Previews

Batman: Arkham City - Challenge Mode hands-on

Forget bringing evil to justice - let's talk fisticuffs

With names like Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, Two Face, and The Penguin on the table, we were beginning to worry that Arkham City might have started to run out of surprises. Shaking his head with a knowing grin that we'd have loved to mine for further secrets, Rocksteady's Dax Ginn assures us that the Dark Knight still has plenty stuffed up his cape.

With only a month to go before we get our hands on a box, we're kept on an understandably tight leash whilst swooping around Arkham City as part of the game's final preview session - repeating the encounters already covered in our E3 preview. Spending on Gotham's rooftops does little to suppress our dangerous desire to play around with the options, but we are at least able to get a feel for what the flying feels like once you've mastered the controls. In the past we might have quietly grumbled about the lack of vehicles, but we now realise that the Batmobile would only slow us down.

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These airborne aspects really sprang to life when we saw the game demoed on a 3D TV, a fact we're still slightly surprised about. We're not usually massive spokespeople for the merits of 3D gaming, but if you've already got a fancy TV knocking around then by all means toggle the extra dimension, because Arkham City looks flipping fantastic.

After nipping through the streets of the main single player game, we dip into a more meaty bit of hands-on with Arkham City's Challenge Mode: an instant access man-punching/super-stealthing simulation that calmly handles our raging desire for Xbox Live leaderboards. We dip into one of the game's bread-and-butter fighting challenges, choosing to play as Batman rather than Catwoman on account of the fact that we're not a bunch of giant wilting pansies.

We've fiddled around with Arkham Asylum's combat system for long enough to make the first few waves of goons an absolute doddle - and it's here that we're able to mess with some of the fresher tricks. Being able to use most of your tools aggressively during fights is certainly an amusing addition, but it's the multi-counter ability that really floats our boat: spot the blue lightning icon above an enemy's head and you can tap Y for a takedown, but with more foes attacking as one, you can now counter up to three enemies simultaneously by tapping Y the correct number of times. If you've been playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution over the past few weeks, you'll be aware of just how satisfying it is to smash two skulls together.

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In the surprisingly tough final wave of the challenge map we're playing, Arkham's deceptively simple fighting system begins to show its teeth. Chairs and barrels are flung at us from every angle, and almost everyone seems to have a knife. It's time to learn some new moves, fast.

In the first game, dangerous attacks like these could be countered like any other. Not so in Arkham City. Holding Y and pushing back on the control stick is the only way to deal with knife attacks, Batman skilfully dodging away from each swipe until it's safe to leap in with a counter attack. Carefully alternating between this new context-sensitive dodging and the game's classic counter should keep veterans on their toes, especially when you're also trying to deal with some of the new armoured foes.

Geared up with a chest full of steel plate, these fellahs easily shrug off normal attacks, and need to be stunned with a swing of your cape before you can cause them any meaningful damage. Once they're dazed, you can take them down in an escalating flurry of well-placed punches. With plenty of other baddies trying to stab you in the back, this isn't as easy as it sounds.

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