E3 2011 - Batman: Arkham City Hands-On
E3 2011 - Batman: Arkham City Hands-On
Yes, I'll admit it. I was cynical about 'being' Catwoman in Batman: Arkham City. The logic behind my cynicism is strong - who would want to be Selina Kyle when they're the God Damned Batman?
Upon getting my hands on the catsuited beauty (no, not like that) I suddenly understood the why behind her inclusion - she doesn't play at all like the Caped Crusader, and the game is much, much better for it.
Where the Dark Knight is grand, swooping movements Catwoman is a series of springs and leaps - she doesn't have the same mobility as Bats, and as a result her play style is extremely different.
In my hands-on demo, the first thing I did was don the leather suit of the crazy cat lady, crack the whip and beat up some henchmen. Yes, the first thing Rocksteady got me to do in my Batman: Arkham City hands-on was hit like a girl.
I gotta say - she hits hard. Batman: Arkham City is appropriating a very similar combat system to the first game - your primary focus as the embodiment of these heroes is to counter your enemies attacks, block those you can't counter and keep moving.
Catwoman's attacking style has a greater emphasis on her main weapon - her whip - compared to Batman, who seems to do just fine with his gauntleted fists. Our mission as Catwoman focused solely on how she fought, but the Rocksteady team demonstrated one of Selina's side missions - it seems like she won't be playable in the main game, but instead she will feature in her own diversionary missions which take up roughly 10% of the full game.
The Catwoman level was more of an introduction to what was motivating our man in black - she gets herself caught stealing from Harvey "Two Face" Dent, and it's left Batman to go and help her. The level ends, we fade to black and when we return Gotham's protector is standing atop a building, his cape fluttering in the wind.
One of the first things I noticed was a level of familiarity - and yet the way Batman moved was altogether foreign to me.
Batman: Arkham Asylum was a largely linear experience - it was a corridor action game, though the corridors were very wide. Arkham City lifts these restrictions from our hero and plonks him in basically an open world - and as a result the control system required something of a redesign.
Our Rocksteady hosts were very proud of the idea that once a player was good at being Batman, they could basically traverse Arkham City without ever putting their feet on the ground. When I first walked the Dark Knight off a ledge, I was happier to just know I wasn't a crumpled mess on the floor. I spent a good 10 minutes getting to grips with the new controls - grappling to ledges, flinging myself over the top of them, swooping between buildings and taking advantage of the ever so slightly unrealistic mechanic of power diving and then gliding back upwards.
While I was gliding about I noticed a number of instances where the cloth of Batman's cape flowed realistically against objects, and I spent a good deal of time just staring at the world around me. Batman: Arkham City looks fantastic.
While I was goofing about and learning how to be the Batman, Harvey Dent was rallying a crowd about him in the Town Hall. They were going to judge Selina Kyle for her crimes - and I had a feeling the prosecution was going to treat its only witness as hostile.
I started swooping over to the Town Hall with all the ease my Rocksteady hosts had spoken about - and they've captured the idea of being Batman wonderfully. Before I reach the stairs of the Town Hall I pause to perch on a gargoyle nearby to survey my surroundings.
After working out the situation - there are a number of burly men armed with lead pipes guarding the entrance, and I'll have to beat their faces in - I leapt into action, diving from up high and crashing satisfyingly into the one I deemed the biggest threat. A few swift moves later and I'd beaten them all down, so I entered the Town Hall.
Inside was something truly impressive - there had to be about 40 guys down rallying around Two-Face, and trussed up above what I assumed was lava was Catwoman. A cutscene played out, with Harvey being crazy, Selina being sassy and Bruce being concerned - then it was time for action.
Batman helpfully pointed out to himself that there was a gunman in the area, so I triggered the new detective mode to find him. Later the detective mode would serve to actually allow me to do forensic investigating - like you'd imagine it should - but here it just served to highlight both the guy with the gun and the monumental task ahead of me.
I sneak around the edges of the meeting hall and up to where the rifle-toting guard is standing, taking him out with an effortless stealth takedown. I then sneak along a beam near the ceiling to the centre of the meeting room and I dive down.
I actually had to fight and take down all forty guys. It's an impressive technical feat on the part of Rocksteady - they don't stand there and wait for me to finish off a guy before leaping in to hurt (or try to hurt) me, so not only does it provide a significant challenge - I wind up with this sense of awe at my own abilities.
After rescuing Selina (she helps) I have to save her again from a sniper. I use my Detective Mode to nail down the location of the sniper - my Rocksteady guide tells me these get more and more challenging as the game progresses - but I won't tell you the results of this investigation (you can work it out yourself).
Instead we will leap over to one of the Riddler's challenges. The Riddler is once again taxing the mind of our hero - pointlessly, no doubt - and in true open-world style it seems completely possible that you might never find out about the true extent of his riddles if you never actually look.
The challenge begins with us hunting down one of The Riddler's informants. To get the info from him I have to beat up everyone except him.
While beating up his cohorts I accidentally smack him around a few times, but I'm happy to see his constitution is the tiniest bit better than the others - I finish them off and interrogate him for the information.
Three Riddler puzzles are highlighted on my map, designed to put me on the path of the green suited villain (or on the path of a trap, if I know the Riddler). The puzzles aren't terribly tough to work out - though we are early on in the game, I still expected a higher level of difficulty from Edward Nigma.
The focus here isn't on these puzzles though - they're simply a lead-in to something far grander. The first puzzle has me kicking my way through a wooden wall, while the second focuses on getting me to use one of my gadgets like Batman might. Then I get the call - Mr. E. has taken a hostage, and I have to go save him.
Before I head over the Rocksteady guys get me to practice using the new and improved Line Launcher. In Arkham City, Batman's taken his old zipline creator and tweaked it - now he can use it to create a perch point anywhere he likes in the city if he wants, just by swinging up on top of the line.
The other new feature is the ability to launch a second line while zipping across the first - you can fire this line perpendicular to your initial target and you'll suddenly switch directions.
This is the feature I need to practice with before I enter the Riddler's fiendish trap - after about a minute I've mastered the new gadget and I'm already incorporating it into the way I swoop around the city.
I arrive at the trap location and enter with trepidation. It takes mere seconds to realise the task at hand - in the middle of a room with electrified floors hangs a man - the hostage. All around him are spinning, shredding, giant saw blades.
I trigger the Detective Mode to get a better understanding of the room, and I can see a wire heading to a switch. I hit the switch and a path opens up through the electrified flooring - but not for long. From there the challenges get tougher, requiring timing, digital dexterity and an understanding of Batman's arsenal as the switches are placed further and further away.
It was in this room that I began to see that Rocksteady had started to address my chief complaint about Arkham Asylum - that game was too easy, it held your hand too much. Arkham City still seems to help you along a bit, but the addition of a series of puzzles like this so early in the game gives me hope in the idea that the challenge will return to Batman: Arkham City.
The puzzle room culminates in deft use of the Line Launchers - it's a bit of a Hollywood rescue, but it's a rescue all the same.
The Riddler designs his puzzles with the idea of Batman solving them in mind - he's always working to something far, far grander. It's represented beautifully in what I saw of Arkham City through the connection between the informant, the puzzles and then this hostage sequence.
It also shows off a far more elegant solution to the problem many Open World games face - how do you show off side missions? Grand Theft Auto has always simply thrown up markers on your map, letting you go hunt them down whenever they become available.
Here though, you have to actually find the side missions through your detective work. It's a very Batman solution to the problem, and it works phenomenally well.
Batman: Arkham City is out October 19 on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC - and you better believe I'm excited for it. Once again it's refreshing to see a development studio willing to actually push the envelope with their title - and Arkham City is pushing hard.
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