It's safe to say by now that Batman: Arkham City is widely considered to be one of the best comic book-based video games ever created. The game's been available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC since late 2011, but has yet to appear on a Nintendo console. That's set to change later this year with the release of Batman: Arkham City Armored Editionfor the upcoming launch of Nintendo's next-generation Wii U console. The key new feature of the Wii U is its tablet-like controller that has a full HD touchscreen built in right smack dab in the middle, allowing for dual-screen gameplay. Nintendo was clearly very proud of Arkham City coming to the Wii U, showcasing it front and center at their E3 press conference. But is it something to get excited about? Read on as ComicsAlliance goes hands on with the game for the full demo that Rocksteady and WB Games were on hand to show at E3.
First things first, Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition has no new story content compared to the original release of the game. That means that if you've already played Arkham City, you've pretty much played the same game that will be contained in the "Armored Edition". WB Games has seen fit to include all of the content that was released in the recent "Game of the Year" Edition of the game, though, so Armored Edition players will have access to all the content that has been released post-launch, including the recently released "Harley Quinn's Revenge" campaign.
So are there any reasons to play this game for someone who's already played through Arkham City? There are a couple, though how compelling they are will depend on how deep your love for the game goes (or if you're a first-time player, of course). The most obvious difference is that you're playing it on a shiny new Wii U system with it's newfangled controller. I'll get into details a little later in the preview, but suffice to say, it's a fairly different experience having a second touchscreen to use simultaneously with your television. Rocksteady has also added at least one new puzzle to the game that utilizes the Wii U Gamepad's motion functionality.
Almost equally as obvious (depending on your penchant for reading into titles) is the fact that Batman now is wearing a suit of armor in the game. The representative from WB Games described its capability as being able to absorb and unleash kinetic energy. I'm guessing Bruce Wayne's got the lawyers to deal with any sort of infringement issues that Sebastian Shaw may have with that new armor. In the game, though, the armor basically acts as a temporary power-up buff during combat situations. Getting hit by enemies will charge up a meter. When that meter is completely full, players can activate the armor and will get to beat up enemies with greater force for the next few seconds. I asked if the armor would provide any other gameplay differences, but unfortunately that's pretty much the only new mechanic the armor adds to the game.
The demo starts off showcasing Batman's new armor in what appeared to be the gladiator fight scene in the museum section of the original Arkham City game. Activating the armor showed some new visual effects that, yes, I had indeed activated the armor, but I honestly didn't really notice any major differences in combat effectiveness in the game. It may have been slightly easier to take down the thugs, but nothing that would drastically imbalance the game.
From there, the demo essentially becomes a "greatest hits" of different input methods for the Wii U Gamepad. The coolest feature of the controller is that it essentially turns into a functioning Batcomputer. Approaching a crime scene in detective mode turns the gamepad into an augmented reality viewer, letting me find a DNA trail by physically moving the controller, with the center touchscreen acting as my viewpoint. It's a neat little immersion effect, though I felt kind of silly brandishing the the controller around the hall like a creepy photographer.
Next up was the inventory management screen. Rather than fumbling through the d-pad or any menu screens, I was able to equip Batman with different gadgets by accessing the touchscreen on the gamepad. In theory this sounds like it would be the much preferred interface, but I found that using the touchscreen commanded most of my attention, leaving Batman fairly vulnerable on screen. Traditionally, doing such a task in the game would either pause the game while you navigated a menu or let you switch with the d-pad without taking your eyes off the screen. Having simultaneous control is a bit more realistic (You think Joker would really wait around for Batman to tap around on his Batcomputer during a fight?), but will take some getting used to.
The worst experience I had with Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition was hands-down the remote controlled Batarang control. Someone at Rocksteady thought it'd be cute to include a feature to let you steer Batarangs using motion controls, but in a completely unintuitive way. Instead of tilting the controller, you need to push and pull the sides of the Wii U Gamepad towards and away from you as if you had a steering wheel that could move in that manner. I failed so many times guiding the thing that I eventually had to give up using the motion controls and use the thumbsticks to guide the Batarang to the switch. Fortunately, that was an option.
Where the Wii U Gamepad controls really shined, though, was in utilizing the Explosive Gel gadget. As Batman, I was able to sneak around a room of thugs and strategically place Explosive Gel around the room. Then, after crawling through airducts to a safe vantage point, I whipped out the Batcomputer. Using the radar functionality, I could see each of my charges along with moving dots representing the thugs. Tapping each charge as the thugs walked by them blew them all to kingdom come within a matter of seconds. It was a very badass moment that made me feel even more like Batman than the original game did.
If you've never played Arkham City before and anticipating the release of the Wii U, Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition may be the definitive edition of the game to check out, especially with the new controls. However, I should mention that the graphics in the E3 demo looked a bit off, with some low-resolution textures and character models really sticking out like a sore thumb. Given that the Wii U is supposed to be as powerful, if not more so, graphically as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, I would assume the final version of the game will look a bit more polished.
That being said, if these new controls don't do anything for you, there may not be much value in buying and replaying the game again on the Wii U. While you can play as Armored Batman and Armored Catwoman, the gameplay differences are so minor that it's almost the same game as you've already played. Time will tell if Rocksteady adds more exclusive content to sweeten the deal for launch, but as it currently stands, the best reason for buying the game again will be to experience it through the Wii U Gamepad.
Want more visuals? Check out live gameplay footage of a developer walking someone through Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition from the E3 showfloor on the Wii U:
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