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PREVIEW

BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT

Let's get the bad news out of the way first: when Rocksteady finish with Batman: Arkham Knight, that's it.

There'll be no more Batman games from the London developer. They're moving on to other things. Good news? They're going out with a bang.

A year has passed since the events in Arkham City. The Joker is dead, and Gotham has never been safer. Batman's in the best shape of his life; something that proves important when all of the city's super villains decide to strike at once. They've figured to control the city, the Bat has to die, and band together to make sure that happens.

And that's what happens as we return to Gotham this night. Scarecrow has put into motion a plan to unleash a massive gas attack on the city, and thus Gotham is evacuated. Two-Face, Penguin and Riddler also have plans. It's going to be a long night.

Batman: Arkham Knight is the "closing chapter of Rocksteady's Batman trilogy", as game director Sefton Hill puts it. They started work on the finale's concept back when they began the journey with Arkham Asylum many years ago. The developers have always considered the Joker's chaotic presence as the only reason why Batman's rogues gallery never joined forces. But now that he's out of the picture, what happens? Arkham Knight will explore that idea.

If there were any doubts that this is the "real deal" - a proper Arkham title - we can lay those worries to rest. All the key people behind the Arkham universe are in place, unlike what was the case with the prequel side story that was Arkham Origins last year.

THE VOICES BEHIND THE MASKS

Batman: Arkham Knight

Kevin Conroy returns as Batman, Nolan North is the Penguin, Troy Baker is back to portrayTwo-Face, and Wally Wingert is The Riddler. Harley Quinn? In. That's who we've been able to confirm so far, but Sefton Hill doesn't want to reveal how many of the threads left loose in Arkham City - among these face-stealing serial killer Hush and the mysterious Azrael - that will be resolved in Arkham Knight.It's reasonable to assume they'll all find some kind of resolution.

We also don't know how many of the remaining villains, such as Killer Croc, Bane, Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, we'll see or whether Catwoman reappears. We ask all of this and more, but Hill only smiles and says he can't speak about that just yet.

In addition to this we learn that Batman has picked up a few new tricks since we last saw him, and that the game world has grown. The section of Gotham that Arkham Knight plays out in is more than five times the size of the entire Arkham City. And all of it is brand new; nothing has been recycled from the predecessors.

The city isn't just larger, but there is more space to move around, so Batman has an easier time diving in between buildings. He can also glide higher than before, as the grapple boost manoeuvre has been upgraded, allowing for even great boosts as you climb towards the tops of buildings.

Speaking of building tops, those who played Arkham Origins will recall that half of that game world was made up of skyscrapers, towers and industrial buildings that you couldn't reach the roofs of. Instead, you were forced to make do with ledges, gargoyles and balconies. That's not the case in Arkham Knight. If you can get to a structure you will also be able to climb it all the way to the top. If you recall the Ace Chemicals building from Arkham City, imagine something that's three to four times taller and it gives you an idea of the verticality of this new Gotham.

STRONGER, BETTER, BIGGER

As for combat Batman's arsenal of options has been considerably expanded. We're shown how he's now able to make use of gadgets in flight as he dives down towards a group of enemies, hitting three of them with Batarangs before planting his boots into the face of the fourth enemy. He's also able to knock batons and clubs out of the hands of enemies and use them to deal damage.

On the stealth side of things you're now able to throw yourself through grates and into ventilation shafts in order to quickly get into cover. There is also a new takedown, called Fear Takedown, where you're able to knock out groups of up to three enemies with a single attack, as long as you haven't been noticed.

From a visual point of view the game has received a massive overhaul compared to the previous entries. Gotham is not only bigger, but far more detailed, colourful and simply put, beautiful. Neon lights, street lights, advertising, fire hydrants, garbage bins - the city is littered with them. The buildings are taller and there's a monorail track that runs through the entire city.

There's everything from commercial blocks to dark industrial harbours, and it all looks amazing. This is also the reason why Arkham Knight will only appear on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. "We knew the old consoles didn't have the resources for what we wanted to create, so these days Rocksteady only works with next-gen", explains Sefton Hill.

But there is one new feature that's bigger than anything else. While new moves and a larger city are all nice things to have, it's simply an evolution of what we've previously experienced. No, the ace up Arkham Knight's sleeve is perhaps the most iconic and coveted toy of Batman's, and something that hasn't been playable in the Arkham series to date.

IT'S THE CAR, RIGHT?

Batman: Arkham Knight

The Batmobile. It's an absolute beast. It looks like a mix between a Pagani Zonda, a F-117 Stealth Fighter and a tank. Batman can call upon the car at any time, sort of like how you'd call upon your horse in Red Dead Redemption, and you can drive pretty much wherever you want to go. It's an addition that opens up a world of possibilities.

Early in the demonstration we're shown an intense car chase where Batman shoots rockets at his rival in an effort to stop his vehicle, while thugs on the streets around the chase run away screaming at the sight of the Batmobile.

Car chases are far from the only thing the Batmobile is used for. You can drive anywhere you want in Gotham City: back alleys, pedestrians streets, arcades and more. The car smashes through billboards, street signs, fences, trees and other props in a very satisfying manner. Gotham is full of stunt jumps that you can pass your time with. There is no mini-map to guide you. As Hill explains: "we want people to 'play the world' instead of 'playing the map'".

When you reach your destination you can naturally park your car and exit normally, but you can also eject yourself using the catapult chair, making use of the Batmobile's speed and fly off. It reminds us of crashing at high speeds in Grand Theft Auto IV without a seatbelt, only far more controlled and graceful.

Calling for the car is simply a matter of pressing the L1 button, and the developers say they've worked long and hard on making it feel like a natural and integrated part of the Batman experience, much like what it feels like using the grappling hook or the Batarangs. If you're standing still it will come roaring in at full throttle, Batman jumping into the cockpit in an elegant and fluid motion. But if you're running, it will come swooping in from behind to collect Batman in a sweeping motion.

The Batmobile works both as a means of transportation and an integrated part of certain missions. We previously mentioned a car chase, but the first encounter with The Riddler also takes place while in the Batmobile. The Riddler has constructed an underground obstacle course that you have to race through while activating doors and platforms to create a path through. The layout feels like it was taken straight out of a Trackmania game as you drive on walls, through loops and jump wide gaps. It's an intense ride of three rounds, and the course changes along the way as parts collapse and sections are closed off.

This is only one of the many challenges The Riddler will offer Batman as part of the side attractions in Arkham Knight. It should however be noted that the division between main story and side missions isn't as strict as it's previously been. The main story revolves around stopping the planned gas attack by Scarecrow, but the other villains also have their own stories, and you will be able to follow these more freely and far deeper than before. Exactly how this will work is something the developers aren't ready to reveal just yet.

THE ARKHAM KNIGHT

Batman: Arkham Knight

We're not treated to any of the series' classic indoor environments, those Invisible Preadtor sections where Batman swings between gargoyles under the ceiling and methodically takes out one enemy after another. Hill assures us though that they are in the game. The transition between indoor and outdoor environments is said to be more fluid and not as noticeable in Arkham Knight - another perk that the power of the new hardware affords the developers. An example of this is that now you won't necessarily have to go through a door to gain access to a building - you can make your way in through a window or roof, taking out an enemy in the process.

The demo ends with a masked character in futuristic armour knocking Batman over, putting a gun to his head and mumbling something about payback. At first we assume it's Deathstroke (the figure bears a resemblance to the assassin's Arkham Origins design), but we're later told that this is a brand new character - The Arkham Knight. And that's pretty much all we're told about this new mysterious foe at this point in time.

The leap from Arkham City to Knight doesn't appear to be as big as it was from Arkham Asylum to City. It feels more like the logical next step and the evolution of the concepts we already know, with the exception of the Batmobile, naturally. For these reasons we're not completely overwhelmed after having witnessed Arkham Knight first hand, as it's mostly a case of bigger and better. Then again, that's compared to one of the absolute best games of the last generation, so it's not like we need any sort of revolution. Rocksteady looks to finish off their trilogy in style.

Batman: Arkham KnightBatman: Arkham Knight
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