E3 2011 – Batman Arkham City Hands-On Preview

Much like how “Batman Begins” was able to breathe new life to the Batman franchise on the silver screen, so too did Batman Arkham Asylum for video games back when it was released in 2009. And just like how the sequel to “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight,” improved upon every aspect of its predecessor to become a near masterpiece, so too does Batman Arkham City.

A lot of what was shown at E3 was the same as what Mark talked about in his preview back in February, so instead of retreading old ground, this preview will focus primarily on what was new in the E3 demo.

The Cat’s Meow
First off, let’s jump right into the big news: Catwoman is not only in the game, but she’s also playable. In a 20 minute developer demonstration, I saw Batman glide over to a rooftop with a small cat, which served as somewhat of a “tag out” spot and allowed Batman to take a break, letting let Catwoman take over.

From here, we were given a lengthy breakdown of Catwoman’s abilities. For the most part, Catwoman can do most of the things that Batman can do, just with a different twist. While Batman uses his grappling hook to get around, Catwoman uses her whip to swing from point to point ala Spider-Man. Instead of using batarangs to take out enemies from a distance, Catwoman throws bolas, which are essentially three heavy balls tied together on a single rope.

Of course, there are obviously noticeable differences between the two that make them feel unique. In combat, Batman’s attacks feel much more precise and powerful, while Catwoman’s are much quicker, wilder, and more acrobatic.

The biggest difference between the two however is in their stealth segments. In the presentation, Catwoman infiltrated a heavily guarded facility upon request of Poison Ivy in order to steal back her precious orchid. During this stealth mission, Catwoman could use her thief vision to highlight enemies that were holding special key cards that would open the vault. Upon locating these guards, she could climb along the ceiling, drop down on an unsuspecting enemy, and expertly pickpocket the key without them feeling a thing.

This marks a pretty significant departure from the Batman stealth sections since Batman can only wait for an enemy to walk into his range before being able to drop down and take them out. Catwoman on the other hand can actually stalk her prey by following them from the ceiling, waiting for the opportune time to strike.

At the end of the developer demonstration, Catwoman makes it to the vault, finds Ivy’s Orchid and then smashes it on the floor with a smile on her face. Obviously Catwoman has her own agenda and isn’t in the habit of doing favors for others.

Riddle Me This
After watching the presentation I managed to get my hands on the game and got to spend some time exploring the Riddler side missions.

In Arkham Asylum, the Riddler had spread tons of hidden riddles and trophies for players to solve and find. Those return in Arkham City, but with several added twists. First of all, just finding them isn’t enough. Every trophy that I managed to find required me to solve some sort of environmental puzzle in order to actually claim the trophy. One trophy for example was locked inside a cage with a power box that could be turned off if I could only hit it with a batarang. The cage was a formidable one though, with no small holes or openings to speak of.

However, upon closer inspection of the area, you can spot a vent that curves around the building and leads into the cage. By throwing a remote controlled batarang through the vent and hitting the switch, the trophy was mine.

Once enough trophies were found, a Riddler hostage rescue opportunity became available. The Rocksteady representative that was guiding me through the demo had warned me that this particular mission was one of the later and more difficult ones in the game, and that it would be a true test of my ability.

He was right.

With the hostage hanging in the middle of the room, an electrified floor below and a rolling saw device that continuously rolled from the top to the bottom floor, this room was not designed to be easy.

By bringing up Detective Mode though, I could see that there were wires that drew paths along the electrified floor. The first one led to a panel on the wall that could be hacked to turn off the electricity for 20 seconds. I could then follow the path to a safe point where I wouldn’t have to worry about being hit by the incoming saw blades and could plan my next move.

After examining my surroundings, I could spot a large conspicuous “?” with a light at the bottom. Throwing a batarang at it stopped the electricity again and allowed me to run to the next safe point. I don’t want to spoil the entire solution to the room, but what impressed me the most about it was how well it managed to make use of all of Batman’s gadgets in clever ways in order to solve a very complex environmental puzzle.

Rocksteady had an incredible challenge in creating a sequel to the stellar Arkham Asylum, but if my time with Arkham City is any indication, they’re making it look easy. Be ready for the return of the Dark Knight when Arkham City glides into store shelves on October 18, 2011.

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