Gamescom 2011: Batman: Arkham City Hands-On Preview - Going With the (Free)flow
Written Tuesday, August 23, 2011 By Lee AbrahamsView author's profile
It's safe to say that there's a fair bit of hype riding around Batman: Arkham City, certainly more so than existed when its superb predecessor came out of leftfield to deliver the superlative Batman experience. So without that Batman-style layer of mystery surrounding it, and a whole heap of pressure to deliver that same amazing experience, can developer Rocksteady kick things up yet another notch and deliver even more thrills than you can shake a Batarang at?
Obviously the main storyline has been discussed in some depth up to this point, and Rich managed to go hands-on with a portion of the campaign at E3 this year and was suitably impressed. With a standout cast of characters from right across the Batman lore, such as The Penguin, Solomon Grundy, Two-Face and Bane, then there is certainly plenty to get excited about. However, Dax Ginn from Rocksteady was on hand at Gamescom to highlight some other features of the game – you know, just in case you felt that beating the hell out of goons in a fortified prison city was liable to get dull.
Right off the bat (ha!) we were handed a pair of glasses allowing us to view the entirety of the demo in stereoscopic 3D. The effect was pretty well implemented and provided flawless visuals as well as the requisite depth. It’s clear that the team have worked hard to make this a superb visual feast for those with the requisite technology, though suffice it to say that the game looks pretty damn lush regardless. Obviously 3D is not for everyone, but as an added extra it certainly does the job and makes certain parts of the game come to life in ghoulish detail.
Just taking on the single-player is liable to set you back twenty-odd hours of your life, assuming you ignore all of the side quests and collectibles on offer that is, which would take you well into forty hour territory. The Riddler is back to make your life a living hell, and not only has he scattered over four hundred (400!) items around the city to ensure you explore every nook and cranny, but he's also gone for some more traditional balls-to-the-wall challenges too. So Batman will be expected to use a fair bit of brawn to complete all of the obstacles that face him, as The Riddler isn’t afraid to throw his weight around, or that of his goons at least.
So it should come as no surprise to fans of Arkham Asylum that the Combat and Predator challenges have made a glorious return. With a choice of Batman, Robin and Catwoman on offer, you have a variety of ways to smash, or stealth, your way to victory. With double the number of combat animations on offer, you can expect the freeflow combat to be even more fluid if such a thing was possible. Having gone hands on with Catwoman (in a gaming sense – easy tiger) the differences between her and the Bat are fairly subtle.
To start with Catwoman can use her whip to stun foes in the same way as Batman’s cape, she can also grab opponents from a distance and yank them to the floor for a vicious takedown. Enemies don’t politely attack one at a time either, but that’s all fine and dandy as our heroes can pull off double or even triple counters by pressing the Y button the appropriate number of times. The effect is impressive and stops you getting swamped, while also quickly allowing you to build massive combos and gain access to brutal takedowns. Certain enemies have their own quirks too, with knife wielding foes having to be gracefully dodged by swaying out of reach of their attacks. The whole combat system feels perfectly organic, and once again relies more on timing and reflexes than mindless button bashing. Before long we were building up massive combo chains, dispatching foes with ease and then pulling off brutal takedowns on the major threats. Plus, with Catwoman’s added dexterity you can move between foes with almost alarming speed. Rack up a high enough combo and you will snag all three tiers of Riddler icons on offer per challenge – assuming you survive that long.
The Predator challenges once again focus on the stealth side of things, and each character has a different set of objectives to pull off in order to succeed. Catwoman can slink along ceilings to catch foes unawares, or drop a handful of caltrops in the path of her pursuers to slow them down. As always the goal is to take out foes quickly and effectively, while not getting cornered or spotted. The added challenge of using each character for each map certainly adds some level of replayability, though it has to be said that the sheer breathlessness and adrenaline-filled fun of the Combat challenges seems to have the edge for now.
Of course, for all those hardcore types who thought the challenge maps were too easy, and I’m assuming such a person is indeed a God amongst gamers or possibly someone who actually, you know, practices and such like (you buzzkills you) then you’ll be glad to know that you can make life more difficult for yourself. You can now add difficulty modifiers before starting each map, allowing you to have more tough enemies, more guns as opposed to just knives and so on. Obviously the reverse is true as well, so all you mere wannabe Batmen, and Batwomen, can include recharging health, easier foes and the like. Making things tougher will obviously help beef up your challenge score, while selecting the easy way out will have penalties as you would expect. We trust you will all be joining us in the badass only club of making things a living hell. You know you want to.
With the regular campaign looking pretty damn special, plus the superbly fun and addictive challenge modes making a welcome return, not to mention playing like a dream, then you can be sure that Batman Arkham City is not just going to be more of the same. Instead this is going to be bigger and better in every way, while still retaining that gritty feel and fluid combat that made the original such a hit.
Expect to see Batman: Arkham City grappling into stores on 18th October, 2011 in North America and 21st October in Europe.