Preview

Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City Cover Story
by Bryan Vore on Oct 11, 2010 at 03:00 AM
Publisher: Rocksteady Studios
Developer: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release:
Rating: Teen
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Game Informer magazine subscribers already know all about Batman: Arkham City, but we wanted to give some love to our online-only readers as well. Read the entire cover story right here! Be sure to check out loads of additional screenshots right here while you're going through the story.

Diving into Darkness
Since the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum, warden Quincy Sharp has taken credit for Batman’s successful quelling of Joker’s uprising and used that momentum to win Gotham City’s mayoral election. The first of his broad-sweeping plans is to proclaim Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison unfit to house criminals. Sharp buys up a large swath of Gotham’s slums and walls it off, stocking the perimeter with highly trained armed mercenaries from an outfit named Tyger. All prisoners are transported to this new facility dubbed “Arkham City” approximately a year after the events at the asylum. They are given only one rule under threat of death: do not try to escape. No other policing takes place inside, leaving a mix of two-bit criminals and super villains to eke out an existence in this lawless, ruthless ecosystem.

Sharp brings in a mysterious psychiatrist named Hugo Strange to head the new Arkham. Hidden from the eyes of the public, Strange is rumored to be up to terrible things, but nothing can be proven. Anyone who investigates his past or Arkham itself seems to disappear, most likely within the walls of the prison city.

THE MYSTERY OF HUGO STRANGE
Only hardcore comic book fans will recognize the name of Arkham City’s new warden, Hugo Strange. This villain actually appeared in comics before the Joker, and has popped up intermittently throughout Batman history for the past 70 years. However, Rocksteady made it clear that this is the first time Batman has encountered Strange in the “Arkham-verse.” It’s impossible to know exactly what the developer has planned, but a character profile from the first game drops many enticing hints:

First gaining fame as a psychiatrist who declared that he’d fully analyzed the Dark Knight from afar, Professor Hugo Strange lent credence to his own claims by deducing Batman’s true identity as Bruce Wayne. However, his interest in the Batman turned into a deranged obsession, and he’s used his medical expertise to hatch a series of bizarre plots based around genetics and mind control in order to defeat the Batman and possibly take his place. Strange’s fragile mental state has left him with intermittent knowledge of Batman’s true identity, a fact that hangs over Bruce Wayne’s head – for if Strange ever snaps completely, Batman’s greatest secret might be revealed...

Attributes »Trained to physical perfection »Brilliant psychological analyst »Extensive knowledge of genetics »Obsessed with Batman and his secret identity »Plagued by schizophrenic episodes that leave him confused and dangerous.

Batman believes this is a ticking time bomb and has kept a watchful eye on Arkham City for months, looking for any excuse to break into the well-guarded prison. Recently admitted inmate Two-Face needs to gain respect and followers fast or risk being eaten alive by the other super villains on the inside. Both sides of his psyche agree that the best way to accomplish this is with a high-profile show of power: a public execution of Catwoman. Given their past, Batman has no choice but to enter this hellish domain to save her and uncover what’s really going on. With an all-new bag of tricks, he may just survive the night.

Following a Phenomenon
North London-based developer Rocksteady Studios is no stranger to staggering pressure. Despite the lofty expectations of millions of Batman devotees worldwide, this 70-plus person team proved that it’s possible to transform a seemingly cursed licensed game property into a masterpiece – and they made it look easy. The way the team naturally integrated Batman’s characters, combat, gadgets, and dark tone into a compelling gameplay formula made gamers wonder why no one had been able to do so before. This was all from a studio with only one game to its credit (2006’s Urban Chaos: Riot Response).

“I think there’s always pressure to make the best choice at any given moment,” says studio director Jamie Walker. “Obviously, we’re aware the fans want a great Batman game. I don’t think that’s any different from when we started the journey to where we are now.”

This time around, Rocksteady is excited to have a successful gameplay foundation to build upon rather than starting from scratch. But that doesn’t mean the studio is content to simply recycle the asylum environment and toss in a few new villains.

“We want to top everything that we did in the last game,” says Arkham City director Sefton Hill. “We didn’t want to do [an Arkham] 1.5. We want to make the same jump we made from nothing to Arkham. We want to make that same jump again for Arkham City – that same level of ambition.”

A New Direction
Our live demo begins with Batman perched atop a building overlooking Gotham’s prison city as a light sprinkling of snow falls in the night. Roving gangs of inmates wreak havoc below. His communicator crackles to life.

“Where is she, Alfred?” Batman asks.
“Miss Kyle was last seen in the vicinity of the Solomon Wayne Courthouse,” replies his faithful butler.
“That’s where Two-Face has been setting up camp.”
“Let’s hope she is still in one piece when you find her. Mr. Dent’s fascination with the number two could prove fatal to Catwoman.”

Batman takes a flying leap off the ledge, dive-bombing head first toward the streets below at an alarming speed. At the last moment, he spreads his cape and swoops back up into the sky. Soaring smoothly through the night air, Batman spots the courthouse in the far distance. He fires his grappling gun to the nearest skyscraper and uses the pull from the retracting rope to slingshot himself higher.

It’s shocking to see the Batman we know from the mostly enclosed Arkham Asylum navigating open world city streets. After all, an overly broad, boring Gotham is exactly what the team wanted to avoid last time around. In the sequel, incorporating Gotham in an exciting way is the number one priority. “What we wanted to do was glide through the Gotham streets and fight crime, but we wanted to do it in a way that feels concentrated,” Hill says. “What we wanted to do in building Arkham City was to create a place with the same attention to detail that we built with Arkham Island – to create something where there’s a story around every corner. It’s not a big, empty, expansive world. We wanted something with a real richness to it. We’re trying to create the most detailed and rich city that has ever been realized in a video game.”

 



Crooked Court

Batman drifts to the courthouse rooftop and sneaks through a window. It’s immediately evident that Two-Face has made this place his own. Half of the interior is an immaculate, classic courtroom while the other side has been trashed and burned. Catwoman, bound in ropes, dangles upside down over a vat of acid while Two-Face paces back and forth flipping his famously marred silver dollar. A couple dozen inmates have come to see the show.

“The only way to get by in this place is to get ourselves some respect,” says Two-Face’s more sensible side, all that remains of former district attorney Harvey Dent. “Fear, that’s how we get respect. Show them all how we do things,” replies his twisted and disfigured side in a noticeably more sinister voice. “We should be fair, though. This is a place of justice after all. Screw justice. Kill her and they’ll all fear us. Bring out the defendant.”

“You certainly know how to keep a girl hanging, Harv.” Catwoman says. “Hey, have you had some work done?”
Two-Face strikes her across the face. “That’s for spying on us. No one spies on us,” he threatens.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been a bad kitty,” she teases. “Untie me and I’ll make it up to you.”
Let’s see if the coin thinks you’re telling the truth,” Two-Face snarls. “This court is now in session.”



As the cutscene comes to a close, Batman scans the area with his blue-tinged detective vision and notices a single armed guard above his position. He grapples to a platform behind the enemy and, instead of automatically dangling from the ledge like before, Batman now has the option to instantly flip up into a roll that maintains his forward momentum. He pops out of the roll right behind the armed guard and initiates a chokehold. Like Gears of War’s reload mechanic, players can now hit the attack button again at just the right time to bring down enemies faster.

A wire stretches above the scene, and Batman creeps along it to get a better vantage point. He scans the inmates and finds one with a knife in need of disarming. With a simple button press, Batman attaches his grapple hook to the wire, jumps off, and goes into a swing kick that knocks the guy across the room like a golf ball. Batman lands in the middle of the audience. Several goons run away in terror, but plenty stick around for a beating.

Batman vaults over the closest one, casually spraying some explosive gel on his back in the process (all gadgets now play a key role in combat). Two enemies swing at him in quick succession and Batman palms both fists, crushing their hands until they’re left writhing on the floor. As he wails away on another foe, a new group fills in behind him. Batman summons a colony of bats to the scene to disorient and panic his attackers. Two-Face fires a pistol intermittently, forcing Batman to perform a series of gymnastic dodges. After the bats have moved on, Batman pulls out a detonator and hits the switch. The previously placed gel blasts several enemies. The last two inmates get desperate. One picks up a chair and chucks it at Batman. Just when it’s about to crack him in the head, Batman reaches up and catches it, instantly throwing it back. One left. Batman simply tosses him in the air and finishes him with a swift kick to the back that sends him flying into a wall. Of course, this finisher is presented in glorious slow motion.

“Because we felt that the system for [Arkham Asylum] was well-refined, we didn’t want to deconstruct that and pull it apart and make a completely different combat system. We wanted to build on it,” Hill says. New elements like multiple simultaneous counters, gadget incorporation, and projectile counters are all in service to the much larger crowds Batman will be fighting. “Basically, the idea was to balance it so I’m focusing on the guys who are nearest to me because they can hit me, but there might also be guys throwing things at me,” Hill explains. “There can be guys with guns at the back. So I have to manage the whole crowd rather than everyone funneling in front of me just waiting for me to hit them.”

BATMAN AND CATWOMAN:  A COMPLICATED PAST
Rocksteady emphasizes that Batman and Catwoman’s relationship is still very early in the Arkham universe, but they have varying degrees of romance and rivalry. “He knows that she has crossed the line sometimes and broken the law. She’s a thief. That’s what she does,” says director Sefton Hill. “But he thinks that she’s someone who can be saved. Obviously there is a spark between them, which neither of them is willing to acknowledge. Batman’s too in control of his emotions to express that, and doesn’t have many friends in this place, so Catwoman’s definitely someone he needs on his side.”

Stay of Execution
With all of his goons out of commission, Two-Face makes one final play. “Objection,” he says before shooting Batman. “Overruled.”

With this nuisance out of the picture, Two-Face turns to his prey. “Heads or tails, kitty cat?”
“Which one ends with me getting out of here alive?” she asks.
Two-Face flips the coin and the scarred side lands facing up. “Not this one. Time to die.”
 “I vote for a stay of execution,” Catwoman says as she claws the ropes off her wrist and slashes him in the face.

Two-Face recoils in pain, clutching his eyes and cursing at her. Catwoman frees her legs and gets right side up. A grappling hook fires from out of nowhere at Two-Face and soon enough he’s the one dangling above the acid.

“I thought it was only cats who had nine lives,” Catwoman (a.k.a. Selina Kyle) teases as Batman walks into view. “Anyone ever tell you that you’re full of surprises?”
“Figured you could use my help, Selina,” he replies.
 “You’re right. I think I chipped a nail back there.”
 “Funny.”
 “So what do you need, Mr. Detective? I’m guessing it’s something to do with our friend here and how he fits into what Professor Strange has got cooking.”
 “What do you know, Selina?”
 “Not much. No one knows anything about the mystery man. It’s like he never existed before Sharp hired him. But there is definitely something going on with him and Joker.”
 “That’s not what I wanted to hear.”
 “It gets worse. The clown has a plan to destroy Gotham and take you out at the same time. You should get out of here. Leave Joker. He’ll be dead soon.”
 “I can’t. He’s even more dangerous when backed in to a corner.”



As if on cue, a glowing green laser dot traces its way up Catwoman’s snug yet tactical suit. Next we see her in the crosshairs and hear a familiar voice. “Twinkle, twinkle, little bat. Watch me kill your favorite cat.” Joker’s disembodied voice tries to burst into his trademark maniacal laughter but he’s cut short by a violent coughing fit, a symptom of some mysterious illness [see sidebar].

“The ex-district attorney here said something about...” Catwoman says before Batman pulls her out of the way of Joker’s bullet. “What the hell?”
“You’re not safe here. No one is,” Batman warns as he presses her against a wall.
 “Nine lives, remember?” Catwoman quips as she cracks her whip up into the rafters of the courthouse, pulls herself up, and sneaks off into the night.

GANG TERRITORY
One major element that Rocksteady wants to explore is the order that forms out of complete lawlessness within the walls of Arkham City. High-profile villains like Joker and Two-Face have already recruited many prisoners to their divergent causes. “[Inmates] are now seeking protection by joining gangs, which inevitably means becoming part of the turf war and everything that is caught up with being a gang member in a broader power struggle,” says Rocksteady marketing game manager Dax Ginn. How these various factions and territories work into gameplay is anyone’s guess, but players can keep track of these gangs through Batman’s criminal database. Maybe he can try to play different sides against each other or take them down one by one and start his own army.

Crime and Punishment
The next step is to trace the sniper shot back to its source. Batman activates detective vision and finds the bullet lodged in the floor. He looks up and spots where it entered the window and is able to trace the shot to a far off tower. “We have more complicated crime scenes than in the first game,” Hill assures. “As you go through it gets more in depth and complicated, and we actually have puzzles based around the forensics as well.”

He climbs out the window he came in and hears a ruckus down below as a group of thugs gathered around the front door entreats Batman to come out and fight them. Ignoring them, he pulls out the line launcher, a gadget he didn’t have access to until late in the game last time, and uses it to zip toward the tower.

“When you’re doing a sequel to a game like this, what we didn’t want to do is have the same sort of upgrade path,” Hill says. “We’re going to start you with a number of the key gadgets that you earned when you played through the first game. And also we’re going to upgrade all of those gadgets.”

Along the way, Batman hears a group of inmates beating on someone and comes to a halt on the line. He swings up to perch on the wire and triggers a zoomed in first-person view. Batman now has access to a criminal database that tracks all of the major villains and their followers in the city. Since this ties in with detective vision, one of the instigators glows bright green to indicate his allegiance with the Riddler.

Batman dive-bombs off the wire straight into the asphalt streets, and his impact pushes everyone back. Using the visual filter, Batman is able to beat up the inmates while trying to avoid hitting the Riddler’s man. Once everyone is down he grabs the final prisoner by the neck for an interrogation.

”Riddler – what’s he up to?” Batman demands.
“Oh crap, okay, okay! I just help him out,” the inmate pleads. “There’s a bunch of us. We give him info and he doesn’t put us in those crazy machines of his.”
“It’s been a pleasure,” Batman growls before knocking the informant out.

This new interrogation system replaces the Riddler maps from the first game that marked all of the trophy locations in a certain area. “We’re definitely adding more depth to Riddler’s experience,” Hill says. “The trophies around the world are not going to be as easy to get as they were last time. There are going to be little puzzles to get to them.”

A glowing green question mark beckons Batman from a nearby rooftop, but as soon as he gets close to it a mechanical trap encases it. When he backs off, it opens again. Batman pulls out the Bat Claw and fires it at the trophy, which latches on and pulls it toward him. While this is a simple example from early in the game, Rocksteady promises trickier puzzles and other helpful functions of the Bat Claw’s new fetching mechanic.

THE SICK CLOWN
Back when Arkham City was first teased in a trailer at the Spike Video Game Awards last December, it showed Joker in very ill health. There were many references to Joker’s sickness in the demo we saw, but we never laid eyes on his condition. The most likely prognosis is that he’s suffering from the effects of overdosing on Venom at the end of the last game, but Rocksteady would not confirm this. Perhaps his disease is something else entirely.

Continuing on, Batman hears a payphone ringing on the streets below with a group of prisoners huddled around it. They speak of the urban legend that has gone around Arkham City where anyone who answers a payphone supposedly ends up dead. Batman listens to them all daring each other into picking it up until he’s had enough and jumps down nearby. Players can now use a new taunt button to scare off less courageous enemies.

“You’re all going down,” Batman threatens.
“It’s Batman! Get out of here!” a prisoner shouts.
Everyone scrams without a fight and Batman strolls up to the still ringing phone. He picks up.
“Hello, Batman. Do you recognize my voice?” 
“Zsasz,” he replies.

This serial killer made only a brief appearance in the first game threatening to electrocute an asylum guard. This time around he’ll have a long form side-mission that players can dig into. “We have a number of these stories, which are linked to key characters and their stories within Arkham City,” Hill says. “You obviously have the main story that runs through, but you have these parallel side stories. If you want to jump in and find out about those, they’re optional but they’re all really worthwhile.”

His Girl Harley
After his chat with Zsasz, Batman follows the sniper bullet trajectory to a church bell tower.  A small group of new armored enemies block the entrance. These guys can block most normal attacks, so Batman has to use his cape swipe to stun them first. This opens them up to a new quick and brutal attack called a beat down. Basically Batman unleashes a rapid flurry of painful-looking punches that’ll knock out most any enemy whether he’s wearing protection or not. After dispatching the guards, Batman sneaks into the church and hears a familiar voice.

“Coming through, B-man!” shouts Harley Quinn as she charges towards him with a series of handsprings and flips. Much like the last time Joker’s girl tried this in Arkham Asylum, Batman sidesteps her attack and tosses her aside.

“Let the lady go, batfreak, or the doctors all get a bullet in the head,” warns one of several machinegun-toting Joker members. The church has become a makeshift triage center that humanitarian aid workers have convinced Strange to allow within the prison.

“I think you should do what he says. It would be a shame to get blood all over my nice new outfit,” she says. Instead of a nurse outfit, Harley now wears red and black pants and a matching midriff-baring top. Her face paint has been scaled back to a much more subtle degree and now she has a Joker tattoo on one of her hips peeking out over her waistband. She circles around Batman while explaining that she’s keeping him away from Joker due to his illness. Harley apparently kidnapped a doctor to help him out, but she was unable to diagnose the problem. Rocksteady notes that this face-to-face encounter with Harley is part of a wider philosophy to bring Batman closer to the villains more often this time around without putting them behind some kind of protective Plexiglas or metal bars.

A COLORFUL CAST
Rocksteady confirmed the return of three principal cast members in Arkham City: Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as Joker, and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn. It’s a mystery who will play Two-Face and Catwoman, though they could always mine more actors from Batman: The Animated Series. Other characters we’ve seen or heard referenced include butler Alfred Pennyworth, Jack Ryder, Aaron Cash, and Oracle/Barbara Gordon. Interestingly, a radio conversation between Batman and Alfred during the demo revealed that Oracle has not been answering her cell phone lately. Could she be in danger? Will she appear in the game this time instead of simply chatting over the radio? It’ll be a while before we know for sure.


Harley slips out of the church, leaving the goons with guns to deal with Batman. At any time players could go after these enemies, but Rocksteady has put several lines of dialogue in for those who want to just stand there and listen to these knuckleheads try to figure out what to do next.

“Keep it together. He’s ours. What’s he gonna do?” one says.
“Good point. I mean, it’s not like he’s got a reputation for breaking free of traps and smashing people’s faces. Oh no, that’s right. That’s exactly what he does,” retorts another.

 

After much debate they all decide to shoot on the count of three, but by that point Batman has already thrown down one of his new smoke pellets and grappled out of the situation. The enemies scatter throughout the church in panic. Batman maneuvers over to a ledge and notices an enemy standing directly under him with the help of his detective vision. With a single button press Batman dangles himself over the edge and chokes out the foe with his legs. Next he creeps along at ground level behind two thugs and smashes their heads together for a double takedown. The final target has taken a doctor hostage inside a confessional booth. Batman maneuvers behind the booth and takes advantage of the new weak wall system by bursting through like Kool-Aid Man and subduing the criminal. With the doctors now safe, Batman ascends the bell tower.

Bombs Over Gotham

STALKING THE STREETS WITH  A FRIEND?
Gliding around Gotham and beating up criminals in co-op seems like it would be tremendous fun. Of course, Rocksteady wouldn’t say anything about multiplayer at this time. However, Catwoman seems like a more than capable ally, and we did see a poster for a cancelled Flying Graysons show. Will Robin make his Arkham debut as a co-op partner?

Batman pulls himself up into the highest chamber, which contains a sniper rifle with a transmitter attached and a large stockpile of clown-themed explosives. Instead of getting the hell out of there like a rational person, Batman pulls out a new gadget called the broadcast analyzer to track the location of Joker’s transmissions. “You can use it to scan around different broadcasts,” Hill says. “That’s the GCPD dispatch. I can also tune into Gotham FM. There are lots of secrets here for players to find. Lots of mystery broadcasts that will lead you to different areas if you search around.”



Once Batman gets a lock on Joker’s signal, a static-laced message plays out. “I’ve waited a long time for this, Bats. Let’s start the party with a bang. Hahahahaha! 5, 4, 3...”

There’s no time to climb back down the tower. With the quick press of a button, Batman smashes through the nearest window and the camera cuts outside to the Arkham City skyline. His dark silhouette narrowly escapes the violent tower explosion. Plummeting to the ground below, Batman spreads his cape and soars upward towards the screen, enveloping everything in blackness.