Batman: Arkham City is the upcoming sequel to 2009's outstanding action adventure game Batman: Arkham Asylum. The second game also features appearances by many more members of the caped crusader's iconic rogues' gallery, including Catwoman, Two-Face, and Mr. Freeze (among others), along with Batman's archnemesis, the Joker, and his girl Friday, Harley Quinn. And for one brief shining moment, the Xbox 360 version of the game was in our hands at a recent press event, and we had the opportunity to play through a never-before-seen segment of the game that takes place shortly after the events we discussed in our time at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Here's our updated report. Spoiler warning: This story does contain minor plot spoilers. Proceed with caution.
This time around, we played through a segment of the game that takes place about three hours in--just after the events in the E3 demo, which, to recap, involved Batman's enemy and occasional girlfriend Catwoman being captured by Two-Face; Batman rescuing her; Catwoman being narrowly missed by a shot from a sniper rifle seemingly wielded by the Joker; Batman tracking the origin of the fired shot to a bell tower that ends up being a trap that was rigged with explosives; Batman narrowly escaping the explosion; and then Batman tracing the origin of the explosives to the city's abandoned steel mill. Our session started here, with Batman on the rooftops of the city on his way to the mill, occasionally turning on his comlink to discuss his current list of clues on the Joker's location with his trusted advisor and butler, Alfred.
We were short on time, so we immediately set out to find the Joker's location by following a tracking beacon that clearly indicated our relative distance, and whether we were going in the right location. And since we were playing as Batman, we traveled in style by using our controller's right bumper to grapple onto rooftops, pulling ourselves up and swinging and gliding our way across the city. As we've mentioned previously, Batman has a new trick up his sleeve that you perform simply by double-tapping the action button (A for the Xbox 360); it lets him perform an extra upward leap just as his grapple is yanking him along. The leap carries him further forward and upward and gives him an extra momentum boost that's perfect for turning tiny, unforgiving ledges into jumping points to help you glide farther and faster.
We poked around the city for a bit, finding a few pockets of the Joker's thugs to fight, and even encountering Bane, the supervillain whose use of the titan chemical formula has turned him into a massive juggernaut. Apparently, Bane isn't hunting for bat this time around. He suggests that he's investigating a shipment of the titan serum that managed to escape the asylum after the events of the previous game and wishes only to find and destroy the remaining 12 samples to minimize the spread of the deadly substance. Batman strikes an uneasy truce with the giant--this unlocks a side quest that helpfully pulls up the location of six of the vials for him to track down while Bane goes after the rest.
However, we skipped the side quest to go after the Joker, leaping and gliding across the city to eventually scale our way to the gigantic smokestack of the abandoned steel mill and then leap headfirst into it. While we were able to safely enter the mill's furnace without alerting any guards, the abandoned furnace room itself overflowed with molten steel, forcing us to deftly hop along collapsed railings. Once we got through, we found ourselves sneaking through the grates underneath an atrium area in which a civilian doctor was being held by the Joker's thugs and the always exuberant Harley Quinn. In Arkham Asylum, the Joker isn't feeling very good, probably because of that massive overdose of titan serum he took at the end of Arkham Asylum--so as it turns out, Harley is doing her best to kidnap medical personnel to attend to the sickly supervillain. We arrived just in time to dramatically leap out of the floor grate to save the good doctor and practice our fisticuffs--and Arkham City's heavy-duty hand-to-hand combat appears to be just as satisfying as ever. We beat down these thugs using the game's simple melee system, which still lets you press the counter button (in this case, Y on the Xbox 360 controller) to intercept incoming attacks and turn them into skull-cracking takedowns.
We rescued the doctor and holed her up in a locked stock room that contained one of the game's new gadgets, the remote electrical charge--essentially, a high-voltage stun gun that the dark knight can use to either subdue enemies or charge up damaged machinery to make progress. We couldn't wait to put this new toy to use, and after trekking through more of the ruins of Arkham City (including a high-ceilinged, conveniently gargoyle-filled chamber that just happened to be guarded by thugs--a great opportunity to revisit the classic Arkham Asylum stealth gameplay of silently grappling up to the gargoyles before using a spectacular diving kick to take down our foes, one by one), we found a very important use for this new toy.
Up ahead lay a heavy machinery site with a powerful electromagnet. To make progress, we had to use the REC to positively attract a dangling steel girder and then negatively repel it so that it would swing back and forth on its chain, eventually smashing through the wall of a second-story office to which Harley Quinn had escaped. After breaking open the bricks, we used our grappling gun to ascend, but we were quickly kicked out by Mr. Hammer, a huge, one-armed thug wearing clown makeup and wielding an enormous sledgehammer. We were forced to defend ourselves against this new threat and a small group of other thugs, but it turned out that Mr. Hammer was able to easily brush off our early attacks. However, zapping him with the REC caused him to briefly lose control of his own body and spin around in crazy circles--knocking down other thugs with his sledgehammer. Once we figured out his weakness, we made short work of our foes and again ascended to the office to apprehend the Joker, once and for all.
We were met by a strangely shaken Harley, who accused us of ultimately being to blame for what had happened. And a moment later, we came to realize what had happened as an in-game cutscene played, showing the Joker's motionless body slumped in a chair, connected to an intravenous drip that had apparently failed to save him, because according to Batman's detective vision, the Joker's body was lifeless. The clown prince of crime had apparently died. But the Joker has always somehow avoided death, and Batman himself vowed years ago to never take a life--so how could this have come to pass? Rocksteady and Warner Bros. Interactive remained tight-lipped about how this had happened or what it means for the story, but it's clear that many, many changes are afoot for Batman in his next adventure. Given that Arkham City has even more bone-crunching fistfights, high-tech gadgets, and crazy plot twists, we can't wait to play the game. Fortunately, it'll be here soon--next month, in fact, on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.