It was supposed to be a happy occasion. I was going to get to play Batman: Arkham City a month before it was released. Then the PC version, my personal preferential platform, got delayed another month. That’s it, the moment’s ruined, I won’t be able to enjoy my time with the game at... oh, who am I kidding. It’s goddamned Batman: Arkham City, it’s my most wanted game of the year, and I was almost crying when I finally came face to face with Batman. Literally, because he was guarding Rocksteady’s stand, snarling at me.
Forgoing the tempting idea of starting the game from the beginning, or at least the start of the demo, I ignored the Batsignal shining brightly in the sky (the in-game one to show your next objective, not the very real one displayed on the roof above my head) and headed out into Gotham to have fun. Well, to track down some other psychopath. Joker wasn’t going anywhere.
Instead I went to find one of my favourite villains – The Riddler. He’s back in force, so to speak, and has a number of hidden puzzle-filled death-traps around Arkham City with hostages as bait for the Batman. But first I have to find them. I think I’ll start by checking out those big question marks around the place – call me the World’s Greatest Detective, but I think that might be a clue.
Standing on the rooftops of Arkham City looking down at the streets, the hoodlums, the neon signs, the architecture, it finally clicks in my mind: this is the Batman game I’ve always dreamt of. Arkham Asylum was almost there, but this hits my imagination full-on. While the demo I was playing had huge barriers around my current chunk of the city the final game will have no such confinement (despite being set in a huge prison). It really is quite impressive the amount of detail Rocksteady have crammed into Arkham City, giving the place a “real” feeling that larger free-roaming games have to cut back on. It’s at least level with Deus Ex: Human Revolution in this regard and there’s not a gold-tinge in sight.
A free-roaming Gotham City with the ability to scale any rooftop, beat up or intimidate any thug, and track down all of Batman’s greatest villains. Wow. Oh yeah, speaking of which… Eddie Nashton a.k.a. Edward Nygma a.k.a. The Riddler, I’m on your trail. I’ve found a Riddler Trophy, but it’s covered in a cage. A quick spot of Detective Vision, still assigned to LB on 360, highlights a pressure lock on one of those question marks on the wall. A batarang to the dot and the cage springs open, I collect the trophy, and Riddler rather generously tells me where his hideout is. Gliding to ground level, a quick examination of another spray painted question mark reveals a hidden door. Yes, it’s a trap all right… but not for me.
Tell me how to do The Riddler's puzzle! TELL ME!
Unfortunately for my ego, it was actually a trap for me. The Riddler gloats that I’ll never be able to save the hostage in time. Stepping into the next room, all saw-blades and electric floors, I sadly discover that he’s absolutely right. You have to be at home, with reflexes on full, and with full knowledge of the controls and tools at Batman’s disposal to beat these bitch-hard challenges. I wasn’t, and died. Several times. “What’s black, filled with holes and bleeding on the floor?” Nygma mocked. Shutupshutupshutup.
Filled with more than a little shame, I started from the beginning and had a go with Catwoman. While she’s a little faster than Batman and has a whip (as well as other attributes I won’t get into, ahem) she controls much the same way. Consequently fights still play out in the same simple-but-satisfying way as Arkham Asylum, with just a few buttons making you truly feel like a master brawler. I made short work of the thugs and Ms. Kyle went to claim the prize in the safe they were guarding… before getting a gun prodded in her temple by Two-Face.
Batman to the rescue. Skipping 24 hours later, the Dark Knight’s in Arkham City and Catwoman’s being put on trial by Harvey Dent (I’m not losing anyone by swapping between alter-egos too fast am I?). Since Batman never fails to save women in time, I decided- oh, wait. Better make it to the dilapidated Courthouse post-haste. The group of lackeys wearing Two-Face masks outside didn’t know what hit them.
This struck me earlier, but it’s worth reiterating just how natural the controls feel. The new ability to grapple upwards while falling is one in particular I won’t be able to do without. My only quibble with the controls is that, due to the input of new gadgets, now there’s more than one tool per D-pad direction. Batclaw and Line Launcher for example are both assigned to ‘up’, and while not really a problem it’s not quite as smooth as Arkham Asylum’s perfect setup.
I made it into the courthouse, took out the sniper and made a dramatic entrance right into the centre of a room full of Two-Face’s gang, far more enemies than I’d faced at the same time at any point in the previous game. A few of them rather believably ran for it, but many stood firm, perhaps thinking a crowd of thugs could take down the Batman. They were wrong and went down hard, but Two-Face still got in a good shot from his gun. However, before he could finish Batman off Catwoman had freed herself from her little acid-based death-trap and gave us a hand. Then with Dent subdued the Joker attempted to snipe her from afar for some unknown reason. A bit of work with the overhauled (and much more interesting) Detective Mode and we’d pinpointed his location – the nearby cathedral. Of course.
Not going to say it. Not going to say it. Not going t- oh sod it: "Me-ouch!"
Our time was up at this point. I really feel for PC-only gamers, I do, having to wait an extra month for this game. Luckily I’ve got a 360 otherwise I would’ve gone crazy. Actually, come to think of it I believe I have gone crazy… could I be locked up in Arkham City now please? No? Damn. Oh well… let’s start marking off the days. Where’s Calendar Man when you need him?
Most Anticipated Feature:Getting to beat The Riddler first at his own game, and then finally in his smug face. Git.