Batman: Arkham City GDC 2011 PreviewBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 03, 2011
The Caped Crusader stands on the edge of a building, surveying the expansive metropolis that is Arkham City stretching out to the horizon in all directions. The giant moon hides behind ribbons of clouds, as floodlights paint the night sky and the cityscape twinkles with life. In the distance, we spot a courthouse that appears to have been split down the middle, but only cosmetically, as upon closer inspection it's clear someone has left one side largely in tact, while the other side is a charred, broken mess. Without being told as much, it's clear that the courthouse has become a base of sorts for none other than legendary villain Two Face. And so begins our GDC 2011 gameplay walkthrough of Batman: Arkham City.
To find out a bit more about why exactly a mess of thugs have congregated outside the courthouse, Batman whips out his trusty frequency scanner. Like pretty much everything in Arkham City, Rocksteady Studios' thoroughly impressive looking sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum, the scanner has received a bit of an upgrade, as it now lets Batman hack into any local frequency and gather pertinent information from it. In this case, Batman hacks into the radio of a nearby patrol helicopter, and finds out that Two Face has kidnapped Catwoman, and plans to execute her. Batman suspects that Catwoman may have some answers regarding what the Joker and Arkham City's new warden, Hugo Strange, might be plotting, so he decides to pay Two Face a little visit.
The jump from the confines of Arkham Asylum to the open-world layout of Arkham City brings with it a wealth of technical and aesthetic changes to the overall design of the game, but this massive transition has also had a major impact on the gameplay as well. The first sign of this can be seen the moment Batman leaps off the building ledge he was perched on, as it gives us a chance to see Batman's snazzy new dive ability, which lets him generate enough momentum to keep himself gliding indefinitely. When combined with his upgraded grappling hook, this new move gives players the freedom to traverse massive expanses of the city solely by flight.
Since the game is open world, you're free to pursue a wide variety of side missions at your leisure. So on our way to the courthouse, we decide to stop and help out a citizen who is being harassed. Turns out the man is news reporter, and franchise veteran, Jack Ryder. Before we engage the thugs down below, though, we use Batman's detective mode to analyze the threat. What we discover is that one of the goons is a Riddler informant, evidenced by his green outline. Since we need to keep the informant alive in order to interrogate him and get valuable information, we basically have to fight around him, which is easier said than done.
After dropping on top of one of the baddies from a bone-crushing height, we hop back and forth between the remaining enemies, breaking arms and legs as we swiftly and viciously fight our way through the pack. With everyone taken care of, we grab the informant and find out the location of several Riddler trophies in the area. As in Arkham Asylum, the Riddler has placed numerous trophies around the city.
While you'll be able to essentially stumble across a lot of these trophies, many will be in places that you'd otherwise miss if an informant doesn't tell you where they were. And the trophies aren't just there for show. They factor into the overall narrative (how exactly isn't clear at this point), so if you want to find out everything about what is actually going on in the game, you'll want to make sure to properly interrogate each informant you come across.
Thanks to our informant, we see that one of these Riddler trophies is nearby, so we decide to check it out. Deviously, the Riddler has placed the trophy inside a bear-trap that snaps shut when you get too close. Fortunately, Batman's grappling hook is now outfitted with the ability to grab objects, making it easy to snatch the trophy from a safe distance.
Looking down at the courthouse, we see several more thugs congregating outside. We leap into action, once again dispensing some brutal and skull crushing justice. Moving inside triggers a cut-scene in which we see Catwoman hanging upside down over a vat of boiling acid. Two Face stands beside her, overlooking a large crowd of not so nice people.
When the scene ends, we scan the crowd (which is significantly larger than any crowd seen in the previous game, one of the major technical leaps made for the sequel) and notice that a number of the enemies are carrying weapons, which are highlighted in yellow. Enemies carrying guns, like Two Face and the guard on the floor above us overlooking the crowd, glow red, making it easy to prioritize which enemy to take out first.
After knocking out the upstairs guard with a silent takedown, we jump down and clear the room.
Two Face manages to hit us with a bullet to the chest, triggering another cut scene in which we see Catwoman break free, and just as Two Face is about to put a bullet in her too, Batman strings him up, and dangles him precariously over the acid vat in an unfortunate twist of fate.
Catwoman informs us that Joker and Hugo Strange are in fact plotting something sinister, but before she can elaborate, the scene shifts to a sniper scope view, as Joker makes a quip about killing Batman's favorite cat. Batman notices the Joker's laser sight on Catwoman's head, and quickly pulls her out of the way as a sniper bullet rips through a courthouse window. Using detective mode, we scan the bullet hole in the window and the hole in the ground where the bullet hit, in order to map the trajectory of the bullet and locate the source of the shot, which turns out to be the top of a bell tower a few blocks away.
In the GDC 2011 demo, we proceeded outside without investigating the lower level of the courthouse. However, at the demo at Microsoft's February Games Showcase last week, we got to see a new character, Calendar Man, who was locked up in a jail cell in the courthouse basement. What's great about Calendar Man is that when you play the game on actual holidays, he will tell you some gruesome tale about something awful he did on that exact day. We also got to see Batman's new remote controlled batarang, which was used to fly through some exposed electrical wires to grab the electricity and then fly downstairs to hit a circuit box to open a locked cell to snag a Riddler trophy.
Once outside the courthouse, Batman latches onto the bottom of a patrolling helicopter, and hangs on while the copter does its security rounds. This provides a nice sweeping view of the surrounding area, and exposes a variety of activities that we could engage in if we wanted to, like using a manhole cover to explore the sewer system below the city or save yet another hapless citizen from a band of thugs. Instead though, we release from the helicopter, and glide towards the bell-tower, This gives us the chance to see another new move, the glide kick/throat slam, which basically lets you fire yourself at enemies like a rocket and smash them to the ground via their throat.
Another first fight ensues, only this time, one of the enemies is able to block every punch and kick we throw, requiring us to use the new beat down mechanic, which is a quick series of devastating punches that ends with a jaw-crushing uppercut.
Once inside, we are greeted by Harley Quinn, who tries to attack us, but who we simply grab and toss to the ground beside us. Rocksteady has made sure that players get much more personal with bosses and iconic villains this time around, rather than just having them be some sort of distant threat, and this encounter is just one tiny example of that idea in action. Quinn leaves us in the keep of several gun-totting thugs, who banter humorously about wanting to kill Batman before he uses some sort of trickery to escape. This sort of dialogue can be missed if players aren't careful, and, as Rocksteady's Dax Ginn told us, the team put a "poop ton of work into the dialogue...so if you'd please sit back and listen when you play, we'd appreciate it."
As you'd expect, Batman uses a smoke bomb to escape his captors, and escapes into the rafters where he is able to plot out his plan of attack. We take down the first two goons with a double takedown from behind. We take out the third guy with a new stealth takedown in which Batman hangs off a ledge and uses his feet to choke out the enemy. The last guy is hidden behind a breakable wall, but instead of using the exploding foam found in the first game, Batman simply uses his fists to smash through the wall and knock out the guard.
When inside bell-tower, we find a remote controlled sniper rifle, loads of explosives, and two televisions that play a message from Joker. We scan the rifle to get the frequency used to control the gun in order to find out Joker's position, and dive out of a large stained glass window and fly to safety as the bell-tower explodes into a massive fireball behind us. And with that, our demo came to an unfortunate end.
2011 is going to be a stellar year for genuinely top quality sequels that aren’t simple rehashes or cash-ins, but that really push the franchises into exciting and innovative new directions. Based on this demo, it’s clear that Batman: Arkham City is shaping up to be one of these titles. We’ll know for sure if it can meet these lofty expectations when it ships on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC later this year