GDC Preview – Batman: Arkham City

March 8, 2011 Written by Louis Edwards

Opening scene: Batman sits high above Gotham City atop a sky scraper. It is night and the city is laid out in front of him. It is alive. Breathing, moving, evolving into a city that is as corrupted as it is vast. Our hero knows that below him his enemies are plotting against him and it will be up to him to stop them.

He drops down from the sky scraper and accelerates rapidly. At full speed, he spreads his cape and glides through the night as silent as his namesake. He can see the people below him in the street. He switches his vision to investigative mode and he can now see everyone, even the ones inside buildings. He can tell if they are armed with weapons – knives, baseball bats, lead pipes, even guns. There’s no way to hide from him. He spots a helicopter and glides over and grabs onto the skid. He can then hang there and get a better view of the entire city. He can view inside the rooms of each building and see how many people are inside.

He spots a group of thugs on the street below harassing an innocent citizen, and recognizes one of those thugs as an informant. He swoops down and starts taking them out. Beating them unmercifully. Using their own weapons against them. They are no match for him. He saves the informant for last and interrogates him. He finds out that Two Face has kidnapped Catwoman and intends to kill her by dropping her in a vat of acid. The informant, with a little persuasion, is even nice enough to give him the location. And so begins another night in the life of Batman.

Those of you that played Batman: Arkham Asylum will recognize most of Batman’s moves, but the graphics themselves are upgraded to the level of OMG! Eye-popping graphics with great detail. Batman looks like he could jump right out of your TV and into your city. The opening scene was breathtaking. Batman was still, but the camera panned around him and you could see every detail in his armor and his utility belt.  His cape gently moving in the breeze. When he finally met up with Two Face, the details in his character were just as well defined and Catwoman looked great hanging up by her feet.

The city literally looked alive as you saw through his eyes. His gaze spanning out and taking in the view of Gotham City from high above. You could see cars moving about in the night below. Citizens walking about, unaware that he was watching. The city is five times larger than the world of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Every square inch of the city is open to explore, giving you an open world experience that should be vast and time consuming. Side missions will abound, giving you hours upon hours of extra game play.

The gameplay itself swings from button mashing action, to stealth attacks that are initiated from the rafters or the shadows. Weapons can be picked up and used against your enemies. They will come at you with lead pipes, baseball bats, knives, and guns (among other things) but once you take them out, you can use those against the remaining foes. Taking on large groups looks challenging, but with Batman’s skills, even groups are no match.

Sometimes you need think before you act, and tactics were key to finishing the last part of the demo we watched. The developer walked us though the game as he played, and explained how he would clear out a small church with heavily armed thugs. Using his CSI like investigator vision, he was able to determine the location of every armed thug and determine exactly which path to use to take them all out without having any hostages killed. He executed his plan flawlessly and no lives were lost. Well, at least not any important lives.

Batman: Arkham City has all the makings of Game of the Year. The graphics are top notch. The sound track fit the dark scenes well. The characters are well detailed. You know who the enemies will be, and the storyline shouldn’t disappoint. The developers from Rocksteady have put in a lot of hard work. If you haven’t pre-ordered this game, run out immediately and do so