For Batman: Arkham Knight Rocksteady has created a new character for the universe - a process it found “terrifying”.
"When the idea was on the table for us to develop our own character we really were conscious of the value of the collaboration creatively we have with DC."
Batman may be a knight, but he’s not the Arkham Knight. That name belongs to an original character Rocksteady has created in cooperation with DC specifically for the capper on its Arkham series of Batman games.
I got to see this guy very briefly when he appeared at the end of the live demo press were shown behind closed doors at GDC. He leaped at Batman from offscreen as our hero was walking out a door, knocking him down and point a gun at his head. The demo faded to black, and a gunshot rang out.
Rocksteady producer and marketing guru Dax Ginn called the opportunity to make an original character in the Batman universe “terrifying,” but the folks at the studio are relishing the chance to hopefully make a mark on the Batman property that lasts beyond the tail of the games themselves.
“The opportunity is exciting, but the expectation [from fans] is off the scale,” Ginn told me in a one-on-one after the session when I probed him about crafting this Arkham Knight. “That’s why working with DC is so awesome for us, because those guys are so experienced, and it’s obviously something they do a lot of.
“So when the idea was on the table for us to develop our own character and introduce that into Batman’s world, there was so much energy and excitement around it at Rocksteady - but we really were conscious of the value of the collaboration creatively we have with DC to make sure the gameplay role the Arkham Knight has is really reflected in his appearance and his outlook and his perspective.
"Batman’s no-kill philosophy is pretty non-negotiable."
“That’s not an opportunity that comes along very often, and I think we totally nailed it with this guy.”
Beyond that and our brief look at him, the Arkham Knight is still in the mystery box for now. At the same time, however, the 30-minute demo took the new Batmobile completely out of that box.
Batman’s jet-powered car has a decidedly powerful effect on the world of the game that allays, for now, my own fears about the size of the game world, which covers all of Gotham City and far more ground than Arkham City did. I found that game’s open world to be tedious to traverse by gliding and grappling, and the Batmobile, which zooms in from the ether on-demand, seems to exist both as a delightful chunk of fan service and to deal with those concerns about travel that more than a few players had.
This Gotham City is under siege by the usual assortment of named villains and dumb thugs like Arkham City was (and like Gotham was in The Dark Knight Rises film), and the sheer chaos involved in speeding around town in this groundjet is quite a sight. The scenery is chock-full of things to smash and unlikely shortcuts to utilize, though of course in all that collateral damage you won’t be running over any of the bad guys since that would probably kill them, a classic Batman no-no.
“Batman’s no-kill philosophy is pretty non-negotiable,” Ginn said. The game itself facilitates that, of course; thugs you’re speeding toward will try to get the hell out of your way, and those who don’t will be zapped by this Batmobile’s auto-taser gun.
You will naturally have car chases, but the most intriguing-looking use of the Batmobile we saw came in the form of a Riddler challenge. Mr. Nigma has this time set up a series of obstacle courses for Batman to drive through. We saw one of these, in which you must drive through the course three times under a time limit, with the trick being that the course will change a bit each time, with movable obstacle you’ll need to trigger with a button press as you go.
So at one point you’ll come up on, say a wall that you hit the action button to make it slide out of your way, but doing so brings out a second wall beyond the first, and you’ll have to hit the button again to move that second one but not until you’ve passed the location of the first one. That sort of thing is common, and there are similar spots involving moving platforms you’ll have to trigger at the right moment to cross large gaps. It’s platform-style racing, more or less.
Oh, and you can also drive on the walls and ceiling.
That’s all exciting and everything, but the Batmobile is not why Rocksteady decided to make Arkham Knight exclusive to new-gen and PC. Credit for that goes to the city itself and the weather. The city is as detailed and pretty as Seattle in the new inFamous game, and with long draw distances a necessity since Batman spends a lot of time in the sky, it’s obvious at a glance the scope of the world is too much for an Xbox 360 to handle well.
"There’s a lot that the next-gen hardware has enabled us to do, and for us it’s about picking and choosing where to spend that horsepower."
The build being played was running on a PC, and even then, with some really quality rain coming down through it all, the demo chugged a bit, which can be chalked up now to the game still being in an early state, but it does demonstrate the resource-intensive nature of highly detailed open-world games. That on top of pretty textures and pouring rain and copious particle effects the transitions from play to cutscene are seamless - not even cutting to a new angle to begin a scene necessarily - means that it’s test of Rocksteady’s technical ability to make it all work properly even working only with new hardware.
“There’s a lot that the next-gen hardware has enabled us to do, and for us it’s about picking and choosing where to spend that horsepower,” Ginn explained.
“The atmospheric effects that we really needed to integrate in order to bring Gotham City to life is something we just knew right from the beginning that we’ve got to invest in. So when you’re ejecting out [of the Batmobile] and gliding over the city and you can see the entire city laid out ahead of you, that’s a huge technical challenge to face down and overcome.”