Eyes and Hands-on / Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham Asylum had an odd effect on me. I played it a little late, and so had a lot of hype built around it. And while I agreed with everyone that it was a good game, I didn’t really get the huge positive reaction out of it that everyone else did. But something happened over time, and whenever I look back on playing it, I have a pretty huge positive reaction. It’s a really good game, and it meshes together a lot of play mechanics extremely well. So basically, hindsight has made me hyped for its sequel, Arkham City. What we’re being promised is, essentially, what a lot of us wished for and more.

I was first shown the live demo. In true Batman form, it begins with him on a rooftop, and then we watch him jump off of it. From a head first into pavement position, his cape spreads like wings and then he’s soaring through the streets of this newly-built society for Gotham’s worst. It’s dark, seedy, and clearly awash in the disease we call crime, of which the only cure is Batman Fists. Then the next wished-for thing happens: the grappling hook comes out. Batman swings along, keeping himself in the air, and as long as you see building ledges or gargoyles, it looks pretty easy to maintain.

Soon enough he sees some armed baddies on a rooftop. The expectation is set that he’ll beat them to incapacitated husks, but how? Will he swoop in and get the drop on them? No, he’s soaring below the ledge; it’s not an option. Will he just climb up and start pummeling? No, that’s not cool demo material? The answer is something else entirely. Batman grapples the ledge near one of them then gives his trusty A button a double tap, propelling him with the momentum of the grapple’s pull, feet first and upward into the face of said criminal. It looked painful, it startled the other baddies, and it was glorious. From there it was a very familiar-looking assault on a gang of goons that anyone who played the first would see and love. Of course there were new moves thrown in, but the outcome is the same: incapacitated husks. Already, I wanted to play this game.

But then we’re explained that even Batman needs a break from time to time. Enter Catwoman. You’ve probably heard about parts of the game having you play as her, and I’m happy to say that it looks just as fun as playing as ol’ Bats. She too can swing across buildings with her inordinately long whip, and she also has the ability to scale buildings for that little edge over Batman and his winged cape. Fast forward a bit and we have her in a confined indoor space with hallways and a few large rooms. Amid these hallways are grunts on her tail… so to speak. Where to hide? She clings to the ceiling… “of course” I think to myself. Naturally, it looks cool. She drops in and shows just as much finesse as Batman when dealing with a group. She looks just as much fun to play as him, and looks to introduce a lot of “fragile alliance” plot twists (the demonstrator used that phrase a lot), like her cahoots with Poison Ivy.

It was a short little glimpse at what will be on offer in just a few short months, and the best compliment I could give it at that moment was that I really wanted to play it… so I did.

Finally getting to a kiosk to try this sucker out for a fixed amount of time was at the end of a long day at E3, and a great little ending at that. Just like the demo, I started out on top of a roof. From there, the mission shown was completely different. But I’ll be honest, I didn’t much care about that. I’ll figure the story out when I have time. I needed to jump off that roof!

… And it turns out flying him around takes a little getting used to. It’s good to really scope out the skyline before jumping. Also, it’s a little tricky to get down the “nose dive into glide” move. If you master it, you’ll be able to stay in the air for a long period of time. It’s the kind of thing that looks rewarding to master because, you know, you’ll be Batman soaring through a city. What’s cooler than that? After I managed to launch myself higher into the air with the grapple, I decided that’d be the peak of my practice and went on to actually carry out the mission.

This felt like familiar territory. I wound up inside a large building with lots of Batman-friendly space where he could easily lurk above villains and give them the drop. But before I could get to that, I had to get out of a little trap sprung be Harley Quinn that left me in a narrow passage and three guns pointed right at me. A smoke bomb solved that problem plenty fast, and got me swooping down on somewhat-suspecting foes. After they were dispatched and some hostages saved, I found myself saving Catwoman from the clutches of Two-Face by beating up a lot more of those pretty-much-faceless enemies. Then the Joker got involved as he tried to take a sniper shot at a just-saved Catwoman, making me use my trusty and familiar detective mode to do a little forensic scan of the bullet trajectory to figure out where he shot from. Another building, of course. At this point, I somewhat-clumsily swooped on over to that building, found a way in, fought off a few baddies, took a few taunts from the Joker, and then was told my time was up and I had to stop. Rats…

This game is looking good, in case that wasn’t clear. Rocksteady looks to be shaping this up to be a very worthy successor to the last Batman game, and the open city environment is looking fantastic, not to mention rife with gameplay possibilities. Comes my way to the states October 18th, the 19th in Australia, and the 21st in Europe, and it’s really looking like one to watch. I’m excited.