Batman's latest crusade through video games has been out on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC for a good eight months now, but that didn't stop Nintendo giving enhanced port Batman: Arkham City Armoured Edition plenty of stage time at E3. Escaping the confines of Arkham Asylum, a section of Gotham City has been cordoned off as a gigantic open air prison for the city's many maniacs. Predictably it doesn't go quite as smoothly as planned — it isn't long before the cast of villains is waging war upon one another and Bruce Wayne is forced to step into the fray.
Batman: Arkham City on PS3 was critically acclaimed when released in its original form. Wii U's Armoured Edition is an upgraded version of the same basic game, with all previously released downloadable content included in the package. The demonstration only showed off some of the interiors, so we can't judge how the big bad city looks on Wii U just yet. A lengthy combat arena section gave ample opportunity to adjust to the controls and experiment with the counterattack-heavy fight mechanics, while an exploration section slowed things down to explain the gadgets in more depth.
The big difference here is the use of Wii U GamePad; the controller screen emulates a small wrist-mounted computer attached to Batman's fancy new suit of armour. In combat it acts as a sonar, showing the location of nearby enemies to help plan out tactics. Otherwise you can check your map, upgrade or select your equipment via the touch screen and take a more hands on approach with your weapons.
The remote control Batarang, for instance, can be guided about in a couple of ways: with standard analogue sticks, or by moving the GamePad around, tilting the controller to navigate carefully through the air. There's greater control over explosives, as you can set them off individually after planting up to three. Electronic panels are hacked by dragging a finger over a circuit board on the touch screen while dodging a finger-burning laser. The GamePad controls are integrated well and are immersive once mastered, but options of more traditional control are still available throughout and are just as responsive as in the original release.
Detective mode is also given an overhaul, making the GamePad into a scanner that can be moved around accurately to sweep crime scenes for evidence. In addition there's B.A.T. mode; activated with a click of the analogue sticks, it's a heightened state that puts more power behind The Bat's punches, but only once enough kinetic energy has been built up by absorbing enemy attacks. The more damage you take, the more damage you can potentially do.
It was clear from this early demo that there is still work to be done and that much of the development focus thus far has been on the GamePad, most obviously because of the state of the visuals. The character and environment models seemed fine, but the frame rate felt slightly sluggish at a couple of points and the quality of some textures was poor and blurry. There's a lot of polishing to be done yet.
Only a very small portion of Batman: Arkham City Armoured Edition was shown off, but so far our reaction is a little mixed: the new controls are fun, but it's not yet up to standard visually. The original release was brilliant, however, and this seemed to be a build that looked to sell the controls more than anything else. On that front, it generally succeeded.