Holy awkward release date, Batman – you contrary cowl connoisseur. There's probably a metaphor that Warner Bros was trying to convey to the games media when it dated Batman: Arkham Knight just days after E3 2015 – like, y'know how Bruce Wayne has to keep fighting to ensure that Gotham City's safe... Yeah, the public relations team probably wanted to capture that. Good heavens, this is a garbled introduction – shall we talk about the game?
It's very good. Batman: Arkham Origins rightly received stick for taking Rocksteady's almost perfect blueprint and turning it into a watered down Ubisoft-a-thon – but the game's soulless structure wasn't its only problem. Indeed, it just never felt quite right; the combat was finicky, the framerate on the creaky PlayStation 3 was nauseating, and the story was all over the place. We quite liked the Christmas lights, though, so fair play to Warner Bros Montreal for that.
To be honest, we're not surprised that the aforementioned prequel has been swept under the carpet like a super villain's foiled world domination plot – after all, even after a few hours, it's clear that Arkham Knight is infinitely superior. Now, if you're a fan of the Metroidvania-like claustrophobia of Batman: Arkham Asylum, you may not want to pop on your hockey pants just yet; this latest foray builds on the larger locales of Batman: Arkham City instead.
But it's got that extra sprinkling of spice that Arkham Origins lacked. Take the opening scene: you're a cop in a diner ordering waffles and bacon from a first-person perspective. As a put-upon operative of the GCPD, it's only a matter of minutes before a citizen pulls you away from your cup of coffee to a disturbance in the corner of the cafe. Seconds later you're unloading bullets into hapless citizens as Scarecrow's fear toxin runs amok. It sucks you into the story.
Rocksteady's always been really good at twisting your expectations, and ol' Strawhead is a great avenue for that – we're certainly expecting more instances of the aforementioned throughout the remainder of the campaign. Should it fail in that department, however, we reckon that it's got a great gameplay loop here; Batman feels more capable than ever – diving off buildings, punching bad guys in the goolies, and so forth – but the controls, somehow, feel more streamlined than before.
Alright, there's a learning curve to the Batmobile – the big new addition in this open world outing. Common sense suggests that you should be tapping R2 to accelerate and L2 to brake, but the latter is mapped to the square button. The reason for this is because the left-sided trigger actually initiates a Battle Mode – think of it like the vehicular gunplay in High Moon Studios' popular Transformers games – which gives you the ability to strafe and target your foes.
It really does work, though – and we're already seeing clear evidence of the variety that the new four-wheeled addition will bring. One mission, for example, sees you dashing around one of the Riddler's race courses, dextrously flipping switches in order to create a path through the hazardous track. Another finds you almost platforming your way across rooftops – it's not just driving to waypoints like a Grand Theft Auto game.
Of course, maintaining this kind of variety will be a challenge, but just peering at the objectives list, we reckon that Rocksteady will find a way. The really cool thing is that a lot of the side-missions are like little minigames; that race course that we mentioned can be replayed in order to earn extra in-game gubbins, or just for the mere satisfaction of surpassing your pals on the online leaderboards. And this extends to the combat arenas, predator missions, and more, too.
We suppose that there is a hint of open world feature creep: one early task sees you rescuing firemen, which feels like it may have been copied from an Assassin's Creed brainstorming session. It's also frighteningly big; within the first few hours you'll be subjected to more information than is contained within the Joker's police notes. Heck, there's even one early section where you're encouraged – but not mandated – to complete about five tutorials in a row.
But get past all of that, and this is promising – very promising indeed. Obviously we've got someone strapped to a chair working on a review, and he's been informed that Killer Croc will be coming for him if he doesn't get it finished soon. For now, though, we really like what we've seen; if you were a fan of the previous games, we'd recommend giving this latest entry a go. Did we mention that it looks bloody ridiculous, too? Dour and depressing – but, y'know, beautiful all the same.
Have you glided headfirst into Gotham City yet, or are you waiting for a little more information on Rocksteady's latest? Fight the good fight in the comments section below.