Game Informer magazine subscribers already know all about Batman: Arkham City, but we wanted to give some love to our online-only readers as well. Read the entire cover story right here! Be sure to check out loads of additional screenshots right here while you're going through the story.

Diving into Darkness
Since the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum, warden Quincy Sharp has taken credit for Batman’s successful quelling of Joker’s uprising and used that momentum to win Gotham City’s mayoral election. The first of his broad-sweeping plans is to proclaim Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison unfit to house criminals. Sharp buys up a large swath of Gotham’s slums and walls it off, stocking the perimeter with highly trained armed mercenaries from an outfit named Tyger. All prisoners are transported to this new facility dubbed “Arkham City” approximately a year after the events at the asylum. They are given only one rule under threat of death: do not try to escape. No other policing takes place inside, leaving a mix of two-bit criminals and super villains to eke out an existence in this lawless, ruthless ecosystem.

Sharp brings in a mysterious psychiatrist named Hugo Strange to head the new Arkham. Hidden from the eyes of the public, Strange is rumored to be up to terrible things, but nothing can be proven. Anyone who investigates his past or Arkham itself seems to disappear, most likely within the walls of the prison city.

Only hardcore comic book fans will recognize the name of Arkham City’s new warden, Hugo Strange. This villain actually appeared in comics before the Joker, and has popped up intermittently throughout Batman history for the past 70 years. However, Rocksteady made it clear that this is the first time Batman has encountered Strange in the “Arkham-verse.” It’s impossible to know exactly what the developer has planned, but a character profile from the first game drops many enticing hints:

First gaining fame as a psychiatrist who declared that he’d fully analyzed the Dark Knight from afar, Professor Hugo Strange lent credence to his own claims by deducing Batman’s true identity as Bruce Wayne. However, his interest in the Batman turned into a deranged obsession, and he’s used his medical expertise to hatch a series of bizarre plots based around genetics and mind control in order to defeat the Batman and possibly take his place. Strange’s fragile mental state has left him with intermittent knowledge of Batman’s true identity, a fact that hangs over Bruce Wayne’s head – for if Strange ever snaps completely, Batman’s greatest secret might be revealed...

Attributes »Trained to physical perfection »Brilliant psychological analyst »Extensive knowledge of genetics »Obsessed with Batman and his secret identity »Plagued by schizophrenic episodes that leave him confused and dangerous.

Batman believes this is a ticking time bomb and has kept a watchful eye on Arkham City for months, looking for any excuse to break into the well-guarded prison. Recently admitted inmate Two-Face needs to gain respect and followers fast or risk being eaten alive by the other super villains on the inside. Both sides of his psyche agree that the best way to accomplish this is with a high-profile show of power: a public execution of Catwoman. Given their past, Batman has no choice but to enter this hellish domain to save her and uncover what’s really going on. With an all-new bag of tricks, he may just survive the night.

Following a Phenomenon
North London-based developer Rocksteady Studios is no stranger to staggering pressure. Despite the lofty expectations of millions of Batman devotees worldwide, this 70-plus person team proved that it’s possible to transform a seemingly cursed licensed game property into a masterpiece – and they made it look easy. The way the team naturally integrated Batman’s characters, combat, gadgets, and dark tone into a compelling gameplay formula made gamers wonder why no one had been able to do so before. This was all from a studio with only one game to its credit (2006’s Urban Chaos: Riot Response).

“I think there’s always pressure to make the best choice at any given moment,” says studio director Jamie Walker. “Obviously, we’re aware the fans want a great Batman game. I don’t think that’s any different from when we started the journey to where we are now.”

This time around, Rocksteady is excited to have a successful gameplay foundation to build upon rather than starting from scratch. But that doesn’t mean the studio is content to simply recycle the asylum environment and toss in a few new villains.

“We want to top everything that we did in the last game,” says Arkham City director Sefton Hill. “We didn’t want to do [an Arkham] 1.5. We want to make the same jump we made from nothing to Arkham. We want to make that same jump again for Arkham City – that same level of ambition.”[PageBreak]

A New Direction
Our live demo begins with Batman perched atop a building overlooking Gotham’s prison city as a light sprinkling of snow falls in the night. Roving gangs of inmates wreak havoc below. His communicator crackles to life.

“Where is she, Alfred?” Batman asks.
“Miss Kyle was last seen in the vicinity of the Solomon Wayne Courthouse,” replies his faithful butler.
“That’s where Two-Face has been setting up camp.”
“Let’s hope she is still in one piece when you find her. Mr. Dent’s fascination with the number two could prove fatal to Catwoman.”

Batman takes a flying leap off the ledge, dive-bombing head first toward the streets below at an alarming speed. At the last moment, he spreads his cape and swoops back up into the sky. Soaring smoothly through the night air, Batman spots the courthouse in the far distance. He fires his grappling gun to the nearest skyscraper and uses the pull from the retracting rope to slingshot himself higher.

It’s shocking to see the Batman we know from the mostly enclosed Arkham Asylum navigating open world city streets. After all, an overly broad, boring Gotham is exactly what the team wanted to avoid last time around. In the sequel, incorporating Gotham in an exciting way is the number one priority. “What we wanted to do was glide through the Gotham streets and fight crime, but we wanted to do it in a way that feels concentrated,” Hill says. “What we wanted to do in building Arkham City was to create a place with the same attention to detail that we built with Arkham Island – to create something where there’s a story around every corner. It’s not a big, empty, expansive world. We wanted something with a real richness to it. We’re trying to create the most detailed and rich city that has ever been realized in a video game.”


Crooked Court

Batman drifts to the courthouse rooftop and sneaks through a window. It’s immediately evident that Two-Face has made this place his own. Half of the interior is an immaculate, classic courtroom while the other side has been trashed and burned. Catwoman, bound in ropes, dangles upside down over a vat of acid while Two-Face paces back and forth flipping his famously marred silver dollar. A couple dozen inmates have come to see the show.

“The only way to get by in this place is to get ourselves some respect,” says Two-Face’s more sensible side, all that remains of former district attorney Harvey Dent. “Fear, that’s how we get respect. Show them all how we do things,” replies his twisted and disfigured side in a noticeably more sinister voice. “We should be fair, though. This is a place of justice after all. Screw justice. Kill her and they’ll all fear us. Bring out the defendant.”

“You certainly know how to keep a girl hanging, Harv.” Catwoman says. “Hey, have you had some work done?”
Two-Face strikes her across the face. “That’s for spying on us. No one spies on us,” he threatens.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been a bad kitty,” she teases. “Untie me and I’ll make it up to you.”
Let’s see if the coin thinks you’re telling the truth,” Two-Face snarls. “This court is now in session.”[PageBreak]

As the cutscene comes to a close, Batman scans the area with his blue-tinged detective vision and notices a single armed guard above his position. He grapples to a platform behind the enemy and, instead of automatically dangling from the ledge like before, Batman now has the option to instantly flip up into a roll that maintains his forward momentum. He pops out of the roll right behind the armed guard and initiates a chokehold. Like Gears of War’s reload mechanic, players can now hit the attack button again at just the right time to bring down enemies faster.

A wire stretches above the scene, and Batman creeps along it to get a better vantage point. He scans the inmates and finds one with a knife in need of disarming. With a simple button press, Batman attaches his grapple hook to the wire, jumps off, and goes into a swing kick that knocks the guy across the room like a golf ball. Batman lands in the middle of the audience. Several goons run away in terror, but plenty stick around for a beating.

Batman vaults over the closest one, casually spraying some explosive gel on his back in the process (all gadgets now play a key role in combat). Two enemies swing at him in quick succession and Batman palms both fists, crushing their hands until they’re left writhing on the floor. As he wails away on another foe, a new group fills in behind him. Batman summons a colony of bats to the scene to disorient and panic his attackers. Two-Face fires a pistol intermittently, forcing Batman to perform a series of gymnastic dodges. After the bats have moved on, Batman pulls out a detonator and hits the switch. The previously placed gel blasts several enemies. The last two inmates get desperate. One picks up a chair and chucks it at Batman. Just when it’s about to crack him in the head, Batman reaches up and catches it, instantly throwing it back. One left. Batman simply tosses him in the air and finishes him with a swift kick to the back that sends him flying into a wall. Of course, this finisher is presented in glorious slow motion.

“Because we felt that the system for [Arkham Asylum] was well-refined, we didn’t want to deconstruct that and pull it apart and make a completely different combat system. We wanted to build on it,” Hill says. New elements like multiple simultaneous counters, gadget incorporation, and projectile counters are all in service to the much larger crowds Batman will be fighting. “Basically, the idea was to balance it so I’m focusing on the guys who are nearest to me because they can hit me, but there might also be guys throwing things at me,” Hill explains. “There can be guys with guns at the back. So I have to manage the whole crowd rather than everyone funneling in front of me just waiting for me to hit them.”