Batman: Arkham City Preview
Perched atop a gargoyle stalks the shadow of one of the most iconic figures in entertainment. Below the figure sits a walled off section of a once great city, hanging by a string that's slowly being burned away by criminals, super villains, and ulterior motives. The figure, as you may have guessed, is Batman. The place is Arkham City.
Developer Rocksteady has collected a stockpile of critical and commercial acclaim for its previous endeavor, Batman: Arkham Asylum. Since the release of that title, the studio was purchased by Warner Bros. Interactive and announced the game's sequel.
The first thing I noticed during my hands-off demo of Batman: Arkham City was the game's scale. While the multiple sections of the previous game in the series gave the game a good sense of size, Arkham City is massive. In fact, Rocksteady's Dax Ginn confirms the world here is five times larger than the studio's previous Batman adventure. Though it isn't the entire Gotham City, it's a large chunk of the land that has been converted into the new Arkham Asylum.
Beyond that, the developer decided to "flip" the experience. Whereas Arkham Asylum was 20% outdoors and 80% indoors, Arkham City will be the opposite. The city is so vast that it begs to be explored. The open-world nature of the environment pushed Rocksteady to make changes to almost every aspect of Batman's repertoire. Combat, navigation, and gadgetry have all seen tweaks. Also different? Batman is not restricted in his approach.
In Batman: Arkham City, you can go anywhere you want from the very beginning and choose how to tackle (and then probably punch) any situation. "You can unfold the game anyway you want," Ginn says.
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At the beginning of the demo, Batman's stalwart butler Alfred tells the perched Dark Knight that Two-Face is holed up in a courthouse with Catwoman as his unwilling guest. Tapping into local cellphone frequencies using an upgraded version of his Cryptographic Sequencer from Arkham Asylum, Batman learns that Two-Face intends on settling a score with Ms. Selina Kyle. You'd think the situation is in need of immediate Caped Crusader intervention, but Ginn decides to take the scenic route around the city before helping out the kidnapped kitty.
Hoping off the gargoyle and toward the ground below, Batman extends his cape and glides throughout the city. To gain altitude, Batman executes a dive and then extends his cape again, thrusting him high into the sky. This dive-bomb technique is quick and effective, and with the addition of Batman's grappling hook the Dark Knight can control the skies.
Soon, Batman sees a group of inmates harassing reporter Jack Ryder in the street. This encounter reveals another new element. In Arkham City, Riddler's secrets have returned but are harder to discover. Throughout the world will be Riddler's informants, which Batman can pinpoint in Detective mode. The group below includes an informant, but to get his information Batman must dispatch the other enemies first. Following a flurry of punches and kicks, Batman comes face-to-face with the informant and attempts to squeeze information out of him. Unfortunately, 'interrogation' only appears to be as simple as pressing a button and waiting for the enemy to spill the beans. There doesn't appear to be any mechanic attached to the new feature.
Successfully interrogating an informant places Riddler question marks on Batman's map of Arkham City, which correspond to hidden Riddler goodies. If you fail to save the informant for last in the group battle, players are forced to find the Riddler trophies on their own.
In combat, Batman can utilize the Bat-claw to drag enemies back into fist range. Batman can also grab hurled objects in midair and deliver them back toward his enemies with pinpoint, MLB accuracy. For blocking enemies, Batman can stun them with a swipe of his cape and deliver a barrage of punches to their midsection. The move is aptly named the "beatdown." The game can now handle more characters on screen; however, it's unclear how many can be fought at once. In one instance Batman enters a building with around twenty enemies. When he hurled himself into the crowd, most fled the scene leaving only a handful to contend with.
Batman's gear has also seen an improvement to compensate for the game's new scale. Beyond the aforementioned upgrade to the Cryptographic Sequencer, which helps discover new tasks throughout the world, Detective Mode has a little more function too. In one section a bullet flies through a window and Batman analyzes its entry and stopping points to estimate the trajectory of the bullet to discover where the shooter was positioned, unlocking a new mission possibility.
The look of the game captures the areas nicely. Neon lights and dark alleys are indicators of the type of enemy faction you're bound to run into. The courthouse, for example, is half destroyed and burned while the other half is prestine, making it clear that it's Two-Face's favorite haunt. So far, Arkham City looks great. You've never wanted to visit a place and be so far away from it at the same time.
Batman: Arkham City hasn't changed the core of the original game. Rocksteady instead opted to "enhance" the original game and add a greater scale to the experience. It doesn't take the World's Greatest Detective to know that Batman: Arkham City is one of this year's most anticipated titles.
Batman: Arkham City launches later this year for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.