The Average Gamer

E3 2011 – Batman: Arkham City – Hands-on Preview

BatmanArkhamCity_LogoSmallWhen Rocksteady Studios released Batman: Arkham Asylum back in 2009, it caught many people, including me, by surprise. With its almost perfectly crafted blend of storytelling and action/adventure, it was the best superhero game available on any platform by some margin. At this year’s E3 Expo I got to spend some time playing Batman: Arkham City, the sequel to Arkham Asylum and potentially an even better game.

New city, new challenges

Arkham City has a new major called Quincy Sharpe. You may remember him as the former Warden of the infamous and downright nasty Arkham Asylum. Following its closure, thanks to Batman’s actions in the first game, he’s ordered all its inmates to be transferred to the much larger Arkham City institution. This has created a crime-riddled haven, five times the size of Arkham Asylum, for all sorts of thugs and super villains such as the Penguin, Calendar Man and Two-Face. In order to fight all these enemies Batman will need a bit of help. Fortunately, both Catwoman and the recently announced Robin are both on hand. Whilst you can switch between Batman and Catwoman during the game, Robin will only be playable in the challenge maps and not in the main campaign.



My demo experience started off with a stunning camera shot which tracked across the sprawling mess that is Arkham City before zooming close onto Batman as he perched aloft one of the many gargoyles adorning Arkham’s buildings. These gargoyles are critical to helping you navigate around the city. Along with other building sticky out bits they can help you stay away from the dangers of street level life. This opening shot gave a brief glimpse as to the true scale of your new playground. It set the scene. Arkham City is massive.

After gawping around at all the scenery with the help of the R stick, a quick tap of the A button later and I was off gliding through the air. Errr, aggghhh! By holding down RT I performed a power-dive which gained me tons of speed as I hurtled towards the ground and after releasing RT and then pulling back on the L stick, I glided up high into the dark Arkham City sky. This dive/glide mechanism makes navigating the city immense fun as well as adding an element of risk. As I found out on several occasions, if you accidentally crash into one of the many buildings you will find yourself down amongst the street gangs. Fortunately, you can easily get back on top of buildings by using your grapple gun to lock onto various outcrops/gargoyles. When in range these points are highlighted on the HUD and labelled with RB. You can either climb up to them or swing and grab another outcrop. You can also use your grapple gun to propel yourself into the air by double tapping the A button after you’ve latched onto something. This new skill is key to gliding over great distances throughout the city. I spent quite a bit of time dragging myself back on to the tops of buildings following some rubbish attempts at diving, gliding, swooping and grappling. I did discovered that I’m a master at falling through the air :-P

To help you listen in on the various dastardly plans of Arkham City’s bad guys you’ve got a bit of kit called the Cryptographic Sequencer v2. You can use this to intercept and locate radio transmissions from around the city. Once deciphered, each transmission turns into a mission. There were several of these to choose from in the demo, so I picked one at random and ended up having to save Catwoman. A quick bit of diving, gliding, swinging, crashing and more gliding later and I was outside the courthouse where Catwoman was being held by Two-Face. Then it was time to engage in a spot of fisticuffs with the group of thugs who were standing between me and saving Catwoman.

Kapow. Pow. Z-zwap

The combat hasn’t changed much from the first game. Counterattacks, kicking and punching are your staple moves. Once I’d dealt with a few thugs I got to try out some of Batman’s cool looking takedowns. Many of these were straight out of the WWE fighting school handbook. To fight well and inflict maximum damage you need to string lots of moves together. Anticipating the next attack, looking ahead and deciding on the sequence of goons you’re going to attack results in some seamless and elegant fighting. Look, plan, react and takedown.

Once inside the courthouse I tested out Batman’s detective mode via a quick tap of LB on the controller. The screen was quickly engulfed in an x-ray like appearance, revealing that I’d actually stumbled on a secret skeleton rave with a gun wielding skeleton DJ. No wait, it’s actually a room full of thugs led by Two-Face. My mistake ;-) And there’s Catwoman all tied-up and hanging over a bubbling pit of toxic goo in the corner too. Poor love, better go save her at some point.

One of the major criticisms levelled at detective mode was its complete awesomeness. You never wanted to switch it off as it showed far too much useful information like hidden walls, enemies, armed enemies etc. For me Arkham Asylum was coloured blue with some red bits and everyone looked like they were ready for a giant Halloween party. Fortunately, Rocksteady Studios have come up with a way of tempering the use of detective mode without destroying what is an essential tool in Batman’s armour. There will be areas of the city where you won’t be able to use detective mode and selected enemies will be able to block it.

Later on in the demo got to use detective mode on an actual crime scene, rather than to spy on skeleton raves. Just like in Arkham Asylum, it’s all about searching for and piecing together clues hidden within your surroundings. It’s as visually impressive and immersive as Heavy Rain’s Added Reality Interface (ARI). Witnessing the secrets of a crime scene unfolding right before your eyes is a sight to behold. I did spend quite a lot of time simply marvelling at the pretty graphics.

Saving Catwoman proved to be an exercise in high wire antics and mass brawling. Once I’d traversed across a high wire to get into me into the perfect spot, I swooped down on top of my unknowing victims. In this case, right into the middle of about 20 thugs and starting a bit of a ruckus. This gave Catwoman, who had been introduced earlier via some fairly gratuitous cleavage and bum shots, the perfect opportunity to escape and turn the tables on the vindictive Two-Face.

Feminine guile

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play as Catwoman in the demo, but Sarah Wellock, Rocksteady Studios community manager, led an energetic presentation earlier in the day showing off Catwoman’s innumerable skills. Catwoman is all about stealth and agility as opposed to the more physical nature of Batman’s approach. The only reason she is kicking around Arkham City is for personal gain, which makes her character an interesting departure from Mr Dark goody too-shoes Knight.

Catwoman also has access to a different set of weapons and gizmos. For instance, instead of detective mode she has a thief mode which highlights items that can be stolen from other characters. She also uses her whip to grab onto available ledges/gargoyles and has the ability to scramble up walls, kind of like female Spider-Man. She can also use her gymnastic abilities to walk on and hang from ceilings. This allows her pounce on enemies from above and immobilise them by wrapping her legs around their head and squeezing very hard. Yeah, Catwoman, is well, quite a powerful woman. I’m thinking Xenia Onatopp type of powerful, from the James Bond film GoldenEye. You also see a lot of her womanly charms which are barely contained by her outfit whilst playing. It reminded me of the impression the original Lara Croft made when she appeared in the original Tomb Raider game. I’m sure a quite a few gamers will be “analysing” Catwoman’s appearance too.

Invisibul high jump

Invisibul high jump

Whenever you see a couple of cats mooching and mewing on top of a building, if you stop and press X you switch to controlling Catwoman. I thought this was a bit of a clunky way of switching characters and feels a little at odds with an otherwise beautifully designed game.

The demo was jam packed with Batman villains. Two-Face, The Penguin and our old friend The Joker made themselves known in their various evil ways. To make matters worse, The Ridder’s also a bit pissed off with Batman for solving all his puzzles in the first game, so this time round he’s made his puzzles a lot harder. I’m quite proud of the fact that I solved all the Ridder puzzles in Arkham Asylum without once asking the internet for help. Maybe these some of these new puzzles, which were sadly absent from the demo, will finally result in my seeking external help.


With the exception of the clunky way of switching between Batman and Catwoman, I can’t think of anything bad to say about Batman: Arkham City from my time with the demo. It looks amazing, has a fantastic plot, combat system, wonderfully immersive detective mode and is chock-full of game play. Arkham City felt to me a bit like a comic book version of Liberty City from Grand Theft Auto IV, which is a good thing. Rocksteady Studios say that Arkham City still has tons of surprises in store for us. Mark my words, this game is going to be epic.

Rocksteady Studios have recently released a 12 minute video showing most the demo that I played at E3, which you can watch over on our video channel. I was a little less slick than the person controlling Batman in the video. They didn’t stuff up the gliding at all.

Batman: Arkham City is due for release on the 21st Oct 2011 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.