Preview: Batman: Arkham City
Just over two years ago, something phenomenal happened in the gaming industry. A game was released, that carried one of the most recognised comic book licenses, and it did not suck balls. Batman: Arkham Asylum was living, breathing proof that an official license could go hand in hand with an equally kick-ass videogame. Now we are just under a month away from the release of the anticipated sequel, which is set to blow us all away again as we tackle the dangers that Hugo Strange has in store for us. Arkham City’s doors are now open.
Name: Batman: Arkham City
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 and PC
Developers: Rocksteady Studios
Publishers: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: 26th October (Xbox 360 and PS3), 11th November (PC)
So, we step back into the shoes of the famous Caped Crusader about a year after the end of Arkham Asylum. Former Asylum Warden, Quincy Sharp, has taken all the credit for stopping the Joker, and has used this new notoriety to become Mayor of Gotham City. With the massive increase in criminal activity, neither Arkham Asylum nor Blackgate Prison is able to contain the large number of inmates. Mayor Sharp decides to buy out a large portion of Gotham’s slums, setting up a perimeter with private military contractors from a group called Tyger, and allowing inmates to roam free within its walls. Arkham City has been established. In order to deal with both Arkham and Gotham City, Quincy Sharp enlists the help of Hgo Strange, who has his own secret agenda for the criminal infested city. Batman has been keeping a close eye on the cornered off city, worrying that things might get out of hand.
The game kicks off with Two-Face, seeking to gain some fame among the inmates of Arkham City, attempts to hold a public execution of Catwoman, who has used the new inmate litter city to continue her spree of criminal activity, and is targeting Two-Face for reasons yet unknown. For those of you who played the code at rAge, this is exactly where the demo started. Batman is then forced to finally intervene in the events unfolding in Arkham City, involving him in a plot that threatens the whole of Gotham City. Speaking with Paul Crocker, Lead Narrative Designer on Arkham City, at rAge, he stated that “You’re trying to find out the mysteries behind Arkham City, behind what is going on, all while Batman is being put through an emotional rollercoaster.”
Batman: Arkham City is set to once again blow away gamers, with its mix of comic book flair and dark storyline. With Rocksteady now branching out and creating their own Batman universe, the possibilities are endless, and fans of the Caped Crusader should be excited to see in which direction Rocksteady take their favourite characters. Unlike Arkham Asylum, Arkham City is an open-world game, with the cornered off part of the city being around five times larger than that of Arkham Island. When designing the city, developers stated that it was never their goal to create the biggest city ever, but rather one of the most detailed. The slums of Arkham City are thriving with activity, and players will be handsomely rewarded for exploring as much as they can. Enemies constantly roam the streets, allowing you to dive in and beat some faces whenever you like, and even listening to their conversations can reveal more about your hostile surroundings.
As for the cast, well it’s just a party in Arkham City. In one corner we have Batman (Kevin Conroy), Alfred Pennyworth, Oracle and Commissioner Gordon. In the other corner there is Hugo Strange, Joker (Mark Hamill a.k.a the real Joker in disguise), Two-Face, The Riddler, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze, Penguin, Solomon Grundy, Zsasz, Bane, Calendar Man and Deadshot. And then, somewhere in the middle Rocksteady drops in Catwoman, Talia Al Ghul, Quincy Sharp and Jack Ryder. Now, if that is not a fully fleshed out cast of characters, then I don’t know what is. Some might be wondering, “With all those characters, there is no way the story can tie them in altogether seamlessly.” Well, we can’t know for sure yet, but considering that the main story can last up to 25 hours, I’m willing to bet that Rocksteady found a way for it all to work. Not all the villains will be part of the main story arc though, with some only appearing in side-quests, such as Calendar Man and Zsasz.
With such a big city at your disposal, you would hope that Batman could move nimbly from rooftop to rooftop. Well, without the constraints present in Arkham Asylum, you are now able to soar above Arkham City, using your cape to fly from the highest rooftops to the slums below. Batman is able to dive down and initiate combos straight from the air, allowing you to seamlessly transition from flight into taking down thugs. The Freeflow system of combat that was made famous in Arkham Asylum is back and better than ever. All the things you loved about it are back, such as multiple and simultaneous counters, the ability to counter thrown objects, jump attacks, multi-strike beat downs and the ability to use the batclaw and batrangs to chain together combos. The ability to use gadgets such as the Explosive Gel and line launcher make their debut in Freeflow, allowing you to add further variance your bad guy beat downs.
Speaking of gadgets, you’ll be glad to hear that all your gadgets that you found in Arkham Asylum will be available to you from the start of Arkham City. That’s right, Batman remembers where he leaves his toys when he’s not using them, so there will be no need to collect all of them again. The only gadgets that Batman seemed to have misplaced are the Ultra Batclaw, but don’t worry too much, it has been replaced by the standard Batclaw and Sonic Batrangs. Most of them have improved or new capabilities; for example, the Cryptographic Sequencer can also track signals, the line launcher now has a feature that allows Batman to flip over and launch another zipline perpendicularly across, switching directions, the remote control Batarang now has a built in brake and boost, and the grappling gun can now be used while gliding to boost Batman further up into the air. But let’s face it, you want to hear about all the news toys that Batman will get, right?
Well, you’re in luck, because there are three new gadgets that will be making their debut. Firstly we have smoke pellets, used to confuse armed enemies when spotted by them. Next up is the Remote Electrical Charge which is a sniper-like taser gun used to power generators and shock enemies. And lastly we have ice grenades, which can be used to freeze enemies and make pathways through water. The highly useful, yet controversial “Detective Mode” is back, but it has seen a few changes to stop players from keeping it on the entire game, as was the case in Arkham Asylum. Instead of being a “See through everything, everywhere” tool, Batman will now only be able to see through objects that he is looking directly at, while the rest of the world around him is blurred and slightly obscured. The Detective Vision also allows you to perform advanced detective techniques, such as tracing the path of a fored sniper round.
Riddler challenges and trophies are back and better than ever. Seems like Rocksteady didn’t think that the ones in the first one were challenging enough, and that there were way to little. So, instead of the 64 or so challenges present in Arkham Asylum, Arkham City will boast over 400 unique trophies and challenges for you to wrap your head around. Batman will also need to interrogate thugs loyal to The Riddler and use all his gadgets in order to solve some of The Riddler’s puzzles. After collecting a few, The Riddler will summon Batman to a Riddler Room, where the fate of an Arkham guard or innocent civilian will rest in Batman’s hands, as he attempts to solve the room’s riddle before it’s too late. Another much wanted addition is the chance to finally go toe-to-toe with The Riddler after you have completed his challenges, allowing you to punch his face repeatedly as punishment for littering Gotham with his trophies.
So, basically, Rocksteady have taken everything that was awesome in Arkham Asylum, given it a good polish and added a few extra’s, and expanded our playground. Challenge maps and additional character skin unlocks should keep people playing after the credits have rolled, and the chance to play certain sections of the narrative with Catwoman is sure to please most people. Batman: Arkham City is a fine example of “If it isn’t broken, why fix it?”, and I can certainly say that it does feel familiar after playing it at rAge, which isn’t bad at all. Arkham City awaits us all at the end of the month. Are you ready?