The Batman: Arkham Knight demo at Gamescom 2014 is amazing. I've just tumbled out of it. Here's how it goes down... The scene begins with police and Commissioner Gordon standing on a bridge outside the ACE Chemicals Plant. Batman arrives on the scene to hear that there is a skeleton crew inside, but they’re not responding. Gordon suspects the Scarecrow is involved. Without warning, a helicopter appears and destroys the bridge outside the plant’s main gate, restricting access. It circles and the cops flee. But Batman just calmly walks towards the chopper ad faces it. The camera cuts to the cockpit and we get our first glimpse of The Arkham Knight--an armour-suited humanoid with a resemblance to Batman, including metal ears. He looks a bit like Iron Man, only scarier. And he says it’s ‘Time to Die’.
However, a second voice speaks over the helicopter’s intercom--possibly Scarecrow’s, and says “your vengeance will come”. Armoured vehicles appear and immediately shoot at Bats. “Friend of yours?” asks the commissioner. “Stay here and I’ll find out”. And so the gameplay begins, as the cut-scene ends behind Batman in the usual third-person view we’ve come to know. The mission instruction is to ‘Rescue the ACE Chemicals Workers’. There is a lot of dialogue throughout the demo, and Batman requests a search to get a name so he knows who he’s fighting. The match comes back as ‘The Arkham Knight’. Funny, I always assumed the title was referring to Batman.
Intel suggests that all of the workers at the plant are carrying a unique ID chip, the codes for which can be gained by hacking a computer terminal within the facility. After a fight on the roof of the facility, Batman manages to hack in (it’s so easy, he even makes a point of saying someone should update their security protocols) and then it’s time for a gadget.
It is time for the ‘Bat-Scanner’. It’s a kind of throwing star-shaped weapon, a bit like a Glaive, only smaller, which Batman throws into the sky. It looks like you then get to control its course as you circle the plant from above, scanning it for the signals from the workers’ ID chips. Once they’re all located (there are 5 of them), Batman pledges to find them. “Let’s hope they’re still alive”.
He chooses one to go after and glide-kicks his way through a window (which goes into slow-motion at the point of contact for a wonderful cinematic entrance) and proceeds to smash up some bad guys inside. One gets electrocuted and another gets the light from the ceiling dropped on his head. The combat is as fluid as ever, but there seem to be more ways to fight than before. There are special combos to unlock and the right-hand side of the screen is awash with suggestions for different, context-sensitive attacks you could perform in each situation.
After clearing the area, Batman calls up a video chat hologram via his right wrist, before deciding it’s “time to bring in the car”. And so the Batmobile comes into play, switching to the Battle Mode we saw in the E3 presentation. It fires a grapple line at the end of the broken bridge, then reels it in, raising the end and turning it into a ramp high enough to jump the gap made by the helicopter’s rockets.
What happens next is pure Batman. The Batmobile goes into Afterburner Mode, revving up on the spot before dashing at speed towards its new ramp. Then, while it’s in the air, Batman swoops in and enters the cockpit. It’s reminiscent of Legolas mounting a galloping horse in The Lord of the Rings, only even cooler. Then it’s into full Battle mode as the Batmobile takes on a room full of the armoured vehicles we saw in the E3 gameplay demo. There’s a zoom mode on the gun and the grapple line comes into play again, being used several times to pull down security doors, which fall apart with incredible rubble physics. Needless to say, all of the action so far looks sensational, with burnish on metal and a consistent, dark and foreboding colour palette of blacks, blues and greys, interspersed with sparks of electricity and fires. It’s beautiful.
Batman finally locates the first worker, but before he can release him, the room behind a glass panel fills with enemies… and The Arkham Knight. Now you can see his full suit, it’s impressive how shiny he is. Gleaming, in fact. And his ears really are like Batman’s. “Keep your guns trained,” he says to the guards, before addressing Batman: “Don’t worry, I fully intend to kill you…” but of course there’s got to be some monologueing, right? You know how these things work.
Batman is unfazed, probably because he can see the Batmobile behind the group. He even says ‘I’m just wondering which one of you I should take out first”. He doesn’t mean to dinner. The Batmobile uses its riot-suppressor attack to shoot one the men, who turn around in confusion. Batman even teams up with the Batmobile to perform a mid-air combo on a soldier reeling from a riot suppressor shot. It’s devastating and the number of potential combos increases.
After the fight (during which the Arkham Knight flees), Batman releases the worker, who explains what he knows of the enemy plan so far. Scarecrow is producing enough of his toxin to release a gas cloud big enough to cover the entire East Coast. “He has a whole friggin’ army! We’re screwed, Batman!”
But Batman simply says: “I’ll stop him”.
Bats then calls Commissioner Gordon to relay the information, telling him (by his first name) to leave because it’s too dangerous. But Gordon wants to stay, and tells Batman to bring the criminals in to him. Sounds good to me.
The rest of the demo then sees Batman demonstrating the versatility of this magnificent game. Within one 15-second segment, he is using dodge thrusters to strafe in the Batmobile, then ejecting from it and gliding around the plant before landing on the roof to tackle another group of enemies. All seamlessly. All player-controlled by the looks of things.
And with that, the demo ended, to rapturous applause from the assembled journalists. This is looking like being (dare I say it?) the best game on new-gen consoles and PC when it arrives in 2015. Bat-tastic.