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Arkham City 360 promises to take players even deeper into the world of Batman with a storyline involving even more of Gotham's heroes and villains than Arkham Asylum.
Rocksteady, developers of Arkham City, were a very late addition to the Eurogamer Expo's line-up of Developer Sessions this September, but nevertheless managed to pull together a presentation showing off plenty of interesting new details about the much-anticipated sequel to Arkham Asylum.
Presented by an extremely lively community manager from Rocksteady, the session opened with the game's introductory sequence, which puts the player in the role of Catwoman as she breaks into a building. One of Arkham Asylum's great victories was that it gave the player a real sense of being Batman, of having his agility and physical strength.
The short sequence of Catwoman fighting a horde of Two Face's goons suggests that they've got her equally right: Catwoman is faster than Batman, lighter and more nimble as she flip and high-kicks her way around the screen as she takes out her enemies. The sequence ends with Catwoman breaking into a safe, only to be captured by Two Face.
Rocksteady are being understandably cagey about the plot of Arkham City, beyond Batman's initial motivation of wanting to rescue Catwoman. It is possible to work out some of the source material they've looked at to develop their story and vision of Gotham City, and it's all excellent stuff.
The idea of a walled off district of Gotham becoming the lawless Arkham City seems to borrow from the 18 month long No Man's Land arc in the Batman comics, which saw Gotham abandoned and quarantined by the US government. That story saw the territory behind the barricades divided between various villains acting as overlords, and a gang war for territory - one in which Batman intervenes, cleaning up the city one street at a time.
If Arkham City follows a similar pattern, we could be looking at a similar system to that seen in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, where districts are gradually reclaimed from the enemy.
That's all speculation, of course, albeit an enticing thought. After the Catwoman sequence we were shown Batman exploring the city, and the great freedom of movement he has to glide high above the streets. It looks much more open than Arkham Asylum's rigidly divided areas, and it's good to see Batman has all the gadgets from the end of the earlier game at his disposal from the first scene of the sequel, rather than needing to rebuild his arsenal.
Rocksteady are being understandably cagey about the plot of Arkham City.
One of the most enjoyable, and infuriating, subplots from the first game was the Riddler's riddles, and these have been expanded upon for the sequel. There are 400 riddler trophies of varying difficulty to be found, with the riddles varying from simple puzzles solved by quick-thinking and nifty Batarang work, to huge challenge rooms full of deathtraps from which hostages need to be rescued.
What becomes clear watching a Rocksteady playtester working through all this is that Arkham City is a big game, living up to the second word of its title.
We were next shown a cutscene, with certain words bleeped out, in which Batman confronts the Penguin, and another influence begins to emerge. The Penguin as seen in Arkham City isn't the traditional version spotted in posters and Oracle's files in Arkham Asylum, but instead something closer to an imaginative stab as to how director Christopher Nolan might remould the character for the current series of movies.
Fitting with the more realistic, harder-edged tone of Nolan's films, this Penguin is a grotesque cockney gangster, and his monocle is a broken bottle bottom embedded in his eye socket. It's a horrible image, and shows that Rocksteady aren't afraid to go very dark with the source material.
The rest of the demonstration was given over to combat, both in-game and in the return of the very popular challenge modes. The action looks as robust and fun as ever, with an increasing array of gadgets and bone-crunching finishing moves at Batman's disposal.
Rocksteady aren't afraid to go very dark with the source material.
As with the earlier game, counter attacks and chained attacks are the order of the day if you want to score highly, and there should be plenty of cursing from players who keep breaking their combos with an unfortunate slip of the thumb. Suffice to say combat was one of the best parts of Arkham Asylum, and it doesn't look like Rocksteady have done anything to ruin it here.
Seeing Arkham City in action only whetted my appetite for this game further. It's predecessor was excellent, and the sequel looks like it might be even better, really putting the player into the cowl of Batman as he gets out of the Asylum and back into his element, the city streets and rooftops of Gotham. There's an involving story being hinted at here, and intelligent reinterpretations of favourite characters and locations from the many previous versions of Batman.
There's not long to wait now to see whether the finished game lives up to these sky-high expectations: Arkham City is released on 360 and PS3 on 21 October 2011, with a PC version to follow in November.
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