Arkham Asylum wasn’t a great superhero game merely because, after so many years and so many failed attempts, Batman finally played like Batman. The second hugest reason that Rocksteady succeeded was the developer’s extraordinary reverence for the source material and the source material’s fans.
Having witnessed only 30 minutes of gameplay in Batman: Arkham City, I can already confirm that the same loving attention exists in the sequel. During my first trip through this week’s GDC demo, I was overwhelmed by the graphics, the action and the dialogue… during my second round, however, I started paying attention to the smaller details. Here are my five favorites so far…
In the game: I never caught a good glimpse of the actual building, but Batman glided by this rundown sign several times during his surveillance of the city. It’s tall and bright enough to serve as something of a guidepost and landmark in the area.
In the lore: Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered outside a theatre, setting in motion his journey to become Batman. The venue’s name changes depending on the source material, but in Tim Burton’s 1989 film, the family is attending “Footlight Frenzy” at none other than the Monarch Theatre.
In the game: Several advertisements for the company were scattered across the part of Gotham visible in my GDC demo. The example above is actually pretty subdued compared to the one that caught my eye – an enormous, animated neon-green billboard that illuminated the night behind Batman’s starting position on a rooftop.
In the lore: The Ace Chemical Processing Plant is where an obscure comedian / chemist / criminal (his true origin is always fluctuating) tragically tumbled into a vat of toxic waste and transformed into Batman’s most famous, insane and deadly nemesis, the Joker. An Elseworlds story (“Detective No. 27”) featured Hugo Strange – seemingly Arkham City's primary villain – falling into Ace chemicals as well.
In the game: Two-Face has taken Catwoman hostage at the Solomon Wayne Courthouse, where he attempts to put her through a mock trial (and, if the coin decides, execution) in order to prove his mettle in Arkham City’s villainous power struggle.
In the lore: Solomon Wayne is a direct ancestor of Bruce Wayne. Forcefully committed to justice, he aided slaves during the American Civil War and worked as a federal judge afterwards, eventually earning nicknames like the “Hanging Judge.” He also heavily influenced the early growth and iconic architectural style of Gotham City.
The Narrows / Park Row
In the game: When the Rocksteady rep paused the game briefly to show us how a Riddler henchman’s interrogation had added new information to the map, I was able to read a few location names: Wonder Tower, Gotham City Center, The Narrows and Park Row.
In the lore: The Narrows should strike a bell with even the most casual Batman fans – it’s the poverty-stricken, crime-ridden section of slums where much of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, including the climax, takes place. Park Row, meanwhile, is a formerly glitzy, upscale part of Gotham City that – now known as Crime Alley – is similarly dilapidated and dangerous. “The Park Row tragedy” refers to the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, while Crime Alley is where Batman originally met Robin #2, Jason Todd.
Gotham Cathedral Bell Tower
In the game: Using his detective vision to trace the path of a sniper bullet meant for Catwoman, our caped hero discovers Joker is hiding in the bell tower of a nearby cathedral. After dealing with Harley Quinn and her thugs on the ground floor, he grapples up to the top… only to discover that he’s been led into a trap. The Joker is gone, the sniper rifle was remote-controlled and explosives are set to blow in five seconds.
In the lore: This scene could be referencing a couple of things. The final battle between Batman and Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman is fought in the bell tower of a cathedral, and the Clown Prince of Crime has proven himself fond of sniper rifles in many different comic book stories. In the best issues of Gotham Central, for example, he terrorizes the city – and taunts the police department – by targeting victims from secret locations.
I’m not done describing the Batman: Arkham City gameplay demo just yet. My second viewing also included an extra 45 seconds at the end that should please fans even more than these references. Info on that tantalizing tease as soon as the embargo lifts!
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