Arkham Asylum is a home for the 'criminally insane'. The prisoners there are the most dangerous people in the Batman universe. It makes Gotham's plan to let them loose in their own neighbourhood beyond dumb. But dumb ideas make for interesting games.
Arkham City expands everything that made 2009's third-person action game Arkham Asylum so much fun: five times more space for the criminals to settle into and for Batman to roam, more Batpunches in his repertoire, and a better class of criminal with Two-Face, Catwoman, the Riddler and Professor Hugo Strange joining the Joker and his team of jesters. And an expanded arsenal of gadgets and weapons expands the previous game's tally.
Arkham Asylum was hardly cramped, but now there's more vertical space to take advantage of. Taking cues from both the Assassin's Creed and Just Cause series, Bats will be able to climb on almost anything, using telephone wires to silently get around, topping buildings to get a view on the criminal scum below before leaping off like a leathery missile. He can even use his grappling hook to boost into the air and insta-glide.
The slick combo fighting system, which gave Batman the edge over multiple foes in the asylum, has been tweaked. Bats is now able to counter multiple attacks from all angles, and a perfectly timed attack has a chance to instantly take down a thug. More excitingly, there's a new beatdown mechanic, where you simply unload a flurry of blows into a single enemy, letting loose all that inner violence that the Caped Crusader keeps suppressed.
There's a greater focus on environmental violence: you can counter any tossed projectile, or turn Bruce into one, launching from walls to fly into enemies like a gimp rocket. He also has access to his gadgets in fights. Where previously he could only use his grapple and Batarang, the expanded use of his gadgets means he'll be able to spray his enemies with his wall-wrecking explosive gel. I predict that becoming my main tactic.
And then there's detective mode, little more than an interactive map in Arkham Asylum that gave you trails to follow. This time around, the forensic portions of the game will require proper sleuthing, more like the puzzles the Riddler left for Batman to solve in the mental hospital. In one instance, Batman has to work out where a sniper is hidden, back-tracing the bullet's trajectory. Your investigations will lead you to the side-missions that litter Gotham's streets.
With so much space to fill, Arkham City will be jammed things to do and riddles to puzzle over, and there's not a lot of competition for it on the horizon. It'll be 2011's premium prisoner puncher.