Batman Arkham City Hands On

Of all the games and demos on display at Toronto’s 2011 FanExpo, one of the most anticipated (at least by me), was Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham City.   Two years after the release of the epic first instalment of the series, Batman: Arkham Asylum, the Dark Knight is back in the saddle for a mid-October release.  And I get the pleasure of recounting my experience with the demo.

The demo gave players ten to fifteen minutes of gameplay to get a feel for everything the game had to offer, and in that short duration there was a lot to see.  Anyone who has played Arkham Asylum will find Arkham City to be a familiar experience:  You still get all the gadgets, stealthy takedowns of armed foes, massive over-the-top brawls against hoards of minions, and the classic comic book villains everybody knows and loves.  In addition, the player gets a few new gadgets (smoke bombs and a radio-signal tracker for starters), a few well known villains who didn’t make the first game, a chance to play as Catwoman and a sandbox-like environment in which to experience it all.

Over the course of the demo, you were given a taste of the various gameplay elements you could expect to experience in greater detail once the game is released.  First, the player got to play as Catwoman, beating on a few thugs and stealing an undisclosed item from Two-Face.  Catwoman’s play style and combat felt different from Batman’s, as it should.  Her controls in a fight felt faster and smoother, and it seemed like she had less brute force.  Catwoman had her own moves, gadgets and special attacks, which really helped to make her feel like a unique character, as is deserving of one of the series’ favourite femme fatales,  rather than a Batman with a new skin pasted on.

Next, the player got to test the stealth and infiltration mechanics as Batman.  Using one of Batman’s gizmos, the player overhears that Two-Face has captured Catwoman, and must enact a rescue.  The player must then infiltrate Two-Face’s lair and bypass his minions without alerting them.  Finding a point of entry, skulking in the shadows, and silently disabling an armed henchman were all part of the challenge, which rounded off with a brawl against Two-Face’s potential recruits.  Batman’s fight mechanics were the same as in Asylum, and decidedly more brutal and vicious than Catwoman’s.

The following section contained the highlight of the demo: a chance to explore the sandbox.  After rescuing Catwoman, the player must find the location of Joker’s sniper nest used in a preceding cutscene. To do so, the player must first make use of the Detective Vision and then navigate the streets of Arkham City.  In the streets, the player can encounter the Riddler’s puzzles and trophies, as well as overhear roving bands of thugs, who can be beaten into better behaviour.  The city is beautifully dark and gothic, as expected, and there is no clear path to the next objective.  The player is free to explore a limited section of the city without necessarily advancing the story – hopefully with lots of sandbox to play in.  The freedom to prowl the night looking for criminals is such an integral aspect of Batman’s persona that City almost feels more like a Batman game than Asylum did.

Once the players finished exploring the sandbox portion of the demo, they were given a brief encounter with Harley Quinn and an introduction to stealth combat.  The player was required to rescue multiple hostages from several armed thugs, who were aware of Batman’s presence, without alerting them.  Swooping down from the rooftops and setting traps for the criminals is another familiar activity from Asylum that many players will remember fondly and maybe with a little frustration.  Finally the experience rounded off with the largest brawl of the demo, against the Penguin’s minions, showing off just how outrageously massive the fights can become.

Batman: Arkham City looks to be an epic sequel to Arkham Asylum, with new villains, a larger world and more Batman.  The villains are fun, and their goons each have unique costumes to mark their affiliations.  The game looks to be everything I want to see in a Batman game.  Do I want to play the full version?  Hells yeah.  I cannot wait to get my hands on it when it is released on the 18th of October.  And aside from the gameplay, one of the best parts of the demo was watching a Penguin cosplayer beating the stupid out of his inspiration’s henchmen.

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September 3, 2011 - 8:30 am