E3 2014: The Next-Gen Scale of Batman: Arkham Knight

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Most of the discussion around Batman: Arkham Knight has been focused on the batmobile. And justifiably so. It's a central part of Rocksteady's latest outing in the Arkham saga, and a gameplay feature so tightly integrated into the flow of the game that it practically feels like an extension of the batsuit. But now that I've been able to play through some more Arkham Knight here at E3 2014, there's something else I want to talk about.

First, allow me to apologize in advance to everyone who's still clinging to their Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 consoles. Those are wonderful systems and I'm sure you'll still have plenty of fun together. But there's just no nice way to say this: holy crap am I glad Arkham Knight is a next-gen exclusive.

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It's just plain to see that leaving behind the limitations of the previous generation of console hardware has allowed Rocksteady to boost the scale of the world in a way that makes you feel like that much more devastating of a superhero. Case in point: the Ace Chemicals facility.

This section of the game plays host to a sequence where Batman must rescue a series of hostages while simultaneously thwarting the Scarecrow's latest bomb-building efforts. As I scaled to the top of the facility's towering central building, I was able to soak in a spectacular view of the decaying metropolis beyond me--a gameworld five times larger than Rocksteady's most recent work in Arkham City--as well as the strategic opportunities for pouncing down on the various thugs below. A moment later, I had my sights set on a room far, far down below. I leapt from the building's rooftop and hit square, setting me into a dive bomb headed straight toward those creeps with only a glass ceiling between us.

Batman dropping down onto thugs from above is nothing new, of course. But the sheer height from which I came careening toward these thugs made the moment I smashed through the ceiling that much more satisfying--as though I was some armored comet falling down from the heavens. That sense of scale and fluidity--you can fling yourself all over the place with nary a loading hitch to be felt--can be seen in the way you ascend buildings, too. No longer must you grapple up ledge by ledge; now Batman can string together multiple grappling targets--letting go of one to begin another--in a way that feels a lot like the grapple hook traversal in Just Cause 2.

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Add the batmobile into the mix and things just get crazy. You can press one button to calmly step out of the vehicle, and another to leap straight out of it. Take the latter approach when driving along at full speed, and that momentum will send Batman rocketing straight up into the air, gliding up and away like some paper airplane being swept off by a strong wind.

It feels like a wonderful continuation of Arkham City's open-world traversal. That game built upon the fabulous combat mechanics of Arkham Asylum with a much more freeform sense of movement and exploration. Now Arkham Knight takes that sense of movement and expands the landscape considerably, giving you more options with which to glide and grapple around the world and the scale to make every vertical takedown far more satisfying.

Yes, the new lighting effects look terrific, and so does the level of visual detail in the new batsuit. But if you ask me to choose my favorite part about a next-gen Batman game, it's the scale of Arkham City.

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