I know it's something nice and extra for the fans, and in the context of Batman: Arkham City's story, I'm all for Catwoman, but why? Why include just about every Batman character ever this time around?
Dax Ginn, marketing game manager for Rocksteady, told me that players nowadays don't always want to be the good guy. "It's not always fun being the righteous arm of justice, so we wanted to explore what it was like to be a criminal within Arkham City, as well. Catwoman became a great option to explore that."
But maybe it's simpler than that. "We kind of look around at other games," Ginn said, "and it's obvious that some players like breaking the rules."
I've seen Batman: Arkham City a few times prior to this last preview session leading into the game's October 18 launch. Back during the Microsoft Showcase in February, I got my first taste. Then, at E3, I stood over Mike Schramm's shoulder and watched him play a slightly extended portion of that February demo. And earlier this week, I got to resume the game right from where that previous demo left off.
So, to get us all on the same page here: Batman busts into the courthouse to save Catwoman, who is tied up and dangling above a vat of acid. He thwarts Two-Face and his thugs and leaves Two-Face tied up, but then a sniper shot rips through the courthouse. Batman tracks it to a tower nearby and scans it, discovering that it was the Joker who remotely pulled the trigger. Now, Batman is off to track the signal controlling the rifle and, for the sake of spoilers, I'll forgo relaying any further plot points in this preview.
Ginn was sitting alongside me, patiently watching as I tracked down the signal across all of Arkham City. I can't really talk up the scope and magnificence of Rocksteady's depiction of Arkham City. It's massive, completely rundown and bleakly depressing to behold -- though I was impressed, Ginn himself says there was plenty of difficulty the team ran into instilling tension into an open-world game.
"One of the big issues with an open-world game is you don't have that same claustrophobic intensity, so that sense of threat just evaporates," Ginn said. "We then thought how we could offer the same sense of threat, but give the player freedom they've never had before. So without that fear, we knew we needed a load of villains to toss at Batman. We then made the decision that it couldn't just be Joker anymore -- we needed Two-Face, Riddler, Penguin and even Catwoman in there."
The demo itself featured combat prominently, including Batman's new hotkey-like macro actions. By pulling the left trigger and hitting a face button, Batman can quickly employ one of his gadgets mid-combat. An electro-magnet gun was easily my favorite -- it zaps a target, causing them to flail around in a blind rage. When I hit a massive, one-armed clown wielding a sladgehammer, he spun like crazy, knocking out a handful of thugs. Suffice to say it was satisfying on all levels.
While Ginn couldn't give me a look at Robin, I was able to play as Catwoman through a Challenge map after the demo. She handles exactly the same as Batman, though is far more nimble and less able to cold-cock thugs in the face in slow-mo. Instead, she relies on her agility and acrobatic moves (and some small explosives and her trusty whip, of course). Compared to Batman's brutal style, she exhibited more grace and beauty in her execution.
"The decision behind bringing in more Batman characters was driven by the call we made early on to make Batman: Arkham City an open-world game. Arkham Asylum is very tense, very claustrophobic, so you didn't need any more than to put Batman and Joker in that pressure cooker and just let them go at it. When we decided what we were gonna do for the second game, we knew people wanted to see Batman in Gotham; they wanted to see Batman in the streets. All these other decisions then became kind of necessary. One decision drove so many others."