Batman: Arkham City preview: Bats in the Big City

Batman: Arkham City loses the confines of its predecessor's island asylum for the more expansive slums of Gotham City. Arkham warden Quincy Sharp has been elected mayor and has requisitioned the city's downtrodden district as "Arkham City," the new holding area for all of the crazies and dangerous types from Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison, with Hugo Strange appointed as overseer. This prison city has been sealed tight by a heavily guarded perimeter, keeping all of that danger festering inside.

In addition to the unchecked crime produced by a population composed entirely of criminals, Batman also has to deal with Two-Face, who's captured Catwoman and plans to publicly execute her within Arkham City.

At a Microsoft press event this week, a reprentative from developer Rocksteady offered us our first guided demo of the city and some of Batman's enhanced gadgets, including the revamped Detective Mode.

As Batman watches silently from a rooftop above, the camera pans out to reveal a massive city under siegie. The wicked run rampant here, but they've got a big problem: Batman.

Leaping from the rooftop, Batman pulls wide his cape and shows off its new gliding ability. The feature is highly reminiscent of the cape power-up in Super Mario World: Diving down, Batman gains momentum and can pull back to gain altitude, gliding further. It looks like the way to navigate the now much larger, more open environment.

Batman homes in on some ruffians to rough up and combat is initiated. Bats certainly hasn't lost his touch in the 18 months that have transpired since the first game. The thugs are harrassing (a bit of an understatement) reporter Jack Ryder -- pre-Creeper transformation -- and, like the first game, the solution here is a symphony of punches and kicks. In one very cool maneuver, Batman grabs a thug from afar with his Batclaw, pulling him into the fray in a very "Get over here!" type of way. (Maybe some of that brutality in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe rubbed off on the Bats, eh?) Overall, his attacks seem far more merciless in the sequel.

Eventually, Batman makes his way inside of a church and comes face-to-face with Harley Quinn and four thugs, armed with machine guns. She charges Batman, who easily tosses her aside but, guns drawn, the thugs line Batman up in their sights and he deftly dodges danger through perfectly timed use of a smoke bomb. With his grappling hook, Batman leaps up into the rafters and surveys the situation. The thugs break off and start patrolling the area and Batman stalks them one-by-one, in brilliant predatory fashion.

Here the rep turns on the upgraded Detective Mode, which seems to have taken some cues from The Dark Knight -- it's part sonar, part x-ray. Two of the thugs grab hostages as bargaining chips, but the other two are alone and easy pickings. One of the more violent takedowns shows Batman punching through a confessional wall and pulling a thug through, knocking him out cold with one blow.

The demo ends shortly thereafter, leaving me to ponder a contradictory desire: Arkham City makes for a hopeless setting -- darker and less redeemable than the forgotten asylum -- yet invites me to keep exploring and stay in just a bit longer.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.