Batman is, by all accounts, a pretty agile guy. In the previous three Arkham games, a combination of agility and sweet gadgets (like the grapnel gun and his all-purpose cape) allowed the Dark Knight to rise, swoop, dive, and generally traverse the urban peaks and valleys of Gotham with speed and ease. So earlier this year when the batmobile was unveiled as the key new addition for the next game in the series--Batman: Arkham Knight--I was, admittedly, a little puzzled. Sure, the batmobile is pretty cool and all, but is it really a good fit for the Arkham series? With Batman never having trouble with locomotion in previous games, is the addition of another mode of fast movement really needed?
Our first look at the batmobile was the demo shown at the Game Developers Conference this year, which featured chases and fast runs through Gotham's streets. It turns out this was just half of what this iconic vehicle will bring to the game. In Arkham Knight, the Batmobile will be able to turn into an agile, heavily weaponized tank. At the press of a button, the batmobile will "transform," with turrets appearing and wheels realigning to allow for strafing movements. In Arkham Knight, the batmobile will certainly have speed, but it will also have teeth.
This seems to be developer Rocksteady's answer to why it thinks the introduction of a vehicle to the arsenal of an already mobile superhero is a worthwhile addition. The batmobile won't just be there as flashy transport, an object to be used in some specific levels and completely forgotten in most others. No, the batmobile in Arkham Knight is intended to be an integral addition, another gadget in Batman's arsenal that he can call on at any minute.
This man-machine synergy was shown off during a recent demo of Batman: Arkham Knight. The section I saw took place in the second chapter of the game, and had Batman trying to infiltrate the Ace Chemicals factory after it was revealed to be where Scarecrow was manufacturing massive amounts of fear toxin. The titular Arkham Knight was also there, and for the first time was shown to be the leader of a sizable army, complete with infantry, tanks, and drones.
Initially, Batman took a more traditional route into Ace Chemicals, using his grapnel gun (which can now be fired twice in midair to chain grapnels together) to go high and undetected, before sneaking around to take out groups of guards. The combat, as we've come to expect from an Arkham game, was dynamic and crunchy, with Batman's supreme skills making light work of his opponents. So far, so same, but things quickly got more interesting when Batman decided to switch to the batmobile, controlling his ride via remote from the inside of Ace while the vehicle was outside.
Once the batmobile was in Ace Chemicals, Batman leaped inside and immediately took on a group of tank drones in a small, enclosed space. The car's increased mobility was immediately apparent (and useful), with the batmobile able to strafe left and right, as well as use short dash bursts to avoid incoming fire. And the batmobile's offensive capabilities won't be limited for use when Batman is behind the wheel. In one section I was shown, the Arkham Knight and a large group of soldiers had the Caped Crusader trapped in a small room. While the Arkham Knight was busy monologuing, Batman summoned the batmobile via remote, and used its riot suppressors to take out some of his foes. Batman even used his car while in the middle of melee combat, with a batmobile-assisted takedown having Batman uppercut an enemy into the air, only to be followed by a shot from the car's riot suppressor to finish off the unfortunate baddie.
And it's not just in combat situations that the batmobile may prove useful for Batman. After the battle shenanigans with soldiers and tanks aboveground, Batman ventured deeper into the underground complex of Ace Chemicals, a place where you'd expect limited use for the batmobile. That wasn't the case, however, with a puzzle involving a broken elevator and its counterweight needing the remote-controlled assistance of the batmobile from aboveground. Batman also had to keep switching to the batmobile in order to use its winch to turn off steam pipes that blocked his forward progress belowground.
It's this integration into both the combat and the puzzle elements of the game that makes me the most curious--and excited--about the potential of the batmobile in Batman: Arkham Knight. I'm hopeful that the batmobile isn't just a throwaway gimmick, and it seems developer Rocksteady Studios is working to make sure the batmobile and Batman are seamlessly joined in the game. Rocksteady marketing game manager Guy Perkins says the entire design of the game has been informed by the inclusion of the batmobile.
"It's been at the heart of the design of Arkham Knight--it's informed how big the city is, how wide the streets are, how you navigate through those. And introducing it with the two modes, again, every design decision is made around that," he said.
"The ability to drive through more narrow, dangerous paths is fundamentally one of the reasons why it moves in a strafing, more third-person movement for a vehicle. So you could be engaging with folks in a vehicle, and you could chase them down using the immobilizer rockets in pursuit mode. Or you can chase, jump out of the car, land on their car, and pull the driver out. Or you could decide to transform into battle mode and shoot the vehicle with a nonlethal means to take it down," Perkins continued.
The ability to drive through more narrow, dangerous paths is fundamentally one of the reasons why it moves in a strafing, more third-person movement for a vehicle.Guy Perkins, Rocksteady
"The batmobile is another character almost in that it works with Batman and augments his abilities in different ways. You can puzzle solve; you can engage in combat. You're never more than a button press away from the batmobile. It's a partnership--we never want people to feel that this is a very specific batmobile section and that this is a very specific Batman level. We want them to ask, 'How will the two work together?'"
Of course, we’ll all have to wait longer to actually experience how well the game melds the Batman and batmobile together, with Arkham Knight’s release date now pushed back to sometime in 2015. Perkins says the delay is due to one simple thing--Rocksteady just needed more time.
“If we didn’t give the team more time to do it, then we would be releasing something that we weren’t happy with. We want to make sure we’re absolutely nailing it 100%,” he said.
Take your time, Rocksteady. A batmobile-suitable Gotham can’t be built in a day.