Preview: ‘Batman: Arkham City’ Puts the Dark Knight in a Lawless, Urban Landscape

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Gamers and comic fans all agreed: Batman: Arkham Asylum was not only the best Batman game ever made; it was the best superhero game ever made. Many of the classic Bat-elements were there in the game’s detective sequences, hand-to-hand combat and glorious gadgets.

Still, one thing was missing: Gotham City itself. The sequel to B:AA aims to rectify that by letting the Dark Knight roam through a sprawling chunk of the city he protects. After the events of the previous game, former asylum warden Quincy Sharpe gets elected mayor, walls off a section of the city and throws Arkham’s inmates into it. The radical super-prison program is overseen by psychiatrist Hugo Strange and the only rule is don’t try to escape. But, Strange himself is unhinged and happens to know that Bruce Wayne is Batman. (Do Your Comics-Reading Homework Now for “Batman: Arkham City”)

The demo opens with Batman talking to Alfred through the cowl’s headset. The objective at hand is to save Catwoman from Two-Face, the newest of Arkham City’s residents. The lawless zone’s in a state of constant conflict and Harvey Dent’s captured Catwoman so he can kill her in a display of power that will hopefully recruit him some thugs for his personal army. To find out where Harvey’s holed up, Batman uses version 2.0 of the Cryptographic Sequencer gadget. In the first game, it hacked open electronic locks but, here, it’s been upgaded to access communication frequencies, which basically lets Batman find quests all over the city. One of those quests was to stop a mugging. The victim was investigative TV reporter Jack Ryder–also known as cackling superhero The Creeper–and bunch of thugs where whaling on him. The thugs were no challenge to Batman but the twist in the combat here was to refrain from knocking out a specific criminal. This miscreant was tagged as one of Riddler’s informants and, by using the new interrogation option, he reveals the location of a Riddler trophy. Grabbing these collectibles isn’t as easy as just finding them out in the world, though. This particular one was booby-trapped and Batman had to use the Batclaw to safely get it. (“Batman: Arkham City” Getting Tie-In Comics This May)

That done, Batman proceeded to Two-Face’s lair, an abandoned cathedral swarming with henchmen. To get there, Batman jumps off of a roof and flaps open his cape. You’ll be able to glide, go into a power dive and, when you open your cape while diving the momentum will carry you up and forward. It’s a great way to travel and very fun to watch, too. You’ll also be able hitch a ride on the helicopters patrolling the super-prison, too. Arriving at the cathedral, Batman scans the area with Detective Vision, which has been improved to show what weapons enemies will have. This particular scene showed 48 hostiles on screen, some with weapons and far too many for even Batman to take out solo. The goal here was to strategize, taking out the thugs patrolling the high ground with machine guns first and then mopping up the ones on the ground level.

The confrontation that followed with Two-Face–who sports an amazingly detailed redesign in the spirit of Rocksteady’s other Bat-interpretation–led to Batman chatting with Catwoman. Their convo gets cut short when a familiar, disembodied voice pipes up: “Twinkle, twinkle, little Bat/Watch as I kill your favorite Cat.” Batman shoves Catwoman out of the way of a sniper’s bullet. The shooter is, of course, the Joker and Batman goes back into Detective Vision mode, scanning the bullet’s entry point at a window and its impact point in the ground to backtrack its trajectory. Hopping onto a helicopter brings the Caped Crusader to the Joker’s location. More thugs await and, here, the improved combat gets shown off. A power dive onto a Joker thug knocks him out immediately and a choke-slam takes much of the fight out of another. The new Beatdown move serves up a rapid flurry of punches that breaks through an enemy’s guard and disarm counters where Batman bludgeons enemies with their own weapons. (Riddles and Rumors: Big Batman 3 Plot Points)

A funny stand-off with armed muscle–”It’s not like he’s a guy who’s great at getting out of death traps and picking people off from the shadows, right? Ohhhh, wait, that’s EXACTLY what he does!”–holding a hostage leads to stealth gameplay where Batman disappears under the cover of the game’s new Smoke Bombs. Another new stealth move has Batman punching through a weakened wall to grab a hapless enemy.

Batman: Arkham City looks amazing, improving n a formula that was already excellent. The game’s huge locale is an interlocking set of tiered levels that isn’t quite strictly open-world or strictly linear. As Batan flew over the city in Detective Mode, other interior locations where he could enter popped up and even manhole covers served as entrance to underground parts of the city. The main storyline appears to follow a set path but you can go anywhere you want in the city and pick up side missions. As appealing as the in-progress game looks, some things still worry me. The dialogue for Catwoman was painful, consisting almost entirely of campy come-ons and the voicework for Selina Kyle didn’t quite seem as polished as the other characters. On the combat side, there seemed to be some sleight-of-hand going on in that one scene with 48 enemies. Most of them disappeared and Batman wound up only fighting a fraction of them. Rocksteady reps said that they’re working on that and that the goal would be to be able to fight as many as 26 on-screen opponents. Finally, the rumors of co-op play in Batman: Arkham City were roundly dismissed, with Rocksteady saying that they’re focused on making a great single-player Batman game. Despite some minor concerns, they appear to be well on their way.

Batman: Arkham City comes out for multiple platforms this fall.

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