Batman: Arkham City, the return to Rocksteady Studios' amazing journey into the world of Batman, isn't all about the bat. There's the cat too.
At times in the game, players won't be controlling the cowled crusader, but rather the feline second-story woman, working Catwoman over the streets of slum-turned-prison Arkham City one whip-cracking swing at a time.
Deep into a demonstration of Batman: Arkham City, due out this fall on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, Rocksteady's Dax Ginn explains that gamers who spend 24-7 delivering justice on the streets of Arkham City may want to, from time to time, take a break.
On screen, Batman walks up to a few cats milling on a rooftop. The words "Take a Break" pop up on the screen with the icon for the Xbox 360's blue X button. Pressing the X button causes Catwoman to leap into the scene as Batman stalks to the roof and drops off.
"What would someone like this do in a place like this," asks Ginn. "She's using the chaos to achieve her own ends. She is establishing what she can steal and how quickly she can get to it."
That means targeting "high value contraband." The culmination of that journey, shown to us by Rocksteady, is Catwoman's decision to go after the vault buried in the city that holds all of the most valuable items taken from the prisoners by the private military force known as Tyger.
Catwoman leaps from the rooftop, pulling out her whip as she drops. With a retort that sounds like a gunshot, she wraps the whip around a jutting ledge and swings out from the roof. Occasionally Catwoman uses her claws to latch onto buildings and scramble up walls. But mostly she swings through the city, a series of loud crack's accenting her every whip swing.
In combat, Catwoman looks much more acrobatic. She flips over and around enemies as she takes them down with kicks, punches and weapons like her bola and caltrops.
Later, trying her controls out myself, I discover she doesn't feel as different as she looks. In practice, at least with my short time with her, she feels very similar to Batman and his steady flow of attacks, counters and blocks. A bit of a let down, but still satisfying.
Fortunately, Catwoman sets herself apart from Batman in other ways. She has a thief vision mode, for instance, that highlights items of valuable in her view. She also has at least one new move type, she can crawl along certain ceilings, dropping down to do special take downs.
I watch as Catwoman crawls above an enemy before taking him out. Later I see her pickpocket guards, stealing their pass keys. She crawls along floors, pounces to the ceiling.
Ginn explains that while Catwoman plays a pivotal part in the game, she is still more like a special guest star then a co-star. Batman, Ginn assures us, is still the main attraction. But that doesn't mean you can avoid playing as Catwoman. While some of the things she does, some of the missions she has available to her, aren't required and can be accessed by choosing to "take a break" there will be central plot points that will require you to control Catwoman.
"It is intertwined into Batman's story," he said. She also has her own upgrade system and even her own trophies.
And the entire demo wasn't focused on Catwoman. We got a quick tour of Arkham City, which Ginn says is about five times the size of Arkham Asylum's Arkham Island. Ginn said that Rocksteady went to great pains to make sure that the game had an amazing sense of scale.
As if to illustrate the point, the demo opens with Batman perched above the city, a city so large that he is almost lost in the backdrop. Suddenly Batman power dives from his roost, floating through parts of the city before dropping onto a lamppost.
Ginn tells us that they've worked at integrating the way Batman gets around into the way he takes people down. As he explains this, Batman uses his grappling hook to launch into the thug, knocking him into next week.
"Whammy!" Ginn yells Batman makes contact with the baddie.
Batman spins, punches and kicks his way through the rest of the thugs on the roof, leaving one standing. Saving a particularly intricate take down for the last man standing.
"Kablam!" Ginn shouts.
Even without Ginn's enthusiastic interjections, the heart of Batman: Arkham City seems to remain a game about blood-pumping, over-the-top brawls, terrifying take-downs and Batman.