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E3 2011 Must-See: Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of 2009’s finer offerings. Reuniting most of the key talents from Batman: The Animated Series and basing its Joker-driven tale around a fluid, timing-sensitive system of combat, Asylum finally brought back some pride to the Batman videogame catalogue. LEGO Batman aside, there hadn’t really been a decent game starring the Caped Crusader since the 8-bit era; and while that wasn’t a crime on a par with both of your parents being shot and killed outside a theatre, it was still pretty sad.

As a result Batman: Arkham City has a lot to live up to, and the pressure is on developers Rocksteady to somehow top their previous release.

They’ve made some smart moves so far. Paul Dini (writer and producer for Batman: The Animated Series) is returning, as are the vast majority of the cast from the first game. The only exception to this is Arleen Sorkin, who’ll be replaced by Tara Strong as the voice of Harley Quinn. There’ll also be some new faces, with Hugo Strange, Two-Face and Catwoman all confirmed to be joining the rogue’s gallery. In fact, it’s recently been revealed that Catwoman will even be a playable character for certain portions of the game, which perhaps ties in to previously-disclosed plot details about Two-Face wanting to hunt her down.

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Of course bigger doesn’t always mean better, and Rocksteady will have to be careful to avoid the notorious swell of sequel bloat. In terms of how the title will differ mechanically or in style from Batman: Arkham Asylum, it so far seems as if the developers are keen to tweak rather than re-invent.

The combat system, for example, sounds as if it will remain largely the same. According to reports, Batman will now be able to counter two attacks at once (suggesting that enemies will no longer politely wait their turn to swing at him) and has added a smoke bomb to his arsenal. An ‘interrogation’ aspect has been added too, with Riddler clues now being gathered from actual living targets, rather than hidden trophies. This means Batman will have to keep his eye on the potential informant during a fight and make sure to keep him conscious until he’s able to extract some info. Having to leave a single target untouched for the majority of a fight seems potentially fiddly, especially given how easy it is for Batman to leap across half the screen and punch someone in the neck during the free-flow attacks, so we’ll have to wait and see how Rocksteady have dealt with this.

Batman: Arkham City’s boldest change may be to open up the world little more. We already know that side-quests have been added to the sequel, indicating that Batman will be encouraged to explore his surroundings to an even greater extent than he did in the original game. However open it gets, Arkham City is unlikely to reach ‘sandbox’ levels of total freedom, so people probably shouldn’t expect that. My own feeling is that the central narrative quest will remain linear, but that Batman will have more optional things to do in the various city ‘zones’ and perhaps more freedom to pursue things in an order he sees fit.

That’s just speculation on my part though, based on what I’ve seen and read about the game so far. E3 will reveal more concrete Arkham City details, which is why it’s worth keeping your eyes on the night sky for when a Bat-shaped logo appears over the LA Convention Center.

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