With Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, Rocksteady Studios set the standard for Batman games.
Previous efforts never made us feel like we were really controlling the Dark Knight, but the Arkham series rectified that with sublime stealth, crisp combat and enough Bat gadgets to fill an issue of Stuff.
Now, after leaving last year’s Arkham Origins to another studio, Rocksteady is back in charge with the series’ next-gen debut Batman: Arkham Knight. It’s going to be (sob) Rocksteady’s last Arkham effort, but they're promising to go out with a bang. And from what we know so far, it’s looking more nuclear explosion than party popper.
In the year since The Joker's death in Arkham City, the streets of Gotham have been uncharacteristically peaceful. But then the Scarecrow turns up with a plan to take revenge on Batman, forcing a mass evacuation by planting toxic mind-warping bombs all over the city. This clears the way for a Halloween showdown with the Caped Crusader, who is voiced again by Batman voice specialist Kevin Conroy.
But Bruce Wayne’s not wasted the past 12 months. Anything but - for starters, he has a brand new Bat-suit, complete with Apex cloth physics (rough translation: looks more realistic), and new gadgets, more on which later. Oh, and a pimped-up Batmobile.
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As killer features go, the chance to drive the Batmobile is about as deadly as 10-mile asteroid hitting the Earth. It’s a real mean machine, a cross between a dragster and the tank-like vehicle of the Christopher Nolan films, capped off with steely metallic hubcaps and a flaming exhaust. It can drive itself, so you can call it to you at the press of a button, and there’s an ejector seat so you can leap out of it at high speed like a proper showoff.
The Batmobile is also bulletproof and capable of smashing through lampposts, cars and even some walls. And did we mention that it has homing missiles? No? Well it has those too. The Batmobile is also why only those with a PlayStation 4, Xbox One or powerful PC will be playing Arkham Knight: the visual details are so intricate that it demands 160MB of memory to display it, reports GameInformer magazine. It’s enough to give an Xbox 360, with its total of 512MB of RAM, a seizure.
Basically, we want it. Yesterday.
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But what use is a Batmobile when there’s nowhere to go? Fortunately, Rocksteady thought of that and is busy creating a Gotham City that will be about five times the size of Arkham City and spread over three islands. The streets will also be wider, to make it more fun to drive around in Batman’s tank dragster, while extra effort is also going into making Gotham feel more alive and real - you’ll be able to see into buildings through windows and hear noise from the street when indoors.
Also, each of Gotham’s neighbourhoods are set to have a distinctive look, which should help make it easier to navigate than the samey Arkham City. And while the Scarecrow’s Halloween bomb threat has cleared out the civilians, there will be loads of crims around; Rocksteady is promising four times as many thugs as in Arkham City and crowds of as many as 50 people, which you'll be able to scatter by charging towards them in your Batmobile. Tasty.
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More after the break...
Combat and gadgets
Simple but varied combat has always been one of the Arkham series’ greatest assets, and the developers have retained the purity of the controls here rather than slipping into fiddly fighting combos.
That's not to say combat is completely unchanged. New moves include sneaky ‘Fear Takedowns’, which slow time so Batman can take out multiple enemies or hide before being seen, and the ability to disarm thugs and turn their weapons against them. For extra brutality, Batman will also be able to use the environment against enemies, giving you the chance to ram villains’ heads into vending machines or air-con units. Ouch.
Batman will also have a few new gadgets, together with enhanced versions of his existing kit. The new gadgets are still under warps, but there will definitely be a souped-up grapnel gun that'll allow you to make mid-air U-turns. The gliding mechanic is also getting an overhaul, so that Bats can glide for longer and do more while he is doing so.
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Unless there’s an awful back-from-the-dead twist that we don’t know about, The Joker won’t be starring in Arkham Knight. But there’s no shortage of super-baddies for the Caped Crusader to deal with.
We’ve already mentioned the Scarecrow but the Penguin, Two-Face, Harley Quinn and the Riddler have also all been confirmed. And all are getting new looks, too. The Penguin has had his head shaved so that he looks like Phil Mitchell wearing Patrick Moore’s monocle while The Riddler, who is going to play a more visible role in this game, now looks like a grubby Charlie Sheen.
Then there’s Arkham Knight himself, a new villain created specially for the game by DC Comics’ writer Geoff Johns and artist Jim Lee. All we know so far is that he looks like some kind of anti-Batman, but given that they named the game after him, we’d expect him to be something pretty special.
Fancy a bit of Arkham Knight multiplayer action? Well forget it. There will be no multiplayer in this game. As game director Sefton Hill told Game Informer: “We don’t have the time to do multiplayer. We want to focus on making the best single-player experience we can. We don’t feel that it needs a multiplayer element.”
As we've already mentioned, Batman: Arkham Knight will only be available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and fairly decent PCs. Its release date was originally set for October 2014, but Warner Bros. delayed the game to give Rocksteady more time to deliver on its ambitious design.
Ultimately, the game will launch on 2 June 2015, taking the form of the rare summer video game blockbuster release. Pre-orders of the game will include an add-on that lets you play as Harley Quinn in four self-contained challenge maps, while GameStop will offer an exclusive second add-on DLC pack on top of that, one that features Red Hood as a playable character.
Two special edition versions of the game will be available: a Limited Edition (£89.99) with a 12in Batman statue, plus an extra-special Batmobile Edition (£169.99) that swaps in a transforming statue of the titular vehicle. Both bundles also feature a Steelbook game case, comic book, art book, and character skin pack.
Watch the clip above for a stunning glimpse at the game in action, and keep checking back to this preview for more details as soon as we have them. Look out for a full review when the game launches next June.