Having produced a critical and popular hit in Batman: Arkham Asylum, all eyes are on Rocksteady Studios as they prepare for the launch of its sequel, Batman: Arkham City. Will this new game continue to make players feel as though they’re in Batman’s shiny black boots, or will it suffer from the curse of Batman and Robin ? We recently had the opportunity to play through an extended demo of Arkham City, and I’m happy to report that it seems to be on the right track to continue and expand Arkham Asylum’s legacy.
Set a year after the events of Arkham Asylum, this game has now-mayor Quincy Sharp gathering all the Gotham City evildoers into a large portion of the city’s slums, now known as Arkham City. These villains are sealed in and allowed to have free rein as long as they don’t escape. Naturally, Bruce Wayne is unsure on whether an urban supervillain version of Lord of the Flies is a good idea. When he hears that Catwoman has been captured by Two-Face and is scheduled for execution, Wayne dons the Batsuit and ventures into Arkham City to rescue the pretty kitty and investigate what’s going on in there.
The basics of Arkham City are quite similar to those in Asylum. Batman’s simple but satisfying beat-em-up combat returns, but the Caped Crusader can now take on more enemies at once, allowing for some impressively fun crowd-based fight scenarios. When surrounded, Arkham City’s Batman deftly jabs from enemy to enemy in a manner reminiscent of the Adam West days, but without the cheesy sound effects.
Detective mode is back with some edits and improvements. It’s harder to navigate in Detective Mode, so it should no longer be desirable to play through the whole game with it on. There will also be more actual forensics in Detective Mode, emphasizing Wayne’s intellect as well as his strength. Batman doesn’t need to re-acquire his gadgets, either. Everything he had from the end of Arkham Asylum is back at the beginning of Arkham City, but he’ll find some new toys and upgrades for his arsenal as he goes along.
The look and feel of Arkham City is genuine Gotham, complete with Gothic clock towers mixed with modern skyscrapers. It’s a joy to soar around the city with Batman’s improved gliding system, even if eventually one bumps into the giant plexiglass wall labeled “No Exit.” The new and more varied setting is a great playground for Batman and his enemies, with the demo containing a derelict courthouse, a large building in which Batman had to sneak around to rescue hostages, and a tall tower that housed a nasty trap from the Joker. There certainly seem to be a lot of villains to contend with here, as we encountered Two-Face, Harley Quinn, the Penguin, and the Joker in various capacities during the demo alone. The idea seems to be creating a feeling of constant surprise and danger for Batman. There are no friendly prison guards here, only bad guys who want nothing more than to roast Batman on a platter. Thus, Arkham city offers a feeling of greater freedom with its more open setting, but closes in on Batman as he is surrounded by foes and must operate with only the voices of Alfred and Oracle on his communicator as true allies.
One of the major new features of Arkham City is the ability to play Catwoman, who has her own thievish campaign interspersed throughout the main story. Although we didn’t have the chance to try out Catwoman’s version of Detective Mode, which has her tracking down treasures to steal, we were able to briefly control her during a fight scene. She feels appropriately lighter on her feet than Batman, with an acrobatic style consisting of quick punches, jumps, and spin-kicks. Not to mention that with Batman playing as the ultimate straight man to his legion of colorful, insane foes, it’s nice to take a break and control a character who is actually in on the joke.
Playing Arkham City on a crowded show floor was a reminder of how well Rocksteady captures the feel of Batman. The group of spectators behind us helped to narrate Batman’s adventure, affectionately heckling and riffing on the setting and dialog. The dialog seems to have a bit more cheese factor than that of Arkham Asylum, but Arkham City’s developers promise that the game will go to some very dark places. Perhaps the slight corniness will act as a nice contrast to the later events of the game, as well as being an homage to various portions of the Batman tradition.
Overall, our Batman: Arkham City demo showed a game that continues the quality gameplay of Arkham Asylum, but adds a new setting and story along with various tweaks and improvements. The more open setting in the middle of Gotham City adds even more to the feeling of playing Batman, and Catwoman looks like a great deal of fun to play as well. With the expanded Detective Mode and a host of villains to battle, the Big Bat will have plenty to do in his second Arkham game. I for one am eager to don the suit once more.
*DELETE IF USED* A Dark Knight In His Backyard
Batman: Arkham Asylum surprised many gamers last year by being very, very good, proving to us all that even a Batman game can achieve greatness. It received high scores from critics and a long list of awards, including a spot in the Guinness World Records as the Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game.
As expected, Arkham Asylum is back, and bigger than ever. In Batman: Arkham City, Gotham has become so full of criminals that the prison and asylum can’t hold them all. The new mayor, former asylum warden Quincy Sharp, therefore decides to wall off part of the city and set the deviants loose inside to fight among themselves for control. Sounds like a bad idea? Of course it does. To top it off, Sharp puts obvious villain Hugo Strange in charge, giving him control of the military guards who keep the inmates from escaping Arkham City. In the latest trailer, Strange interrogates one of these guards about their doomed fight with Batman. After the caped crusader is shown giving them a thorough beat down, Strange ominously reveals that he knows everything about Batman, including his true name.
The first thing I noticed about the new Arkham City trailer, besides the improved graphics, was Batman’s face. Maybe it’s the fact that the graphics allow me to see every pore or that his eyes seem way too clear through those tiny eye holes or that it looks like his nose is way too far away from his mouth, but there’s something alien about it. I’m not sure what’s going on with his voice, either, but Arkham City’s Batman will again be voiced by Kevin Conroy, so I trust that it will be fine in the actual game. As strange as Batman looks in the new trailer, there’s no denying that it’s a well-made cinematic. The atmosphere, lighting, and somewhat gruesome imagery sets up a game that, according to Conroy, will be “really, really dark.”
The trailer released during the 2009 Video Game Awards gave us a glimpse of Arkham City itself, which is of course in total chaos, as the camera pans around to the sound of the Joker’s laughter. The Joker is shown weak and wounded, being nursed back to health by Harley Quinn. It’s not yet clear what role the Joker will play in Arkham City, but he may not get much face time considering how many other villains the game is promising. The list of confirmed characters includes Two-Face, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, The Riddler, Talia al Ghul, Victor Zsasz, and Calendar Man. The game begins when Two-Face decides to impress his fellow inmates by publicly executing Catwoman, thus prompting Batman to swoop in to the rescue.
If that doesn’t get you excited, Rocksteady has announced improvements and fixes to Arkham Asylum’s flaws. Art director David Hego said that the detective mode, which allowed players x-ray vision of sorts that highlighted important objects and armed enemies, would be toned down in the new game, so that players can’t go through the whole game with it on, rendering Hego’s hard work pointless. Arkham City’s Batman will have smoke bombs and a broadcast tracer device, in addition to his gadgets from the first game. Combat will involve twice as many moves, a multi-enemy counter feature, and the ability to use all of Batman’s gadgets during a fight.Completing the Riddler’s puzzles may be a bit more challenging, as players will have to locate them through methods that include the interrogation (i.e. face-punching) of the Riddler’s cronies. Rumors are circulating that there will be some form of multiplayer, but no details about this have yet been released. Unfortunately, players will not be able to ride in the Batmobile, or any other bat-related vehicles, even though Arkham City is four or five times larger than the asylum.
Arkham City’s bigness will likely be one of its most interesting features. Not only will there be more to explore, but having such a large area will allow for mass independent NPC action such as territory battles between rival gangs. Batman will have to deal with navigating these different territories and the unique qualities of the criminals within. However, game director Sefton Hill promises that quality will not be sacrificed for quantity. “Rocksteady remains absolutely committed to making the best game possible and so our design decisions are driven by this simple goal. Batman: Arkham City is a significantly larger game world, but it is still rammed with an incredible level of detail.” Arkham City will also contain sub-plots for each of the many classic Batman villains featured, deepening the game’s overall narrative.
With such a huge game to be crammed with so much substance, it seems likely that Batman: Arkham City has the potential to be as good as or even better than its predecessor. A promise of a game that’s bigger, better, and darker than the best reviewed superhero game of all time is sure to make the Batfans impatient for the Q3 2011 release.
Arkham Inmates in His Own Backyard
With last year’s Batman: Arkham Asylum nearly achieving mythical status, receiving the “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever” Guinness World Record, it’s not exactly a secret that its sequel is fervently awaited. It’s called Batman: Arkham City, and much of the same creative team will be involved, which is always a plus for a sequel, particularly when its predecessor was so popular. Rocksteady has said that Arkham City builds upon the dark, atmospheric Batman mood established in the original. As the title and slogan “Arkham has moved” imply, the scope of the action expands from the constraints of the last game’s insane asylum to the thick of Gotham City.
This is because Quincy Sharp, the old warden of Arkham Asylum, has become Gotham’s mayor, and decides to relocate inmates to a heavily-guarded slum overseen by the dubious psychiatrist, Hugo Strange. Meanwhile, Two-Face, looking to up his badass quotient, decides to publicly execute Catwoman in the compound, hoping to gain the admiration and respect of Arkham’s rapscallions and his fellow villains. Once Batman catches wind of the scheme, he decides to infiltrate Arkham City and save his one-time love interest. With the Joker, Harley Quinn, and Mr. Freeze all slated for appearances, the cast of Arkham City is going to be an all-star one.
In addition to rescuing his girlfriend (or girl-foe), the Caped Crusader is also bent on uncovering the gritty details of Dr. Hugo Strange’s past, as well as his true intentions for Arkham City’s inhabitants. The sequel’s story seems fairly complex, and Rocksteady says that there will be more plot-fueling interaction between Batman and villains, not just back-and-forth pummeling.
Part detective, part tech hound, and part ninja, Batman utilizes the same combination of gadgets and martial arts he did in the first installment. In fact, you’ll start the game with all the items you acquired in the last game, and some of them will even have different or added properties. There’ll also be new ones like smoke bombs and tracking devices. A notable difference in the battle system will be glorious group brawls, with more enemies attacking you at once than in Arkham Asylum. In this way, you’ll get the sense that Arkham City is the African savannah of Gotham, with ferocious packs fighting to claim turf and Batman just voluntarily wandering in. He’ll be able to taunt enemies and even bust down walls, giving players the element of surprise over their adversaries.
But make no mistake, it doesn’t sound like the game will be using action and battles as crutches. This time, we’re promised more puzzles and opportunities to actively help Batman figure things out and solve problems. The Riddler’s challenges are back, but tougher, and we’ll be able to interrogate enemies, access a criminal database, analyze radio frequencies, and assist Batman with forensic reports. Trophies will also be more difficult to win. However, Detective Mode, a skill Batman used in the previous game to locate hiding spots, enemies, and secret goodies, will be altered in Arkham City. Rocksteady recognized players relied on it too heavily, so its usefulness will probably be toned down this go-around.
Supplementing the main adventure are side-missions for the supporting cast, like the dagger-happy serial killer Victor Zsasz, who’s scarred with self-inflicted tally marks representing his victims. He also appeared in the original game and will reportedly be one of a few characters whose points of view are represented throughout Arkham City. With DC Comics writer Paul Dini returning to pen the game’s story, we can likely expect another rich, quality plot.
There has been no word on any sort of online play or multiplayer modes, however. If included, they’d run the risk of making it feel tacked-on, like so many games do with multiplayer modes. But if single player is anything like the one in Arkham Asylum, we probably don’t have anything to be worried about.
Finally, several voice actors have confirmed reprisals of their roles in Batman’s latest gaming adventure. Mark Hamill stars as the Joker (he says this’ll be the last time he’ll play the role), Kevin Conroy as Batman, and Wally Wingert as the Riddler.
Arkham Asylum left some pretty massive bat boots to fill, and it looks like its sequel is going to have no problems stepping up to the plate. An official release date has yet to be confirmed, but we’re told Batman: Arkham City will hit stores sometime fall 2011.