The Cat and the Bat

3 06 2011

Now this is an intriguing choice. Rocksteady have announced that Catwoman will not just be appearing in Batman: Arkham City, but that she’ll also be a playable character, and not just in bonus missions. According to the developer’s marketing man, Dax Ginn (with a name like that, how could he not be working on a superhero game?), Catwoman segments will make up about 10% of the game’s content, with some of it mandatory, but most being side quests that are activated by locating stray cats around the streets of Gotham’s mad-district.

Naturally enough, these missions will revolve around her pilfering things, although in this case, they are things she is re-pilfering from the villainous Hugo Strange’s mercenary group Tyger, who pilfered them from her. Essentially, there will be much pilfering. More importantly, there will also be a good deal of fighting, leaping and gadget-ing: as you can see from the trailer, this isn’t a stripped-down reskin of Batman with a few new animations, but a wholly different playable character.

I’m very pleased with Rocksteady’s boldness in the matter, but the design implications are certainly interesting. Arkham Asylum was built around the experience of being Batman and, as we know full well, the developers succeeded superbly, with every combat move and every gadget serving to reinforce the nature of the character. It was as tightly focused as any recent game has been in building character through gameplay.

Quite whether the same degree of success can be achieved with Catwoman is a matter for debate. Let’s make things clear: I am in no doubt that the gameplay for the character will be different, exciting and well-tuned, particularly after seeing what new challenges the character will present for players. Batman’s detective vision, a crucial part of his arsenal, is replaced by Thief Sense, which allows Catwoman to see valuable goodies through walls rather than a squad of SMG-toting goons. She’ll only have three gadgets (Batman packs twelve) but she can zip along very quickly thanks to her whip, claws and a combo meter which speeds things up if you time your jumps correctly. Technically, the gameplay will be just fine.

From a characterisation point of view I’m looking forward to seeing quite whether these segments pay off. Rocksteady created the perfect Batman skillset in Arkham Asylum, building character through extended action. My concern is that, after a half-hour or so blast as Catwoman, Batman will take up the reins once more for the real action and leave her as little more than a cipher. Part of the fascination with the character is her on-off relationship with Batman, seducing him one moment then out to get him the next and so long as the decision to make her a playable character doesn’t lead to her sticking firmly (perhaps subserviently) to Batman’s side of the fence, then it’ll be just fine. Rocksteady showed themselves in full control of the source material in the first game, and I’m sure they’ll treat it with the same reverence in Arkham City.

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