Batman: Arkham City E3 Preview
by Adam R
It’s a cold night. Cold enough that a few snowflakes have begun to flutter and descend towards the streets of Gotham. Below, in the newly sealed section dubbed “Arkham City”, criminals are held on the brink of absolute anarchy only by their diminishing sense of self-preservation. Above the cacophony stands the man who swore to protect this city from their kind. Batman – still and silent, awaiting the chaos he can feel is about to break free. The Dark Knight keeps vigil while snow gently settles onto his cowl. Seemingly satisfied, he raises his arm, shoots off a grapple and pulls himself up a nearby building at breakneck speed. Instead of slowing, he simply allows himself to zip past the edge of the roof to which he was grappled, launching himself into the sky above the city, before spreading out his cape and giving weight to his claim of being the Bat whilst gliding over the darkened streets.
While the scenario may sound like it was lifted from Batman’s latest blockbuster movie, this was actually the sight I was treated to upon first setting eyes on a demo of the Caped Crusader’s latest digital escapade. It may seem like an epic and very cinematic moment, but this sight was actually quite common, since it’s the Bat’s fastest and main means of travelling around the new city-sized prison. The adrenaline rush brought about from experiencing Batman’s rapid ascent into the night sky, then watching as he takes a sudden dive and pulls back up to gain momentum followed by another grapple shot to start the process over may seem like a little much, but that would appear to be all part of the plan. The presentation of the demo was accompanied by a developer commentary which explained how, after the breakout success of the first Arkham title, they felt they had little choice but to ratchet everything up to eleven and deliver an even more satisfying Batman experience. He continued to explain how all things, from combat to environments, were looked at and subsequently scrutinized to see how they could be made even better.
Our demo opened to the scene described above with a brief display of Batman’s grapple and glide travel method. We were taken on a small aerial tour around the prison city as our guide pointed out several landmarks, from places of confrontation with several key enemies to locations of great significance in the Batman lore, including the fabled Crime Ally where Batman was essentially born after watching his parents gunned down. As a matter of fact, during this small stroll through a small part of the game world it became quickly apparent how much effort the team was devoting to this game. From the graffiti on the walls, the banter between thugs, to the randomly picked-up radio signals, this game is oozing the history of The World’s Greatest Detective. While the backdrop was impressive to say the least, seeing it all whiz by the camera as Batman dipped and zipped his way past was impressive in its own right. The tour eventually came to a stop when Batman settled on a rooftop up in the corner of the city, which was occupied by two cats. The real meat of our presentation was about to begin.
Once activated, these cats launched us into a cut scene. Considering that the action trigger denoted on the screen seemed to be implying “take a break”, I was half expecting the big bad Bat to settle down into a fit of cooing and fawning over the little kittens. Instead we were treated to a scene where Catwoman joins our hero on the roof, as they exchange some banter that straddled the line between flirtation and intimidation. And with this little tidbit done, control has seamlessly shifted from Batman to the recently announced-as-playable Catwoman. While in the beginning I was skeptical about her inclusion, thinking it was going to be either underdeveloped or simply thrown in there as a random gimmick, the demo showed sign of neither of these.
The first thing our presentation showed off after focusing on Catwoman was her preferred transport method. While lacking Batman’s grapple gun and cape-o-awesome, she managed to get around the cityscape on her own just fine. Where Batman used his grapple to fling himself into the night and glide over the city in all his majesty, Catwoman took a slightly more hands-on approach – she leapt fearlessly off the building, using her whip to then latch onto another structure, swinging herself right into the side of another different building nearby. When she made contact she switched from swinging from building to building, to instead simply sticking to the wall using her claws. From there she made her way to the roof, scaling the structure in a fashion that was equal parts Peter Parker and Ezio Auditore. This process went on until we encountered a group of enemies down on the streets.
This marked another major difference in the gameplay of the two characters – where Batman’s quest brought him into conflict primarily with the criminals contained within Arkham, Catwoman’s path appears to feature the prison security forces as her central adversaries. From her perch on the roof she used a bola to drop the first guard, and then launched herself from her vantage point to land on another, placing her on street level to engage the rest of the mercenary guards head on. While combat appeared to work the same way between both the Bat and the Cat, there were subtle differences in their styles. Where Batman levels adversaries in a single powerful blow, Catwoman unleashes a flurry of smaller attacks to distract her opponent before then using a heavier strike to lay ‘em out. Where Batman counters attacks by blocking his opponent and then returning with a strike of his own, Catwoman utilizes her superior agility to avoid harm altogether before bringing the pain right into her assailant’s blind spot. After a few moments the fight is over – the feline femme fatale triumphant over the Arkham stooges.
From there our demo took us into one of several interior environments – the sewers. Due to the possible story spoilers telling you how and why she utilizes the prison’s irrigation system, I’ll just say that it’s only possible due to the aid of another supervillain. She does eventually reach her destination; a secure room outside of a large vault, guarded by four more of the Arkham security force, these ones armed with automatic weapons. Much like her counterpart does when first encountering armed opposition, Catwoman is smart enough to realize the situation calls for a much more restrained approach then her previous engagement. To complicate matters even more, she has to first pickpocket the card keys these goons are holding on their belts before taking them on in combat. We then got a look at Catwoman’s equivalent of Batman’s “detective vision”, which the developers have taken to calling “thief sense”. Like Batman’s visual filters, thief sense let’s Catwoman spot enemies through walls, however, unlike the tech-based bat-cowl, Catwoman’s sixth sense allows her to spot items worth stealing off of characters by highlighting them with a sparkling sheen.
Catwoman then gets into action doing what she does best – stealing other people’s shit. Our demo showed us a unique stealth ability used by the klepto kitty, where she leaps up to the ceiling above her and clings to it. She uses this to traverse the room undetected and, in conjunction with her thief sense, is able to quickly spot the keys she needs. Getting them proved to be another matter entirely though and, since these were trained professionals and not common thugs, the guards did a much better job of keeping each other in their line of sight. Catwoman eventually took an all-or-nothing gamble and swiped the keys from two guards standing right next to one another, where a simple head turn would have exposed her. Once the keys were in hand she returned to the previous room, to open up the vault that has been her primary objective the whole time. Once it’s open she merely needs to enter it, but because of the door opening the guards are now alert to having an intruder in their midst.
During the following section of gameplay, which resembled the Predator sections from the previous game, we were treated to another new feature of Arkham City. While performing a silent takedown on an enemy, the player now has the option to just knock them out instantly. The drawback is that the move creates a fair amount of noise, and that alerts nearby baddies and brings down additional pressure on the player. Understandably our demonstrator saved showing us this tidbit for the last enemy. The demo concluded by showing us a scene where Catwoman obtains some mysterious unrevealed treasure from the vault.
As satisfying as seeing a woman in a leather jumpsuit was, I still hadn’t had quite enough to hold me over until the October release date. After then getting a go with a hands-on demo though, I can’t say for sure if this has helped or hurt my intense desire to have this game right now. As alluring as it was seeing part of the story played out in front of me, my following demo experience was pretty much limited to experimenting with Batman’s gliding mechanics, aimlessly floating above the cityscape, and clobbering any hooligans I came across. The play mechanics are smooth as ever, and new controls and gameplay mechanics are integrated easily, without feeling forced or awkward. After my time with the game I couldn’t be more excited for its release. October simply cannot feel further away.
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