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To the Batmobile? The trouble with Arkham Knight's biggest addition

"I didn't sign up for this."

What's your favourite Batmobile? If you answered the Tumbler, the thick, bulky and brutally functional supercar/tank hybrid from Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, then I'm afraid you're just plain wrong. The Tumbler had a place within Nolan's universe, with its thudding logic dictated by the inevitable and rather joyless collision of immovable objects, but looking back through the history of Batman's garage it's an unsightly addition - a tool fit for a soldier rather than a vigilante, a guardian, a silent predator.

Can it ever really compare to the impossible sleekness of the Batmobile that starred in Tim Burton's Batman films, its swooping art deco lines a vision of lethal beauty, while its central turbine recalled the pioneering years of aviation? Or even the 60s futurism of the vehicle Adam West drove, those iconic sculpted panels managing to look somehow less fantastical than the Lincoln Futura concept car the design was built upon.

So poor Rocksteady's already off on the wrong foot with the foundation of Arkham Knight's Batmobile, a thundering mass of military might that takes its inspiration from the weaponised wedge-like design of the Tumbler, before blunting the nose somewhat so that the whole thing looks like a giant Flymo. It's strange, really, given how the studio's Arkham series has always struck an enviable balance, revelling in the excess of Batman while keeping the solemn, straight face at the character's core -and crafting a more satisfying spin on Bob Kane and Bill Finger's creation than Nolan's film universe in the process.

And Batmobile aside, this has never been truer than in Arkham Knight, a dazzling summer blockbuster that serves up big dumb thrills while managing to be incredibly smart in how it delivers them. Its Gotham is a delight, the open world playground that Batman deserves and the one its players need to fully live out the fantasy of being the Dark Knight. In fact, the Batmobile feels like its only real misstep.

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It's certainly not a disaster - purposeful and combative, the way it smashes through the city and all of that splintering street furniture can be hugely satisfying - yet in a game where everything is so finely tuned towards making you occupy the cowl of Gotham's hero it can feel like something of a disappointment.

Only some of that comes through the execution. Light and springy in its handling, it can feel a little too insubstantial as you send it fishtailing around the curving streets of a Gotham that, at ground level, has been made to resemble a marble run so as to accommodate it. in those first few hours behind the wheel it's a gadget that lacks the precision you find elsewhere in Batman's arsenal: its eagerness to please results in oversteering when you were perhaps anticipating something far heavier that would require real force to take into a corner.

Its responsiveness does not quite join up with the weightiness of the visuals, and so instead of empowering the player and making you feel that intoxicating blend of ninja and detective, driving the Batmobile often renders you a lethal clutz, smashing through brickwork and bones and mounting kerbs not because you're a vigilante and that's just how you roll, but because your handling is surprisingly buttery. While you crave the orchestrated, cinematic fireworks of Burnout, what you initially get is the freeform chaos of Wrecked.

Some of it's in the concept, which often boils down to a matter of taste. Taking its cues from the Tumbler is understandable, given what Arkham Knight intends it for - a blunt weapon of force and might - but there's actually more - or perhaps less - to Nolan's machine than Rocksteady is allowing for. Yes, on some levels the Tumbler is a tank, but it's primarily a snowplough: a straightahead tool that Batman uses to knock garbage trucks out of the way and ratchet the family sedan into the sky. The moment you add a gun turret to that, and allow for a crab-like flicking of the wheels that permits strafing, you have something like a Frankenstein's monster taking shape in the garage, or, in keeping with Arkham's psychological themes, a car with a split personality.

The Batmobile's role in launching Batman, flinging him across Gotham, works - and only really underlines that, when the main character's movement is so satisfying, the Batmobile was always going to face an uphill struggle.

it's a bit of a shame Rocksteady didn't look towards its own past for inspiration. The Batmobile made a non-playable appearance way back in Arkham Asylum, and good lord was it much prettier then: with its long, sloping front end matched with an imposing sense of purpose, it found somewhere beautiful between Michael Keaton's machine and the impractically, brilliantly proportioned take of the animated series. Perhaps Arkham Knight's Batmobile's biggest sin, however, is in its anonymous rear-end, which you're going to spend a long time staring at.

Here, ironically, is where the Tumbler matched the Burton Batmobile in design brilliance, those brutally thick columns of tires stacked on either side of a flaming exhaust revealing a machine that was lost in its own love for forward momentum. Rocksteady, meanwhile, has opted for a people-carrier: a row of rollercoaster-styled buckled prisoner seating that is covered by a bulbous swell that invokes the plated carapace of a waddling beetle. Rear-ends should have purpose, they should spit fire and belch - and on a car - and they should have a character of their own. Think of the squat menace of Burnout's vehicles, all spitting blue flame in your face, or the aspirational Prancing Horse that sits on the grille of OutRun's Ferrari. Arkham Knight's Batmobile, on the other hand, is a forgettable bug.

Does it detract from the brilliance of Arkham Knight, and from what's emerging as one of the best games in what's fast turning out to be a stellar year for the medium? Not significantly, and if it's a real concern then Warner Bros has, of course, a solution: a new skin for those who've pre-ordered with select retailers. Don't like the car? You should see my other one.

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