By Gregg Sanderson
New York Comic Con: The Batman: Arkham City panel members were greeted by the jam-packed hall as world-conquering rockstars. Rightly so! Since Batman: Arkham Asylum took gamers by storm (and surprise) in 2009, gamers and Batman fans alike have been waiting as patiently as a cop on stakeout for the Arkham City follow-up. Judging by the overwhelming praise already being heaped upon the title (Metacritic score of 92!) the gang at Warner and Rocksteady may have exceeded expectations.
Claudio Sanchez, Kevin Conroy, Nick Errandale and Sefton Hill at NYCC 2011
The world of licensed superhero video games before Arkham Asylum was Bludhaven-dreary. The rule of thumb was any such game was sure to be rushed-out-the-door crapola, seemingly made by people who didn't “get” the superhero in question. With Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady and Warner threw a Batarang into the paradigm and delivered a game worthy of the cowled crusader, combining ass-kicking brawling combat with stealth tactics and detective techniques. The result: a game that finally let the gamers really feel like they are the Dark Knight. The game is not only universally hailed as the best licensed superhero game, but a great game on its own merits...and they said it couldn't be done!
So they did it again. But bigger. Much bigger. Oh, so seriously bigger. Busting out of the confines of the Asylum, Batman: Arkham City delivers on its title's promise – a large swath of Gotham City dedicated to holding the murderously dangerous inmates of Arkham. The game world is five-times the size of Asylum. The guys at Rocksteady said their goals for the sequel were simply to make it a better game and even more a definitive Batman experience than the first. Gotham was clearly missing from the enjoyably close-quarters of the first Arkham, so as a top-level goal, Rocksteady added open-world gameplay to the structured story-driven main game.
Game Director Sefton Hill mentioned that while it was a top-level goal to add open-world gameplay to action/adventure, they needed to nail the right balance of the freedom of an open world without sacrificing the power of a story-driven game. While not nearly to the extent of a GTA, Arkham City gives the player the feeling they're really in Gotham. This was the most challenging aspect for the dev team, according to Hill: enable the player to hear the sounds of this open city, along with story-driven gameplay, without the player being bombarded by too much audio information. (One other challenge the whole panel enjoyed discussing was getting the “WA-CHUNK” sound effect the Bat's cape makes when it opens to glide juuust right. Everybody on the panel took a shot at voicing WA-CHUNK definitively, but nobody was declared the winner.)
Hill demoed the game near the end of the panel, choosing a mission that sends Batman to a twisted clowned up old steel mill. Along the way, he gave the audience a great taste of what your typical night will be protecting the citizens of Gotham City: how you can glide and grapple your way across Gotham rooftops, use your surveillance tech to listen in on rooftop conversations among thugs, and either take the time to knock them around, or continue your current mission. The mix of graceful swooping and brutal smack-downing was met with eager oohs and ahhs from the crowd.
SPOILER WARNING! At the end of Hill's gameplay demo the buzzed-about “death” of Joker was also revealed. Whether that's actually Joker who's dead in that grungy chair, or if it's even a dead person at all, remains a mystery to explore when the game comes out next Tuesday, October 18.
Oh, and there's more, a whole lot of delicious more: a huge assortment of Batman's Rogues Gallery foes; drool-worthy DLC like playable Nightwing and Catwoman (along with Challenge maps); 30+ hours of core gameplay along with 15 hours for the side-missions, double the Batman moves and animations (and double the dialogue, Kevin Conroy joked!); and so many more Bat gadgets, which are now mapped to the face buttons. And tie-ins: a comic book that encompasses both games, action figures, the Batman: Year One DVD, and the official album
Claudio Sanchez – from the band Coheed and Cambria – gushed over his opportunity to write a Batman song, “Deranged,” which is featured on Batman: Arkham City – The Album. No offense to Claudio, the true “rockstar” on the panel was Kevin Conroy, who has been the go-to voice for non-live action Batman TV shows, movies and video games for nearly 20 years! Conroy's explanation for his success was the fans' reaction to his voice acting itself, and how the connection of fan to both Batman and the entire Bat-mythos was essential to any piece of Batman entertainment's success. He went on to heap praise on Paul Dini's writing for both games, and the eye-popping game visuals of Arkham City which bring Gotham to shadowy, lurid life. He's right, the game looks incredible.
Kevin Conroy and fans
After some prizes were handed out (look under your chair!), and a madly loving crowd rushed to bask in Kevin Conroy's glow, the panel vanished into mist, leaving the audience to count down 'til next Tuesday.
Just to whet your appetite, here's a new trailer for Batman: Arkham City: