Previews

Arkham City exposed: Batman's beautiful future

A mammoth hands-on with the eagerly anticipated sequel...

Every boy wants to be Batman. We have that in common - a period where the world is seen through the eyes of a cowled vigilante, visiting imaginary justice on cowardly and superstitious fools, whether they be a neighbour's dog or the neighbourhood bully.

Batman fears no man. Arkham Asylum bettered every superhero game before it because it captured that childhood dream: it made you feel as if you were Batman.

Arkham Asylum had the kind of (deservedly) huge sales that made Arkham City an inevitability. And AC has something the first game didn't: expectation. Before our hands-on, we thought the sequel was playing it too safe - everything looked nicer, sure, but would we just be playing through another Arkham Asylum? Our world exclusive hands-on has given us the best answer to that.

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No more build up: this makes the original look like a test run. Arkham City's headline feature so far has been the size of Arkham City itself - a walled-off area of Gotham ostensibly run by Quincy Sharp, who's now the mayor after taking credit for your Joker-biffing in Arkham Asylum. This is five times the size of the first game. But you can't see that immediately. Instead, you notice how much taller everything is.

The section we play begins with Batman atop a roof. We walk forward and perch on the precipice. It's a dizzying drop to street level. The city stretches out, its battered tenements and grubby neon signs ('Live Nudes!') pockmarked with incident - a police helicopter here, a Riddler sign there, a group of thugs beating someone to pulp on a corner. Innocents being attacked? Not in my town.

You tap X, and Batman jumps. Then - new to Arkham City - you pull the shoulder button and he dives, streamlining his body into a torpedo, the vertigo and speed of the plunge a guaranteed adrenaline high. Release the trigger and he pulls up, cape billowing out. Batman pulls up into the air in a perfect glide. We could do this all day, and very nearly do... the alternating momentum of diving and gliding is irresistible. Here's a bet: Arkham City will have a trophy for getting across the game world without landing, and everyone will try to get it.

Back to business. Nearing those thugs, a quick tap on RB pulls Batman to a roof above the beating. The re-jigged detective mode identifies one of the hoods as a Riddler henchman, and if he's still conscious when everyone else is down it's interrogation time. They don't know we're here. We pick a soft body to land on and the thugs notice at the last second, far, far too late. It's a perfect night.

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This is a hunter's night. Batman crashes down into the group, instantly knocking out one thug with a beefy new chokeslam. The rest scatter, before collecting themselves for a go at the Dark Knight. As they move in with their first tentative swings, the combat clicks into a familiar gear - biff, pow, parry. As in the original, you're either attacking, dodging or timing the counter button to dominate numerous enemies, delivering a haymaker one second before catching an incoming blow and returning it with interest.

At this stage - these are some of the first fights in the game - it's the same deal as Arkham Asylum, though the presence of a potential informant means you have to be careful about where your most powerful blows are aimed. An uninterrupted fl ow of moves brings a tiny swoosh of bats on-screen, indicating there's a takedown move ready for one unfortunate victim: hitting triangle and X, Batman barrels into a hapless criminal with a takedown and, as he rises, unceremoniously breaks the man's shinbone.

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