I'll admit it. While watching the Caped Crusader bring a bunch of armored baddies to justice in "Batman: Arkham Knight," there were a few times I couldn't help but cheer out loud. The melee combat in Batman's first next-gen adventure is just that immaculate and exciting, whether you're performing careful multi-enemy takedowns or leaping out of the Batmobile just to catapult Batman's fist into a crook's face.
At E3 2014, Developer Rocksteady Studios provided us with a new gameplay demonstration for "Arkham Knight," which is releasing in 2015 for Xbox One, PS4 and PC. In this demo, Batman is tasked with rescuing a team of chemical workers being held captive by Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight, the mysterious titular character who makes his DC Universe debut in the game.
"Arkham Knight" is set a year after 2011's "Arkham City," and Bruce Wayne has learned some new tricks. Batman can now chain together his grappling-hook maneuvers, which allows him to better traverse a Gotham cityscape that boasts more verticality than ever.
There's also the Bat Scanner, a batarang-like device that lets you remotely scan a building for any allies or enemies inside. Batman used this gadget to pinpoint the trapped chemical workers before working his way inside.
If you're being stealthy, the Fear Takedown mechanic lets you knock out three enemies in a single devastating flurry. If that doesn't sound satisfying enough, the game's new environmental takedowns let you ram thugs' heads into circuit breakers and knock down hanging lights to crush the baddies below.
It wasn't long before we saw Bruce hop into the Batmobile, which Rocksteady is pushing as the cornerstone of the latest "Arkham" experience. You'll seamlessly transfer in and out of the iconic vehicle as Batman, who can request the Batmobile remotely and catapult out of it once things get too hot on the ground.
The Batmobile is used in two ways: Pursuit Mode for classic high-speed chases, and a slower Battle Mode for blowing through large enemy vehicles. You can drift and speed-boost in the former mode, and launch a brutal barrage of missiles in the latter.
While being able to man the Batmobile makes "Arkham Knight" an even more complete Batman experience, we found the Battle Mode gameplay a bit jarring. Even though Batman was going up against a series of unmanned vehicles, seeing him use the Batmobile as a military tank that effortlessly laid waste to waves of enemies didn't entirely seem true to his character.
We may have got mixed feeling about the Batmobile, but we're already hooked on the story of "Arkham Knight." Batman's mission to rescue trapped chemical workers eventually leads to ambush by the Arkham Knight and his army of black-ops soldiers. If it wasn't weird enough that the Arkham Knight looks like a more heavily armored version of Batman, he also knows some disturbingly intimate details about the Dark Knight, down to the inner workings of the hero's armor.
"We know your next move before you do," the Arkham Knight tells Batman as his soldiers hold the hero at gunpoint. "We know how you think!"
Even though the enigmatic Arkham Knight is billed as a new character, we're already theorizing over who could be behind the mask. A popular choice is Jason Todd, former Robin and current Red Hood. The character has never appeared in an "Arkham" game before, and his close relationship with Batman and militaristic skill-set lines up nicely with what we've seen of the Knight.
Before we could finish geeking out about the Arkham Knight's origins, the game demo floored us with an insane final action sequence. Just when Batman seemed hopelessly pinned down by the Arkham Knight's heavily armed squad, he was able to remotely trigger the Batmobile's non-lethal cannon and pulverize his enemies from behind.
This led up to our absolute favorite combat moment: vehicle assists. There's nothing quite like seeing Batman uppercut an opponent and watching that enemy get pelted by the Batmobile cannon in mid-air, and we're already salivating at the thought of incorporating this over-the-top move into larger combos.
E3 2014 may have been the first time we cheered out loud for a thug-smashing uppercut, but we anticipate that it won't be the last. Rocksteady has managed to bring its airtight combat experience into the next generation with a host of thrilling new tricks, and we can't wait to find more ridiculous ways to cripple would-be crooks when the game hits next year.