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Batman: Arkham City - Can Rocksteady top Arkham Asylum?

The Dark Knight learns a few new tricks

Expectations are high for Arkham City. No, we'll rephrase that: expectations are astronomical. While other big game franchises such as Call Of Duty and FIFA are known quantities, the recently rejuvenated Batman name still has the potential to surprise.

The original, Arkham Asylum, shattered expectations by nailing the sensation of being the Dark Knight - but it was the level of detail and fan-pleasing touches that really piled on the praise from both players and critics.

And that's precisely why the sequel is carrying such a weight of expectation - everyone wants to be blown away all over again.

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The most obvious headline grabber is that Arkham City itself is five times the size of the asylum.

Bigger isn't necessarily better, but Rocksteady are aware of this, pledging to keep the game as detailed as ever, while using the freedom of a larger playing area to add variety to the action.

Arkham City itself was born from the mind of asylum warden Quincy Sharp, who secured some of the poorest areas of Gotham and put a wall round them to contain the inmates spilling out of the over-crowded asylum.

Within it, the criminals are free to rule themselves away from the streets of the law-abiding city. Anyone else see any problems here?

Batman does. He's been patrolling Arkham City solo, keeping an eye on his enemies, and that's how he gets involved in the events of this sequel.

Speaking exclusively to PSM3, game director Sefton Hill notes: "We don't want to define Batman: Arkham City as either an open-world game or a linear story experience.

While the backbone of the game is still the strong main narrative, there will also be many character-driven sub-plots to reward gamers who explore the city streets." Much like the asylum, then, it's an open yet focused world.

LISTEN AND LEARN
However, the approach to Arkham City's design and its increased size has definitely influenced the gameplay.

Thugs, assigned in themed gangs to specific villains, patrol their own sections of the city. Batman can scan these goons and cross reference them in his criminal database, learning more about them and opening up side-missions that players can tackle at their own pace.

These additional objectives will yield variety and provide insight into the series' lore - something that will delight fans, but won't muddle the main story arcs.

One example from the first demo showed the Dark Knight eavesdropping on a group who are on the phone with serial killer Victor Zsasz. Their conversation gives him clues that start up a side-quest, which he can pursue later.

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In a similar way, the Riddler Challenges have changed too. Although there will still be some straightforward clues, Batman will also gain information by capturing and grilling specific members of the Riddler's gang.

They appear in a different colour in Detective Vision, so you know not to get too rough with them in combat - if an informant is out cold, he can't reveal his secrets.

Restraint in combat, though, won't be easy. This sequel gives you roughly double the options in combat, with significant upgrades like two-person counters and the ability to chain gadgets into combos, already revealed.

You can deploy smoke bombs to make large groups more manageable, or finish tougher thugs off in style by back-flipping out of the fray and deploying a quick squirt of explosive gel.

Mastering these new moves will help you overcome the harsher odds - Rocksteady have already shown off freeflow combat sections featuring around 40 enemies trying to get the better of one Batman.

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