grates have been revamped to allow you to instantly go from one to the other, making it smooth to move from area to area without being seen. The Fear Takedown is a new stealth move. When multiple enemies are clustered together, you can perform a simple quick time event (QTE) to jump from enemy to enemy. It's reminiscent of the chain stealth kill mechanic in Far Cry 3. The downside is it's incredibly noisy and dangerous to do in Predator rooms.
The biggest new feature in Arkham Knight is the Batmobile. A big part of Arkham's appeal is how it strives to make you feel cool, powerful and dangerous, and driving poorly can easily screw that up. That is why it's pleasing that the Batmobile feels both accessible and powerful. You can drive around quickly and hit the afterburners to jump. The controls are solid and smooth but very obviously car controls. Battle mode converts the Batmobile from a car into an armored tank. The controls change to something more akin to a third-person shooter, with the two analog sticks moving you around and aiming the built-in weapons. You can swap between the two modes, and it makes the controls interesting, if not hugely realistic. I was able to drive and swap into tank mode to make a tight turn that wouldn't have been possible in the normal mode.
The Batmobile is armed to the teeth, but as Batman, you're not going to run over people. Most of the weaponry is locked when facing human opponents. You have a powerful Taser gun to shoot mooks, but that's about it. The Taser gun is available when the Batmobile is nearby — even if you're not in it. You can even use the Taser as an environmental takedown by tossing enemies in the air, so the Batmobile can lock onto them. You need a clear line of sight, so you need to lure enemies near a window or find a way to get them into the Batmobile's range.
When facing drones or unmanned machines in the Batmobile, the gloves come off. The Vulcan gun and cannon can be used, and they represent fast, weak attacks and strong attacks, respectively. In Battle mode, you can quickly dodge to the side. The drone enemies in the demo were lightly armed tanks with a firing line represented by a glowing line that changed color before they fired. By timing my dodges correctly, I was able to avoid the attacks. This is important due to the Batmobile's third power: missiles. The more you attack enemies without taking damage, the more your combo meter builds up. When it is half-full, you can launch a missile. When it's completely full, you launch five missiles at once that can obliterate all but the strongest foes.
The Batmobile is also a puzzle-solving tool. One of the earliest sections of the demo involved the Arkham Knight blowing up the bridge in front of us. This would have blocked further progression except for a combination of the Batmobile's abilities. It has a powerful winch that you can use to drag and pull objects. In this case, we pulled the broken bridge to create a ramp. Afterward, we hit the afterburners and flew over the gap. A later puzzle involved an elevator with a damaged power source. By hooking it, we used the Batmobile to manually raise or lower the elevator with a remote control feature. You can swap between the Batmobile and Batman instantly, and you can always see the location of the other part of the duo, even through walls. It's even equipped with a "safety room" that transports up to two innocent civilians to safety. The downside is the Batmobile is huge, and sometimes using it to solve a puzzle requires you to find a way to get it to the proper location, which can be a puzzle in its own right.
Arkham Knight has received a huge visual upgrade. The level of detail, animation fluidity, and the sheer size of the game are breathtaking. The Gotham in Arkham Knight is supposedly five times bigger than that was in Arkham City, and it shows. There have been concessions made to the size, both in the form of the Batmobile and improved gliding and grappling mechanics, which make it easier to chain together movements. "Bigger and better" is the theme of Arkham Knight. It isn't breaking the mold but polishes everything to a sheen. If the rest of the game lives up to the extremely high level of quality of our E3 demo, Arkham Knight may be the best Batman game to date, and it'll be the perfect capstone to Rocksteady's trilogy. Batman: Arkham Knight is due out in 2015 for the PS4, Xbox One and PC.
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