Batman: Arkham City preview


Batman can't fly, but Arkham City's Batman comes pretty damn close. Consigned to the Asylum in Rocksteady's previous Batgame, Mr Wayne had his wings clipped: he was only able to use his fibreglass cloak to glide short distances before applying boot to face. Now, thanks to Arkham City's wideopen streets and the introduction of a grapple rope, he can traverse the town without ever putting bat-boot to floor.

There looks to be a lot more finesse to Batman's air-control this time around, thanks to the 'full momentum gliding system'. Point him to the ground, and he'll tuck his arms in, like a violence-obsessed, psychologically damaged man-bullet.

The neighbourhood known as Arkham City is a recent creation: the product of lunatics quite literally taking over the asylum. Newly chosen mayor of Gotham, Quincy Sharp, used to be warden of Arkham Asylum itself. Presumably elected on a platform of 'deranged maniacs on the streets for some, miniature American flags for others', he implemented an inadvisable project to open Arkham and expand it into a rundown part of the city. That space is now filled with the worst kind of scum and villainy, and gives the Batmens we'll be controlling a sizeable chunk of open world in which to swoosh around. As well as the chance to stand on a rooftop for hours with your cape whistling in the wind, the city will be home to questgivers: people outside of the main arc that hand out side-missions and extend the game's lifespan to a projected 25 hours. Whether these missions will be extended and multi-stage, or simple “mentally traumatise ten burglars” filler is yet to be uncovered, but I'd expect a mixture of both. Quincy himself has stepped back from running the city, preferring the aptly named Dr Hugo Strange to organise the criminal masses.

The demo we saw at E3 showed the consequences of this action: Hugo had set up a medical centre in a disused church, allowing all of the block's most dangerous types to come in off the street and get some vaseline for their dry lips, or whatever it is hardened criminals get at the doctors. Strange isn't living alone: he let all of Batman's thoroughbred supervillain stable into his nightmare town, and their districts are touched by their own specific weirdness: buildings in Two-Face's stomping ground are half-corrupted and covered in oozing goo. Let's hope buildings in the Penguin's heartland are half-covered in Danny Devitos.

Bar the addition of an open city, Batman's mechanics haven't changed too much. Game director Sefton Hill has promised an increased verticality to the game, and has also confirmed that Rocksteady have doubled the capability of all of Batterman's gadgets, skills, and punchy powers. The line launcher, for mid-shot, letting players adjust their trajectory mid-yank, or climb on top of their fired rope like a dainty circus performer. Also increased is the number of enemies the game can show on screen. Now 30-odd goons will show up, all queuing up for their chance for a pummelling. The combat system remains similar – left and right mouse buttons to string together timing-based combos and reversals – but footage of Batman in action shows a range of special flourishes and finishers with names designed for shouting as you pull them off. “BATCLAW SLAM, YOU CRIMINAL IDIOT!”, and so forth.

But some of Wayne's moves have been toned down a touch. Detective mode – FlyingMammalMan's magic ability to see through walls, look into human skeletons, and follow 'smell' particles – has been nerfed, as too many players spent all of the previous game using it. This time around this mode gives a still useful laser-sharp X-ray view of Batman's focus, but the world in his peripheral vision is muddy and indistinct. It's still eminently useful in picking up clues, but rather less handy in a full-on rumble.

Now the criminal cast has been widened and let spill into a city, it's only fair Batman gets a friend to help him. Robin's only an option in challenge maps, thanks to heinous pre-order bonuses, but of more interest is the ultra-slinky Selina Kyle – Catwoman to the gawpers on the street. She's entirely playable – comprising about “10 percent” of the game, according to Sefton Hill – and her arc revolves around her predilection for nicking anything not tied down. Hugo Strange managed to confiscate a vast number of illegal guns, knives, and supermega deathrays from his new tenants in the city, and Kyle's keen to take them for her own – until Two-Face steps in. Catwoman's story intertwines with his, and you'll be able to use her skills – similar to Batman's in combat, albeit with a sense of grace that the bulkier Bats lacks – to escape, and potentially join up with the chaste Mr Wayne to enjoy some smouldering sexual tension.