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Dark Knight rises today – Batman: Arkham City hands-on

Tuesday, 18 October 2011 13:36 GMT By Stace Harman

With Batman’s latest launching in the US today, Stace Harman takes a spoiler-free look at the grim majesty of Arkham City in the company of the Dark Knight and Rocksteady’s Dax Ginn.

Batman: Arkham City

Sequel to 2009’s critically and commercially acclaimed Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Supports stereoscopic 3D and bi-colour 3D (the type you use cardboard specs for).

The full game will weigh in at around 40 hours, with Catwoman’s playable narrative accounting for around 10 per cent of that – she’ll also be playable at any point after her narrative involvement has concluded and have her own Riddler trophies to collect.

Includes a raft of tier one and tier two villains from Batman’s universe, many with their own optional extra quest lines.

Developed by UK studio Rocksteady and published by Warner Bros.

I certainly don’t envy those charged with picking out 2011’s Game of the Year.

Just a scant few hours spent with the various pre-release builds of Batman: Arkham City, combined with the powerhouse foundation of Arkham Asylum, is enough convince me that Batman will be stalking the upper echelons of the contenders for 2011’s best game. Though if Gotham’s stalwart defender is its Dark Knight, it’s perhaps Arkham City itself that is the shining star.

This build plays out after the E3 footage that saw Batman help Catwoman escape Two Face’s machinations. Here, the Bat is tracking Joker back to his hideout but little else will be said of the story details that come to light during the hands-on; I refuse to be the person that spoils any of the plot for you.

Street life
Perched atop a beam, far above the debris-strewn streets, amidst neon lights and cluttered rooftops, is where we begin. My initial impulse is to rotate the camera, first through 360 degrees and then again more slowly, looking not at Batman but at the cityscape around him – drinking in the detail, savouring the freedom to set off in any direction and anticipating the visceral feeling of diving headfirst into the dark maw of Arkham city.

There’s the very real and immediate feeling that this is a playground quite unlike the intelligently structured but restricted space of the asylum. If you ever stood on the bluffs of Arkham asylum’s grounds and looked across the water at the city beyond, the feeling of being unshackled and set free in this little slice of psychotic hell is an exciting one.

And it only gets better when you start moving. The enhanced fluidity with which Batman negotiates the environment illustrates Rocksteady’s awareness of the pleasure to be had simply from traversing this more open landscape.

Combinations of moves enable the Bat Claw to act as a launcher: instead of grappling to the ledge of a building, a simple button-hold allows zip-line momentum to be maintained as Batman vaults beyond the ledge and into a cape-assisted glide. From here, the Bat can land a swooping takedown or maintain air time with the new dive and climb manoeuvre.

During these acrobatics, it’s Batman’s Unreal-Engine-3-bulk that provides the counterpoint to temper any potential unsatisfactory feelings of weightlessness. It’s this same solid bulk that ensures that wherever you chose to land: be it rooftop precipice or thug’s cranium, the connection is solid and satisfying.

As you joyfully cavort beyond the rooftops, the risk of missing action unfolding on the streets below is mitigated by your radio transmitter that picks up any nearby dialogue, alerting you to interesting events that may be transpiring below.

Rogue’s gallery launch trailer.

Some of these might concern the game’s critical path but many others will provide extra-curricular activities to pursue. It’s an elegant solution that ensures you do not feel obliged to descend to street level every few blocks to check that you’re not missing out on anything.

“Arkham Asylum was a focused experience and had a very claustrophobic feel,” begins Rocksteady’s marketing manager, Dax Ginn. “We always knew where the player would or could be at any given time, because you start at one point and end at another via a linear path. In Arkham City you can really go in any direction and so we had to redesign a lot of the systems that we had before.

“We’ve overhauled the game structure, the combat, and the narrative structure. Aspects of Batman’s gadgetry have been completely redesigned to be appropriate to the open world game that we’ve made”

Better by design
By now, it’s common knowledge that the effectiveness of Detective mode has been toned down from the first game. Rocksteady wants to ensure that players who may have seen much of Arkham Asylum’s grim glory in grainy X-ray vision will be able to appreciate Arkham City’s more varied landscape in the way in which it was intended.

But what of the rare, ill-advised design choice made by the team the first time around? Ginn insists that little from Arkham Asylum stood out as requiring the attention that Detective mode did, but surely few would claim that the boss fights – in particular the Titan-fuelled Joker finale – were of the same exemplary quality as the rest of the game.

Media were treated to an amazing press kit.

“The situation with the boss fights in the first game was a production reality more than anything,” responds Ginn. “The way they were scheduled meant they didn’t come online until late in the process and so we didn’t have as much polish time with them as we might have liked. This time around we’ve front-loaded them so that we started them a lot earlier.

“One that really springs to mind is Mr Freeze, that’s a very cool fight. He’s a massive robot, effectively, but he’s also a super-intelligent scientist and so the boss fight really explores both of those elements: if you get a hit on him he analyses the method you’ve used and changes the environment so that you can’t use the same tactic twice.”

Much of Batman’s arsenal from the original game is accessible at the beginning of Arkham City, though more toys will be available throughout the campaign and you’ll be able carry these over into the new addition of New Game Plus.

One of these new gadgets is the R.E.C (Remote Electrical Charge) – a device that’s used for solving environmental puzzles but also has some useful applications during combat. Elsewhere, tweaks to one of the most fluid and cinematic fighting systems in videogames provide deeper integration of Batman’s gadgets during brawls and enhance, rather than break, your combo bonus. It’s also now possible to employ simultaneous takedowns, useful in both the frenetic melee mode and for when stealth is of the essence during the predator-mode sections.

Before I had back out, squinting into the sunlight, I ask Ginn whether he thinks it’s been beneficial having both of Rocksteady’s Arkham games launch far outside of the release windows of Christopher Nolan’s excellent Batman films. A cinema blockbuster increases brand awareness, but does it also devalue a game, regardless of its quality, due to a long history of film tie-in disappointments?

“It’s just a great time to be involved with Batman. I think he’s in a very sweet spot across lots of mediums.”

“Admittedly, the history of games of movies isn’t a hugely positive one,” he ventures. “It’s a genuine theory – as a gamer I’m always a little sceptical of games of movies and as a developer I now understand why: it takes a long time to make a great game and generally movies don’t take so long. Trying to deliver a game of a movie to tie in day-and-date means you have very little time to make the game. I think that’s a real shame because games that could’ve been great often get forced out before they’re ready.

“To be honest, it’s just a great time to be involved with Batman. I think he’s in a very sweet spot across lots of mediums so we’re thankful to be able to make a contribution to that and that gamers and Batman fans find our stuff to be of a high quality.

“More than anything, I’m just glad that I’m able to watch the movies as a Batman fan and that I don’t have this added pressure of ‘Oh god, how do we turn that into a boss fight!’”

Playing Arkham City makes you feel empowered, even when things don’t go to plan – as they didn’t several times in my hands-on – Batman has the tools and willingness to get his hands dirty that ensure he can get the job done, be it with silent stealth or bone-breaking brutality. Arkham City looks to give players plenty of opportunity for both.

To echo the opening sentiment: I certainly don’t envy those charged with picking out 2011’s Game of the Year.

Batman: Arkham City launches on PS3 and 360 on October 18 in the US, October 19 in Australia and New Zealand and October 21 in the UK. The PC version has been delayed until November this year.

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3 Comments

  1. bpcgos

    Nice!! Thats all I need to say! And wait patiently for its PC version of course!

    #1 4 years ago
  2. Telepathic.Geometry

    “…but little else will be said of the story details that come to light during the hands-on; I refuse to be the person that spoils any of the plot for you.” Thank you. Great read. It’s in the post on its way to me already. ^-^ /beams

    #2 4 years ago
  3. hitnrun

    I’m not quite as enraptured with the environments as I was with AA, and the movement feels a bit faster than the glorious deliberate stalk of the last game, but it’s still a 5-star game so far.

    Also, 360 users: get the Batarang controller. 4 directional, straight-SNES D-Pad. 7 color optional LED trim (if you’re into that), and normally colored buttons. Only negatives is that it’s wired only and won’t hold the chatpad.

    #3 4 years ago

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    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with a Super Smash Bros. update and the StreetPass Mii Plaza games Battleground Z and Ultimate Angler. The update is rather detailed, and a bit larger than normal, and you may wish to pay special attention to the activities listed. Here’s the full update: StreetPass […]

  • Here’s your first look at Sony boss Shuhei Yoshida in Super Time Force Ultra

    Sony Worldwide boss Shuhei Yoshida is a playable character in Super Time Force Ultra, and today, Capy Games has provided a couple images of the man himself in the game. Yoshida was announced as a playable character in the game during Sony’s PlayStation Experience event back in December 2014. The PS4 and Vita version will […]

  • The wait is almost over – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has gone gold

    CD Projekt RED has announced the news we’ve all been waiting to hear: The Witcher 3 has gone gold. This means Geralt’s latest, and possibly last, adventure has been sent to the factory to be pressed into lovely gaming discs. “We worked so damn hard over the past three years to bring you this game,” […]

  • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a “couple weeks out from beta,” new trailer

    Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is just a “couple of weeks out from beta,” according to development studio The Chinese Room, and a release date will be announced “shortly.” To give you an idea of how development has been coming along since it was announced at gamescom 2013, the team has released a new trailer […]

  • GTA 5 on PC looks incredible, but I can’t recommend it to console players

    As much as Matt Martin loves GTA 5, he can’t recommend upgrading from console to PC just for a slick editing suite and even prettier graphics. “This is the third time in as many years that I’ve bought GTA 5.” I have a Grand Theft Auto 5 obsession, as I’m sure you know if you’ve […]

  • The Forest engine updated to Unity 5, major graphical and gameplay improvements made

    The Forest’s latest patch added substantial improvements to the game. The Forest version 0.16 is now live on Steam with plenty of new additions. The game has been ported over to Unity engine version 5. The plant and skin shaders have been replaced or rewritten. Many other visual tweaks have been made, such as model […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront banner leaks from Star Wars Convention

    EA has been setting up the Battlefront booth at Star Wars Celebration, and one leaked picture shows what could be the game’s main art. Someone on Reddit posted a picture of the game banner at EA’s booth. Here it is: Lots of things happening here. There’s a Star Destroyer in the distance, TIE Fighters and […]

  • Get GTA 5 working with Oculus Rift using this tool

    There’s a way you can play GTA 5 in VR if you own an Oculus Rift Dev Kit and have a bit of cash to spare. VorpX, the go-to program for adding VR support to games has received an update recently to support GTA 5. This is far from perfect, as it only translates the […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team: week of April 15 team revealed

    This week’s Team of the Week is now available for anyone to challenge in FIFA Ultimate Team. The team members get selected each week based on their performance during the weekend matches. You can fire up FIFA Ultimate Team on any platform and challenge this squad. You’ll also find some Team of the Week items […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will let you stealth all encounters, including bosses

    Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will bring back one of the original game’s major features. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is considered by many to be a great game and worthy of bearing the franchise name. One of its grating issues though was its boss fights. You only had one way to fight them: be confrontational. The […]

  • Project Cars PC specs and supported wheels announced

    The release date of Project Cars is inching ever closer and more details have been revealed to answer all your burning questions. Project Cars developer Slightly Mad Studios has revealed the full list of supported steering wheels on all platforms, as well as the minimum and recommended PC specs. Minimum specs CPU – 2.66 GHz […]

  • GTA 5 gets custom FOV mod on PC

    Those not satisfied with GTA 5′s built-in field of view slider can use a new mod to push the number even further. The PC versions of GTA 5 – just like its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts – lets you switch between third and first-person view in shooting and driving. The game has an FOV […]

  • Win! GTA 5 on PC!

    Want to win a Steam key for Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC? Just enter here. GTA 5 released on PC this week and is going down a storm. We like it a lot, which is why we’re giving away a Steam code for Rockstar’s latest. All you need to do is enter your email […]

  • GTA 5 topples Skyrim’s record for highest concurrent players on Steam

    Not factoring in Valve games, GTA 5 is the new king of concurrent player numbers on Steam. GTA 5 is very popular on PC, even more popular than games like Skyrim in its heyday. The number of concurrent players for GTA 5 has peaked today at 301,246. This makes it the only non-Valve game to […]

  • Mortal Kombat X: what does a modern fighting game look like?

    Mortal Kombat continues to evolve as NetherRealm adds RPG systems and daily challenges to a solid fighting game, says Sherif Saed. “Mortal Kombat X takes many cues from games like Destiny, Call of Duty, and GTA Online with hourly, daily and weekly events.” For as many of its familiar facets, Mortal Kombat X has enough […]

  • J-Stars Victory VS+ coming west in June – new trailer

    J-Stars Victory VS+ will make the jump (see what I did there) to the west after all. J-Stars Victory VS+ is the western title for the fighting game which stars characters from a variety of Shonen Jump-published manga. Bandai Namco has announced the fighter will release in Europe on June 26 and in the Americas […]

  • Codemasters F1 license good through 2016

    Codemasters has at least one more F1 game in it. F1 2015 isn’t out yet, so Codemasters is naturally not talking about what it might get up to in the future. We do know what it can get up to, though; Codemasters’ Steven Embling told Videogamer has the option to continue the series. “We have […]

  • Project Cars has pretty deep graphics options on consoles

    Project Cars offers players a wide variety of ways to customise their graphic settings on PS4 and Xbox One. Project Cars is a graphics showcase and all early indications suggest it’s going to be one of the best-looking games out there. Slightly Mad’s commitment to graphics seems to go deeper than making things pretty, though: […]

  • Super Smash Bros. patch nerfs Diddy Kong – report

    Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U is great but Diddy Kong is a beast and must be stopped. The latest Super Smash Bros. 3Ds and Wii U patch seems to have nerfed Diddy Kong, a character so over-powered that serious tournament players generate controversy by choosing to use him. Nintendo doesn’t publish patch notes, […]

  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer shuttered

    Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer 2K Australia has been closed down. Kotaku broke the news, and also had word from an anonymous source, who said that all staff have been let go. 2K responded to our request for comment with the following statement: We can confirm we have taken steps to begin the studio closure process […]

  • Samorost 3 trailer shows Amanita still in fine form

    Samorost 3 looks as delicately beautiful as its siblings. Samarost 3 developer Amanita Design has a reputation for gorgeous, slightly surreal world building. This new trailer for its latest adventure looks just as if not more lovely than the previous Samarost games and Botanicula. Samarost 3 is coming to Mac and PC later this year, […]

  • Amnesia dev’s new project SOMA now in beta

    SOMA is nearly here and I am torn between excitement and horrified dread. SOMA is the latest horror project from Frictional, the team behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent. We’re pretty excited to see what Frictional comes up with next, and we won’t have too long to wait, apparently; the developer has announced that SOMA is […]

  • Steam Guard mobile authenticator now in beta testing

    Steam is now testing its latest security measure. Steam helps you protect your account by offering two-factor authentication, a solution so beautifully elegant and effective that it’s astounding every gaming network doesn’t do the same (looking at you, Sony). Valve’s version is called Steam Guard, and it works via email. This isn’t always super convenient, […]

  • Godzilla battles Mothra in new trailer

    Godzilla lets you stomp around cities and battle classic kaiju. I’m in. Godzilla is coming to PlayStation 3 and PS4 in early July, but we haven’t seen a great deal of it since its December reveal. The new trailer below gives you an idea of just what Natsume has done with one of the biggest […]

  • Tales of Zestiria to launch this year – new trailer

    Tales of Zestiria continues Bandai Namco’s delightful new habit of bringing the popular JRPG series to the west before the shine wears off. Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, the publisher has announced. That’s not a bad turnaround, given it first hit Japan in January, and localisation of text-heavy titles is expensive […]

  • Project Cars release date locked down, new trailer released

    Project Cars finally has a release date. Project Cars will release on May 8, Bandai Namco UK has announced. We haven’t yet had an update from Namco Bandai’s other regional offices, but its probably safe to bet the racer will release around the same time in the Americas, Europe and ANZ region. We can now […]

  • Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains trailer shows combat, online multiplayer

    Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains has plenty to offer fans of the anime. Previously known as Attack on Titan: The Last Wings of Mankind, the Spike Chunsoft action game is coming west thanks to Atlus. Gematsu reports it’s due in both Europe and North America in May, via the 3DS eShop. The trailer below […]

  • Bloodborne stamina recovery rate affected by equip weight

    Bloodborne players have unearthed an important gameplay detail not mentioned in the game’s menus or manual. In Bloodborne, players need to manage their stamina carefully for best results. A far more aggressively-tuned affair than past Souls games, Bloodborne does away with equip weight limits, and items have no listed weight details. As far as players […]

  • Street Fighter’s Ryu, Fire Emblem’s Roy spotted in Super Smash Bros. patch – rumour

    Street Fighter’s Ryu is rumoured for future Super Smash bros DLC following datamining of the latest patch. Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U were updated recently, and hacker shinyquagsire23 claims to have found some interesting files while poking around in the 3DS patch data. As detailed on Reddit, the audio files included a new […]

  • Suikoden 3 PEGI rating suggests PS2 Classic re-release

    Suikoden. Suikoden 2. And now: Suikoden 3. Suikoden 3 has been rated by PEGI for PlayStation 3, presumably ahead of an upcoming re-release. Gematsu turned up the rating, and although we have no further information at this time, it’s not much a leap to assume the RPG will turn up as a PS2 Classic on […]