Batman: Arkham City

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There's a lot of pressure riding on Batman: Arkham City. As the sequel to the best-received Batman game of all time, not only does the game have to be better, it has to be outstanding. Developer Rocksteady is working hard to make this sequel shine, and we’ve finally had a chance to make decisions for ourselves.

Compared to Arkham Asylum, which took place 80 percent indoors and 20 percent outdoors, Arkham City is the opposite, which makes sense considering the a cordoned off segment of Gotham has now been made into a livable city for criminals. City halls, churches, hotels and apartments are all sections of Gotham handed over to the criminally insane. As you'd expect, the city is in bad conditions, and at five times the size of Arkham Asylum, there's a lot to see and do in Arkham City.

For all intents and purposes, this is the open world Batman game people have been wanting for years. Batman can explore the whole city and fulfill side missions, such as saving guards and paramedics kidnapped by the criminals. Batman can also jump down, take out a group of thugs, and interrogate the group's leader to learn information about nearby missions or hidden collectibles.

Detective vision is better than ever. Batman can use the ability to find hidden Riddler trophies and riddles, gangs and their leaders, important locations and other special aspects. It seems like Rocksteady has worked hard to keep players from just playing the game with the detective vision enabled, as the world or Arkham City is both big and beautiful. Players will miss some great sights if they're constantly using the enhancement.

Batman has plenty of new abilities. With combat, he can perform new actions like unleashing a flurry of punches to knock the armor off armored enemies, stealing weapons from enemies to beat them with their own tools, and even performing plenty of new dive moves onto unsuspecting enemies below. Batman is a much more capable crime fighter this time around. His weapons have also been modified, including an even better bat claw that can boost him over buildings.

With regards to the story, it's all about the cat. Catwoman has been kidnapped by Two-Face, so Batman, hacking into Two-Face’s private voice channel, is able to discover where Catwoman is being held hostage. After sneaking into the nearby city hall, Batman makes short work of the villain's men. Catwoman, playing coy, takes out Two-Face. After a quick chat, in which some character names are muffled, the Joker attempts to shoot Catwoman.

This scene introduces more of the detective mechanics. After searching around the church and analyzing the bullet angle, Batman sees that the Joker was hiding out in the bell tower of a nearby church. Before heading over, we find that C-list villain Calendar Man is being held in the basement of the city hall. He’s crazy, muttering to himself about upcoming holidays. For us, he only talked at length about St. Patrick's Day, but if we were to play the game on the actual date, he’ll talk about the murders he committed. It’s an unimportant but neat little feature.

Finally arriving at the church, Batman runs into the redesigned Harley Quinn. She’s a little edgier this time around, but apparently not edgy enough to deal with Batman herself. Batman can escape anytime, but if you wait long enough, you can hear the thugs voice their distress. A lot of extra effort has been placed upon general character interaction to make the world feel even more alive. Batman easily deals with the four thugs and saves the civilians within the building.

Once Batman ascends to the steeple, he finds that the Joker had fired remotely and rigged the tower with explosives. In one final leap, Batman crashes through a window and speeds off, ending the demo.

Bar none, Batman: Arkham City was the most exciting new title at Microsoft’s February Showcase. Graphically the most impressive game of the night, with some of the biggest improvements shown off for a sequel, Arkham City has a very good chance of being one of the best games of 2011.

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Ben PerLee
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