Debate – Does Batman: Arkham Knight's Batmobile Suck?

by Tim Turi on Aug 18, 2015 at 06:25 AM

This feature was originally published on July 4, 2015.

Rocksteady’s latest, Batman: Arkham Knight, is a hit with fans of the DC superhero thanks to its authentic take on Gotham’s savior (read our glowing review). The developer has a history of nailing the look and feel of the city’s imposing gothic architecture, larger-than-life villains, and each of Batman’s handy gadgets. On the topic of fancy accessories, Arkham Knight marks the first time Rocksteady has set players loose with a fully playable Batmobile in its open world, and the iconic vehicle has some fans divided. Game Informer editors Matt Bertz and Tim Turi square off in this debate about the merits and failings of Arkham Knight’s speedy transforming war machine.

Tim: To kick things off before we get into it, let me pose a question: At any point while you were playing the first three Arkham games, did you ever find yourself thinking, “This is great, but I wish I could drive the Batmobile around”?

Bertz: I never had the thought while playing Arkham Asylum, because the game smartly stayed within the walls of the infamous psychiatric hospital. But when the action spanned out to the metropolis in Arkham City, the thought did cross my mind because the street level seems drastically underutilized (and underpopulated). Plus, I love seeing all the new iterations on Batman’s primary method of travel with each comic book, film, or videogame reboot, so I’ve always been curious how Rocksteady would approach it. 

Tim: That’s funny, I never really saw the need for an alternate means of travel given how effective the Dark Knight is at slingshotting and gliding around Gotham. I think that’s why the Batmobile came as such a surprise. The primary Pursuit Mode is a fun alternative to seeing the city from a new perspective, and the car controls really well (except when the streets are slick with rain). Additionally, I heard a lot of naysaying about the Batmobile’s Battle Mode tank transformation, but I have been having a lot of fun with it. 

Bertz: Even with the Batmobile integrated into the experience I still find myself going for rooftops instead of the streets, primarily because of the content Rocksteady built around the Batmobile. I think the car/tank hybrid handles well enough in both modes (though I do instinctively reach for the left trigger each time I want to apply the brakes), so that’s not a big issue for me. Thematically, I’m overwhelmed with dissonance when I’m sitting in a vehicle shooting other tanks instead of role playing as the World’s Greatest Detective. Batman has always wielded amazing future-leaning tech, but I’ve never seen him go full military industrial complex and it feels like a heavy-handed, peculiar fit.  

Tim: I agree about the Batmobile’s handling. I’m especially impressed by the tight, fast animations of the vehicle’s wheeled appendages while in tank mode. I also love the visual flair of the exploding enemy tanks and nimbleness Battle Mode’s side-thrusters allow. Thematically speaking, I think Batman’s beefed-up ride fits well with the need to match the Arkham Knight’s heavily militarized forces. Batman has always been great at adapting to his enemies even if it doesn’t seem like his style, whether it’s picking up a katana to battle Ra's al ghul in Arkham City or combining battle armor and kryptonite to take on The Man of Steel in the comics.

Bertz: I may be getting into Fridge Logic territory here, but I fail to understand why tank warfare makes sense on either side of the equation. With Rocksteady’s narrative excuse of the Scarecrow attack sending the 6.8 million civilians on buses out of town, why does the Arkham Knight need a militarized force in the first place? Maybe the game addresses this somewhere and I missed it, but as I understand it all he’s after at this point is Batman, because the only other people left on these islands are criminals and a handful of cops and firefighters. It makes way more sense to have a militarized force in The Dark Knight Rises, where Bane is trying to suppress the citizenry and isolate Gotham from the rest of the country. I don’t buy Rocksteady’s application here. It makes me think the studio was just having a hard time coming up with compelling uses for the Batmobile and ostensibly gave up and settled for a classic video game trope. 

Tim: I hear you regarding the flimsy framework Rocksteady devised to evacuate the city and inject enemy tanks the Batmobile can shoot at, but it hasn’t dampened the fun I have firing missile barrages and electrocuting fleeing thugs. The Batmobile as a sidekick is also a clever function. One puzzle requires players to use the Batmobile’s winch to raise and lower a busted elevator. I get a kick out of the admittedly simplistic environmental puzzles, and those moments highlight Batman’s ingenuity. What do you think of the Riddler race courses? I thought the idea sounded hokey at first (even for series featuring villainized clowns and scarecrows), but so far these challenges have been great tests of skill and wit.

Bertz: To be honest I’ve been mainlining the primary narrative, so I haven’t dove into the Riddler content yet. I’ll have to suspend judgment on that part of the game, but I agree that the environmental puzzles, while sometimes feeling forced, overall feel more like a natural fit for the Batman world. I should also say that Rocksteady did a phenomenal job with the transitions in and out of the Batmobile. I love catapulting myself into the air after hitting the thrusters.

Tim: The Batmobile’s railgun ejection seat is a thrill every time. As for the Riddler Batmobile challenges, I recommend going for the side quest featuring Catwoman, because there’s some great variety there. Additionally, looping back to your comment about occasionally changing from Pursuit Mode to Battle Mode by hitting the left trigger, I recommend changing the Batmobile transformation to toggle mode in the options. It lets you change between modes by hitting the right bumper, freeing up your left trigger to brake like god intended.

Bertz: I’m about 80 percent done with the story and prefer the gliding navigation, so I doubt I’ll go back to change my configuration now, but it’s a good tip should I find myself in a jam. So at the end of the day you’d argue that the Batmobile is a meaningful addition to the Arkham series? I feel like it’s a missed opportunity mainly due to the strange thematic fit and over reliance on tank battles. 

Tim: Yeah, I think the Batmobile has enriched the moment-to-moment of exploring Gotham for me. I’ll always prefer gliding between destinations for the sake of speed, but the tank skirmishes that break out while traveling on the streets add nice bursts of action to the otherwise empty city. I don’t think Batman’s wheels are a necessity for every future Batman game, but I’m enjoying the novelty. Even if Battle Mode occasionally feels a little like Battlezone.

What's your take on the Batmobile? Do you prefer it to gliding around the city? Do Riddler's racing challenges frustrate you?