HANDS-ON: "Batman: Arkham Knight" Brings A New Villain and Batmobile Joyride

As the conclusion to developer Rocksteady's Batman "Arkham" video game trilogy, as well as the first game in the series on the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 generation of game consoles, "Batman: Arkham Knight" has a lot to live up to. Judging from the demo CBR News saw behind closed doors at E3 2014 this week -- which showed off new moves and gadgets, Batman's new, original adversary, and the new transforming Batmobile -- fans won't be disappointed.

The demo began with Batman and Commissioner Gordon conferring outside the familiar Ace Chemicals compound. As they discussed rescuing the workers held prisoner inside, the game's eponymous villain, the Arkham Knight himself, flew in on a chopper and destroyed their only way inside. This seemed to be the first time Bruce encounters the Knight. "Friend of yours?" Gordon asked. "Stay here, and I'll go find out," the Bat replied.

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For the first time in the "Arkham" series Batman can summon the Batmobile at will, and he used its winch attachment to pry up the wrecked highway and make a ramp for himself. In "Batman: Arkham Knight," the iconic vehicle can transform easily from a normal car (well, as normal as the Batmobile gets) into "battle mode," a veritable tank with powerful weapons and maneuverability. The battle mode variation's tired squealed as the car-cum-tank made a ramp from the rubble, though as it weaved and dodged during combat later in the demo the nimble "bat-tank" almost seemed to hover over the ground. And it transformed back into the sexy Batmobile we know and love to speed up and jump the gap toward the Ace facility.

The demo also showed that the Batmobile is more than just a plot device. Batman can summon the vehicle at any time and even take control of it remotely, and in battle mode the tank uses non-lethal projectiles to take out minions and missile barrages to destroy armored drones. This version of the iconic car also has a pair of passenger seats in the rear that Bruce can use to rescue innocents -- in this case, the trapped Ace Chemical workers -- or apprehend villains.

"There's a lot of other elements where you can kind of unite Batman and the car together," the game's lead animator, Rocksteady's Zafer Coban, told CBR News. "And it's exciting for the designers, really, because it gives them that new platform."

Once inside Ace Chemical, Batman parked the car and ascended to the compound's highest point, showing off some of the game's new combat mechanics along the way. Erupting from a grate in the floor (what insane engineers put these all over Gotham?), he initiated the game's new "fear takedown" move, slowing time and subduing three enemies without raising an alarm. Elsewhere in the demo he used new contextual special attacks, including shoving a man's face into a live electrical box, mid-air attacks and counters, and even a one-two punch where Batman knocks enemies into the air and the nearby Batmobile skeet-shoots them with what might be crowd control bean bags -- though realistically, what could a tank possibly shoot that wouldn't kill a human on impact? Right now it's unclear, though hopefully the game addresses the question at some point.

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From that high vantage point Batman threw a new gadget, the Bat Scanner, a high-tech batarang that locates the five innocent workers trapped around the chemical plant. The game's environments are more vertical than ever, not to mention five times bigger than the world of previous game "Batman: Arkham City," and Batman has more advanced and fluid traversal mechanics as well. He batclawed up and around easily, then went full Bat as he crashed through a skylight to engage directly with the enemies underneath. Combat in "Batman: Arkham Knight" is similar to the systems in Rocksteady's past games, though Batman met one new enemy type, agile sword-wielders, as he battled and snuck around Ace Chemicals.

Back at base, Barbara Gordon/Oracle gains some intel on the mysterious Arkham Knight. Apparently he led a black-ops team whose compound was discovered in Venezuela, and little else is known about him. But in a later encounter the masked and armored villain made it clear he's someone close to Bruce. He instructed his minions to fire their weapons toward specific weak points in Batman's armor, displaying a casual knowledge of its construction that only a friend of the Bat could possess. At one point, Batman overheard the Knight and Scarecrow discussing the former's hatred of Bruce, which is apparently so intense even Dr. Crane doesn't get it. Clearly the Arkham Knight's identity will prove important, though for now, Bruce doesn't seem to recognize him.

Coban said the developers worked closely with DC and Warner Bros. to make sure the villain fits in Batman canon. "He's like a darker reflection of Batman," Coban said. "He's a guy that just wants to take out the Bat once and for all. And he's like a combat expert, got a whole troop, an army behind him, all the tanks and drones. We were just privileged to actually be able to introduce a new character to our game world."

As enticing as the mystery of the Arkham Knight's identity is, Batman learned of a more pressing concern during this demo. Apparently Crane is preparing to detonate a fear-bomb that will coat the entire east coast with his not-so-funny gas. As usual, Rocksteady's new game is gritty and topical, fitting easily in the world of Batman fiction. And Coban said "Arkham Knight" will feature tons of other familiar characters as well, including Two-Face, Riddler, and Penguin, who've also joined forces with Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight. It's a real epic showdown, apparently.

"This is the end of the trilogy," Coban said. "All great things are coming to an end." And that end can't come soon enough for Batman fans. "Batman: Arkham Knight" is scheduled for release in 2015 on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

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