Batman: Arkham Knight, Rocksteady larges it up for its latest caped caper. - Games Weekly

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight, Rocksteady larges it up for its latest caped caper.

Arkham Knight is big in every way. The latest trailer shows off Jonathan Crane aka Arkham Asylum villain The Scarecrow as a skyscraper-sized menace able to slap the Batmobile off the streets of Gotham. Why is he so large? Because Rocksteady has to make things bigger in every instalment, including the environment, story and enemies.

That hallucinatory Scarecrow comes from a DLC pack on consoles, but you take my meaning. This is the final stage of a continuous upgrade in scale for the series. What started as a semi-open hub adventure in  Asylum  became a free-roaming game in an approximation of a city. Now, Arkham  is a proper open-world game in a sprawling metropolis one that’s big enough to handle the Batmobile for the first time.Rocksteady is trying to create the most impressive open world you’ve ever seen.

As with The Witcher 3, I can’t believe how much detail the developer has amassed within the scale of world it’s built. It looks like a proper technical step up for the series, aided by classy animation and extraordinary weather effects (it’s never sunny in Gotham). “It’s massive, and it’s also massively detailed,” says Rocksteady’s Gaz Deaves. “There’s no procedurally generated anything in this. Every single asset in that massive Gotham City has been handmade five miles from here in Kentish Town, so it’s a massive undertaking. We’ve got a big art team full of really awesome guys working under our art director Dave Hego, and they’re kicking ass at it. The level of detail people have seen in the environment already there’s nothing else out there on this scale.”

It’s hard to disagree with him. I think the race is on to create the first open world that people will consider truly next-gen that Oblivion moment where the standards change in sandbox design, whether it’s size, atmosphere or a combination of the two. Just Cause 3  is another title vying for that milestone, and whatever Bethesda is cooking up will no doubt be a contender, too. GTA V  might have the foundations  of last-gen console tech, but who knows? Maybe the PC version, when it finally gets here, will make even the PS4 edition seem like something from the past. There’s a chance that Rocksteady will get there first, though this really is one of the prettiest worlds I’ve ever seen, built to be seen from both the ground and the sky.

When I ask Deaves why the game’s release was pushed back to June from March, the reason he gives is basically fine-tuning. “Having a little bit more space launching now on June 2, 2015 gives us more time to polish and perfect that experience,” he explains. By that time,  it will have been almost four years since Arkham City was released.

This proper open world is a challenge born of the Batmobile’s capabilities, too. You can’t have a fancy car driving around a small city. The attitude behind the Batmobile’s creation almost equates it to another of Batman’s tools Rocksteady didn’t hire a bunch of ex-racing devs to bolt it onto the game. Adam Doherty, primarily responsible for most of Batman’s navigation in the Arkham series, including the grapple and glide, is the one working on making the Batmobile fit the rest of the Dark Knight’s armoury. “In certain sections, using the Batmobile by remote control  is almost like having another playable character not just an AI buddy but a character you control,” says Deaves. “In the puzzle sections, for example, you switch between Batman opening up sections with the Batmobile, and the Batmobile opening up sections for Batman, and that’s one of the things we’ve really wanted to build into that gameplay. I think it  works really well.” I’ve tried that and it does indeed work very well, helped by the Batmobile’s two settings one focused on combat and precision movement, the
other on speed and regular navigation. Plus, the car comes with its own grappling hook, to help move objects that might otherwise be blocking Batman’s path.
This really is one of the prettiest environments I’ve ever seen
The change in scale and the new way to get around are two decisions I’m utterly convinced by I think Rocksteady has the ability to make that work, though I’d like to see more of the open world in action. The most recent trailers all draw on the isolated Ace Chemicals section that I played at E3, and that Tom Senior played at Gamescom. It’s the city backdrop that gets me excited. I’m ready to see what else  it has to offer.

Deaves wouldn’t be drawn on specifics with the PC version, but it’s the only one shown in action so far and it’s consistently taken my breath away. “We wouldn’t ever talk about PC specs, for example, until we knew exactly what they were, because it’s such an important thing to get right,” he says. “So far, Batman: Arkham Knight has been shown on PC we haven’t shown any console versions. All the demos you’ve seen so far have been running on PCs.”

I don’t doubt Rocksteady’s legacy of strong PC ports nor do I doubt its continued ability to get  Batman games right, one final time.

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