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    Batman: Arkham Knight, Good Knight Preview

    Although they seem like logical fodder for the videogame mill, superheroes have had a rather rough go of it. For the most part, many superheroes just don’t work as the protagonists for games, a fact easily evidenced by the plethora of terrible game adaptations of Superman, Aquaman, Iron Man, Thor, The Fantastic Four, Spawn and more. In the case of Superman, his powers are too strong to translate well to a game developers either somehow find a way to limit the character’s powers, making him far less of a character, or scale up everything to his level, making it a level playing field and thereby negating the scale of the character. It’s a similar case with Thor, with developers turning the thunder god into a guy with a hammer and some lightning bolts rather than presenting him as a literal deity. With Iron Man they concentrate on guns but ignore the fact that Tony Stark is a genius who solves problems with science as often as he does with repulsor blasts. Aquaman can do
    far more than simply swim and poke things with a trident.

    The problems with most superhero games relate either to a sense of scale or a lack of imagination when it comes to the implementation of a character’s powers. The games that do succeed, and do so blindingly well, are those that utilize the scale of the character in relation to their enemies, and utilize more than just the most outwardly impressive looking powers. Spider Man 2 combined thrilling web slinging, a creative approach to using spider sense, webs and wall crawling, and a street level approach to scale to deliver a game that made players feel like Spider-Man. When it comes to successful games, however, one hero stands head and shoulders amongst his peers. This hero is, of course, the Batman. His powers are of a human scale sure, he is a world class martial artist, a gifted gadgeteer and a detective without peer (with the possible exception of Ralph Dibney, Detective Chimp or The Question), but bullets don’t bounce off his chest, he can’t lift a planet and can’t fire lasers from his eyes. He’s human and saddled with the same weaknesses as the rest of the race. It’s what makes him so compelling to play. He’s a man who confronts evil head on. He doesn't outmatch his opposition in any meaningful way, so he has to rely on his skills to survive. He’s also the goddamn Batman.

    "The foundation for every game in the Batman: Arkham series has been one simple concept: Be the Batman," says Jez Smith, the Producer of Batman: Arkham Knight. "I think the idea of becoming the legendary Dark Knight is such a strong hook for a game that we still find Batman, as a character, inspiring and interesting to work with. But one of the most important things to bear in mind when you’re working with such a well-established mythology is that it’s not just about Batman. The cast of supporting characters that we have to draw from is pretty much unparalleled in popular fiction, particularly the Rogues Gallery which has so many awesome personalities to inspire both stories and gameplay. And Gotham is an incredible setting, it's just as much a privilege to set our game in this uniquely atmospheric city as it is to work with the characters".

    The fifth game in the Batman: Arkham series and the third developed by Rocksteady, Batman: Arkham Knight is the first game in the series to introduce a bespoke villain, created especially for the game. The plot does revolve around a number of enemies the Batman has previously defeated, including Penguin, Two Face, Harley Quinn, Riddler and series favourite Scarecrow teaming up to destroy the Bat once and for all, but it’s the Arkham Knight himself who lends his name to the title. Described by the developers as a militarized version of Batman, the Arkham Knight proudly takes his place in the Rogue’s Gallery as potentially the most deadly "Anti-Batman" the Dark Knight has ever faced.

    "The Arkham Knight is the expert tactician leading a force of unmanned drone tanks and infantry invading Gotham City" explains Ian Ball, Lead Designer on Batman: Arkham Knight. The character developed naturally from what the developers wanted to happen in the game. "When we looked at how we wanted to escalate the threat against Batman and the city through the use of these forces, we realized that we needed a new character who could be in control of a force like this and challenge
    Batman in new and interesting ways. Once we realized we had the chance to create a new character to add to the DC Comics stable, the creative process happened very quickly.
    Our script, character and art teams realized the unique opportunity they had and went into overdrive with new concepts and ideas, so we arrived at the look and profile of the character very quickly"

    Working with legendary comic book author, Geoff Johns, the team at Rocksteady fleshed out the character of the Arkham Knight, the latest in a long line of "anti Batmen" darker reflections of the Dark Knight. Everything about him is a reflection of his role in the game as well as his relationship
    to Batman himself. According to Ball, "The design of his suit reflects two important parts of the Arkham Knight’s personality. He has a detailed heads up display built into his visor which allows him to keep command of his forces, and the shape of his helmet is a taunt directed at Batman it’s the Arkham Knight’s own form of targeted psychological warfarel."

    In more straightforward gameplay terms, the Arkham Knight is a skilled tactician, and as a tactician has thoroughly researched his opponent. He knows Batman’s methods, knows that he is a truly formidable opponent and has prepared on all levels to confront him. He’s not a crazy in a mask using some hackneyed gimmick to carve out a niche in the Gotham underworld. He’s a man who has prepared to kill Batman.

    This level of preparedness plays out in how the new AI reacts to the Batman. Unlike the Dark Knight we’ve seen in previous games, the Batman of Arkham Knight is at the peak of his abilities, both physical and mental, but the Arkham Knight and his minions are more than up to the task of defeating him. “One of the things that the Arkham Knight himself brings to the game is a whole raft of new counter tactics, which his militia employ.

    Batman has to learn how to deal with these new threats over the course of the night. This adds new dimensions to combat and ensures that even seasoned Batman Arkham players will need to develop their FreeFlow Combat skills”, says Tim Hanagan, the Lead AI Programmer on Arkham Knight.
    As the series has progressed, the scale of each game has increased, going from a tight and contained island and facility in Arkham Asylum through to the open worlds of City and Origins. The city of Arkham Knight is even bigger still. Five times bigger than the Gotham seen in Arkham City, in fact. With a city of this size, some changes have had to have been made to the core of the game the most obvious being the addition of a drivable Batmobile. It’s obvious from the outset, however, that the Batmobile is more than just a mode of transport. "We’ve integrated the Batmobile into every aspect of Batman: Arkham Knight" says Hanagan, "so of course it had an effect on combat as well. There are moves that you can perform n combat that utilize the Batmobile, and sometimes it can be used to bypass combat altogether if you’re smart. The very presence of the Batmobile can be used to scare off the lowly thugs and rioters in the streets of Gotham, but if you want to dive in and demonstrate your FreeFlow Combat prowess, that option is still available to you. Dealing with later enemies and new threats efficiently will require the Batmobile in combination with your hand-to-hand skills”.

    The Batmobile seems to have more in common with a loyal steed like Silver than it does a simple car. It appears at the press of a button, zooming to Batman’s location anywhere in the city and acts as a catapult to instantly send the Dark Knight rocketing into the air so he can glide to a new area.

    It’s also engineered to face off against the Arkham Knight’s drone minions. At any time, Batman can transform the Batmobile from a fast moving pursuit form to a heavily armed battle mode. In battle mode, the Batmobile moves more like a tank and is armed with a cannon, mini-gun, rocket pod and riot suppression system just the kind of things you need to take on a drone army One of the central conceits of Arkham Knight is that Gotham has been evacuated due to Scarecrow having seeded the city with fear gas bombs, but rather than have the city feel like a graveyard, the team at Rocksteady have worked hard on making the city still feel populated and dynamic. "Due to the size of the city, we’ve developed a new procedural system for spawning and managing thugs and vehicles, as the designer driven approach we employed on previous games was less efficient when we applied it to such a large space" says Hanagan. "We've put a lot of work into making sure the denizens of Gotham City feel alive in their behaviour and reactions, which combines with our procedural systems to create emergent gameplay in all kinds of unexpected ways." The danger of having so large a city really rears its head when it comes to narrative.

    As we’ve seen in many open world games, sometimes it becomes all too easy to lose the narrative thread and become lost in the world to the point it’s hard to get back on track, but according to Ian Ball, that’s not something we should have to worry about with Arkham Knight. "One of the great things about writing for Batman is the super villains that we get to work with. And one of the best things about playing a Batman game is getting the chance to meet them. Scarecrow has the entirety of Gotham City in his crosshairs in Batman: Arkham Knight, and that’s a level of threat that we’ve never seen in a Batman Arkham game before. The central narrative is a very strong thread running through the environment as you navigate the districts of the city; but it wouldn't be a Batman Arkham game without loads of extra side content to explore."

    There has been a wealth of side content in previous Batman games, but again, Ball tells us why Arkham Knight is different. "We’ve tied these side missions closer into the main storyline this time around, so the threads will overlap in a satisfying way just as they should in a living, breathing city like the one we’ve created." Batman: Arkham Knight releases on current gen consoles and PC in June 2015, but we should be able to bring you detailed hands on impressions of Batman’s latest outing
    within the next few months.

    Throughout his career, Batman has faced off against a number of villains (and antiheroes) who are essentially dark mirrors of the Dark Knight himself.

    OWLMAN: An Earth 3 version of the Batman is perhaps the most deadly and well realized. He’s a nihilist, criminal martial artist and genius who forms part of a cracked mirror version of the Justice League called the Crime Syndicate, using his chemically enhanced brain to become a deadly crime boss and terrorist.

    THE SECOND RED HOOD: A resurrected Jason Todd (the Robin beaten to death by The Joker) uses his skills learned as the sidekick of Batman and his new willingness to kill to prove to Gotham that Batman is obsolete and his violent ways are the only way to combat crime.

    OWLMAN: In normal continuity, Thomas Wayne Jr. is the Owlman, an assassin for The Court of the Owls, a secret society who have controlled Gotham since its conception. The current Owlman is probably the most literal of anti-Batmen, with Wayne Jr. initially being a corporate CEO by day and masked villain during the night.

    KILLER MOTH: Essentially played Moriarty to Batman’s Holmes, aiding villains (for a price) in the same way Batman aids the GCPD. The similarities were so clear in the character’s original version (he has since also been an armoured killer and an actual killer moth creature), Killer Moth had his own Moth Signal, Mothmobile and Moth Utility Belt.

    PROMETHEUS: A near inversion of Batman, Prometheus saw his criminal parents gunned down by police at a young age and dedicated his life to training to become the ultimate weapon against law. Using a host of inventions including a suit that allows him to upload information directly into his mind, Prometheus managed to nearly defeat the entire Justice League on one occasion.

    HUSH: A black mirror version of Bruce Wayne, Thomas Elliot started life as a boyhood friend of young Bruce but friendship turned to hatred after Elliot attempted to murder his parents for his inheritance only to have their lives saved thanks to the surgical prowess of Thomas Wayne. As an adult, Elliot became an incredibly skilled surgeon and used his surgical prowess and precision to become a masked villain and schemer dedicated to the downfall of both Batman and Bruce Wayne.

    JEAN PAUL VALLEY/AZRAEL/BATMAN: Jean Paul Valley was a genetically engineered vigilante for the Order of St Dumas, a splinter faction of the Knights Templar devoted to a violent war against evil. When Batman had his back broken by Bane, Jean Paul Valley became the new Batman, but the teachings of the Order slowly took control, turning him into a violent vigilante more interested
    in fighting villains than saving lives.

    THE THREE GHOSTS: During Grant Morrison’s Batman & Son series, Batman faces off against three corrupt policemen trained to be replacement Batmen. As anti-Batm en they represent his greatest fears about his mission to combat crime. The first anti-Batman uses a gun and shoots the Joker in the face, the second is a rapist, murderer and ravening beast pumped full of Venom. The final anti-Batman is Bruce Wayne’s own son as shown in a vision of the future in which he sells his soul to keep Gotham safe.

    ANARKY: An enormously talented engineer and computer programmer with fighting talents on par with Batman, Anarky is an anti establishment crusader convinced that all the world’s evils ultimately stem from corporate corruption. Though never really heroic (or even anti heroic) Anarky has tussled with almost as many villains as heroes, including The Scarecrow and Darkseid, the latter resulting in Anarky coming into possession of a functional Boom Tube.

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