With Arkham Asylum, developer Rocksteady was successful in creating a neat formula of storytelling, third-person beat-em up combat and action-adventure stealth. Batman: Arkham City is set about one year after Arkham Asylum and the plot development is crucial to the gameplay. After being seen to be the one who stopped Joker in Arkham Asylum, Quincy Sharp, the former boss at the prison, has become the mayor of Gothem City and consequently buys a large chunk of the slums to set up a new super prison called “Arkham City”. This prison is overlooked by the aptly named psychiatrist Hugo Strange and prisoners are free to roam so long as they do not attempt to escape, with a group of private armed mercenaries called “Tyger” manning the perimeter. This obviously sounds like a worrying mix and Batman is inescapably going to have to be involved once again.
Our play-test began on the roof-tops of Arkham City where Catwoman is being held by super villain Harvey Dent (Two-Face), who plans to execute the irresistible antihero to recruit thugs to his cause. We used an audio decipher - one of Batman's many gadgets - to listen in on the communications of the super villain's thugs (after accidently tuning into Arkham radio station), and discovered that Catwoman is in a spot of bother inside an old courthouse building. Here the player can choose to either explore the surroundings in order to find side-missions or collectables, or just deal directly with the main mission. This adds an open city element and the side-missions are also promised to be appealing and compliment the main game, not just add a shallow extra depth.
The true shadowy Batman areas are littered with detail while bright windows and neon lights break up the run-down city and dark night sky. The prospect of exploring is an exciting one but unfortunately after admiring the ambience we had to press on with the main objective. The gameplay will be instantly familiar to Arkham Asylum players but new to Arkham City is the ability to glide continuously using Batman’s cape to nose-dive in order to build speed and upwards momentum. We used this, along with Batman’s grappling hook, to glide down the streets and onto a balcony on the Courthouse. The detective mode from Arkham Asylum returns and provides a means for analysing a scene for extra information on the area and enemies. Unfortunately there was no secret way in here so we had to drop down and start battling the thugs outside the main door.
Please note that the latter part of this paragraph contains minor spoilers from early in the game.
Combat remains a familiar affair of punching and kicking enemies with great flair and combo variations. This violence remains rapid but is now smoother than before and is thoroughly satisfying and pleasurable. We knocked-out all the hoodlums and moved inside. A cut-scene followed where Catwoman was her characteristic cheeky self, but more henchmen had to be dealt with before we can save our feline friend. With Two-Face dispatched and Catwoman saved the next super villain, The Joker, attempted to sniper the duo from afar. Sadly this is where our demo ended and we were left we a desire to play more.
At its heart Batman: Arkham City looks and feels similar to Arkham Asylum. Whereas some developers feel the need to add a wealth of new features to spice up their sequel, at the end of the day (or night, as is usually the case with Batman) if it ‘isn’t broken then don’t fix it’. Arkham City has more freedom but the stealth remains classic Batman, the combat is lively and quite literally punchy while the story promises to be compelling and involving. Expect to see Batman: Arkham City hit shelves worldwide during the week of October 18th 2011 on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.