During our time with Warner Bros. at gamescom 2012 we were given the chance to go hands-on with Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham City Armoured Edition. This Wii U port of the acclaimed 2011 title contains the original game and all the DLC included with the Game of the Year edition, along with a number of new features unique to the Wii U version.
We began our demo of the game pursuing one of Ra's al Ghul's ninja assassins to the underground Wonder City, beneath Arkham City proper. One of the new features was immediately made apparent to us, namely that mission updates from Oracle are spoken through the Wii U touch screen control pad itself.
Also apparent, and rather disappointingly so, was that this version appears to lack the clarity and definition of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game; with character modeling and environments looking somewhat fuzzy around the edges in comparison.
The initial section we faced was a combat experience against a large group of goons and here again we were introduced to a new feature for this version. By pressing an icon on the Wii U touch screen or by simultaneously pushing both analog buttons, Batman charges up his new armoured suit and enters a 'bat-mode' in which he does increasing levels of damage.
Entering this power mode uses up an energy bar which can be refilled either by landing hits in battle or by taking damage. By giving players this ability even the less skilled will stand a better chance in combat, as if they are getting whaled on by the opposition their charge meter will build up faster and they get a good chance to turn the tables. It was stressed that this is of course optional and skilled combatants could ignore this new feature if they felt it made combat too easy.
After this we got to see how some of Batman's other gadgets fit in with the new Wii U control system, starting with detective mode. In her escape our would-be assassin received a wound and Batman uses his skills as the world's greatest detective to track her movements with his high tech gadgetry.
Using detective mode to scan for traces of blood required the Wii U tablet controller to be used as a 'scanner', moving the device manually to sweep over the crime scene, which was displayed on the screen, and spot anomalies. When something is identified, in this case a splash of blood, pushing your finger over it will allow Batman to scan it and enter it into his database.
Having followed the blood trail to a hidden computer terminal, we then used Batman's decrypter to bypass security. This involves holding your finger against the touch screen and moving it around to try and find the 'sweet spot'. You have a meter which lets you know if you are getting closer or further away.
Next up was a locked door that required the use of a remote control batarang in order to hit a switch through a small gap to open the lock. We were warned at this stage that the game build we were playing on was an old (E3) version and that the batarang controls were oversensitive. We were assured that this fault will be rectified pre-release but never-the-less during this demonstration we found ourselves unable to hit the switch after multiple attempts and had to pass the controller over to the demonstrator to hit the switch and progress. When it takes the demo presenter, who by this point had been playing the same 15 minute section for at least two days solid, a good five or so attempts to hit the switch you know there is a control problem present.
This hiccup aside, the next section was quite enjoyable and we experimented with using explosive gel to take out some nearby goons. This showed a practical rather than merely cosmetic change brought on by the new control set up. Namely, individual charges can be set off separately using the Wii U controller's tablet, which is far easier and quicker than having to manually zoom in on each explosive charge to detonate and a factor which allows for greater strategic depth.
At the end we came away with mixed opinions on this version. One of our staff members liked the new Wii U controller whilst another found it significantly less intuitive to use than those of the other consoles. Both agreed that the practical usage of 'no-pause' inventory management using the controller was less useful than touted, given the disadvantages brought on by the need to look away from the main screen of action while doing so.
Quite clearly the batarang controls were broken and we have assured they will be fixed, but new controls for detective mode and decryption essentially just add mini-games into proceedings and are more cosmetic than practical. They may be enjoyable but they are such a small part of the game and bear little real consequence as they cannot be permanently failed.
Certainly, powering up Batman's suit with bat-mode and the additional control given on using the explosive bat gel do have significant practical applications, but giving Batman more powerful tools to use than those he had in the original version is only going to decrease the level of difficulty and make this an easier, so arguably less satisfying, version of the game.
Nintendo announced that one of their intentions was to win back 'core' gamers with the Wii U but it is hard to imagine this happening with game ports that are both less challenging and less graphically impressive than the versions running on so-called 'last-gen' hardware.
There may still be an audience for Arkham Asylum Armoured Edition amongst the more casual crowd or those who have not yet had the opportunity to play on another system, but this does not look like enough of a step up over the previous editions of the game to warrant a further purchase by those who have already experienced the game. Indeed, in some areas Armoured Edition appears to take a few steps back.
Batman: Arkham Asyslum Armoured Edition will be released for the Wii U in Q4 of 2012.