Cat vs. Bat: Hands-on with ‘Batman: Arkham City’

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My hands-on time with this year’s Bat-game revealed a few things to me.

The new criminal ghetto in the sequel’s Gotham City is big. Very big. You’ll face off against even more thugs–and more kinds of thugs–in Arkham City. But Batman will have a powered-up set of attacks and gadgets. The combat system features tiers of execution now, so you won’t have just a cape stun, but you can work up to a super-stun. Likewise, Batman will have disarms that are ramped-up counters.

Just about everything gamers loved about 2009’s Arkham Asylum looks to be getting expanded and most of the new stuff looks to be well-executed, too.

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Hell, just getting to the troublesome Riddler trophies will be a puzzle unto itself. You’ll need to rough up–but not knock out thugs–marked as informants so you can interrogate them. They’ll give up a destination for you to grab a Riddler trophy that will itself lead you somewhere else. See, Riddler’s not just an enigmatic presence in the game. He’s taken dozens of hostages in Arkham City and each death-trap holds their lives in the balance. Once you get to the locations that the trophies point you to, you’ll need to dodge, grapple and jump through fiendish death-traps set to countdown timers.

But I have to admit, what I’m seeing so far of the game’s Catwoman worries me. The femme fatale in this game harkens back to a far vampier, campier version of Selina Kyle’s larcenous alter ego. That’s not bad in and of itself, but Catwoman’s corny one-liners feel tonally off from the grim proceedings that the rest of the game offers.

I realize that not everyone can be as terse and no-nonsense as Batman, but Catwoman feels like she’s going too far in the opposite direction. As a fan of the morally ambiguous but tough take on Catwoman in Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke’s comics run, I feel like the lipstick-and-cleavage interpretation on display here just comes across as shallow.

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Mind you, from a gameplay perspective, Catwoman’s differentiated move set and abilities–including a thief vision that lets her see what’s pilfer-able in the environment–look promising. But I worried about her spouting something groan-inducing when the fighting’s all done. Hopefully, further glimpses of both the Bat and the Cat in action will allay any such fears.

Batman: Arkham City is due out this fall for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.

Evan Narcisse is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @EvNarc or on Facebook at Facebook/Evan.Narcisse. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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