There are few titles at this year's E3 that had us more excited than the prospect of trying out the sequel to 2009's sublime superhero surprise, Batman: Arkham Asylum. With a great combat engine, superb graphics, and a story penned by none other than Batman comics scribe Paul Dini, one would have to question how the developers at Rocksteady would be able to improve on the experience.
Within minutes of our demo at WB's booth, fears were already being allayed. As the demo began, Batman was perched on a gargoyle on the Gotham City Police department. As the demonstrator looked around, you could see the entirety of Arkham Island, and an expansive Gotham City sprawling out ahead. From the very first leap off the gargoyle, we were made privy to Batman's new moves, a swan like fast dive and that can be switched to a glide and back on the fly. It wasn't long until we watched batman use his new powerful grapple boost to seamlessly grab onto an enemy and fly into him fist first.
From there, combat has been tweaked, but not completely overhauled, which is just fine considering how fluid the combat was the first time around. The number of moves, takedowns, and signature moves has been significantly ramped up, and the collision detection has been noticeably tightened up as well.
Probably the biggest addition to the game is the ability to swap between Batman and Catwoman to take on different missions. Catwoman has her own gadgets and abilities to draw upon, most notably her whip and the ability to scale walls and ceilings. She can also hold her own in combat, and predictably moves faster but does less damage than the Dark Knight. One particular Catwoman mission we witnessed had her picking off guards one by one before entering a heavily guarded vault. Catwoman climbed on the ceilings, through vents, and even quietly took out two enemies at once. Her version of detective vision also showed card keys that could be pick pocketed from guards. In all, the mission reminded us of a typical Assassin's Creed style mission, which is certainly no bad thing.
The game utilises the same on the fly mixture of stealth and combat. The game takes place in a cordoned off section of Gotham City which has been overrun with the inmates for Arkham Asylum. The inmates have been given this area for the time being due to the island being shut down. Of course, Batman's greatest foes have taken this opportunity to reground and launch nefarious plans of their own. None are more threatening than the man put in charge of Arkham City, a psychotic doctor named Hugo Strange. We saw and played missions involving such standbys like the Penguin, Riddler, Calendar Man, and Two-Face just to name a few.
This is where the sit down demo ended and our hands-on demonstration began. Suffice to say, Batman still controls beautifully, and his new moves fit right into the control scheme. The tools he uses are further integrated into combat by using the face buttons as a directional pad while holding down the left trigger. As an example, By holding down the left trigger and pressing the Y button, Batman will grapple an enemy towards him, and then punch him in the face with a well-timed press of the X button.
Being that Arkham City is more than five times the size of Arkham Island in the first game, it's truly shocking how much detail has been pumped into the environments, from street level to the highest rooftop. Almost every building lets you enter through the front door or find a sneakier route inside as well. Your objectives are marked by a handy compass or by scanning broadcast frequencies with your decoder. The developer promised us that the entirety of the city will be open from the first moment of the game.
In all, Arkham City has us very excited to fill in the cape and cowl of the Dark Knight yet again. The game's Xbox 360, PS3, and PC release in October of this year certainly can't come soon enough.