Batman: Arkham City - finally, an actual gameplay preview

We had our doubts about Batman: Arkham City. Would it live up to our 2009 Game of the Year? Could it possibly maintain what was so great about Arkham Asylum while making the transition into the genre of the open world game? What about the relatively short development time? Could they possibly make a game as fleshed out and polished in just about a year and a half? As it turns out, yes. Yes they can.

While we didn't manage to get our greedy little hands on the World's Greatest Detective's controls, our preview involved watching about 20 minutes of full-on gameplay. This time around, Bats won't be working his way around the confining corridors of his previous baddie-stomping romp, he'll be gliding around the skies of what is now formerly Gotham, part of which has been transformed into an Escape from New York-style prison city. Of course, shoving that many ruffians into one, cloistered-off area is a terrible idea. Especially when supervillains like Two-Face, Catwoman, and The Joker are involved.

Our demo started with Batman looking for Two-Face, who has been holding Catwoman hostage with plans of killing her in a grand gesture of power in the hopes that he will gain influence amongst the city's inmates. In true Harvey Dent fashion, he's got his feline enemy strung up in a courtroom above a pit of acid and is setting about flipping his trademark coin in order to decide her fate. Surrounded by his henchmen, many of whom have taken it upon themselves to grab whatever machetes, lead pipes, or guns they could get their hands on, Two-Face seemed pretty well protected from bat-attacks. Of course, this is The Dark Knight that we're dealing with. After turning on the returning Detective Mode to spot and take out the hidden gunman above the scene, he jumped right into the middle of the mob, causing most of them to flee. The rest were taken out the old fashioned way.

And then Two-Face shot Batman. Don't worry, this doesn't end with Batman dead in a ditch or anything. He only got knocked down and stunned for a bit, thanks to his bulletproof suit. It's just an example of how up-close and personal Rocksteady Studios are letting him get to his nemeses. No more of the small Joker appearances before shuffling off to do whatever he does; in Arkham City, Batman will be going hand-to-hand with a lot of his more elusive villains. In a later scene, Harley Quinn charged the B-man, only to be tossed to the side like the marionette she resembles. It's all to give the game a much more gritty and real feel, which we applaud in a world where superheroes tend to fall into the slightly more childish realm.

This new sense of characters being up close and personal extends beyond just Batman beating on his various enemies. Each of the various villains is vying for power and influence over the rabble of the city, and Two-Face and Catwoman are no different. They're willing to do whatever damage they need in order to get the power they want to control the few city blocks that Gotham has afforded them. In this case, Two-Face seemed to have the one-up on Catwoman. That is, until she freed herself from her hanging position and proceeded to help Batman string up Mr. Dent. What followed was a typical interaction between Bat and Cat, with the former remaining stoic against the advances of the latter. That is, until a sniper shot rang out, intended for the Caped Crusader.

This is where Detective Mode gets really cool. By examining the bullet's entry point through a window and where it landed on the floor, Batman was able to deduce that it came directly from the tower of a church a few blocks away. Of course, this means it was time to go check that place out and see who fired the bullet.

But first, Batman had to get there. His ability to glide has been improved in order to explore the more open environments that Gotham has to offer. Instead of only being able to float slowly downwards from a high vantage point, he can now fling himself up into the air using his grappling hook, catch updrafts to fly higher, and use his momentum to carry himself much further than he could in Arkham Asylum. It looks like a super fun way to travel around the city.

But why would Bats fly around under his own power when he can grab onto the bottom of a surveillance helicopter and take it for a ride like he did in our demo? This let us check out the full power of the newly upgraded Detective Mode, showing us not only where enemies were hiding, but entrances to various sewers, people in distress that we could go help out if we had the time (we didn't), and even some curious clues left by the Riddler. It's a lot to think about.

Taylor Cocke is a Los Angeles-based writer and producer who spends too much time watching numbers go up in MMOs and ARPGs. You name it, he's written and/or produced for them, which is shocking considering the aforementioned MMO playing.