Rocksteady created a blue-print for future superhero-inspired games with 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum. Elated comic book fans and gamers alike were delighted to experience the Batman universe in an entirely new way. The positive reaction to Asylum was so strong that a follow-up was inevitable. That follow-up, Arkham City, was demoed by Rocksteady for us during E3, bringing with it an expanded, open-world setting, new combat moves, and even a new playable character.
It began with a realtime overview of the greatly expanded place Batman will occupy in the game, Arkham City. This rundown, quarantined distinct of Gotham has become the de facto holding space for the city's general populous of criminals and thugs, many of which hale from Arkham Asylum. Players can explore the streets of Arkham at will. This newfound freedom also comes with an enhanced set of abilities to make traversing easier and create a sense of power. Batman can glide pretty much indefinitely from one end of the city to the other. An appropriately powerful grappling hook also allows Batman to quickly latch onto buildings, enemies or anything he choses to increase maneuverability.
Combat has also been expanded for Arkham City, with Rocksteady promising a host of new moves, takedowns and gadgets to make Batman more versatile. The timing and rhythmic elements remain, but Batman can now incorporate his gadgets, such as the aforementioned grappling hook, into a brawl with devastating effects. Arkham City has also allowed Rocksteady to throw increased numbers of enemies at the player, with simultaneous attacks tossed in for good measure.
After Batman effortlessly dispensed with several goons, Catwoman took center stage. Revealed prior to E3, Catwoman will be a playable character in Arkham City. While she won't encompass too much of the overall campaign, her unique abilities offer a real change of pace. Everything from the way she navigates Arkham, fights enemies and employs stealth are very distinct when compared to Batman. The agile Catwoman relies on extremely quick, short movements, contrasting Batman's effortless gliding and forceful fighting style. She also uses these abilities during stealth sequences by climbing on ceilings, with the occasional descent to silently eliminate foes.
How does Catwoman fit into the story? Rocksteady won't definitively say. However, we do know she doesn't act as a clear-cut friend or foe to Batman, preferring to serve her on aims depending on the situation.
The demo closed with an appearance from Rocksteady's interpretation of the Penguin, complete with a thick Cockney-esque ascent. Batman's dilemma within the Penquin's lair provided an ideal opportunity to showcase Arkham City's improved combat. Trapped in a small arena, Batman was forced to battle over a dozen enemies at once... well, somewhat. The chaos was turned up a notch with the addition of simultaneous attacks, but the majority of enemies still politely waited for their turn.
All-in-all, the demo showcased an impressive evolution for the Batman franchise. It highlighted slight improvements on the core mechanics that made Arkham Asylum a success and the addition of the meticulously crafted, open-world setting certainly represents a range of new possibilities for the game.
Batman: Arkham City releases this October for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.