I've already talked about the the history of open-world games in a previous article. The idea has been around a very long time and we've begun our next console generation, which also means the PC baseline can move forward. Developers are now beginning to explore what they can do with the additional power and their experiments are carrying them in different directions. This series of previews will cover how these developers are bringing their own spin to the open world genre.
So here it is, after years of fake rumors of Rocksteady working on a game focused on Superman or the wider DC Universe, the studio is finishing up the Arkham Trilogy. If you're confused, last year's Arkham Origins was developed by Warner Bros Montreal and while it was a decent title, it felt like checking off the boxes to keep Batman Arkham fresh in our minds for the real main event. Origins exists in its own little bubble, so the trilogy is Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, and Arkham Knight, because Rocksteady is smart enough to not use Arkham World or Universe.
Batman's back and he's looking pretty great. A cutscene showing Batman putting on his redesigned armor jumps seamlessly into gameplay and has the Caped Crusader looking over the skyline of the city. It's pretty amazing, with Gotham looking bright and bigger than it's been in the past. A helpful Rocksteady developer tells me that Gotham is five times larger than it was in Arkham City, a new playground for you to beat up thugs in. For one, the city is taller; buildings loom in the sky now and Rocksteady has adding a new multi-grapple move to quickly scale buildings too tall for a single grapple.
Most of that size is taken up by the streets, which have grown larger to accommodate the new star of Arkham Knight: the Batmobile. No, the streets are still empty of civilians, as the police have evacuated the city because Batman's Rogues Gallery is acting up. That remains my biggest problem with the Arkham games as whole; the lack of civilians made sense in Asylum, but make less sense when you expand the scope of the game.
Yes, you can ride around the streets of Gotham in the new Batmobile, which shares DNA with the Tumbler from Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy. It's more of an armored tank that can go really fast than it is a car. In fact, it can turn into a tank, complete with missile launchers and vulcan cannons. Why does Batman have a tank, given that he hates guns? Again, my helpful developer tells me that the tanks you can blow up around Gotham City are unmanned drones and when the Batmobile shoots normal thugs, it's with non-lethal beanbag rounds. I believe beanbag rounds can still kill, but if you can't give Batman a pass, who will? (Don't give Batman a pass.)
The interesting thing about the Batmobile is how integrated into the gameplay it is. If the Batmobile has open road it can be brought to your location at the press of a button, so it's always there. It's not just a horse or car you drive in parts of the game and forget elsewhere. Rocksteady has integrated it into the fabric of the game, so it feels more like another gadget in Batman's arsenal.
When you're just driving around the city, any momentum the Batmobile has when you leap from it is imparted to Batman, meaning you can use it to gain some considerable glide distance. With the Batmobile's afterburners on full, I careened over a ramp, leapt from the cockpit, and glided around in a wide arc, before kicking an unsuspecting goon directly in the face. If you're within direct line-of-sight with the vehicle, the Batmobile can be used in combos, with Batman knocking foes in the air, where a well-placed (possibly lethal) beanbag shot will be waiting for them.
The Batmobile can even help with environmental puzzles. It can be controlled via remote, so many times you'll have to switch back and forth to move forward. Steam pipes preventing Batman from moving forward? Switch to the Batmobile outside and destroy them to vent the steam earlier in the process. Broken elevator? Use the winch on the Batmobile to raise and lower the elevator to the right height while Batman's inside.
There's always that distance between what you expect when you hear about a new feature and what you actually get. Sometimes that distance is huge, sometimes it's small. I knew about the Batmobile heading into my demo, but I expected something like the horses in Red Dead Redemption or the cars in Grand Theft Auto V and Watch Dogs; entrances into different or occasional modes of play. Ways to get from point A to point B faster. The Batmobile is different and Rocksteady put in the effort to make it feel like more than just a driving component to the existing game.
That's where Rocksteady sees the future of open world games, at least through the lens of Batman. The city is bigger, yes, but what's really huge is Batman's connection to his best gadget yet, the Batmobile. The Batmobile is the part that wouldn't fit in a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 version of Arkham Knight, at least not in the same way that it exists in the demo I saw at E3 2014. The Batmobile is huge, fast, and heavy; I had a ton of fun messing around with it and I think players will enjoy it when they finally get their hands on it. Rocksteady is going out with a bang... from the Batmobile's supposedly non-lethal cannons.
Batman: Arkham Knight is coming sometime in 2015 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.