Batman: Arkham City Preview
Batman: Arkham Asylum was easily one of the best games of 2009, setting a potential sequel (as well as developer Rocksteady Studios) up for either continued meteoric success or catastrophic failure. At this month's Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco, the London-based team took us on a brief walkthrough of Arkham’s sequel, namely Batman: Arkham City. Folks, from what we saw there during the brief Xbox 360 demo, we feel confident saying, “get ready to be blown away.”
First off, we were told the demo we saw was the same as the one shown at a recent Microsoft event, but that we'd have a new surprise in store at the end. As the demo started, we were told that the team's gone a different direction from the previous game, taking things from the closed “pressure cooker” of Arkham Asylum to an open, “Escape from New York”-style city-sized prison run by the infamous Dr. Strange. Things started with Batman standing atop a tall building, overlooking a nighttime urbanscape then diving off and gliding a truly impressive distance, depending on the way he angled his cape. We were told there will of course be a series of main missions, but there will also be a good number of optional ones that you can swoop to as you glide above the city.
Batman's cryptographic sequencer was one of the coolest gadgets in Arkham Asylum and it’s had an upgrade in Arkham City. Now it enables you to hack into communications anywhere in the city and gain intel on police movements; in the section we saw, Batman used it to overhear police discussing uber-villain Two-Face having holed up in the local courthouse and taken Catwoman hostage. Acting fast, Batman once again jumped off a building and landed on the courthouse steps. There, the upgrades to the Batclaw became apparent as he used it to pull each goon toward him, then subject him to a bone-rattling bodyslam. Once inside, he came face to two-face with good ol' Harvey Dent and his mob of potential recruits. The melty-mugged creep was using Catwoman as a recruitment incentive and had her hanging upside down over a large pot of acid.
Though things looked predictably dire, once again as in Arkham Asylum, Batman knew his limits; he didn’t just confront the crowd of gun-toting maniacs head on. In this area we saw the effectiveness of Batman's stealth tactics as he singled out and eliminated the main thug carrying an assault rifle then jumped down and proceeded to make the remaining recruits swallow their teeth. To avoid spoilers, we won’t discuss what happened next but following the Catwoman sequence, we saw an interesting new forensic mechanic that allowed Batman to determine the trajectory of a sniper shot with a glowing line that led him to track the origin of the shot. We think this small addition could definitely add a whole new aspect to investigating crime scenes.
Moving on, we were shown Batman grappling up to a hovering helicopter, the better to view mission possibilities and threats. Once he'd chosen a crime in progress, he dove from the heli and power glided down to the front of a church, choke-slamming one of the Joker's thugs. Once inside, he had the displeasure of running into the obnoxious Harley Quinn, the Joker's snarky main squeeze. The exchange between the two was darkly smart and funny and showed that the writing in Arkham City will likely be as high quality as that of Arkham Asylum. Finding himself once again surrounded by thugs, Batman had no choice but to smoke bomb his way out of there and take the armed thugs down one by one. Or in this case, two by two. One of the coolest new stealth take-downs we saw during the demo--sure to become everyone’s new favorite--enables you to slam two sleazy scumbags at one time.
In addition to these new features, we were told that you can strangle guys with your legs from a hanging position and smash your way through walls without having to spray that pesky Bat Gel. Arkham City will be a full five times the size of Arkham Asylum but that's not the most exciting new addition to the game. The surprise we’d had promised to us at the start of the demo turned out to be that The Riddler’s finally making his appearance. In the previous title, he was only passively felt in the hidden taunts left scattered all over the asylum. In Arkham City, he becomes an entirely unique menace, attacking both Batman and any innocent people unlucky enough to get in his path. For gamers who enjoyed seeking and finding the hidden riddles, don't worry—our favorite mind-boggling maniac will still be leaving us plenty of malicious trophies and this time, we can use the Batclaw to grab them remotely when they're guarded by insidious traps.
Batman: Arkham City still has at least six months of development time to go but with the way it looked during the GDC demo, it's plain that the title will easily live up to or possibly even surpass what came before. With a better cryptographic sequencer, new take-downs, a huge open world and the combined efforts of The Joker and The Riddler, this should be the grittiest Batman game yet. A specific release date has yet to be determined but look for it this Fall on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.