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Batman: Arkham Knight

E3 Selection - Batman: Arkham Knight

The E3 demo of Rocksteady's final franchise entry left us dizzy with excitement.

Sometimes, surprised excitement slips past the mask of professional decorum we're supposed to wear on the job. The best of the medium's built to elicit heightened emotional response, and on first encounters of these during preview events we're hard-pressed to suppress them.

Memorably we've turned to Creative Assembly after our first sweat-stained Alien attack in Isolation and told them, with greatest respect, to go fuck themselves for the stomach-churning fear their creation has induced, and an early morning hands-on with Elite: Dangerous this E3 had the developers chuckling as the magnificence of a first-time hyperdrive jump across the solar system caused a "fuck'" to escape unbidden from our lips. The language's offensive, but developers soak up the honesty. It's their game that's provoked the response after all.

Arkham Knight already wowed us during its Sony conference video with that wide shot that drank in an expanded Gotham. When we sneak in towards the close of the last day of E3 to see a hands-on with code behind closed doors, we're a little taken aback.

Batman: Arkham Knight

We knew Rocksteady would be building its third act Arkham little different than to what's come before. But the London-based studio has leveraged so much much more on top of that. A Batmobile that turns from drag car to tank at the press of a button, and can be remotely controlled to help solve puzzles, or used during melee combat as takedown finishers. our eyes widen at the heavy detailing on every inch of this new-gen Gotham, and how each area contains multiple transversal options. That the new verticality triples the actual exploration area. The fact that as we race through the city by car or soar above it during a glide, every building, street sign, even the distant cityscape remains vibrant, rich. This is your new-gen spend splashed up on the big screen.

Used even as we are to Batman's beat, this momentarily astounds us. We're even unable to swear, given our jaw has dropped. We glance round to see a Rocksteady developer's smirk, and a nod in recognition of our reaction. In an E3 full of gorgeous games, Arkham Knight's amongst the graphical elite.

This gameplay snippet has Batman rescuing an ACE factory worker (note the named nod to an infamous part of the franchise mythos) and is confronted by the Arkham Knight, the mysterious figure especially created for the game, decked out in a militaristic take on the Bat-armour. After a brief chit-chat it's a clash with his minions, showcasing the still genre-leading combat system (with new Batmobile-ending combo chains) is still present. Bats frees the worker and stores him in a civilian-holding seating dock located in the Batmobile's rear, and sets out to transport him to safety to the other side of the city. There's suggestion that escort missions will form part of the main game's story.

Cars and armoured vehicles patrol the streets, the Arkham Knight's remote-controlled wheeled warriors negating our questions about how the Batmobile's offensive capabilities would factor into Batman's non-lethal beliefs. To switch between drive and combat mode, you've to press and hold a button, your ride's wheels twisting to allow for free 360 movement, much like a nippy tank.

Batman: Arkham Knight

Attackers' shots will need a momentary charge, the direction of fire envisioned as a singular beam of red light that gives you a brief second to move out of the way, the Batmobile coming equipped with quick-dodges in combat mode. One open area had us tackle a fleet of cars and continually navigate to safety amongst a moving grid of red beams - even in full-scale combat Rocksteady can't help add a time-based puzzle element.

The Batmobile's as tricked out as its creator. Using the onboard grappling hook, you can yank down entire walls, and, as in the demo, use it to slowly lift or drop a disused elevator as the Dark Knight stands inside. Expect this remote control to play into more intricate yet larger-scale puzzles as the game progresses.

And while the vehicular combat doesn't look as dazzling as the rest of the game, if only simply because the gameplay is the first in the series that's heavily lifted from other inspirations rather than redefining the concept through Rocksteady's own take, at worst it's a solid idea on top of a multitude of great ones. And while the scale of your vigilante jurisdiction has increased tenfold, we've little worry that Rocksteady won't be able to make the map dense with side-objective distractions and interesting situations.

The only thing we personally miss is the satisfaction that came in Arkham Asylum when we cleaned up the entire island of crooks. Arkham City respawned criminals in subtle fashion that made sense given the context, but made us feel unable to hold back the tide of underworld activity. We imagine Arkham Knight will be the same, though you can be assured we'll be asking Rocksteady when we next see them if they're looking to change that.

That one issue aside though, we have little concern over Arkham Knight being disappointing. Rocksteady have earned that trust through two brilliant games. If anything, Arkham Origins' silver lining in being handed over to another development studio is that Arkham's creators will have had three years and change in creating their sign off from the franchise. Plenty of time to fine tune (and ignore distractions like multiplayer, that won't be making a return) and fill a larger Gotham with enough content to keep us playing as the goddamn Batman well into 2015.