Batman: Arkham City: Leaving the Asylum proves a breath of fresh air
21st Sep 2011 | 15:48
'What does it really mean to be Batman?' we ask ourselves while standing on a rooftop overlooking the streets of Arkham City.
The scope of the stunning Gotham skyline overpowers us and for a few moments we let our mind wander to our experiences with Rocksteady's stellar opener.
Arkham Asylum is often touted as the best superhero game ever, but the towering metropolis that is Gotham City coupled with the sprawling, menacing streets of its newly created Arkham district puts the first game into perspective. Turns out, Arkham Asylum wasn't a very faithful representation of Batman.
Don't get us wrong we loved the game but, when you really think about it, it was a bit too clinical and contrived. Whether it was systematically picking off goons in rooms designed to give Batman an unfair advantage or amateurishly following around scents and trails like a trained police hound, in retrospect it all looks a bit uncharacteristic of the Dark Knight.
In terms of execution, it exhibited more of the Adam West era TV show (minus the cheese) than the unnervingly dark qualities of the Paul Dini produced animated show or the cerebral story-telling of Scott Snyder's run on Detective Comics. But, with an ambitious new setting, Batman: Arkham City looks to change that and do the legendary detective some real justice.
GATES OF GOTHAM
Arkham City takes place a year after the events of 'Asylum. Quincy Sharp, the former warden of Gotham's infamous loony bin, has worked his way up the power ladder and now serves as the mayor of Gotham City. After decreeing that the asylum was no longer fit to contain the Batman rogues gallery and their numerous henchmen, Sharp cordoned of a section of the city and allowed the inmates to spill over into the streets.
Mere moments into our gameplay session and we begin to understand the implications of what this new open environment means for Batman. The caped crusader leaps off the rooftop, gliding a few moments before taking an unexpected nose dive that sends him hurtling towards the streets. Bat-soup looks certain until we pitch up, level out and use the momentum to soar for a few blocks.
The sheer amount of space players have been given to explore makes Batman's new found mobility essential to getting around, but more than that it speaks to the shift in characterisation that the open-world setting allows.
In the first game Batman was always ushered into crime-fighting and then left to get the job done. Sure he looked and sounded like a complete bad ass the whole time, but the way scenarios conveniently cropped up around him dulled the sense of heroism.
Thanks to the size of Arkham City and the fact that Batman is no longer contained within the walls of one building, the focus of activity is now taken away from him somewhat. Criminals get up to no good regardless of the Dark Knight. This means it falls to the player to respond to missions as they arise and juggle efforts to handle them.
This is nothing new, in fact it's the equivalent of driving to a mission in Grand Theft Auto, but it means something entirely different when you're Batman. The act of 'getting somewhere when you're needed' is a very important part of watching, reading, playing and being The Caped Crusader. The moments are made all the more exhilarating by those cool Arkham City gliding mechanics.
BIRDS OF PREY
Although the main objective is to save Catwoman, who it seems has landed herself in a spot of bother with Two-Face, we can't help but stop and admire the city below us. The mixture of blindingly bright neon signs and long, dirty alleys carpeted in invitingly thick layers of shadow give it the seedy quality that are the hallmarks of all good crime-ridden cesspits.
Gaggles of foot soldiers, each with allegiances to one of the numerous super-villains vying for power in the city, loiter around the streets completely unaware that Batman sits perched above them. Though it might not seem all that different from sitting atop a gargoyle within the asylum, the freedom offered by the open-city gives Batman's vulture-like surveillance a far more menacing quality.
Picking out victims in their natural habitat instead of being served them and knowing they're completely unaware of Batman's presence makes emerging from the shadows or falling from the sky and delivering a beat down all the more satisfying. Catching the enemy off guard, stepping from the shadows and making the enemy fear you, that's what being Batman is all about.
Our destination and next objective is pointed out by a Bat signal placed above a courthouse. After taking out a few enemies at its entrance we head in and find Catwoman suspended over a vat of green acid in an ironically cheesy damsel in distress scenario.
Two-Face stands on the stage muttering about how to get respect while dozens of his henchmen eagerly listen and watch as he absentmindedly rolls his trademark coin of fate across his knuckles. He flicks the coin into the air and calls the court into session after glancing at the outcome.
Wasting no time we climb to the top of courthouse interior and precariously walk along a conveniently placed tightrope. Using a goon as a crash-mat, we land boot to cranium ruining both his evening and his face. The crowd of enemies scatter, some run away in fear while others try and go toe-to-toe with Batman. Naturally, it doesn't end well for any of those poor fellas.
A short cinematic involving some 'how's it hanging' puns and a bit of face scratching later, Catwoman is free. During a conversation between the cat and bat, the cut-scene swaps to a view through a sniper's scope, as he aims his gun at Catwoman's head. The early stages of Joker's maniacal giggle can be heard, but before it escalates into maniacal laugh it's cut short by a nasty sounding cough. He doesn't sound too good at all.
If you've managed to have a look at the gameplay footage out of E3, you'll know how this next section pans out. Joker takes his shot but Batman is tipped off by the weapon's laser targeting and manages to pull Selina out of the way in the nick of time. Now comes the good bit: a little honest to goodness detective work.
In order to figure out where Joker is holed up Batman must examine the crime scene and collect ballistic evidence. This involves using the evidence scanner in detective mode to locate the bullet's point of impact and the point of entry. We're looking for two points, the bullet hole in the floor and the bullet hole in the window. The scanner registers both and plots a line of trajectory, all the way to a nearby church bell tower. Busted.
It's not exactly Batman's most challenging brain teaser but it shows that Rocksteady is looking to mix up the old 'follow the trail Mr Batman' form of investigations that was used all too often in the first game. It's only just a slight variation but, like tending to the scum on the streets, it's another step towards creating a Batman experience with even more authenticity than the last.
We're hoping the detective work will get a lot more complex as the game goes on. With such as vast area of space for people to get up to no good we wouldn't be surprised to find ourselves having to search every nook and cranny for bits of evidence.
Our cape crusading escapades come to an anti-climactic end as we enter the church, the screen fades to black and the controller is cruelly plucked from our hands. We're more than content though, it's a sure-fire contender for Game of the Year and an experience that has left us once again feeling a good foot taller and broader, like some Kevlar clad, crime-fighting creature of the night.