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I am playing Arkham Knight, and I have only played a small amount of the main story. According to saved game selector screen, I have progressed 4%. I haven't picked up any upgrades or new gadgets or any abilities.

I decided I was interested in seeing if I could complete some of the AR challenges, and specifically I'm trying to pass the Crime Alley challenge. I'm pretty experienced with all the Arkham games leading up to this, so I feel I should be able to play adequately enough to compete in the challenges, so long as it is actually possible. However, in spite of many, many attempts, I can not get past the third stage.

There are some hints that maybe the game expects that you have more attributes in order to compete. For example, opponents become electrified, meaning you can't hit them without being shocked. I looked up on the web how to defeat them, and from what I gather, one needs to be able to take them down with a quick fire grappling hook. I don't seem to have that, though.

At the challenges designed for a fully equipped Batman after having completed the main story? Or is it that I am unaware of certain skills or features that I should be using against specific opponents?

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    I'd guess it's the former. Based on Arkham Asylum and City you usually need tools unlocked through the story to beat most challenges. – user1337 Feb 8 '16 at 11:35
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Some (most?) of the AR challenges are locked until you perform some action somewhere else in the game (main story or other AR challenges). Some of the unlock requirements can't be completed without upgrading Batman's combat/predator/gadget skills or the Batmobile's systems. You upgrade these skills by passing challenges and leveling Batman up, which give you Wayne Tech upgrade points.

That being said, there are some AR challenges that you may unlock, but you won't be able to complete until you're pretty well upgraded. The Batmobile challenges were especially difficult for me and got easier once the Batmobile's systems were completely leveled up.

So, kind of. You'll need to level Batman up. How long that takes depends on how well you play the main story and earn WayneTech points.

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