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Hands-On: Batman: Arkham City

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Posted on September 21, 2011 AT 06:24pm

Oh, it’ll be a hot one in the ol’ town tonight!

Riddle me this. How do you top one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time while appeasing one of the more rabid comic fan bases to have ever existed. Answer: Batman: Arkham City. At least that’s what the folks at Rocksteady are hoping, but from what I’ve seen in some hands-on demos, I don’t think they have much to worry about now that we’re less than a month away from launch.

So what exactly have they done to make this game so much better than Arkham Asylum? Well, how about more villains, more heroes, a larger open-world, more gadgets, and the return of Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker, and Paul Dini as the script writer? And that’s just scratching the surface.

What I first noticed with my hands-on demo though was that I surprisingly started playing as Catwoman. Many people feared this addition when the announcement was made that you would play as her, but after clearing a room full of thugs with her before cracking a safe, rest assured fellow Bat-fans that it feels good. She has a faster and lighter feel compared to how Batman moves while also falling into the same control scheme of mixing attacks with well-timed counters. It also fits in with the early plot of the game as the cat looks to help the bat in his war on Arkham City’s inmates before she is captured by Two-Face.

Once I donned the cape and cowl though, the whole game literally changed in terms of perspective and feel as I was moved to a Gotham rooftop and although some of the guys from Rocksteady were encouraging me to go do mission objectives, I had a spectacular time just gliding from rooftop to rooftop and using my bat-line to pull me up when I miscalculated the length of a gap. When they say this world is five times larger than the last, they meant it as Gotham felt almost intimidating in its size and scale. It was this fear of being consumed by the nooks and crannies of this massive digital megalopolis that I concurred with the prodding of our PR handlers and headed into a building.

It was here that much of the last game began to flood back to me as I perched high above a room filled with Two-Face thugs. As I listened to Big Bad Harv rant and rave, I began planning how I would take down the room full of foes. Once Two-Face had moved on, it was time to make my move and as I leapt from the perch and onto my first victim, I found that a couple of key additions had been added to the combat.

The first is the ability to use items and gadgets without breaking your combat flow at all. Throwing batarangs and detonating small packets of explosive gel to help dictate where I wanted my foes to go so I could get the largest combo possible all while countering, kicking, and punching others in my nearby vicinity made it look like Batman was moving almost like water through the group as every movement made perfect sense and optimized my combat experience like nothing I had ever seen.

The next addition to combat actually came on the side of the low-rank villains I was facing as their A.I. has improved greatly from the last game as they picked up pipes and chairs for weapons and trash can lids or broken car doors for shields. Enemies also would occasionally throw these weapons at you and now Batman could catch them in mid-air and use the item’s momentum to hurl it back to its original chucker or into the face of a different enemy in Batman’s vicinity. All in all, what was already probably the best action/adventure combat system in gaming looks like it took the next step forward and kicked it up a notch.

But I was far from finished as a sniper shot pierced a window and we got to play with Detective Mode once again as Batman begin tracing the trajectory and calculating just who could have fired the shot. We soon tracked down the location and was met by an unexpected fan-favorite, Harley Quinn. She warned Batman to stay out of the Joker’s way as he had big plans for Arkham City.

I was paying more attention to how Harley said things than what she said though. For those who are unaware, this is a rare time where Harley Quinn is being voiced by someone other than Arleen Sorkin. Luckily it is voice over veteran Tara Strong who Batman fans may know better as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl from Batman: The Animated Series or even maybe as Raven from Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans. It was definitely different though as Sorkin’s ditzy but dangerous was replaced by a slightly more serious and seductive tone by Strong. This could work as supposedly with the Joker nearly incapacitated from his high exposure to the Titan formula in the first game, Quinn has had to step up her game for the sake of her ailing puddin’, but hardcore fans might be taken aback at first. Still though, she is in the hands of the man who created her in Paul Dini so I have faith that the character will rise above it all in the end.

Speaking of the voice cast though, a superior job was done by all involved so far from what I heard in terms of many of the villains and heroes. Of course, Kevin Conroy, also of B:TAS fame returns to play the Dark Knight and Mark Hamill, in what he has stated as being his last time doing it, returns to play the Joker. On top of this, the hardest working man in video game voiceovers, Nolan North, shocked me when I found out he was playing the Penguin of all characters, but he did an alright job with it. Doing a bit of a cockney accent definitely helped as I don’t think his Nathan Drake voice would have worked here. The Penguin’s dark and twisted design this time around is also something that needs to be seen on a screen to be believed as his classic monocle has been replaced by a beer bottle that was jammed into his face and smoking cigars and cigarettes all those years has left him with an advanced voice box. Beautifully twisted and dark indeed.

I’ve also been really impressed with Maurice LaMarche as Mr. Freeze, best known as The Brain from Pinky and the Brain, Egon in The Real Ghostbusters, and, well, he’s basically had one role or another in every major cartoon of the past thirty years. Although only seeing him in trailers, I wanted to mention what an awesome touch I think Maurice is bringing to the character in the few lines I’ve heard and I thought it was a stroke of genius by the sound guys to make him sound so normal when he has his helmet open, and so mechanical when he closes it up.

With our demo all but done, so many questions were answered, but even more were popping into my head. How deep does the conspiracy go? What does Batman do to disprove to Hugo Strange that he and Bruce Wayne are one and the same? What unannounced villains will rear their head? How will the fights against the likes of Mr. Freeze and the Riddler go down? How will displaced villains like the Penguin from the Iceberg Lounge and Black Mask from Sionis Industries affect the landscape? What will happen to the Joker in the long term?! I’m getting amped up just thinking about it! All I know for sure is that we here at EGM are going to be covering this game like a Kevlar glove with triangular fins so you had better stay tuned to our coverage here for more on this Game of the Year contender. Same Bat-EGMNow.com time, same Bat-EGMNow.com channel!

PARTING SHOTS:With all the talk of Game of the Year contenders as we move into the final quarter of 2011, you can’t go to sleep on this game because Batman transcends games and hits a wider audience than Marcus Fenix, Nathan Drake, and Soap MacTavish combined. You just can’t mess with rabid comic book fans. Ever.

What are you all looking most forward to about Batman Arkham City? What other questions do you still have about the game? What has you most excited about the game’s release? What unannounced surprises do you think they have in store for us? Let us know with comments below!

Ray Carsillo, Reviews Editor
Ray Carsillo has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, and Comicvine.com before finally settling into his role as EGM’s reviews editor. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course! Follow Ray’s exploits on Twitter: @RayCarsillo. Meet the rest of the crew.

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