Rocksteady is an operation that values aggressive expansion. Edging along the rafters that link Gotham City’s rain-stricken rooftops in Arkham Knight – the studio’s latest adaptation of Bob Kane’s vigilante, and alleged final act in its trilogy – games™ peers out over the conurbation as it stretches for miles into the darkness, finding a world almost unrecognisable from its origins.
After the titular prison-husk where Batman stalked its inmates and the cordoned off area of city hastily abandoned and left to disintegrate in the Dark Knight’s mid-chapter, here stands a sprawling metropolis stripped of its shackles and brought to life. This is Gotham City.
It’s an impressive sight to behold. But before we let Batman spread his wings, we cast our eye across the skyline, noting the hum of artificial light illuminating the financial district on the far side of the map, while directly beneath our feet gothic structures pierce the skyline and neon street signs splash lurid colour across an otherwise oppressively dark air (and perhaps offer the only homage to Joel Schumacher’s contribution to Batman lore).
It’s impressive, given that the location has appeared in various guises over the course of three games (including last year’s Arkham Origins), that Gotham retains its allure; the streets tinged with mystery and sadness, its shadows concealing another iconic villain, its denizens mostly routine thugs ready for a good kicking.
Everything is bigger. Much bigger. The city has evolved, the dangers have escalated and Rocksteady have aggressively expanded. No more half-measures: this is the Batman game you’ve been waiting for.
“I think that’s one of the strengths of our earlier games. We’ve finally got the chance to show what the whole of Gotham City looks like in the Arkhamverse, and it’s huge: full of massive skyscrapers, dark grimy alleyways and glaring neon. And rain – we’ve spent a lot of time making the rain feel just right! The sun hardly ever shines in Gotham, and switching to new-gen consoles has made it possible for us to bring that unique atmosphere to life in a way that hasn’t been done before in gaming.”
The setting is reassuringly familiar, but the tools with which it’s created are completely new. Hill has served as director on each of Rocksteady’s entries (while also sharing writing duties on City and Knight), but finds himself in a adventitious position working on Knight, able to utilise the extra power of new-gen platforms to build a bigger, better experience that wasn’t possible a few years ago.
“The [new technology] has given us the chance to apply our detailed approached to a much bigger open world,” he tells games™
“Our version of Gotham is teeming with life. While it has been evacuated, it has been completely occupied by the gangs of Gotham, and the Arkham Knight’s militia army. There are also many more of Gotham’s Most Wanted who’ve crawled out of the woodwork in this co-ordinated attack to bring the Batman to his knees.”
In Arkham Knight, Hill has a larger canvas by which to paint a suitably epic finale for his own take on the character. With the whole of Gotham to discover, is Rocksteady’s swansong the Batman game they always wanted to make.
“Ever since Batman: Arkham Asylum, our approach has been to put everything we have into every game we make,” says Hill. “We never hold ideas back because you never know what’s around the corner. So I guess you could describe that as a ‘kitchen sink’ approach but I’d prefer to say it’s more of a ‘live every game as if it’s your last’ approach (mainly because it sounds more poetic).”