By Chris Matel
Sometimes PAX Prime can feel like E3 Jr. For the most part, what's shown to the general public at large for fun in Seattle is what has already been demonstrated and written about months earlier in Los Angeles, under the trade show format. Nevertheless, whether or not a screen in PAX's exhibition hall flashes with phrases like “E3 Demo” or is described as an “E3 build,” there are still surprises uncovered, announcements made and hype built.
Then again, even those who are able to both kick start and wind down their summer at each show can revisit a recycled demo for one reason or another. Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham City demo could be called a case in point for some of PAX's contingent. While it was my first hands-on with the game, I wouldn't fault any who queued up for a second (or third) return trip to the despotic streets of Gotham.
Bat-controller in hand, the demo opened with Catwoman raiding Harvey Dent's hideout office. There wasn't much exploration to do as a handful of thugs greeted her arrival, dropping me right into that rhythmically familiar combat introduced in Arkham Asylum. Instead of Bats' comparatively brutish straight-arm jabs and roundhouse kicks, however, Ms. Kyle's more criminally inclined alter-ego performs her takedowns with acrobatic ease. She parries and counters with flips and cartwheels as her more slender frame is less restricted in her leather attire. The timed strikes and preventative counters aren't mechanically any different than Batman's, but the deadly ballet is no less aggressive or brutal.
After the assailants are subdued, I accidentally slinked the anti-hero to her objective with a cat-like crawl, triggering a cutscene where Two-Face's gun stops her from capturing the prize she was after.
Enter, The Batman.
Perched on a rooftop, I used one of his newer gadgets, a device that can pick up nearby audio frequencies, to start a new mission. The setup is meant to show off Arkham City's more open environment, and a Batman even more apt to gliding around its skyline than in Asylum's compound. While there's room to explore, I decided to go straight towards the action. A graceful leap turned into a stress-free glide, but it all ended with a violent dropkick on an unsuspecting bad guy. Others rushed to their fallen buddy's aid, but once again, with that trademark fluid combat, they proved no contest. The difference in the execution of the fisticuffs when compared to either Catwoman's perspective or Arkham Asylum's use is imperceptible, but not disappointingly so; in all cases, past and present, it's equally as satisfying.
Soon enough the time came to infiltrate Dent's rally in support for his illegitimate rise to power in the decaying city. For the Caped Crusader, a front door simply didn't do; entering Two-Face's rundown base via a grapple hook to an upper-floor entrance was more his style. A single sentry patroled above a room of unruly criminals watching Catwoman dangle over a pool of acid, as Dent's conflicted persona preached from a secured soapbox, judging her in a sort of twisted trial. She remained collected and cooly defiant even after Two-Face's coin flip kept her alive, if only for the time being.
For Batman, there was no time to waste. A silent choke hold muffled the sentry, and a head-on assault against the gang below incapacitated Dent's supporters. Sadly, there didn't seem to be any other way to go about things for the sake of the demo, with only the default equipment of Arkham Asylum to use (Batarang and explosive gel), but what was played certainly left the game as one of my most anticipated for this year.
Arkham Asylum remains a comic book videogame that, against all expectations, doesn't play as a franchise cash-in; so how does Rocksteady mean to replicate success when trying a new approach with the sequel? While speaking with Dax Ginn, Marketing Game Manager at Rocksteady, he mentioned the creative liberty afforded to the studio from not being tied to a “ball and chain” of any other particular "Batman" media. Rocksteady uses their own "Arkham-verse" and study of Batman as a man, not only superhero, to build more than cutscene portrayals of Gotham's protector: “We're crazy Batman fans, and we just want to make great Batman games.”
The UK-based studio has proven as much once before already, and from what I've seen of Arkham City so far, they seem to be on the right track again; they're making example of why our favorite comic book heroes can't flourish in the interactive medium as anything short of fully dedicated, mindful projects.
Which comic book (super)heroes do you want to see made as successful as Batman? Do you swear allegiance to any universe? Let us know on Twitter @gamers_hell