E3 2011: BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY is Perfecting the Formula

BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY Shows Off New Images

The Dark Knight is back in an all-new video game marking the next chapter in the Arkham series. Batman: Arkham City has everything it needs for success: Paul Dini is back as writer, Rocksteady is back as developer, Carlos D'Anda helped design new character inclusions like Two-Face and Catwoman, and yes, Conroy and Hamill are back as Batman and The Joker. Luckily, said one Rocksteady developer at E3 2011, they're not resting on their laurels. "We brought everything about the first game into this one, then made each individual piece better," he boldly claimed as we sat down to play.

It's a pleasure to say he's absolutely right.

The controls are basically the same, with a few additions during combat and gliding. Coming from much higher heights, as you're now Batman in a sectioned off part of Gotham City and not restricted to the Asylum complex, one of the coolest new moves we saw is the dive bomb. Once you're back on the ground and in the midst of (increased numbers of) thugs, the freeflow combat still works beautifully. New brutal attacks were seen at every turn, and your gadgets can all now be used offensively and in combos. Set some explosive gel on the ground, grapple up to a rooftop, and watch the bad guys go boom, for example. Batman moves with a little more style and grace now, and has the ability to counter not one, not two, but up to three attackers at once. This means while they will mob attack you more often, you can still deal swift justice with sweet looking counterattacks.

The demo took us through two main sections. First we went to a courthouse where Two-Face was holding Catwoman over a boiling vat of acid. Two-Face has a cutscene where he argues with himself, and it comes off great. His "good" side wins over his "bad" at least allowing his trademark coin to do the decision making. With an army of henchmen and an armed guard up top, things don't look great for Batman. Luckily, some stealthy action and a nice little shove of the armed guard scares off most of the thugs. Swooping down, you take out the ones that remain, all the while Catwoman is egging you on, telling you to get your priorities straight and save her. After the henchmen are down, Two-Face re-emerges... and shoots Batman in the chest! With Bats down on the ground, Catwoman manages to cut herself free and scratches Two-Face on the good side, causing him to drop his gun. Standing triumphantly, she taunts him, telling him he's not so tough without his gun. "TWO Guns, Bitch!" yells big bad Harv as he pulls another and aims it at her head. Of course, you knew Batman wasn't really out of commission, and he takes the opportunity to hang Harvey Dent upside down, wrapped in a bat cable.

This whole sequence takes us to a conversation between Batman and Catwoman, where Bats tells Selina she's not safe in this part of town. We cut to a sniper rifle viewpoint and hear Joker saying "Twinkle Twinkle little bat. Going to kill your favorite cat." Luckily Batman spots the sniper dot (a green smiley face, of course) and knocks Catwoman out of the way at the last second. Now we get to try some detective work to trace the trajectory of the bullet. Seeing that it points to a bell tower, Batman is off to find the Joker.

We got to experience every type of gameplay in this 20-25 minute demo, which was impressive. The new combos added to the combat are smooth and easy to learn, not to mention addictive. Stealth is still here, including some ninja smoke bombs and new stealth takedowns, like grabbing two thugs and slamming their heads together, or reaching through a plywood wall to pull a gunman back and put him to sleep.

The writing and story sample we got was an improvement over the first game as well. These characters, including the new ones, felt and sounded more like their comic book counterparts than ever before. Where the first game was much more psychological, this game seems it will have a bigger focus on the broader story, which is a nice step. The voice-acting we expected was fantastic; it's so nice to hear Kevin Conroy's deep growl as Batman. The new cast members, including Kara Strong taking over as Harley Quinn, were clearly chosen for their high levels of talent. Strong's voice is just enough like Arleen Sorkin's that you won't skip a beat in believing this is the same character from the previous game.

25 minutes of this game, and it already looks like it will be a contender for game of the year when it ships in October 2011. The promise of "everything you loved but better" sure looks like it's being fulfilled, and comics, games, and Batman fans have a lot to be excited about this fall with Batman: Arkham City.

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