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With just under a month to go before Rocksteady's sign-off from Gotham releases, we donned cape and cowl for a patrol sampling just some of the game's missions.
30 minutes, five missions. It's a tight and controlled hands-on session for Arkham Knight and the last before we enter the review stage for Rocksteady's PC and new-gen-only series finisher.
Story missions (and discussion of) are off the table, and while Gotham's entire sprawl is seemingly open to our exploration, demo-specific invisible walls cause Batman to reverse his glide direction upon hitting them. It happens more than once during our half hour slice, and each time Batman's turn is accompanied by a voice in our ear: "we don't want you to see that just yet".
As with our first hands-on at last year's Gamescom, today we've a co-pilot for our demo. A rep from Rocksteady sits beside us, explaining mechanics, pointing out directions, giving tips. Less to steer the demo where the studio want, more as optional support to cover changes, detail button contexts. We're being plunged right into the thick of Scarecrow's attempted takeover of Gotham. And while we're Asylum and City veterans, even we're overwhelmed by the choice on, well, just about everything. Our very own Alfred is welcome.
Toto je reklama:
It takes a a few glides across the city and the first gang battle before muscle memory kicks in. Yet even sticking to the basics of Batman's move set during the start of our first clash, combat feels smooth and looks cool, and as we start linking attacks, counters and leaps, we hear an appreciative chuckle beside us. It's not enough to earn healthy combo chains or even earn a decent score on the post-clash scoreboard - everything you do scored and collated into an continually updated online leaderboard, Arkham Knight's only flirtation with social features - but it's enough to survive. Just about.
Rocksteady has continued to expand the versatility of the Dark Knight's combat options. We've already seen the ability to launch out of the Batmobile's cockpit and smash through windows to surprise enemies, but twice today we try out a more considered rooftop entry into an enemy-filled room.
The first time the glass smash segues directly into a multi-enemy fear takedown, our descent initiating slow-mo and letting us pan camera in the direction of our chosen targets. Cue button prompt and Bats slams into one enemy, another camera pan being lined up even as the last takedown's animation is still finishing. During this battle we try out one of the new environmental finishers, a yellow tinge on a circuit box suggesting we can - and do - slam an enemy headfirst into it.
Toto je reklama:
We're engaging this room of thugs to rescue a member of the fire department, who along with the GCPD are the only friendlies left on the streets of Gotham. They're supposed to be there to help clean the place up but ultimately need saving from the caped brigade; during the demo we spot a police car pursued through the streets by a squad of enemy vehicles. Elsewhere thugs patrol the streets, and we're told they'll also instigate riots at random. These are just some of the smaller diversions that intermingle with the huge selection of missions on offer.
Even our small glimpse of this new-gen Gotham suggests that the threat level has escalated. Even street-level foes have toughened up to battle the Bat, and with this city being five times the size of its predecessor, there's many more thugs to work through. But then, Batman's not alone.
The caped crusader is joined by ex-Robin Nightwing, current Robin Tim Drake and Catwoman over the course of the adventure. By sounds of it, you'll team up with the others during specific scenarios or story beats rather than having a sidekick at hand all the time. However, team up and you'll be introduced to the dual-play mechanic, which once again showcases the ridiculously smooth and flawless nature of the franchise's combat system.
According to Rocksteady, the team-up with an NPC character - which allows you to set up joint takedowns and the ability to switch between playing as Batman or his companion during combat - only came about by complete chance, and was completely unplanned. A couple of years ago the team had dropped an NPC Batman into a crowd situation to watch what happened, and then decided to join in with a player-controlled version. The result was so compelling they decided to make it a proper feature.
Today, we're teaming up with Nightwing to take out one of Penguin's ammo caches, the bird man seemingly the weapons runner for the Arkham Knight's army. Once his heavies are downed, we spray explosive gel on the crates hidden in a bank vault and - in one of those small touches that give extra depth to the world - activate the massive metal doors to contain the explosion before flicking the trigger. On this first test with dual-play, we find it's the same as the rest of the combat system: fast and flawless.
We're still undecided about the the inclusion of a controllable Batmobile however, which is partly the reason for the rescaled Gotham. Due to it being entirely new, and the brief nature of the hands-on, we're still struggling to get to grips with its controls be the demo's end.
It's undoubtably versatile; blowing up tank drones in Combat mode, exploding turrets to allow on-foot progress in one building, using its winch (and matching its rev counter in a timing mini-game) to pull down doors. You can even uppercut foes into the air and use its cannon to fire a dart into them to knock them out.
But even as the demo draws to a close, we're still struggling just to take corners smoothly. Instead we slam into walls or spin out. Gotham's streets are a labyrinth, and even with the availability of some straights to safely engage boosts, we're mostly messing up sharp turns and shooting past side streets in pursuit of a jetpack-wearing Firefly as part of one of the other side-missions. As a result, we lose him amid the skyscrapers and low bridges.
Driving the Batmobile is similar to arcade racers only by the simplicity of its controls: accelerate, brake, boost. But this is an extension of the Dark Knight himself, gadget, car, tank all in one. As with Batman's other gadgets, it'll take time to work out how to use it perfectly. It's a wild rocket-powered bullet versus the graceful thrill of gliding. We've had a couple of games to learn and perfect the latter; we need more than half hour to get a handle on the former. Hopefully we'll be recreating the chase sequences from Nolan's trilogy in short order.
Things are somewhat better when we have to take the Batmobile for a test drive round a rigged sewer system which forms part of the new Riddler Challenges. The enlarged, car-friendly pipes are blocked at intervals by doors of two different colours. Additionally there are bridges with the same glowing colours retracted beside gaps in the raceway as roads plunge into underground rivers.
To open doors or extend bridges you need to tap a button to override Riddler's control of them, but it'll only work on one colour at a time. The difficulty is alternating colours are usually placed one after another. Open one door and another will slam shut mere meters in front of you, extend one bridge and the next one will disappear into the wall. Quick, correct taps while steering and cornering means this is the nearest Batman gets to a rhythm-action mini-game.
The last mission Rocksteady won't discuss. They simply point us in the right direction. Shortly we're standing in front of a a trussed-up body hung on a bridge support, wrapped in rough cloth, with a ripped bag pulled over the head. Activating Detective mode, we can scan multiple layers of the corpse by tapping the trigger buttons, flipping between skin, inner muscle and bone structure to try and find some identifying features to put a face and name to the body.
Important elements glow gold, and we hold a button to analyse the part further. An exposed, deformed ear. A wedding ring jammed in the lower intestine. A fake hip. Combined we get a possible name. The unspoken suggestion is, as with Arkham City, there'll be mysterious murders around the city, the discovery of all potentially unveiling yet another villain at large.
It's yet another layer of gameplay, another way of multitasking Batman's different abilities to solve yet another crime. Yet another breadcrumb trail we're going to enjoy following to its conclusion.
You wait for one story-driven and gameplay-dense adventure, and two come along at once. We're still waiting to see the final build, but given its mere weeks away, and the quality of this demo, played on the PS4, we doubt Arkham will be hit with the same optimisation issues that Witcher 3's suffered from. Visually this is an absolutely astounding looking title. It'll be hard to swallow for old-gen only owners, but Rocksteady look like they've been right in keeping development focused on the new machines. We're ready to don cowl and patrol one last time under the wing of the British development studio. Their last adventure may be Batman's best.