Behind closed doors at GamesCom, Warner Bros. hosted a unique event—a battle between Catwoman and Batman, against Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and a grudge match between Rocksteady Studios’ community manager Sarah Wellock and lead animator Zafer Coban. Overseeing proceedings with his unique enthusiastic commentary and obvious love of the Batman IP was marketing guru Dax Gunn.
What we were about to see wasn't on show on the exhibition floor. Rocksteady obviously wanted to emphasise the variety and replay value that Batman Arkham City will have away from the single player campaign, and therefore showcased some of the multiplayer challenge modes. Rooftop Rumble and Predator were demonstrated in a three tiered challenge that culminated with an incredibly exciting race across Arkham City. If it's really true that size does matter, then nobody's going to be disappointed by the scale of Batman's domain.
Sarah Wellock – Batman – PS3 vs. Zafer Coban - Catwoman - Xbox 360
The prize: The Commissioner James Gordon Gold Medal of Gotham City
The action took place on two large stereoscopic 3D screens, which showed Arkham City and its characters in their best light. The competition between two Rocksteady employees was designed to show us three types of gameplay: combat, stealth and exploration. Each round was scored, and at the end of each level, scores were uploaded to an online leaderboard. In this case, it allowed us to see who was in the lead and who would ultimately win the battle.
Rooftop Rumble - Take down as many opponents as you can.
Locked into an arena rooftop, Catwoman and Batman have to fend off waves of attacks from Gotham's thugs. Combat is fast and exciting, but extremely well measured, with a combination of defensive and offensive moves being the obvious way to dispose of multiple enemies efficiently without gaining too much damage. The fluidity of the combat is impressive as Catwoman moves gracefully and acrobatically, chaining together combos with the grace of a ballet dancer. Catwoman uses her whip to send enemies flying from a safe distance and then uses her long legs to snap limbs, or wraps her thighs around the necks of thugs, which stops them dead in his tracks. Catwoman is sexy, but lethal. She disposes of her aggressors with style in a blur of leggy action, ferocious whip attacks and pin-point pounce attacks.
Batman seems a little slower, but very powerful and hugely entertaining to watch as he smashes enemies to the ground with great force. Batman's attacks have real weight behind them, but his movements are still supple and quick. We see him use a smoke pellet to disorientate the thugs and then proceed to rack up a good combo score by pummeling them into submission while they're trying to get their bearings. His animation is spectacular and he pulls off a variety of impressive takedowns, including electrocuting a thug with a pistol that shoots out a charge of electricity.
At the end of the round the scores stands at:
Batman (PS3) 27,425
Catwoman (Xbox 360) 11,670
There's a totally different vibe about this mode. Both our heroes are tasked with infiltrating a facility to dispose of enemies silently and swiftly. Points are gained for stealth kills and remaining hidden. The one who kills them all first wins.
Predator mode demonstrates an incredible use of the environment and shows off both Batman and Catwoman's agility and range of stealth moves. Both characters bring something different to stealth play. While Catwoman can cling to practically any surface, crawling on ceilings and under walkways, Batman can zip swiftly and quickly from one side of the room to the other. Catwoman sneaks into an empty room and with an enemy standing just outside the window, drags him through it and takes him down with a crash. She then crawls upside down under a walkway, moves underneath her target and then swiftly throws him over the balcony with the use of her whip, while Batman targets a thug from above and swoops down to deliver a trademark, crushing takedown with the might of his fists. Visually, takedowns are stunning but what's more impressive is the way that the two characters swiftly and silently go about their business, yet finish their opponents with such style, power and aggression. Catwoman was quicker at clearing the room—it's clear that her skills really do lie in stealth play.
At the end of the round the scores were:
Batman (PS3) - 2 mins 42 seconds
Catwoman (Xbox 360) - 2 mins 13 seconds
Going into the last round the scores are tied at 1-1.
Race across Arkham City - A race from the courthouse to amusement mile and the top of the Ferris wheel.
Rocksteady was clear to point out that this isn't actually a game mode. This is just something that they decided to do to showcase the movements of the two characters across long distances and the scale of Arkham City. It wasn't a timed race, but the first person to reach the top of the Ferris wheel would be hailed as winner. Rocksteady’s Dax Ginn tells us that the gameworld in Arkham City is five times larger than the last title and immediately, from the elevated view of the balcony of the courthouse, the draw distance is impressive—Arkham City seems to never end as you look across its skyline.
The studio has nailed it with Batman's glide ability. The caped-crusader iconically cruises the skies from roof to roof, using his grapple hook to latch onto a water tower and then a gargoyle statue as he swoops ever closer toward the Ferris wheel. He dive-bombs towards the ground to gather speed, before gliding to his next target. We find it hard to keep our eyes on Batman because Arkham City is a mesmerizing place, full of rich textures, fine details and areas that look ripe for exploration. Production values are outstanding and Arkham City looks bigger than we imagined. We can't wait to explore every inch.
After a thrilling race, which was extremely close, Batman wins.
The final score:
Batman (PS3) - 2 Catwoman (Xbox 360) - 1
This wasn't about a console war, of course, but about showcasing the unique skills of both characters. Batman's power and brutality when he's up close and personal is of stark contrast to the way he serenely glides over Arkham City. On the other hand, Catwoman's stealth skills and range of acrobatic moves will give us a totally different way to play the game.
At GamesCom, Batman Arkham City was the title that got the biggest cheer at the end of the presentation. Indeed, it's setting itself up to be quite an incredible game, and we've only seen a mere peek of its potential. We've been promised preview code very shortly, so we'll be delivering a comprehensive hands-on look very soon.