I really wish Warner Bros had released footage of their next Batman game, Arkham Knight, because I’d like you all to see what they’re doing with the Batmobile. It’s not quite what you’d expect, I don’t think.
You can drive it, of course, which is a first for the Arkham series, screaming down the streets of Gotham to get to your next mission and hunt down another villain. That, you expected.
You can summon it at any moment with the press of a button as you would your horse in Red Dead Redemption.
You can eject out of it and switch into a glide or leap to the ground right into a fight.
You can stay in it, chase a car full of bad guys down Gotham City’s streets and shoot the car to a standstill with “immobilizer rockets”.
There will be some sort of progression with new gadgets becoming available for the Batmobile as players plunge deeper into the game.
And you can ram through stuff. Lots of stuff.
A few weeks since I saw a PC build of the fall 2014 game played in front of me by a man from development studio Rocksteady Games, that last detail is what sticks out in my memory. The Batmobile is something of a bulldozer, from what I’ve seen — a rocket-fuelled, speed-limit-crushing bulldozer that players will be using to smash through concrete barriers, rip off the facades of buildings and pulverize trees, all in the name of catching the thugs and villains who are terrorizing an otherwise-evacuated Gotham City on the night the game takes place.
I talked about the Batmobile a bit recently with Dax Ginn, the ebullient marketing producer for the Arkham series’ lead development studio Rocksteady. He zeroed in on what they’re going for in this game with Batman’s car and how they’re not just trying to ape, say, a racing game.
“I think there are a lot of driving games where we could have kind of borrowed gameplay mechanics just because they’re easy,” he said. “For us, the focus was: ‘What’s the Batmobile all about? How do we make the experience feel really unique?’ And so destruction is a big part of that — the power and speed of driving the Batmobile.
“We really were very concerned about the Batmobile experience feeling like a bolted on driving mode, and we did not want that. That would have been a real failure for us.
“So the integration that you saw between the functionality of the Batmobile and the abilities of Batman himself was really important to us, and we developed them early on. So [we have] the ejection — being able to use the speed of the Batmobile and translate that into Batman’s movement and then calling the Batmobile back in — kind of splitting them up and then reuniting them in a seamless way….
Ginn: “It’s really nice to be able to say, ‘If you get turn slightly wrong as you’re making a right turn and you’re going to run into the side of the building, you’re just going to rip that corner of the building off.’
“The challenges around the city are laid out so that if you need to move along a flat plane, obviously the Batmobile is going to be the best way to do that, but there’s a lot of gameplay that is set in the vertical plane, so you are encouraged by the nature of the city to leave the Batmobile. But you never need to feel like, ‘Oh I need to remember where it is.'”
As I noted, the destruction stands out. There’s more demolition-derby and bulldozing to this Batmobile than I’d anticipated. Ginn believes that will please players and help them still feel like a superhero. “It’s really nice to be able to say, ‘If you get turn slightly wrong as you’re making a right turn and you’re going to run into the side of the building, you’re just going to rip that corner of the building off,’ rather than something that just stops the Batmobile, which totally kills the power fantasy of the Batmobile.”
Ginn: “Batman’s no-kill policy is pretty non-negotiable, whether he’s driving or not.”
One thing the Batmobile can’t do?
“Batman’s no-kill policy is pretty non-negotiable whether he’s driving or not,” Ginn said, when I asked if Batman can run over any of the thugs milling around in Gotham’s streets. It sounds like they will bail out of the way. “You would have seen thugs taking care of themselves,” Ginn said. In addition: “The Batmobile is loaded up with a taser system, so, if any thugs come at the Batmobile when it’s parked up, it will just taser them automatically and throw them away. And you would have seen it in our previous games that if there is a situation where the player would be able to lethally interact with someone, the game kind of reminds you that, ‘Hey, look, you’re Batman here, this is not just something you want to try and undermine. You need to be the Batman.’ There are systems we have that encourage the player to take this seriously and behave the way Batman would.”
It all looks rather cool and works so long as you subscribe to the idea of a Batman who’s an aggressive hell-raiser. Think Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns Batman, basically. In fact, it looks good enough running at next-gen specs that I’d love to see it through Batman’s eyes, so I asked Ginn if they’re thinking about doing a cockpit view for the game. “Have you been sneaking around Rocksteady?” he asked me. “It’s something we’ve been thinking about whether it would work,” he said. “If it works really well, hopefully.”