Warning: Minor comic book/video game plot spoilers follow
Arkham Knight is a pretty great Batman game, but there's one bit of it that seems to be the focus of everyone's disappointment: the Batmobile. Even as someone who generally enjoyed his time behind the wheel, I'll be the first to admit it's not without issues. Battling enemy tanks and missile launchers for the first few times is pretty fun - a nice palate cleanser for all the fisticuff-related fighting Batman normally takes part in. But Arkham Knight is front-loaded, middle-loaded, and back-loaded with these skirmishes, and they tend to take a bit longer to play out than they really should.
The stealth tank sections (words that should never, ever appear next to each other) are especially frustrating, and are often used as a replacement for what should be climactic boss fights. The controls are convoluted, the Batmobile doesn't always handle all that well, and the game frequently forces you to use it like it's trying to make 'fetch' happen. From a gameplay perspective, the Batmobile is a hot mess. But you know what? I love it anyway, because its inclusion shows just how vulnerable Batman is in the face of the unrelenting despair that grips Gotham City, and how he needs all the help he can get.
Batman as portrayed by the Arkham series prefers to work solo; a lone crusader against the ever-encroaching darkness. While he enlists the help of sidekicks like Robin or frenemies like Catwoman, it's obvious how begrudgingly he accepts their assistance. The burden of being the Batman is a heavy one to bear, and he doesn't want to be responsible for the pain caused to his friends. His mere existence has already done enough - such as allowing the Joker to take Barbara Gordon's ability to walk and Jason Todd's life - so it's understandable that he would prefer other people to stay out of harm's way as much as possible. It's why he forces Robin to stay on the sidelines for most of the game while the Caped Crusader goes out and cracks a few skulls (non-lethally, of course). He needs something that he won't get emotionally attached to while getting the same kind of assistance that only another trained combatant can provide. And so he calls upon the Batmobile.
In Arkham Knight, the Batmobile is the Dark Knight's permanent sidekick. Unlike the occasional help he gets from Nightwing or Catwoman, the Batmobile is always there, available at your beck and call with the press of a button. It'll tag team bad guys with its handy riot pellet launcher. It'll blast away weakened walls if you can't get in close with your explosive gel. It'll help you solve some tricky puzzles that would otherwise stymie you. You can even drive it around via remote control, just in case you need it to take care of something your weak, fleshy body can't. The Batmobile is built specifically to be your very best, most reliable friend, and if it could fist bump, you know it totally would.
Interestingly, the Batmobile reminds me of tooling around in the first Mass Effect's much maligned Mako, and I loved the hell out of that vehicle too. Its sole purpose is to ferry you from points of interest on vast, empty tracts of alien worlds, and it can hardly do that right. Driving the Mako is like shoving a balloon strapped to a rollerskate onto an oil-slicked bowling lane - while on the moon. But you know what? That's what I imagine driving a rover on a low-gravity planet would actually feel like. Maneuvering that thing was total garbage, but it made me feel like a true space explorer, wandering uncharted lands and awkwardly bouncing over craters. It provides a sense of scale to the open planetary excursions that is lacking from the smaller on-foot missions, and shows, despite Shepard and crew's importance to the overall mission, how truly insignificant they are compared to the size of the galaxy.
It's the same with the Batmobile. Gotham is huge this time around, spanning three whole islands filled with winding streets and underground tunnels. The Batmobile isn't just a means of getting around, though - it's a way for Rocksteady to show how small Batman is in comparison to the evil that pours out of every crack in the city. Gotham is filled with swarms of thugs, all waiting to punch you into oblivion, there are remote-controlled tanks itching to make mincemeat out of you, and Scarecrow's toxin forms an ever-present threat that is likely to mentally eviscerate Batman and all of his friends. And filling the gaps between skirmishes with Gotham's worst are Riddler trophies and other puzzles that require every single tool in your arsenal, including the Batmobile.
These conundrums force you to use the Batmobile because they require the navigation, speed, and cunning that only the Batmobile can provide, further emphasizing Batman's smallness. The Arkham Knight's ridiculously large army of automated tanks is contrived specifically to force players to blast them in the Batmobile, but even without them, Batman would likely face overwhelming defeat against a rogue's gallery of villains, all of them armed to the teeth, if not for the help of his trusty metallic steed.
The Batmobile forms a barrier, both literally and figuratively, between Batman and the constant downpour of malevolence he has to deal with, providing temporary shelter from endless rain and escalated villainy alike. It's the one thing in Gotham City that Batman has complete control over, and in a place filled with as much chaos as Gotham, it's comforting to know that there's a singular spot of refuge ready whenever you need it - even if it ends up under constant attack. Like the Mako, the Batmobile could have done with a bit (OK, a lot) of editing, but the purpose of the these vehicles is to make you understand how you fit into these worlds, and both are hugely successful in that regard.
While there's certainly room for improvement if the Batmobile gets a chance to ride again, I'm very content with the experience that Arkham Knight provides, and it feels absolutely necessary for the kind of story that Rocksteady wanted to tell. Batman is only one man, but with the Batmobile, he gets to be an near-unstoppable force against overwhelming odds. To me, that makes its inclusion worth slogging through a few extra tank battles.