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A Few Minutes With the Nearly Finished Batman: Arkham City

What if I told you there might be more to this game than the first one? Total shocker, right?

As a seemingly random comic book-licensed action game, Batman: Arkham Asylum had virtually no expectations to meet. As the sequel to Arkham Asylum, on the other hand, Batman: Arkham City has a hell of a lot more to live up to. It's been tempting to label Arkham City as a known quantity--the first one was so good, how could the sequel be anything but better?--but I have to admit some skepticism about this follow-up after I played it at E3, where the frame rate out in the open world was poor, and the new grappling and flight controls didn't immediately click for me. Could it be that Arkham City might actually be underwhelming in any way?

Nah, probably not. Half an hour with the more-or-less finished game earlier this week, and--big surprise--I'm back on board. Arkham Asylum felt like such a tightly designed and perfectly paced action game, with its back-and-forth Metroid-style progression through a succession of areas, that Rocksteady's ambition to wrap all of the new game around a big urban open world seemed like it might stretch thin what made the first game so good. But what I got to see and play of the open world in this latest demo was tentatively encouraging.

Granted, I saw very little of that open world. This was the sort of tightly controlled press demo that intends for you to play only one specific part of the game, and that part was a story mission a couple of hours in where Batman has to infiltrate a foundry to track down Harley Quinn and rescue a doctor she's holding hostage. So I didn't get to spend a ton of time exploring Arkham City itself, but at least I was out there long enough to see that the game's performance outdoors is now nice and smooth, at least in the 360 version I was playing. And the flight controls--particularly where you grapple onto a point high up somewhere and then use your upward momentum to keep going past the grapple point and straight into a glide--have gotten a little easier to pick up.

Gliding around is all I really got to do in the open city, since my objective was already locked in and time was short. Whatever there is to occupy your time while you're out in the city, I can at least tell you that once you're inside a major location like the foundry, the game is straight-up Arkham Asylum. Transitioning into the foundry was a matter of soaring right over the lip of the building's giant smokestack and gliding down through the hellish inferno at the bottom. (How else would Batman do it? He's Batman.)

The flow of gameplay when you're in a complex interior like the foundry is identical to the last game--creep into a room, scan the position of enemies with your detective vision, soar up to a gargoyle, then laugh like a maniac while you taunt, harass, and pick off the goons one by one. But a few minor improvements and additions to this formula stood out to me in the few minutes I had to play.

  • You can target specific limbs on enemies with thrown weapons like the batarang. At one point from my perch high up, I kneecapped one of two goons to disable him long enough to swoop down and knock out his buddy. By the time the other guy was ready to get up... well, he didn't get up.
  • Detective mode isn't the catch-all it used to be. We've heard in the past that Rocksteady was trying to ensure players don't play through all of City with Detective Mode on, the way some people did with Asylum. (Why you'd want to miss all that art design I don't know, but that's beside the point.) That mode is still plenty useful for scanning a room full of enemies, but now you lose most of your other HUD elements when you turn it on, depriving you of some other vital information. Best to find a balance and only use the enhanced vision when you need it.
  • There's a new gadget called the REC, or remote electrical charge, that lets you manipulate some mechanical devices in the environment in two directions. The best example was a gigantic hook that you could pull back one way, then push in the other a few times in a row to build up momentum so you could smash through a wall with it. The REC can also be used to open some specific doors remotely, and things like that.
  • There are some massive regular enemies to fight, like a hulking one-armed thug who wielded a hammer. While I absolutely loved Arkham Asylum's melee combat and I think it perfectly captures the essence of how Batman should fight a group of goons, I didn't actually try the old one-two on the hammer guy, since the REC also has its uses in combat. You can zap a single enemy to confuse them so they start wildly flailing and attacking everything nearby. Some subtle electrical persuasion caused that hammer thug to take care of a whole bunch of his cronies for me.
  • You can scan inaccessible Riddler trophies into your map. This is probably only valuable to people who want to get every last thing there is to get, but like the melee combat, Arkham Asylum's collectible trophies and challenges were best-in-class, so I'm on board to get it all once again. As long as you can see a trophy, you can mark it for retrieval later, once you've got whatever requisite gadget or ability you need to actually get to it. Rocksteady says there are over 400 Riddler-related trophies and challenges, and that getting them all is probably a good 10 hours in itself. The Riddler is an actual character in the game, you may have heard, but finding and completing every last trophy and challenge is required if you want to take him down. I'm in. You?

Oh, hey, did I mention the Joker flat-out dies at the end of the section I played through? Once you've completed the foundry mission, you come upon Harley sobbing over an unresponsive Joker flat-lining in his wheelchair. I got a little more insight into the core plot driving this game--it calls back to the runaway mutation the Joker went through at the end of Arkham Asylum, which is apparently now slowly killing him, hence the kidnapped doctor. Or quickly killing him, I guess, since he appears to have croaked barely two hours into the game, which is roughly how far in Rocksteady says this sequence takes place.

I don't doubt for a second the Joker will actually bounce back shortly in some fashion, assuming that was even really the Joker sitting in that chair in the first place. If the game's developers considered this any sort of truly pivotal plot twist worth keeping hidden, they wouldn't have shown it to the press, and instead Rocksteady's Dax Ginn seemed almost giddy for me to see it, though he wouldn't answer any questions about what exactly was going on. If nothing else, it's evidence there's more going on with Arkham City's storyline than meets the eye. That's just one more of the many things that are getting me really excited to finally play Arkham City when it hits consoles in just a few short weeks.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
260 Comments
Posted by Brad

As a seemingly random comic book-licensed action game, Batman: Arkham Asylum had virtually no expectations to meet. As the sequel to Arkham Asylum, on the other hand, Batman: Arkham City has a hell of a lot more to live up to. It's been tempting to label Arkham City as a known quantity--the first one was so good, how could the sequel be anything but better?--but I have to admit some skepticism about this follow-up after I played it at E3, where the frame rate out in the open world was poor, and the new grappling and flight controls didn't immediately click for me. Could it be that Arkham City might actually be underwhelming in any way?

Nah, probably not. Half an hour with the more-or-less finished game earlier this week, and--big surprise--I'm back on board. Arkham Asylum felt like such a tightly designed and perfectly paced action game, with its back-and-forth Metroid-style progression through a succession of areas, that Rocksteady's ambition to wrap all of the new game around a big urban open world seemed like it might stretch thin what made the first game so good. But what I got to see and play of the open world in this latest demo was tentatively encouraging.

Granted, I saw very little of that open world. This was the sort of tightly controlled press demo that intends for you to play only one specific part of the game, and that part was a story mission a couple of hours in where Batman has to infiltrate a foundry to track down Harley Quinn and rescue a doctor she's holding hostage. So I didn't get to spend a ton of time exploring Arkham City itself, but at least I was out there long enough to see that the game's performance outdoors is now nice and smooth, at least in the 360 version I was playing. And the flight controls--particularly where you grapple onto a point high up somewhere and then use your upward momentum to keep going past the grapple point and straight into a glide--have gotten a little easier to pick up.

Gliding around is all I really got to do in the open city, since my objective was already locked in and time was short. Whatever there is to occupy your time while you're out in the city, I can at least tell you that once you're inside a major location like the foundry, the game is straight-up Arkham Asylum. Transitioning into the foundry was a matter of soaring right over the lip of the building's giant smokestack and gliding down through the hellish inferno at the bottom. (How else would Batman do it? He's Batman.)

The flow of gameplay when you're in a complex interior like the foundry is identical to the last game--creep into a room, scan the position of enemies with your detective vision, soar up to a gargoyle, then laugh like a maniac while you taunt, harass, and pick off the goons one by one. But a few minor improvements and additions to this formula stood out to me in the few minutes I had to play.

  • You can target specific limbs on enemies with thrown weapons like the batarang. At one point from my perch high up, I kneecapped one of two goons to disable him long enough to swoop down and knock out his buddy. By the time the other guy was ready to get up... well, he didn't get up.
  • Detective mode isn't the catch-all it used to be. We've heard in the past that Rocksteady was trying to ensure players don't play through all of City with Detective Mode on, the way some people did with Asylum. (Why you'd want to miss all that art design I don't know, but that's beside the point.) That mode is still plenty useful for scanning a room full of enemies, but now you lose most of your other HUD elements when you turn it on, depriving you of some other vital information. Best to find a balance and only use the enhanced vision when you need it.
  • There's a new gadget called the REC, or remote electrical charge, that lets you manipulate some mechanical devices in the environment in two directions. The best example was a gigantic hook that you could pull back one way, then push in the other a few times in a row to build up momentum so you could smash through a wall with it. The REC can also be used to open some specific doors remotely, and things like that.
  • There are some massive regular enemies to fight, like a hulking one-armed thug who wielded a hammer. While I absolutely loved Arkham Asylum's melee combat and I think it perfectly captures the essence of how Batman should fight a group of goons, I didn't actually try the old one-two on the hammer guy, since the REC also has its uses in combat. You can zap a single enemy to confuse them so they start wildly flailing and attacking everything nearby. Some subtle electrical persuasion caused that hammer thug to take care of a whole bunch of his cronies for me.
  • You can scan inaccessible Riddler trophies into your map. This is probably only valuable to people who want to get every last thing there is to get, but like the melee combat, Arkham Asylum's collectible trophies and challenges were best-in-class, so I'm on board to get it all once again. As long as you can see a trophy, you can mark it for retrieval later, once you've got whatever requisite gadget or ability you need to actually get to it. Rocksteady says there are over 400 Riddler-related trophies and challenges, and that getting them all is probably a good 10 hours in itself. The Riddler is an actual character in the game, you may have heard, but finding and completing every last trophy and challenge is required if you want to take him down. I'm in. You?

Oh, hey, did I mention the Joker flat-out dies at the end of the section I played through? Once you've completed the foundry mission, you come upon Harley sobbing over an unresponsive Joker flat-lining in his wheelchair. I got a little more insight into the core plot driving this game--it calls back to the runaway mutation the Joker went through at the end of Arkham Asylum, which is apparently now slowly killing him, hence the kidnapped doctor. Or quickly killing him, I guess, since he appears to have croaked barely two hours into the game, which is roughly how far in Rocksteady says this sequence takes place.

I don't doubt for a second the Joker will actually bounce back shortly in some fashion, assuming that was even really the Joker sitting in that chair in the first place. If the game's developers considered this any sort of truly pivotal plot twist worth keeping hidden, they wouldn't have shown it to the press, and instead Rocksteady's Dax Ginn seemed almost giddy for me to see it, though he wouldn't answer any questions about what exactly was going on. If nothing else, it's evidence there's more going on with Arkham City's storyline than meets the eye. That's just one more of the many things that are getting me really excited to finally play Arkham City when it hits consoles in just a few short weeks.

Posted by leejunfan83

yessir

Posted by Hameyadea

AAAARGH!!

Posted by Rowr

ugh spoilers, i should of stayed the fuck away from this.

Edited by rmanthorp

I'm so happy Giant Bomb opted not to spoil the big surprise in the title to get more views on their article. I can't believe the (say it with me) shoddy journalism or some games news outlets today just hungry for page views by using shocking and misleading titles, once again congratulation on being awesome and a creditable, decent website. Great controlled preview yo!

Oh and THISISGOINGTOBETHEGREATESTGAMEEVERAHHHHHHHHH!H!HWELKKWEGKWGKEWGK

Moderator
Edited by EuanDewar

Informative read, I look forward to the ensuing shit storm.

G'day.

Posted by SlackerMonkey

Want want want want want

Posted by huntad

Looks good. I do not feel that the Joker dying that early on is a spoiler. Come on, people die and come back to life all the time in Batman Comics.

Posted by Corvak

inb4 swarm of pissed off nerds :<

Posted by Soulstoner

Brad, considering how you care about your games being spoiled, I am very surprised you opted out of a [SPOILERS] tag at the beginning of this article.

Disappointed.

Posted by SpartanAmbrose

What the fuck? Thanks for the spoiler, Brad.

Posted by Enzo_0

Jesus, ANOTHER site with that Huuuuge spoiler concerning Joker. GiantBomb, you're better than this.

Posted by Meltac

I really need to buy a new Xbox.. All these games coming out in these upcoming months, and me not being able to play them, is killing me

Edited by ProfessorEss

I don't believe it's a spoiler regardless of where it happens in the game. 
This spoiler is being too deliberately mentioned by the press (upon Rocksteady's request perhaps?) to be an accident.

Posted by CaLe

The hell man?

Posted by General_D23

At the very fucking least, the spoiler isn't in the title.

Not that putting it in halfway through the article without a warning is much better. Only slightly.

Posted by Vexxan

I really should play the first game already.

Posted by Jolt92

Great article, I'm looking forward to this a fuckin' lot.

Also, "your'e", Brad!

Posted by ItBeStefYo

GODDAMNIT BRAD. Spoil Red Dead for me and now this!

Posted by SpartanAmbrose

@ItBeStefYo said:

GODDAMNIT BRAD. Spoil Red Dead for me and now this!

Shit man. That's much worse than this spoiler. I'm sorry that happened to you :(

Posted by Brad

In case it wasn't clear in the story, I don't think the "spoiler" is anything more than an aggressive bait-and-switch on the part of this game's marketing. I see firsthand all the time how protective developers are of their games before they're released, and I can't imagine there's any other way Rocksteady would have let this tidbit out there three weeks before the game is released.

Posted by Kixxi

This article got me pretty excited about the game. Thank you sir.

Posted by Jack_Lafayette

What they should have done for Detective Mode was leave the natural environment coloring and just lit up the enemies and interactibles.

Posted by SpartanAmbrose

@Brad: Yeah, sorry about overreacting. I just read the last paragraph of the article and you're probably right.

Posted by benguin

Oh man, wish I hadn't read that part about the Joker. All good though if it is as you say Brad, if the story is told well it could just be a small part of something much more interesting.

Edited by Lord_Ozma

People! The game's marketing trailers have Joker featured as (practically) a fricking stage 4 cancer patient waiting for death. Where is the shock here? His death has been heavily implied if not all but confirmed prior to this article. It's an early in-game situation, calm the shit down.

Like they'll keep his ass dead anyways, God I wish...

Posted by Enzo_0

Brad, spoiler-tag it or something, don't ruin the game for other people.

Posted by kingzetta

if it happens at the start like this does it's not a spoiler

Posted by iAmJohn
@Anwar

What the fuck is this shit? Not spoiling ancient games like Resident Evil during the QL and skipping one of the first cutscenes in LA Noire because 'OMG spoilers', but spoiling this for no fucking reason? You're goddamn right, I'm mad. I saw that Brad wrote it and thought he is one of the most careful person concerning spoilers, but apparently he isnt'. No, seriously fuck you for spoiling this.

Dude, it's two hours into the game, AND WAS SHOWN BY EOCKSTEADY THEMSELVES. Do you not understand what a spoiler is or are you just really stupid?
Posted by Metal_Mills
@Brad said:

In case it wasn't clear in the story, I don't think the "spoiler" is anything more than an aggressive bait-and-switch on the part of this game's marketing. I see firsthand all the time how protective developers are of their games before they're released, and I can't imagine there's any other way Rocksteady would have let this tidbit out there three weeks before the game is released.

Rockstar kept the scarecrow moments completely secret before launch, didn't they? They like keeping surprises. I bet it's like ME2 with Shepard "dying".
Posted by prestonhedges

HEY GUYS GUESS WHAT THE JOKER PRETENDS TO DIE IN THIS GAME

How that's a spoiler, I'll never know.

Posted by Jolt92

@Anwar: Cool your fucking balls, man. It's probably not that important in the grand scheme of the story anyway.

Edited by RockAction

Good article, looking forward to the game.

But this should be flagged as a spoiler before having people read it.

Granted they'd never kill the Joker and its probably not a huge plot spoiler but you've spoiled the experience.

Thats probably what people are getting annoyed about more than possibly ruining the larger plot.

Posted by FreakAche

I bet you guys think the descriptions on the back of DVDs are "spoilers".

Posted by yoshimitz707

SPOILERS!

Online
Posted by darkjester74

Goddammit, that was a legitimate spoiler. Way to go you guys. Christ, at least put something in the title.

Posted by Nihilius

Looks great, can't wait to play it.

Posted by RuthLoose

At least the spoiler wasn't in the title like on Kirk Hamilton's Kotaku or the Destructoid piece.

In all fairness, it is obvious this is all a ploy.

Posted by darkjester74

@Brad: Regardless, as a courtesy to your audience you should have placed something about potential spoilers up front. The cavalier "Oh did I mention" approach didnt help either.

Posted by prestonhedges

Goddammit, Brad. Why'd you have to tell me Batman uses batarangs in this game? You've totally spoiled the experience!

Posted by iAmJohn
@Anwar

@iAmJohn:

it doesn't matter who shows it, a spoiler is a spoiler, you dumbass.

I understand the not so difficult concept that if Rocksteady is showing this to the press and giving them the OK to talk about it then it's probably not a spoiler because the developer isn't going to spoil their own game nor get the press to do so, and yet I'm the dumbass? Yeah okay dude.
Edited by SpaceInsomniac

Dammit, Brad I'm SURE that you would rather not have known this yourself and gone into the game without knowing anything about the plot, so WHY would you do this to your readers? Just because WB wants this fact out there to sell more games doesn't mean that you have to tell people about it without warning.

People were already complaining about Kotaku and Destructoid ruining this plot element, and now you have to go and do the same thing. Just one more sad example of the thinning line between being a "game's journalist" or a "PR mouthpiece."

Posted by FluxWaveZ

I am not reading anything about Arkham City after hearing about this "Spoiler Internet Spread". All I'll say is: spoilers suck.

Posted by Rhaknar

@kingzetta said:

if it happens at the start like this does it's not a spoiler

not that im too fussed, but a spoiler isnt just at the end of a game / movie / whatever. the fact is, the same "oh shit whut?" moment that the press had when it happened, as Brad himself said, will never be had by people that read this (not singling out GB or Brad since it started with Kotaku and its spreading like wildfire). Minor or major, its still a spoiler, its still a moment that is now ruined (or not depending on how you see it).

What Rocksteady (since its their fault initially) was thinking, i will never know.

Posted by Gonzo33

The previous game had a demo online one month before the games release, surely we've one coming for this game in the next two weeks?

Posted by AiurFlux

Oh for flying fucks sake. I need to start doing media blackouts on things that I'm interested in otherwise I get shit spoiled. All the time. Even if it's a bait and switch I'd still like to go into it blind as a bat(man) instead of knowing major plot points.

First was Heavy Rain, then RDR, now this. Next thing I know Nathan Drake is going to die at the end of Uncharted 3 and I'll know about it before actually seeing it.

Edited by DaBuddaDa

Rocksteady intentionally put this out there for the press to write about. What Brad said about bait-and-switch is spot on. It happens at the very beginning of the game. Some of you guys are such obsessive, knee-jerk imbeciles it's downright embarrassing. How's this: if you don't want to be spoiled on websites, or ads, or TV, or message boards, or in podcasts or on the radio, then crawl into a hole and stay there.

Posted by Damian

Nice troll, Rocksteady.

Posted by punpun

Or does he!?

Edited by SeanFoster