E3 is always a pain in the ass with the amount of non-press shoving their way into presentations, but there was one where even the press were shoving their way in – Batman: Arkham City. Rocksteady hit a homerun with the previous title, but this new game looks to expand that experience in every way possible. Slipping my way into the theater, I managed to get a good look at Batman: Arkham City. Rocksteady is ready to wow us again. Let’s dance with the devil and get some details.
Arkham City kicks things off one year after the end of Arkham Asylum. Quincy Sharp has become Mayor of Gotham and initiated his plan for the unsavory characters that escaped Arkham Asylum. Taking over the slums of Gotham and turning them into an expanded prison, Sharp works with a military contractor group called Tyger to build what will be known as “Arkham City”. The prisoners in this section of Gotham are free to operate as they see fit, as long as they do not attempt escape their new cage.
With Gotham’s most dangerous criminals taking up residence in the new prison city, Batman believes he must take up vigil to ensure it doesn’t spin out of control. It doesn’t take long before exactly that occurs. A familiar face, or more accurately Two-Face, has captured Catwoman and intends to publicly execute her. Batman must descend on Arkham City and rescue her.
Our demonstration begins by setting a very different tone than the previous title. While the Asylum had some great vertical moments, it is absolute child’s play compared to Arkham City. The demo has Batman perched on top of a skyscraper, rendered tiny and insignificant by the sheer magnitude of the building. Glancing out over the water, we see the abandoned Arkham Asylum in the distance. Leaping from the building edge, we discover the first of many key feature improvements – the new traversal system. It is now possible to glide, dive, and grapple your way through the city hardly ever putting your boots on the ground, attaching to Gotham’s most famous landmarks including the Courthouse and Monarch Theater.
Gliding to the roof of a nearby building, we get to see the next major improvement – combat. Gathering a group of enemies around the Caped Crusader, new counters, takedowns, gadgets, and even a few new signature moves are displayed. With ease, the Dark Knight dispatches larger enemy groups that we’d seen in the previous title. Batman is also able to utilize his grapple boost power to yank enemies that have been tossed away back into melee range. We can toss the grapple vertically, zip up, utilize it for a takedown, move in for a shoulder throw, grapple hook them back to us, clothesline our enemy, and then kick them unconscious. Even the cape gets a workout and can be used as a flourish to blind the enemy before knocking them down with a forearm across the chest.
As we glide past a “Conform, Comply” sign, we see that Gotham looks gritty and dark. Dust swirling around us from a patrolling helicopter, we climb a nearby building and spot a small cat on the edge. With a glance around to ensure the coast is clear, we stride towards the cat only to watch her skip away and be replaced by the sleek and sexy Catwoman. Our demo changed significantly at this point as we assumed control of our favorite leather-clad, feline fortune-filcher.
Using her whip to swing from nearby ledges and objects, and her claws to climb surfaces, Catwoman’s method of traversal is quite a bit different than Batman’s. We jump into a mission called “The Case of the Stolen Stolen Goods”. Victor Strange has moved all of the valuables in Gotham City into a vault, and Catwoman wants to ‘acquire’ these goods. Working with another of Batman’s ‘old friends’, Catwoman cuts a deal with Poison Ivy for her help.
In exchange for the recovery of a sacred Orchid, Ivy has pushed her vines into the sewer tunnels to allow a secret entrance into the vault. Spotting the nearby sewer entrance, we use a pair of bolas around the neck of a nearby guard to incapacitate him. Leaping onto a second guard, we claw him in the face. Whipping around the shoulder of a nearby officer we unleash a fury of claws and whip attacks to take down the remainder.
Down in the sewer, we see three guards patrolling and guarding a nearby door. Each of the guards has a key, and all three are needed to open the vault door. Switching to her Thief Vision, we see the items that we can pickpocket. Stealthily, we climb the walls and duck under nearby vents to pounce from the ceiling, silently dropping behind a guard and nabbing his key. Using an upgraded skill, we drop behind two chatting guards, and grabbing their keys simultaneously.
Heading back to the vault security room, we use the keys to open the locks. The guards become more alert, wondering if this is some sort of drill, and we are left with two options – we could rush in and beat them all down, but stealth is best here. Slinking across the roof, we jump down onto the shoulders of one officer and then smash his head against the guy next to him. Taking down another enemy with a whip around his neck, we then choke a fourth with our legs.
Since the AI is now dynamic, with only minor scripting for their patrol areas instead of full routes, you’ll have to be extra careful with those stealthy takedowns this time around. Our efforts have not gone unnoticed – a final guard has spotted his downed buddies. Pouncing on top of him from behind, we pull off our “Cat Smash” finisher, putting our shin into the guard’s neck and clawing him silly.
The vault unguarded and open, it was time to honor our deal with Ivy. Walking into the riches-filled room, we find a small pot containing an orchid. Catwoman, being the fence-striding good girl/bad girl, picks up the pot and then casually drops it to the ground. This will certainly have consequences later…
Switching back to Batman, we are walking through what is obviously a cell block. As we approach a spiral staircase, we find an old familiar face – Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, but you can call him The Penguin. We make some threats against the little man, but he won’t be intimidated. Standing behind his minions as they light his cigars for him, Penguin springs his well-hewn plan, unleashing all of the inmates in the cage. This is a large-scale brawl, with over 20 enemies on the screen taking on Batman all at once. Mowing down enemies like they are going out of style by intercepting weapons, blocking punches, dodging hammers and using many other new moves, we finally dispatch the bulk of them. Penguin isn’t giving up that easily though, shooting the chain holding a bell suspended over our head. The demo fades to black and ends.
Batman: Arkham Asylum was a fantastic title full of incredible detail, but Arkham City is already raising the bar significantly. With improvements across the board, Batman: Arkham City has already risen to the top of our most wanted list. Look for more on this fantastic-looking, open-world sequel as we approach the October 18th release date.