Batman: Arkham City Preview

The Dark Knight returns in a sequel that takes him to the streets of a transformed Gotham.

It's one thing to hear the development team members at Rocksteady say that Arkham City is much bigger than the island in Batman: Arkham Asylum, but it's quite a different thing to see it and realize just what they mean. Batman: Arkham City is an absolutely massive game, and we were able to get a taste of just how grand it is in a short demo that featured Batman--once again--attempting to track down his nemesis, The Joker.

The demo begins with Batman standing on a rooftop, overlooking a courthouse in Arkham City--a district of Gotham that has been walled off from the rest of the city. Its new warden is Dr. Hugo Strange, whose armed guards maintain brutal control over the inmates and will shoot anyone who tries to escape. By hacking into Strange's communications and with the aid of Alfred, Batman learns that Two Face (also known as former district attorney, Harvey Dent) has captured Catwoman and that he's keeping her in the courthouse below. Naturally, the building's facade is designed to represent its new inhabitants--one side is perfectly fine while the other is completely mangled.

Before heading into the structure, we were shown one of the ways Batman can get around in Arkham City. By leaping from rooftops, or other suitably high locations, Batman can glide over the streets of Arkham. He can continue gliding to the ground and perform a high-impact landing by using his dive-bomb maneuver, or he can use the same maneuver to quickly lose altitude and then swoop back up toward the sky. If you're already on the ground, then you can easily grapple up the side of a building (or even onto the landing struts of a helicopter) to get back to higher ground. What's interesting is that while you're doing all of this, you can use detective vision to check out what's going on in the city and choose to fight crime elsewhere, if you are so inclined.

But for the purposes of the demo, Batman heads back toward the courthouse and makes his way in, dispatching some thugs near the entrance with some slick melee moves that smoothly transition from one punch to the next. Once inside, we see a cutscene that shows Two Face rallying a group of inmates and proving how powerful he is by attempting to kill Catwoman, who happens to be dangling over a vat of acid. This isn't a small group of foes either--Rocksteady says that it has managed to increase the number of enemies you can face at once to about 25 or 26.

By using detective vision, Batman can see that most of the people in the group are holding machetes or led pipes; nothing that he can't handle. But just above his location is a thug with an automatic weapon who can easily take Batman down if the Caped Crusader goes right for Two Face. To improve your chances, you can climb up to the platform and quietly take the enemy out before leaping down into the crowd to dispatch justice with feet and fists. It's worth pointing out that over the course of this fight, enemies will use anything they can as a weapon against Batman. We saw a couple of inmates pick up chairs and hurl them in a sad attempt to do some damage, but Batman can also catch these objects and throw them right back.

With the crowd under control, Two Face suddenly shoots Batman and then makes his way over to Catwoman. Just as he's ready to shoot her, Catwoman escapes from the trap and manages to knock Two Face down. Just as soon as she does this, the former district attorney pulls out another gun and tries to shoot her, but Batman saves the day with his grappling hook. As Batman and Catwoman begin their back and forth, we see a laser appear on Catwoman's face. Someone's trying to assassinate her with a sniper rifle, and that someone is none other than The Joker.

With everyone safe, the courthouse becomes a crime scene, which gives Batman an opportunity to investigate a little more. Using his detective vision, you can scan for the entry point of the sniper's bullet and where it landed, which then lets Batman figure out its trajectory. He learns that the bullet came from a gun located in the bell tower of a church nearby. Like what we saw earlier, you can have Batman go immediately to the bell tower or stay inside the courthouse to do some more investigating.

Turning on detective mode reveals that there's still a person in a holding cell in a lower level of the courthouse. Going downstairs, he finds Calendar Man locked behind bars. What's particularly cool about a supremely uncool villain is that what he says is tied to your system clock, so if you happen upon him on the same day that he has committed some horrible crime, Calendar Man will go into greater detail about it. In the cell next to him is a Riddler trophy--yes, the collecting element from the first game returns in Arkham City and the trophies are even harder to find and secure this time around. The only way you can get to this particular trophy is by carefully guiding a remote-controlled batarang toward an electrical source and then back toward the circuits that power the lock on the cell. It's not easy.

With his job in the courthouse complete, Batman then makes his way out of the building (through an alternate exit to avoid enemies in front). But before heading to the bell tower, we get a closer look at another form of transportation for Batman. Nearby, a helicopter floats over a hot spot in the city. Batman seizes the opportunity to grapple up toward the helicopter and grab onto its landing struts. As the helicopter flies over Arkham City, you can use Batman's detective vision to look down and find other things to do, whether it's finding more Riddler trophies (specifically designated enemies will reveal trophy locations if you are able to interrogate them) or saving innocent civilians that have somehow found their way into the madhouse.

Batman eventually makes it to the church where he encounters some armored enemies that can easily fend off some of his standard attacks. Thankfully, Batman has a new special attack called the beatdown that lets him launch a flurry of punches that help break the armor and let him take down stronger thugs. Inside the church, Batman is immediately confronted by Harley Quinn whom he tosses aside like a sack of tangerines with a quick counterattack. This scene is particularly noteworthy because it shows how you can interact more with important characters in the plot, whereas in the previous game, villains always seemed like they were just out of Batman's reach.

Harley quickly gets up and leaves Batman to deal with a group of armed enemies that are holding hostages. They tell Batman that if he tries anything, they'll start shooting. But if you actually stop to listen to what they say for a bit, you'll get to hear some funny dialogue that almost hints at what you're supposed to do in this situation. In fact, one enemy makes specific mention of smoke bombs, which you happen to have in your inventory; throwing them down buys you enough time to grapple up to the ceiling and begin your systematic assault.

As we reach the end of the demo, Batman finds himself at the top of the bell tower, but Joker is nowhere to be found. In his place is a remote-controlled sniper rifle strapped with explosives. Just as he realizes what's going on, Batman receives a message from the Joker before he starts his countdown. As it reaches one, you can make Batman leap out of the window and safely guide him to the ground below.

Needless to say, the short demo was impressive, and it seems like Rocksteady has really tried to focus its efforts on not only bringing Arkham City to life, but also in doing it so that it makes sense within the Batman universe. Still, we're interested to see just how far off the beaten path Batman can go and what benefits there are in doing that as opposed to focusing on the main part of the game. We'll have more on Batman: Arkham City before it is released later this year.

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