Batman: Arkham City First Impressions – Letting the Cat Out of the Bag
Written Sunday, February 27, 2011 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Batman: Arkham Asylum was a bit of an odd duck really. Nobody genuinely thought that it would be one of 2009’s best games, but alas, it was. If anyone says they knew that it would be, then feel free to slap them for their sins. So with 2011’s Arkham City, expectations are undeniably and justly raised and the pressure falls onto Rocksteady to deliver, but in all seriousness, how can one build upon such a glorious start? For Rocksteady it was simple, take those glorious foundations and then proceed to build a castle on it; and that they have done.
Freedom is undoubtedly one of Arkham City mantras and as Dax Ginn, Marketing Game Manager at Rocksteady, showed off some of the opening moments of the 2011 title, that much was abundantly clear. “Most of the game is set in the streets,” says Ginn, noting that the idea is to give the player options, as well as a “sense of power.”
Looking out at the skyline of Arkham City from a rooftop truly is a sight to behold, as Rocksteady have blended the dark of the night perfectly with the faint aura of destruction as damaged neon signs hang from buildings and chaos runs amok in the streets below. Hugo Strange is the mayor, and boy don’t we know it!
Kitted out to the max with the tools of the trade you used in the original title at your disposal, the presentation kicks off with the Dark Knight using his Cryptographer to tap into local frequencies to see what the chatter is on the mean streets. Thanks to intel from your trusty butler, Alfred, Batman has discovered that Catwoman has been kidnaped and is being held hostage in the courthouse that you can see on the horizon. Two Face is the feline’s captor and in order to get more information on what Hugo Strange is up to, Batman has to stop the conflicted villain from making an example of her in a bid to gain the respect of the local thugs.
Using the glide and a new move called the ‘bomb dive,’ Batman is able to travel vast amounts of ground in the sequel with ease and after getting almost halfway to the courthouse, the Dark Knight seamlessly transitions onto a perch, spotting DC Universe journalist, Jack Ryder, taking a little flack below. Swooping down, Batman takes down a few foes using combat moves that were very reminiscent of those found in the original, making sure that the green glowing ‘Riddler informant’ is left till the end. When it’s one-on-one, it’s a mater of ducking in and interrogating the informant, who reveals info about the Riddler, including a few nearby Riddler trophies, and in doing so, allows Ryder to escape a beating.
Grappling up to the roof from ground level, Batman is able to make his way over to one of the Riddler trophies that was just placed on the map. Encased in a mantrap, Batman has no other choice but to use the Batclaw to pull it out and as he does, Ginn notes that the Riddler trophies will be in the “craziest of places” in Arkham City, so extracting info from the Riddler informants is a saving grace.
Stood in front of the courthouse, a few blocks from the Riddler trophy, and all that stands between our Caped Crusader and getting to Catwoman are Two Face’s loyal thugs. In typical Batman style, attacking head-on is the way forward, and dropping in on the foes is the perfect way to catch them off-guard. After some devastating combos and a baseball bat disarm, which the Bat proceeds to use against the thug’s chest, Batman makes his way in through one of the courthouse’s doors, a storey up from the ground level entrance.
Once inside, Two Face – who looks magnificent by the way – fights his inner demons whilst dropping Catwoman – hung by her feet – down from the ceiling and hovers her above a pool of toxic acid. “Hey, have you had some work done?” she says, unruffled by the precarious situation she finds herself in.
Batman on the other hand lurks above. Flicking to detective mode, he’s able to get a visual on the 48 thugs down below, a few of which have melee weapons, while an armed guard with a rifle patrols up above. Using a nearby ladder, Batman’s able to creep up on the guard and silently take down the biggest threat of the crew and then using a nearby wire-walk, the caped crusader can then single out the thug with the machete as he drops down meaning that his two biggest threats are already down and out.
When in the thick of the thugs, some run for cover as the notorious Batman lands volley after volley of attacks. After turning a chair on one of the assailants, throwing it directly into his face, the numbers begin to wilt, until finally, it’s just Two Face and Batman. BANG! Two Face, quick to react, lands a shot and takes down the self-proclaimed superhero, but in the confusion, Catwoman is able to make her escape, disarming Two Face.
“Two guns bitch!” he yelps, but in the redirected confusion, Batman is able to yoink the villain up to the rafters with the Batclaw moments before he can put a bullet between Catwoman’s eyes.
“I thought it was cats who had 9 lives,” she joked, before the pair proceed to discuss the situation in the city. The courthouse was as iconic and archaic as it was dilapidated and decaying, with water dripping through the roof and rubble scattered across the floor while the moonlight dripped through the stained glassed windows. Moments later the perspective switches to the Joker, who has the pair in his crosshairs of a sniper rifle, and as such lets rip and his bullet sizzles through the midnight sky. With bat like reflexes though, the Bat is able to save the Cat from an untimely death.
Doing what Batman does best, the Dark Knight gets his detective on, in an attempt to determine where and who took the pot shot at the pair. In detective mode he uses the bullet hole in the window coupled with the bullet hole in the floor, to track the trajectory and source of the bullet. And with that, Batman leaves, taking to the mean streets of Arkham City via a back door to avoid the oncoming slew of henchmen, only to head across town to the source of the bullet: the bell tower in a nearby church.
Rather than let you traipse around the streets – although the grapple and the ‘bomb dive’ look like an incredible amount of fun – Rocksteady steers Batman using a boost glide – grappling to a rooftop before releasing at the moment of impact, transitioning to a glide… a slingshot essentially – on to a nearby chopper, which in effect, serves as the in-game taxi. While on board, it’s a great time to scout around, using detective mode to spot henchmen hotspots, while also keeping an eye out for Riddler trophies. Upon spotting the church though moments later, Batman leaps off the chopper and power dives into one of the thugs that guards the church. When down, a quick throat grab puts the henchmen out of his misery, but the danger’s not over. After quickly dispatching a couple of regular foes, Batman is left one-on-one with a much bigger thug; one that can block all Batman’s attacks. All apart from a ‘Beat Down’ move though, that combines a cape stun with a volley of punches and an uppercut to finish him off. Not bad for a couple of button presses.
Opting to take the more direct approach of waltzing in through the front door, Batman spies Harley Quinn with a handful of armed henchmen and a bunch of hostages inside using detective mode. Once inside, Harley Quinn, in her new outfit, exchanges the usual snide remarks with the Bat and then continues to charge him. A quick sidestep and throw later, and Harley Quinn is eating church wall. Distracted by the 4 armed guards, Quinn leaves, leaving the guards the direct order to shoot if he moves. Whilst the guards argue as to the fate of Batman, he sneakily drops a smoke bomb and ascends up to the rafters.
From here on out it’s very reminiscent of the ‘predator challenges’ from the original, but with 2 of the 4 guards taking hostages this time amongst the panic down below. At this point, Batman’s inner voice acts as a tutorial of sorts, giving clues about how to approach the situation. Granted, it’s rather off-putting and a bit of an immersion killer, but Rocksteady did tell us that this was just a tutorial and after you’d performed these new types of kills, you wouldn’t hear it again – Phew!
Zipping around the rafters, which again is very similar to the original, Batman manages to get behind two thugs and sneak up on them, taking them down with the same finishing blow. Stylish! From there, it’s back to the rafters and over to the scaffolding nearby that Batman uses to silently down the third of the 4 foes. The last one, however, seems to have backed himself into a corner in a confessional booth, but thanks to a weak wall behind him, the caped crusader is able to punch – yes, punch, not use gel – through the wall and complete the section with all the hostages alive.
A quick thanks from the guards and Batman is into the bell tower, using the grappling hook to climb the interior because Ms Quinn had so thoughtfully destroyed the stairs. Once upstairs in the bell tower, Batman realises it was a trap, and that Joker had remotely controlled the sniper that had shot the near fatal bullet. Quickly scanning the gun to workout the remote frequency, Joker – who’s talking via a TV screen in a Saw-like Jigsaw fashion – has set a bomb to blow. With nothing but stained glass windows around him and no exit down below, he has no other choice than to throw himself out the window and glide to safety, watching the bomb and the bell tower explode behind him.
Before Rocksteady wrapped up the surprise presentation, they hinted at, what is presumably one of many, Easter eggs. On a notice board behind the Dark Knight, was a message and some co-ordinates that once put into the Cryptographer would have an interesting outcome, but Rocksteady weren’t about ready to give that one up. Ohhh! Intriguing!
Despite Arkham City being successfully kept secret from the gaming press that headed to Microsoft’s Spring Showcase in San Francisco this week, it quite clearly stole the show. What ensued was a lengthy presentation, which not only showed that Rocksteady were quite capable of building upon the franchise’s foundations that they laid down in the original, but that they weren’t quite out of ideas on how to improve and innovate it quite just yet. With a slew of characters from the Batman universe, plenty of fresh ideas, that trademark attention to detail and a large open-world, Arkham City looks set to catapult the franchise even further into the stratosphere come the end of the year.
Batman: Arkham City is scheduled for a fall 2011 release.