Arkham Knight shares the same problem as last year's Shadow of Mordor, in that it throws an awful lot of stuff at you very quickly. The main story pushes you on apace while a clump of side-quests appear at the same time, and it isn't entirely clear how you're supposed to approach it all. Furthermore, new fighting moves and predator takedowns are added to the already-turgid move-set. Finally, there's the Batmobile, which isn't so much a vehicle for getting around in as it is a second character, a Batman with wheels.
The Batmobile is Arkham Knight's biggest new introduction, and it's as powerful and versatile as Batman himself. Perhaps a little too versatile. In its main function, getting the Dark Knight from A to B, it's brilliant, jetting down straights and wrenching around corners with a tremendous sense of weight and momentum. It obliterates almost any obstacle in its path, cars, concrete barriers, trees, even thugs, although they are conveniently stunned rather than killed by an implausible electrical barrier.
Alongside serving as transport, the Batmobile's secondary mode transforms it into a highly manoeuvrable tank, easily able to avoid and destroy the hundreds of tank-drones in the Arkham Knight's army. Equipped with machineguns, missiles and a 60mm turret, its representative of the more militant edge to both Batman and the adversary he faces. It's fun, albeit somewhat overused, particularly in the second half of the game where Rocksteady suddenly introduce special "Cobra" tanks that can only be destroyed using stealth, which makes less sense than using soap as seasoning.
In fact, Batman frequently finds unlikely uses for his car. He uses it for takedowns during street-fights, navigates rooftops with it using its winch. There are even ludicrous underground race-circuits created by the Riddler, which often see the car travelling along walls and even upside down. Frankly, I didn't care much for the races, especially the later ones which were as frustrating as they were absurd.
After a chaotic couple of hours, the rhythms of the game begin to emerge. Many of the side-activities run alongside the main story, unlocking as you progress. Others you might stumble across as you're traversing the city, such as bodies left in grisly tableau by a mysterious serial killer, or fire-fighters held hostage by groups of armed thugs. It's a pleasing alternative to Ubisoft's iconoclypse, to keep your eyes and ears open as you travel around, rather than rushing about the map attempting to tidy up.
There's no risk of missing out, either. If you've neglected a particular quest, the game will update you with "Intel", at certain points, hinting at where the next stage of a mission is located. Best of all, this system lets you focus on the main story without unfinished secondary missions gnawing away at the back of your mind. This is just as well, because the story is undoubtedly where Arkham Knight hits its highest notes, where we see all the stresses and strains of Batman's crusade against crime finally take their toll.
The Arkham games have always put Batman through the wringer, represented visually by the degradation of his suit. This time around, the damage is far less tangible. Not only is Batman locked in an increasingly uncompromising war against Gotham's entire criminal underworld, he's also at war with himself, struggling to sustain his identity, to stick to his own rules against opposition that not only keeps coming back, but returns stronger and more dangerous each time. As the situation becomes more desperate, and Batman's actions more extreme, his own allies begin to question his fitness as Gotham's guardian, and there are even moments when you'll question him too.