Batman: Arkham Knight, Killing Batman Preview

Batman can never die. We’re aware that contradicts our title somewhat, but the simple truth is that the Caped Crusader is an eternal figure cemented in pop culture perpetuity, destined to endure various guises and become reinterpreted by a diversity of artists in the years to come. But for Rocksteady, his time is well and truly over.

Batman: Arkham Knight is the final chapter in the Arkham trilogy that the British studio first started back in 2009, putting the developer on the map and reigniting interest in the virtual crime-fighting of the world’s greatest detective. It took a fresh approach both to the licensed game and the superhero genre, enclosing Batman in the narrow confines of Arkham Asylum and relied on players utilising his problem solving skills as much as it did his ability to smash goons all up in the face. Rocksteady always intended it to be a three parter but mapping the road leading to the conclusion of its Arkham saga wasn't quite as straightforward as you’d expect.

“Ever since Batman: Arkham Asylum, our approach has been to put everything we have into every game we make,” game director Sefton Hill tells. “We never hold ideas back because you never know what’s around the corner. So I guess you could describe that as a ‘kitchen sink’ approach but I'd prefer to say it’s more of a ‘live every game as if it’s your last’ approach. Mainly because it sounds more poetic.”


But this is Rocksteady’s last game in the series. Sefton explains that the studio first started placing the foundations for the grand finale when it was making Arkham City, but didn't quite know what form that would necessarily take. “Of course, when you finish the game, you're then left thinking  ‘Oh crap, how do we top that?’,”  Hill  jokes. “But it’s funny, with a couple of weeks holiday and a bit of perspective, the ideas start flowing. We find new ways to improve the existing systems  without  over complicating them or changing what people enjoy.”

One new idea in particular would become essential in preparing to draw a curtain to Rocksteady’s world of Arkham.  The  studio couldn’t rely on the same tricks employed over the last two games, namely the same malevolent forces that disparately worked across the Arkham penitentiary to take down Batman. Instead, Rocksteady had to create its own villain one that could represent a credible threat and will finally bring an end to the bat. Enter The Arkham Knight.

The Arkham Knight is a master tactician commanding a massive force of infantry and vehicles. He knows how to exploit his enemies’ weaknesses and combine different unit types to get the result he wants. That’s all I’m saying right now!” says Hill, understandably remaining tight lipped about the exact nature of Arkham Knight, from his identity down to the way his own army occupies Gotham and ignites chaos among the streets. But what he does disclose is that this is an enemy purpose-built to appose the Dark Knight, serving as an apposite antagonist who exploits the fears and ideology of Batman.

The Arkham Knight is a dark reflection of Batman. You can trace his military connection through his uniform and he wields an army of terrifying force and his array of gadgets give Batman’s toys a run for their money. This is psychological warfare on an epic scale.

“His identity is… the Arkham Knight!” Hill retorts when we ask  optimistically who’s under the mask. “You could see the Arkham Knight as a result of the escalation that inevitably follows Batman’s quest for justice. As Batman hones his abilities and puts criminals under more pressure, his enemies naturally turn to more extreme methods, increasing the stakes every time they face him. The Arkham Knight is the apex of that escalation: as an individual, he’s using Batman’s own strategies against him, and as a commander, he’s bringing an army of drone tanks into Gotham City to enact a full scale military occupation. He’s aiming to exploit the Dark Knight’s fears just as much as the Scarecrow.”

Ah, the Scarecrow. After sitting Arkham City out, he returns here as the puppet master pulling the villainous strings in the background of Arkham Knight’s narrative, controlling the movements of the titular Arkham Knight himself. However, not only is he using the Arkham Knight as a personal lap dog, but he’s also uniting an veritable Injustice League of Gotham’s wrongdoers that includes penguin, harley Quinn and Two Face forming an allegiance in the wake of joker's death.

Whereas Arkham Asylum and city had different stages distinctly flavoured around each villain divided across each setting, expect a more grandiose approach in Arkham Knight, with Batman’s Rogues Gallery working together and pooling resources to finally get one-up on the Bat.
“ You could see the Arkham Knight as a result of the escalation that inevitably follows Batman’s quest for justice”
Diving down into the streets of Gotham and the difference is instantly visible. Instead of the usual discernible gangs of Penguin goons or Two-Face enforcers marked by their boss’ signature colours, from what we’ve seen, thugs are more generically clothed, suggesting a unified criminal uprising that’ll spread across the city. Add to that Scarecrow’s penchant for screwing With batman's perspective on reality and you hav the setup for a battle unlike anything that batman has faced before.

“ There are a good few hooks in Batman: Arkham City that pay off in Batman: Arkham Knight,” says Hill,. “There’s the Scarecrow himself, who has been planning this moment since Killer Croc attacked him in the sewers of Arkham Asylum. He has always been one of our favourite characters at Rocksteady, so while it was tempting to bring him back for Batman: Arkham City, we decided to give him a game off so that we could bring him back with a vengeance here for Batman: Arkham Knight.

“The break has helped him plan his revenge, and we knew the reintroduction of Scarecrow would re-energise us creatively too. The Scarecrow is a fascinating character to write for, because he challenges Batman in unique ways and knows how to use one of the Dark Knight’s own weapons as well as he does.”

As the odds stack up against him, another important facet of the game is the allies that Batman works with to bring down the bad guys. It’s not just a case of barking orders in Batman’s ear, as you’ll be able to pop in and visit Oracle at her clock tower HQ in the middle of Gotham City, and no doubt Alfred will make a physical appearance after his turn in  Arkham Origins.

You’ll find out a lot more about these characters, who they are and explore their motivations and response to the burgeoning threat as well as Batman’s. “One of the great things about writing for the Batman universe is the enormous cast of unique characters that we can draw on,” says Hill. “One thing we’ve learned is that every single character that’s ever appeared in a Batman story has their fans! It’s great to be in a position where we can use such a diverse cast of characters to surprise and reward players with cool stories.”

Hill goes on to highlight some of the more obscure villains that have appeared over the years and those that appeared in the franchise to date such as Mad Hatter and points out that the mainstream prominence of the character isn't necessarily a deciding factor when it comes to their inclusion in the game. “The Rogues Gallery is great fun to work with, and we love including a mixture of villains in our games,” he says. “They each have their own personality, strengths and weaknesses, and we’ve always paid them the respect they deserve so they can translate into unique gameplay and situations.”
“[We’re building] bigger, better experiences that wouldn't have been possible a few years ago”
We bring up the boss battle against Mr. Freeze that appeared in Arkham City. As ol’ Freeze adapted to your strategy, players were forced into using the entire breadth of Batman’s arsenal to defrost the chilly foe. And we’re told we can expect a similar approach to the boss battles in Arkham Knight. But we’re looking forward to encounters that offer more than just another routine punch-up against a horde of cronies before dealing a final blow to the supervillain. And it seems that the move over to Xbox One has enabled Rocksteady to go bigger, not just with Gotham itself (it’s five times bigger, dontcha know), but in these types of gameplay experiences that were previously limited in the series.

“Making the jump to new-gen platforms has given us a lot of extra power to work with,” says Hill. “That’s naturally opened up opportunities to build bigger, better experiences that wouldn't have been possible a few years ago.” Hill also points out some of the smaller details. “We’ve spent a lot of time making the rain feel just right!” he laughs. “Switching to new-gen consoles has made it possible for us to bring that unique atmosphere to life in a way that hasn't been done before in gaming.

“We’ve finally got the chance to show what the whole of Gotham City looks like in the Arkham verse, and it's huge: full of massive skyscrapers, dark grimy alleyways and glaring neon. The sun hardly ever shines in Gotham.”
“There are a good few hooks in Batman: Arkham City that pay off in Batman: Arkham Knight”
From what we’ve seen of the game in action it’s a fitting swansong for the Dark Knight. Rocksteady might be saying goodbye to the character, but the world of Batman has never felt more alive. From gliding through the entirety of Gotham laid bare from its dank alleyways up to its cloud-piercing skyscrapers, to using the slick freeflow combat to knock around bad guys possessing a few extra smarts, there’s nothing to suggest here that the Batman Rocksteady Studios has crafted over the years is going out with anything other than a big bang.

“Our core philosophy is actually pretty simple,” Hill concludes as our own time comes to an end. “We’ve always set out to create games that A) make you feel like you are the Batman, B) are fun to play and C) have lasting depth. It’s a premise that informs every single design decision we make, and it’s the same now as it was when we started work on Batman: Arkham Asylum eight years ago.”

When it comes to making Batman games, Rocksteady is killing it.

INSIDE THE BATMOBILE
“At the back of my mind was always the thought of introducing the iconic Batmobile at some point but, to be completely honest, at the start we did consider whether we actually needed it,” admits game director Sefton Hill. “I mean, gliding around in Arkham City was great fun so why bother with a car ? But when you try it, you’ll see what a difference it makes.I am probably most proud of how we have managed to integrate the Batmobile into all of the core systems of the game, improving all of the components that made it fun in the first place. When I play the game now,I wonder how we ever did without it.”

Indeed, it adds a whole new dimension to the Arkham series. In Arkham Knight, Gotham has been expanded to five times the size of its previous incarnation in Arkham City and as such requires a speedier form of traversal to cover the mass of land available. The world itself isn’t the only thing that has been tooled specifically to facilitate driving around at breakneck speed with structures crumbling at the lightest bump and pedestrians cleared away by a light electric jolt but missions too. We’ve seen some of the revamped Riddler Challenge missions available, which involve the Batmobile hurtling through endless tunnels beneath Gotham, avoiding traps and obstacles that could send Batman tumbling into the abyss.

Not only that, but it’s equipped for a fight. Entering the vehicle’s secondary Battle Mode engages a Vulcan gun and various other weapons that can take out drones and heavily armed vehicles. It can also be controlled remotely to help with various puzzle-solving missions set around the city. “The symbiosis between man and machine is a vital aspect of Batman: Arkham Knight,” says Hill. “Batman and the Batmobile enhance each other’s abilities in a wide range of ways, and they interact ina way that makes the Batmobile feel like another playable character. It’s a totally iconic vehicle, but it’s also Batman’s most powerful and versatile gadget. From a gameplay perspective, we’ve worked hard to ensure that the Batmobile opens up a massive variety of new things to do, whether it’s in combat, exploration, navigation or problem solving. We want it to feel unlike any other vehicle that’s ever been in a game, and like an extension of the Dark Knight himself.

EXPLORING GOTHAM
Standing on the rain stricken rooftop of Wayne Enterprises, the entirety of Gotham City stands before our feet. It’s hard to believe that everything we can see we can reach, from the familiar sights of Crime Alley over to the less iconic shipping yard. We’re told that this new version of Gotham will feel quintessentially Batman.

“We’ve always had the philosophy that little details are what makes a game truly immersive,” says Hill. “I think that’s one of the strengths of our earlier games. Since we’re exclusive to new gen platforms this time around, it’s given us the chance to apply that same detailed approached to a much bigger open world. Our version of Gotham is teeming with life. While it has been evacuated, it has been occupied by the gangs of Gotham, and the Arkham Knight’s militia army. There are also many more of Gotham’s Most Wanted who’ve crawled out of the woodwork in this coordinated attack to bring the Batman to his knees.”

But what also proved equally as important was to build a Gotham that would give players a new way to explore it. “When we started designing our version of Gotham City, we knew we wanted it to feel like a completely natural setting for Batman and the Batmobile to exist in,” adds Hill. “For us, that means creating an environment that’s fun to navigate in all of the ways that Batman uses to get around: grapple and glide over the skyline, running over rooftops, brawling through the alleyways,
or tearing through the streets in the Batmobile. Gameplay always comes first for us, so, for the first time we have set the game in the heart of Gotham City, perfect for Batman to show off all his abilities.”

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