It’s a rainy Gotham night, and something is afoot at the Ace Chemical Plant—only this time, it’s not the Joker.
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment took this E3 as an opportunity to put Batman: Arkham Knight through its paces, showing off everything from its much-publicised pursuit mode—nearly every advert for the game at E3 seemed to mention it—to its new (literal) heights of map design. The presenter was probably the most excited I encountered at the expo and to be honest, it’s not hard to see why: there are few series as well received by old and new fans alike as the Batman Arkham games. And with the introduction of a new villain and new gameplay elements, Arkham Knight seems set to live up to its hype.
The entertainment giant gave E3 attendees a peek at the game in the form of a twenty-odd minute demo, narrated by one exceedingly enthusiastic team member. The demo opened on a cutscene of Commissioner Gordon explaining the situation to Batman: someone has gotten their hands on Ace Chemical Plant (the infamous origin of the Joker) and five of its employees have gone missing. The GCPD suspect Scarecrow is behind it; in the absence of Mistah J, the psychologist turned psychoterrorist has apparently stepped up as the new big bad in Gotham, and has been producing fear toxin bombs to detonate around the city. You know what they say—go big or go home.
The Caped Crusader enters the plant, but first we take a small detour to the top of a spire—now taller than ever thanks to new-gen consoles. All of Gotham it seems, is laid out before us. Oracle (aka former Batgirl Barbara Gordon) meanwhile tells us a little about the culprits behind the takeover, including the eponymous Arkham Knight: the leader of a notorious gang of Venezuelan mercenaries who has apparently teamed up with Scarecrow. Satisfied, Batman glides down from the spire—a familiar and well-loved mechanic from earlier games—and immediately gets to the meat of any true Arkham game: combo takedowns of bad guys. Combat seems to flow smoother in Arkham Knight, although maybe that’s just from watching someone who’s probably played this section hundreds of times already.
Stealth still plays a key role in Arkham Batman’s combat style, explains our excitable commentator as Batman uses floor grates (another familiar element) to sneak up behind a group of thugs, taking one of them out in a surprise attack before dispatching the others. Several short combat sequences later, and we rescue our first Ace employee and come face to face with the titular Arkham Knight.
Dressed a little like some sort of Daft Punk/Batman hybrid, Arkham Knight enters Bond-villain style from a high-tech looking helicopter. It’s clear the mercenary has a bone to pick with Batman, although he seems content to leave the Bat in the dark regarding what exactly this grudge is about. After a confrontation that ends in violence (don’t they all?)—giving Warner Bros. the opportunity to show off their new environmental takedowns—Arkham Knight leaves the way he came.
Finally it’s time for Warner Bros. to unveil a new mechanic they seem more than a little excited for: the Batmobile and its pursuit mode. The Batmobile, of course, is remotely operable, and we get our first taste of pursuit mode as we drive it back over to pick up Batman. Players can use the vehicle’s afterburners to jump over gaps, and the car is designed for precise maneuverability—an important feature when you’re driving it through a plant full of chemicals that have allegedly turned one guy more than a little crazy. The Batmobile also comes fully equipped with guns and a heavy cannon to take out any goons who happen to have stumbled into your path.
But our leisurely drive is halted when we hit a brick wall—literally. Luckily, Batman planned ahead, and the Batmobile is equipped with a grapple hook that can be used to pull down walls and other obstacles (which again, players will recognise from Batman’s utility belt of abilities in the previous games). Down goes the wall, and in slides Batman, meaning we’re finally ready to see the full range of what the Batmobile can do. By this point, our commentator seems about ready to burst from excitement, along with about half the audience.
The Batmobile fits smoothly into the combat system of Arkham Knight, providing new combat options without being unnecessarily clunky; in the demo, Batman uses the riot suppressor to take out several large groups of bad guys before using the ejector seat to launch himself (quite literally) into the fray. Batman: Arkham Knight seems to be designed to allow a smooth transition between the Batmobile’s ranged combat and the combo-driven close-quarters fights players are used to.
In between beating up bad guys, the audience hears another snippet of Arkham Knight’s plot: Scarecrow has been building fear toxin bombs, and is currently working on one big enough to blanket the east coast in his own patented cocktail of psychological terror. At the moment, however, we still need to rescue the Ace Chemical workers that have been taken hostage, including the one we saved at the beginning of all this.
After some gruff promises that he’ll be taken to Commissioner Gordon and the rest of the GCPD outside, we load him into our mobile containment unit designed to hold supervillain prisoners; apparently Batman’s lone wolf act means only one seat in the Batmobile. The mobile prison can carry up to two villains (or rescuees), and effectively turns the vehicle into a mobile Arkham Asylum or Blackgate Prison; however, probably one with fewer successful escapes.
Dropping off the rescued employee, Batman heads off back into the plant to grab the rest, showing off one last useful Batmobile feature before the demo ends. “Does anyone remember where we left the car?” asks the commentator before cheerfully answering his own question, “It doesn’t matter where we left the car!” In a moment of foresight, the Batmobile can be summoned in seconds by players, no matter where they left it and where Batman is—much more useful than a panic button.
Arkham Knight it appears, intends to deliver on the hype it’s built from previous installments of the Arkham series, although the game is still almost a year off. As a long time Batman fan, it’s also nice to see something that isn’t Joker-centric: Batman has always had a huge, interesting rogues gallery to pick from, and it’s nice to see developers stray from the (very, very) well-beaten path. I’m also excited about the chance to see a brand-new Batman villain in action, something that seems like it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. Perhaps the only area that seemed lacking in Arkham Knight were the close-quarters combat mechanics, which aside from the introduction of enviro-takedowns seem to suffer from a sense of same old, same old.
With no hard release date set, Batman: Arkham Knight is due out sometime in 2015 for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.