Batman: Arkham Knight has been a real labour of love for developer Rocksteady, which started work on the project four years ago, as soon as it finished Arkham City. And from our play time with the latest, almost complete build of the game, you can see why that time was needed.
This third in Rocksteady's trilogy (Origins was developed in-house by Warner) has the largest, most vibrant playing field yet. And it has the Batmobile. Oh yes.
That's the major new addition to the franchise but wasn't the only focus for our preview play session as dual play fighting is also a fantastic new feature and we got the chance to stand toe to toe with Nightwing against a massive horde of enemies. We loved every second.
Rocksteady had prepared several missions to play through for our demo session in London's St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, which looks every bit a gothic mansion and therefore fitting. First up though, we fancied a little exploration around the new Arkham City as although it's familiar to the setting of the last game, it has been expanded dramatically.
That's almost exclusively thanks to the greater processing and graphical power of the new consoles, which weren't around the last time the developer put out a Batman game. The map seems huge and we by no means managed to see every nook and cranny.
Indeed, it has to be as while Batman's soaring through the air talents have returned - with one or two enhancements - you now have another mode of transport. If the play area was the same size as in Arkham City, there would be very little road to drive the Batmobile on. That prompted a rethink at the very start. In addition, the new consoles allow for a greater variety of mission types and the amount of bad guys that can be on screen at once, hence the other all-new feature: dual play combat.
The first mission we played was chosen in order to show off this incredible new battle mode. In some of the missions, you get to fight alongside a much-loved ancillary character, such as Robin, Catwoman or, in this case, Nightwing, and rather than call on a friend to help in co-op fashion you can switch between them during the battle as you like. In fact, you will need to use the constant switching mechanics as dual combos and environmental damage will be essential to vanquish the amount of foes Rocksteady throws at you this time around.
Dual play combos also look awesome, especially when the camera pans in for a close-up, and the combat feels as flowing and intuitive as ever before - just faster and more frantic.
The Batmobile missions we tried were quite different from each other. In one, we were set upon by a wave of heavily armoured tanks after attempting to defuse a bomb placed on Gotham's streets. As well as whip through the streets like a banshee, the new Batmobile has a combat mode of its own, with target-guided missiles, rapid cannons and the ability to strafe. These were all used to great effect in the mission and each direct hit was met with a resounding audio blast and great explosion effects.
The other main Batmobile mission we got to play is one of the bonuses in this year's game. This time, if you collect enough of The Riddler's clues around the city you will find underground lairs that he has set up as racing tracks. You then have the opportunity to race the vehicle through the maze in order to beat a set time - and subsequently your own best times in future.
There's a catch, however. Throughout the track there are obstacles and alternative routes that you can affect with a button press as you near them. Find a door closed? You can open it. No track underneath you on an impossibly long jump? A press of a button will produce a ramp.
Considering the race is done at some speed, and you need to turbo boost often to ensure you make tricky leaps or even hit target times, you will fail often until you get the timings right. Each lap gets harder too, so by the end you are driving by the seat of your pants. And it is undeniably great fun.
Another way the Batmobile comes in use in the game is as an additional gadget in Batman's arsenal. Not only is it remote controlled so will appear haring down the street to your point whenever it is called, it can be used remotely to shoot auto turrets or break through locked doors and the like.
Rocksteady really has made its new star a central character and we heartedly approve on our play so far. But what is even more impressive is that it doesn't get in the way, even though it weighs several tonnes and is the size of three Ford Fiestas (at least). Batman: Arkham purists still get the game they wanted, just with extra added GTA thrown in for good measure.