Batman: Arkham Knight preview: a license to drive

What does a next-gen Batman: Arkham game look like? Sure, there's the promise of a larger city. You'll even be able to ride around Gotham using the Batmobile. But, more than anything, the most prominent feature enabled by next-gen tech are the visuals. Simply put, Arkham Knight is gorgeous. Take a look at these screenshots. It really does look that good. And it's all the more impressive when you consider that the city is so much larger this time around. Seeing lights reflect off the Batmobile as it drives across wet pavement is a true feast for the eyes. This certainly doesn't look like a cross-gen game. focalbox The visuals may be the most arresting part of the hands-off demo we saw behind closed doors last week. However, it's clear that Rocksteady has a lot of work to do before the game ships later this year. Right now, the framerate chugs along, almost to the point of looking unplayable. Of course, there's a lot of time to optimize code that's obviously not done. After the visuals, the next big feature being added to the game is the Batmobile. There's a reason why it's on the cover: it changes the feeling of this Arkham game drastically. The Batmobile is somewhat magical, able to be summoned at any time. The design seems to take a page from the Nolanverse, with Batman being able to break through barriers, walls, and obstacles much like the chase sequence from The Dark Knight. Driving around with the Batmobile truly highlights how large the city has become. AR prompts will direct Batman where to go, going away from the mini-map that most open-world driving games feature. And don't worry about running over pedestrians--Batman is still not a killer, and players that attempt to run over the thugs running amok on the streets will find that the Batmobile automatically shocks and pushes away any thugs that could potentially get run over.

The Batmobile is the biggest addition to the game

Driving around with the Batmobile seems entertaining enough, but what makes it uniquely Arkham is the way it incorporates with Batman's other abilities--namely, the ability to glide. You can eject from the Batmobile at any time and use the momentum from the car to launch the Dark Knight to new heights. Given the size of the city, this combination will help cover a large amount of territory. The Batmobile will also be used for racing sequences. Yes, the Riddler is back, and he's fulfilling his obligations to challenge the Batman with side quests. In the demo we saw, the Riddler had created an underground circuit which Batman must complete in a certain amount of time. The Batman, however, has to remotely activate platforms and switches while driving, making it as much a racing game as it s a rhythm game. With destructible environments and even loop-the-loops, the Riddler's over-the-top racing courses are, at the very least, entertaining to watch.

Who is the Arkham Knight?

Of course, the Riddler isn't the only character from the Rogue's Gallery to make his way into Arkham Knight. The Scarecrow returns as the "Big Bad" for the trilogy's finale, threatening all of Gotham with a neurotoxin. There's also the mysterious Arkham Knight, a gun-totin' new character that Rocksteady has created specifically for this adventure. (But we're totally getting a Jason Todd vibe from him.) With the stakes that much higher, Batman will need some help. Oracle is back for Arkham Knight, but she won't just be a friendly voice to listen to. She'll play a much larger role in the story, and you'll even meet her face-to-face in her secret lair. Much like the Batcave in Origins, this will likely serve as a central hub for players to start from.

You'll be able to visit the Oracle's hideout

Even with its next-gen sheen and new features, once combat gets started, it definitely looks like an Arkham game. FreeFlow returns, and there are some new bells and whistles, with new environmental Takedowns and "fear takedowns" that allow Batman to get multiple enemies at once. But even with these tweaks, combat looks to be familiar for anyone that's played the previous games. Batman: Arkham Knight knows how to make an impression. With its gorgeous visuals and ambitious city design, it's unquestionably the biggest Arkham game. But, it's hard not to miss the more intimate feel of Asylum, which seems to have been tossed aside for a "bigger and more badass" approach to game design. For Batfans, that's not a bad thing; who hasn't wanted to ride the Batmobile in Gotham City before? For now, Rocksteady has made a spectacular, bold entrance with Arkham Knight, and we're curious to see how they end their franchise.