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Batman: Arkham City: Leaving the Asylum proves a breath of fresh air

Hands-On: What an open-world means for Bats...

'What does it really mean to be Batman?' we ask ourselves while standing on a rooftop overlooking the streets of Arkham City.

The scope of the stunning Gotham skyline overpowers us and for a few moments we let our mind wander to our experiences with Rocksteady's stellar opener.

Arkham Asylum is often touted as the best superhero game ever, but the towering metropolis that is Gotham City coupled with the sprawling, menacing streets of its newly created Arkham district puts the first game into perspective. Turns out, Arkham Asylum wasn't a very faithful representation of Batman.

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Don't get us wrong we loved the game but, when you really think about it, it was a bit too clinical and contrived. Whether it was systematically picking off goons in rooms designed to give Batman an unfair advantage or amateurishly following around scents and trails like a trained police hound, in retrospect it all looks a bit uncharacteristic of the Dark Knight.

In terms of execution, it exhibited more of the Adam West era TV show (minus the cheese) than the unnervingly dark qualities of the Paul Dini produced animated show or the cerebral story-telling of Scott Snyder's run on Detective Comics. But, with an ambitious new setting, Batman: Arkham City looks to change that and do the legendary detective some real justice.

GATES OF GOTHAM

Arkham City takes place a year after the events of 'Asylum. Quincy Sharp, the former warden of Gotham's infamous loony bin, has worked his way up the power ladder and now serves as the mayor of Gotham City. After decreeing that the asylum was no longer fit to contain the Batman rogues gallery and their numerous henchmen, Sharp cordoned of a section of the city and allowed the inmates to spill over into the streets.

Mere moments into our gameplay session and we begin to understand the implications of what this new open environment means for Batman. The caped crusader leaps off the rooftop, gliding a few moments before taking an unexpected nose dive that sends him hurtling towards the streets. Bat-soup looks certain until we pitch up, level out and use the momentum to soar for a few blocks.

The sheer amount of space players have been given to explore makes Batman's new found mobility essential to getting around, but more than that it speaks to the shift in characterisation that the open-world setting allows.

In the first game Batman was always ushered into crime-fighting and then left to get the job done. Sure he looked and sounded like a complete bad ass the whole time, but the way scenarios conveniently cropped up around him dulled the sense of heroism.

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Thanks to the size of Arkham City and the fact that Batman is no longer contained within the walls of one building, the focus of activity is now taken away from him somewhat. Criminals get up to no good regardless of the Dark Knight. This means it falls to the player to respond to missions as they arise and juggle efforts to handle them.

This is nothing new, in fact it's the equivalent of driving to a mission in Grand Theft Auto, but it means something entirely different when you're Batman. The act of 'getting somewhere when you're needed' is a very important part of watching, reading, playing and being The Caped Crusader. The moments are made all the more exhilarating by those cool Arkham City gliding mechanics.

BIRDS OF PREY

Although the main objective is to save Catwoman, who it seems has landed herself in a spot of bother with Two-Face, we can't help but stop and admire the city below us. The mixture of blindingly bright neon signs and long, dirty alleys carpeted in invitingly thick layers of shadow give it the seedy quality that are the hallmarks of all good crime-ridden cesspits.

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