E3 2011: Batman: Arkham City Hands-On Preview – Batman Returns
Written Saturday, June 25, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Back in 2009, Batman: Arkham Asylum completely blew us away. After years and years of lacklustre Batman games (Batman Returns on the SNES excepted), here finally was a game that did justice to the Batman license and the character, drawing in threads from the movies, the popular animated series and of course, the dark, brooding comic books, tying them all together in one brilliantly cohesive and definitive package. Arkham Asylum redefined the Dark Knight for video games and Arkham City looks poised to capitalise and build upon the sheer excellence of that first game, with more of the same but on a much grander scale.
From the moment we get our hands on Batman: Arkham City, it's abundantly clear that developer Rocksteady knows exactly where it's going for the sequel. Arkham Asylum was widely lauded, but criticised for its linearity and occasional backtracking, so Arkham City gives Bats a wide-open space to roam freely and an array of new moves to help him traverse it much faster than usual. Starting our hands-on demo stood atop a gargoyle on a skyscraper, looking down upon the city before us, cape fluttering in the breeze, we use Batman's Cryptographic Sequencer – previously used to override the electronic locks on some of Arkham Asylum's doors – to tap into transmissions coming from Hugo Strange's frequencies. Picking up a signal, we learn that something big is going down in a courthouse a few blocks away from our location, so we're given the perfect opportunity to try out some of Bats' new abilities he'll be able to use to get around the city swiftly.
And with Catwoman in trouble, the Caped Crusader will need to be quick in responding to the situation. Using Batman's trusty grappling hook is still just a case of pressing RB while targeting an appropriate surface, but now you're able to ride the cable to gather forward momentum before tapping then holding A to boost forward, which makes travelling from building to building fast and fluid. Granted, it takes some getting used to at first and the less said about our attempts at Batman's new dive and swoop manoeuvre, the better. Oh, go on then... We simply couldn't pull it off at first, sending Bats into a headfirst dive towards the streets below before flipping and landing gracefully in an admittedly very cool way. What should happen however is completely different, as you're supposed to hold the right trigger as you dive off the edge of a high building and swoop at the last minute by pulling back on the left analogue stick and letting go of the trigger. Again, we got the hang of it eventually, but it's something else that might take some getting used to.
In our directionless experimentation with Batman's new fast traversal moves, we stumble upon a group of Arkham thugs, where we see a perfect opportunity to try out some of the Dark Knight's new combat abilities. Opening with a glide kick, we go straight into the game's good old FreeFlow combat, using X to string together combos and Y to counter incoming attacks, still represented by lightning bolts above an enemy's head. B also still has Bats stunning enemies with his cape, but it now doubles as a lead-in to some brutal finishing moves. Double tapping and holding X initiates a flurry of punches for a 'beat down', which surely no thug will be able to get up from, and double tapping and holding A is an acrobatic 'aerial beat down', wherein Bats vaults over a bad guy and stomps him into the ground.
Using Batman's Detective Mode, we're also able to single out one of the thugs marked in green for interrogation. Consequently, we need to save him until last before tapping Y to grab him by the scruff of the neck and beat some vital information and secrets out of him. After that brief diversion, it's time to get back on track and follow our objective marker to the courthouse where there's more thugs waiting outside. After some more FreeFlow face punching, we enter the courthouse through the front door, where inside Two-Face has Catwoman trussed up and hung upside-down above a vat of what appears to be steaming green acid. Two-Face wants to execute Ms. Selina Kyle in front of a crowd of baying criminals for stealing from him, but Bats isn't about to let that happen, as we glide kick slap-bang into the middle of the angry throng and lay the smack down on the tattooed, maniacal criminals.
Having beaten up an entire roomful of criminally insane reprobates, evading thrown objects, lead pipes and knives, Two-Face shoots Bats and prepares to shoot Catwoman as a coin toss deems her guilty and condemns her to death. “I vote for a stay of execution,” purrs Ms. Kyle as she cuts herself free and belts Harvey Dent square in the chops. With the room emptied of goons, Batman and Catwoman exchange a few flirty lines of dialogue and it's here that our demo has to end, as we're inexorably sucked into the game. Frankly, we could have happily played Batman: Arkham City all day, but the mania of E3 affords us no such luxury. Besides, we've played more than enough to know that Rocksteady is right on track for its Batman sequel, making it bigger and better than Arkham Asylum in every conceivable department. Batman: Arkham City looks set to take the Dark Knight to the next level, and we can't wait to don the cape and cowl once again, as well as letting Catwoman get her claws into the action too.
Batman: Arkham City is due to glide into stores on October 18th, 2011 in North America and October 21st, 2011 in Europe.