This year’s Eurogamer was perhaps my most anticipated so far – my third year visiting alongside my fellow Plus XP team members, Eurogamer 2011 promised one of the most interesting game lineups so far – with new projects from top developers such as Anarchy Reigns from Platinum Games, Street Fighter X Tekken from Capcom and Rage from Doom creators id Software, as well as many a sequel for triple-A titles – including Mass Effect 3, Ninja Gaiden III, Zelda: Skyward Sword and Dark Souls.
One such sequel really caught the crowd’s attention – Batman: Arkham City, sequel to the critically acclaimed title from Rocksteady Studios, Arkham Asylum. Situated in the very centre of the expo, fans gathered in queues over an hour-long to get their hands on a taste of the Bat’s next adventure. However, when the news came to us that the Dark Souls developer session had cancelled – only to be replaced with one for Arkham City - we brimmed with excitement and attended Rocksteady’s demonstration for some inside info on the title. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to film the demonstration, so I will now attempt to convey the events of that hour to you now.
We were greeted by a couple of members of Rocksteady’s staff – one of which was an extremely excitable woman who served as the narrator for the session. The crowd cheered in appreciation for Rocksteady’s work on Arkham Asylum, praise they certainly earned for their previous work. They then proceeded to guide us through the demo, and show us a good amount of footage – including some exclusive parts never before shown in the UK.
The scene began with some thugs uncovering a vault in an old building within Gotham, apparently working for a boss who sought it’s contents. The shadow of Batman seemingly revealed in the moonlight, but instead emerged Catwoman – Arkham Asylum’s new heroine and playable character. The game then went straight into gameplay, where Catwoman proceeded to take down the villains. Arkham City’s combat looks very much like that of its predecessor – smooth, fluid combos on multiple opponents – which is no bad thing of course. While the mechanics for Catwoman looked very similar to that of Batman’s, her movement and attacks were much more agile – using a mix of acrobatic grapples and attacks, to a few unique moves involving her trademark whip. Often, she would also use the environment – such as rebounding off of certain surfaces to strike opponents. Before long, all of the enemies were unconscious, and she went to claim her prize – only to have a gun pointed at her head by an off-screen Harvey Dent.
We were then transported to the rooftops of Arkham City, where Batman knelt in all his gargoyle-like glory. The city itself looked fantastic, a vast expanse free to explore, and the visuals looked pristine and full of dark – but rich – Gotham-esque colours. Receiving a signal on one of his gadgets, he tracked the location of where Catwoman was being held hostage – police rushing to the scene to stop him. However, instead of going to Catwoman, the Rocksteady spokesperson instead decided to explain a little about Arkham City’s free-roam. Much like the original game, you can go off the beaten path to discover extras and secrets, and with Arkham City being, well, a city, this has obviously been moved up onto a larger scale.
With a whole city to explore, the game’s gliding system has been given a bit of an overhaul for long-distance travel. Leaping from a building, Batman can glide with his cape, riding the air-currents – dropping to gain speed, and then levelling out again for lift. This could pick up considerable speed for covering large areas, and using the grapple-hook to pull Batman to certain surfaces, can be manipulated to gain more height and keep on the move for long periods. Exploring Arkham City looks incredibly satisfying, and after seeing the mechanics I’m not even sure I’d want a Batmobile.
It was then that we were told a little about one of Batman’s old foes – the Riddler. Returning from the first game, the Riddler returns with his riddles, and we were told that apparently this time we’ll actually be able to get our hands on the slippery character – optionally of course, as always. This time, however, it seems that the Riddler’s riddles have been expanded – with a few stages to the process. Having taken hostages across the city, it’s up to Batman to track them down and rescue them – the first step in this process is to interrogate specific enemies to find out where to go. Spotting an enemy highlighted in green, Batman glided down into a group of thugs and attacked – taking all of them down except for the one holding the information. Keeping him conscious until the end, Batman put a heavy boot on the minion’s face, who then gave in – adding a few Riddler locations onto the map.
These markers lead Batman to riddles, somewhat like the riddles in the original title. However, this time there are a variety of challenges – one of which involved hitting a switch with a Batarang at the right timing to unlock the trophy, and as always the Riddler gives condescending comments every time you solve one of his tasks. Once certain amounts of trophies have been found, the Riddler reveals a location of one of his hostages. Traversing to the area, Batman then found a weakness in a Riddler-marked wall which he then punched through to access the challenge room, where he was then greeted by a projection of his enemy daring him to attempt his game.
The challenge room involved a few different tricks and gadgets. Finding himself in a room with an electrified floor and spinning blades, Batman hacked a panel (Arkham Asylum style), and a timer began. Looking back at the floor, a safe path along the floor was open, and he had to make his way across within the time limit. Evading under saws and hitting switches to extend the path, Batman proceeded along the pathway until he got to a point where he could climb up to a higher walkway. It was here that he used his old line launcher from the first title, allowing him to zip horizontally between two walls. We were then shown that he also retains other old gadgets, using the explosive gel to break down a wall, and then a remote-controlled batarang to hit a switch behind it. Finally, we were shown a new trick – Batman launched along his line-launcher, zipping above a pit of spinning blades, before letting go and relaunching it to change direction, turning 90 degrees to the right and sliding across another part of the room, grabbing the suspended hostage and finally smashing through a glass window at the end.
We did see a little about other villains Batman would be encountering during the game as well. While travelling in the city, Rocksteady guided Batman to a familiar area – a back alley behind the Monarch Theater, the location of his parents’ murder that had assisted Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman. Kneeling in remembrance, Batman received a message from Hugo Strange, a deranged psychiatrist armed with knowledge of Batman’s true identity. We were also greeted with another scene depicting Batman encountering the Penguin in Iceberg Lounge, where he is holding some cops hostage, seemingly to lure Batman into a trap. After some heated talk and Batman’s usual threats, the Penguin released a large group of crazed thugs to attack, promising that the one who kills Batman will become one of his elite. While Bruce his way through the crowd, Rocksteady explained that Arkham City allows about double the amount of enemies to be on-screen at once, raising the bar from around 15 to closer to 30 – so we can be expecting a fair few brawls during the course of the game.
Batman’s combat was shown off here, and then explored further in the first challenge mode that was explained to us a little later on. Very much like the old challenge maps, the first involved fighting increasing waves of enemies that got tougher each time, attempting to get high scores by avoiding damage, varying moves and chaining hits into large combos. As with Catwoman, the combat seemed very much the same as Arkham Asylum, just cleaned up and with a few new tricks. While the combat itself seems to be a natural successor to the old engine, the new animations and such do make a noticeable difference, with plenty of cringe-worthy attacks such as arm-breakers, and double take downs. One thing that was noticeable was that Batman uses his cape a lot more as part of his combat – which looks cool, and also seems to serve as a means of breaking an enemy’s guard – such as one strange enemy dressed as a toy soldier, which would block most attacks unless he was first stunned with a cape attack.
Batman is also able to use various gadgets during combat. While of course the batarang returns, gadgets seemed to be a lot more prevalent in combat in Arkham City. Batman was seen using explosive gel to detonate during a brawl, which sent enemies flying, as well as a couple of new tools – the Ice Grenade, and the REC Gear. The former sounds as though it may have a link to Mr Freeze (perhaps earned after beating him?), and serves as a way of freezing an enemy solid for a while. The latter is a “Remote Electrical Charge” that works like a taser. It seems that these tools will also have other uses during exploration, much like the explosive gel, so I’m hoping the game will retain that “Metroid” feel of opening up new locations as Batman’s inventory grows.
The other type of challenge shown was that of the Predator challenge – the returning stealth challenge that requires you to silently take down a room full of enemies without being spotted. The gameplay here showed some returning features, such as the ability to quickly grapple between footholds in the ceiling, and detective mode showing x-ray features to see enemies through walls. Unlike the combat challenges, the objectives here involved performing certain manoeuvres - such as taking down an opponent while he was panicking from a smoke-bomb. We were also shown a couple of stealth take downs, such as regular ones used on an unaware opponent from behind, and more contextual ones such as smashing through a window to knock an enemy out before they know what’s happening.
After letting a couple of crowd-members compete against one another for a higher score on a challenge map in order to win an official t-shirt, the developer session came to a close. The repetition of seeing the challenges three times over got a bit tiresome, perhaps it was due to the over-excited comments of the spokesperson beginning to grate, but I was never a fan of combat challenges – it’s the overall experience of being Batman and exploring Arkham that I enjoy. Overall, I left feeling very positive about the game – while Arkham Asylum set a bar that was going to be difficult to meet, it seems Rocksteady are on the right path, and could have another AAA title, maybe even another Game of the Year, in their hands. Now I’ve just got to keep my sanity for the next four weeks until it finally hits stores for purchase on the 21st October.