Batman Arkham Knight is out and despite high critical acclaim. the public opinion is mixed. You will be able to find reviews of the game elsewhere, this is a short defence of the key element, that has taken criticism –The Batmobile
This is the showstopping feature of the game. Despite fleeting appearances in the other Arkham games, in Knight the Batmobile is at your beck and call. One tap of the left bumper and the Batmobile appears like an obedient dog. Whether you are falling to ground from the highest building or just standing looking cool, the Batmobile will either catch you in mid air or speed up behind you ready to be piloted. It can also be used as a finisher in a combo move. Kick a bad guy into mid air and the Batmobile shoots him in mid-air like a clay pigeon. Many a .gif and vine will be made of Batman using his entrance into the vehicle like a boss.
The Batmobile itself, isn’t the sleek version of Burton’s Batman, it is the full turbo charged tank of the Nolan era. Your first experience is a high octane chase through the streets of Gotham. Immediately I had issues. The control scheme is just plain wrong. A squeeze on the right trigger sends the Batmobile off, like a twitchy Formula one car. It is quick before the afterburner is even hit. Because of this speed, you instantly want to balance this up with a tap on the brakes. Unfortunately the brakes aren’t on the left trigger. Hitting the left trigger stops the car dead, turning it into a futuristic hover-tank. Picture the scene, you are in the middle of a pursuit, you approach a corner and squeeze the left trigger, as feels natural. Suddenly the point of view changes and you are a tank staring at a wall. With the narrow streets of Gotham and the width of your vehicle, this never feels natural.
There is a simple solution. In the options menu, change ‘battle mode’ to toggle. This switches the controls from the left trigger to the right bumper. Suddenly the Batmobile comes alive. The speed is now controllable and he power slide mechanism works. This is essential for the game, as many of the Riddler challenges and story missions, involve precision driving at speed. Why the developers didn’t make this the default control system I will never know. Changing it makes a clear distinction between the car and the tank, which is essential in the game. Before long you are hunting people down in the car and whipping through the streets at great speed. The forgiving scenery destruction adds to the feeling of freedom the car can give, if used correctly. When you meet other tanks, a simple tap of the bumper turns you into the ‘Battank’.
The tank battles, have also come in for unfair criticism in my view. They are will implemented and without any spoilers, fit with the story. The enemy tanks have a laser type targeting mechanic. A beam of light shows where they are going to fire and it is up to you to avoid this before it turns red. When you are surrounded, this is entertaining and complex. The enemy tanks can also be killed with a single precision shot or a barrage of three poorly aimed ones, every tank you kill fills your combo meter and readies a missile strike. All very good and new to the series.
The criticism of the tank battles seem to be around how different they are to the other Arkham games and how they feel forced upon the player. These are both valid points. I am lucky, that I enjoy the change in pace. If Rocksteady, the developers, had listened to this criticism and just left the Batmobile out, as some people are asking for, then we basically would have had a carbon copy of Arkham City and Origins. By having the Batmobile be a pivotal tool in both story and mechanics, this is clearly a different game from its predecessors, and all the stronger for it.
I agree that, the battles are forced on the player, but when the main enemy in the game has a private army and a fleet of drone tanks and planes, the situation is actually forced upon Batman and not the player. The Arkham games are first and foremost a Batman simulator. They are the only games that make you feel like Batman. So if he is placed in this situation, you are as well. The argument is Batman wouldn’t destroy so much of Gotham in the process. I think this is down the the situation the individual storyteller puts the caped crusader in. Every effort has been made in this game for Batman to not take life, from the vicious beat downs, changing of ammo when shooting criminals in the Batmobile, to my personal favourite. The slow motion A-Team style car crashes. Hit an enemy vehicle and send them into a barrel roll and the occupants always crawl out dazed and confused. No matter how bad the wreck, there is no loss of life. It is a nice touch and looks very spectacular when hurtling though the streets.
There is one elephant in the room, the Batplane. Much like the eagles in Lord Of The Rings, the Batplane is a huge plot hole. Why not simply have it fly through the skies and remove all the aerial threats in the game, before turning its attention to the tanks. It is only used for supply drops and despite looking cool. its very presence makes you want to be able to pilot it. Imagine flying through the city like Michael Keaton does in Batman. You would have an immediate advantage over everyone. I’d rather they had delivered supply drops a different way or written a destroyed Batplane into the intro.
So there is my defence of the Batmobile, a controversial implementation in the Arkham series of games, but by no means a negative. One simple change of the control scheme makes it control as it should. Don’t let the fuss over it put you off another excellent Batman experience.