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Arkham City exposed: Batman's beautiful future

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

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The remainder are mopped up easily enough while the Riddler's little buddy, still conscious, fl aps about desperately looking for a place to run. We walk over like there's all the time in the world and lift him up by the throat. He spills the beans (though unfortunately not to a shout of "Swear to me!" as Kevin Conroy, the voice actor reprising the gaming role, is a less histrionic vigilante than Christian Bale).

Three locations of Riddler interest are marked on the minimap - it's a much slicker affair this time around, with the ability to set waypoints. The way these are shown is one of Arkham City's delights. Returning after setting a marker on the map, you scan the horizon and fi nd a Bat Signal beaming up into the clouds as a marker.

The interrogation of hoods, though not player-controlled, indicates a wider change in Arkham City. Asylum didn't do a flawless job with the investigative side of Batman, and the detective mode - which, as well as showing points of interest, gave a 3D wireframe overlay of locations showing all hostiles - felt a little bit more like cheating than sleuthing. In Arkham City the environments stay solid (rather than turning into outlines as in the original), while the enemies turn into the familiar X-ray skeletons and their weapons are highlighted: yellow for melee tools like bottles and bats, red for guns.

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Certain targets highlighted in the new detective mode - such as our informant - stay highlighted once it's switched off, making it much easier to track stuff without toggling. But where in Asylum detection was limited to following trails, here it's a greater part of the world. Each of the locations we're sent to has a Riddler Trophy that's easy to see but hard to get to - one is unlocked by standing on a floor panel, but as soon as you move its case snaps shut. It took us a full minute to remember we had a Batclaw for just such emergencies. In others we're guiding remote-controlled Batarangs through pipes and finding secret entrances - though not once, fans will be pleased to hear, do we have to rip a grating off a pipe.

After we find three Trophies, the Riddler gets in touch with the same sneering, condescending tone as always and, sure enough, a boast about where a hostage is being held. We go there to find a seemingly solid wall - but tapping X sees Batman check its solidity before bashing through with manly shoulders to find a door. Inside, it's a dingy hallway, and after your first few steps a projection of the Riddler appears. Mocking, laughing, high-pitched... we really hope we get our gauntlets on him soon.

After he's done you enter a huge room that's been converted into a deathtrap. An innocent is trussed up like a turkey and dangling above the electrified floor, while a gigantic set of blades spins around the room. Triggering switches turns off sections of the floor for ten to fifteen seconds, letting the Bat-homme run from safe spot to safe spot, but the timing always has to take into account those blades on the way. Tricky. Gradually traversing the giant puzzle, ducking under blades and sprinting at the right moments takes us to... another wall.

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Detective mode shows it's unsound. A quick covering of explosive bat-gel in a bat-shape and it bat-explodes. A remote-controlled Batarang loops over the uncovered fence and hits the final switch, opening a corridor to nothing that runs parallel to the main room. It offers little but a sheer drop onto another floor crackling with electricity. We don't know what to do. The hostage cries for help. What happens next, more than anything else, completely sold us on Arkham City.

Remember the line launcher? You could aim it at a wall, shoot a wire and have Batman glide along its length. In Arkham City you can re-launch while on the wire, as many times as you want - when doing so, the game moves into a slick slow-mo aiming mode and re-focuses as soon as you fire. Back in our corridor-to-nothing we do a line launch of faith. Turns out that halfway along there's a gap in the wall you can't see from the first launching point - triggering the aim, we just squeeze the reticule over the gap at the last second, and line-launch right back into the centre of the spinning blade room. Straight at the hostage.

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