The following article contains major spoilers for "Batman: Arkham City.
In just a little over two weeks, players everywhere will be able to experience "Batman: Arkham City," Rocksteady Studios' much improved sequel to the 2009 hit "Arkham Asylum." There's a lot more to experience this time around, including the challenging Riddler rooms, a daring rescue of the wily Catwoman and an interesting plot revolving around the mysterious Hugo Strange.
But that doesn't mean the Joker, Batman's main adversary from "Asylum," isn't up to his usual tricks. In our previous hands-on session with the game, we tracked the Clown Prince of Crime down from a fired sniper bullet to a church tower, only to find it full of goons and explosives. But that's merely the beginning of what fans can expect from the Joker's cruel practical jokes.
Following the events at the church tower, Batman is able to locate the Joker, using his Cryptographic Sequencer to lock in on a radio signal. Getting to his arch-enemy takes an interesting new approach, as "City" doesn't include a mini-map showing locations of current objectives. Instead, players have to rely on a good old-fashioned Bat Signal to point out their destination, giving you opportunity to explore the city as you get there.
Arriving at the Joker's location, Batman slowly work his way through the mill, eventually learning about Harley Quinn's latest escapade: she's nabbed one of Gotham's EMT's to help patch up Joker, who is in dire health following the conclusion of the events from "Asylum" where he transformed into a hideous. Bane-like beast. Finding himself in a large arena, where many of Joker's goons hang out, Batman is then introduced to a devastating new character -- a pumped-up, clown-faced goon named Mr. Hammer. This guy isn't afraid to swing his big sledgehammer at Batman's head, nor is he affected by his routine punches and kicks. Instead, the Dark Knight has to figure out another way around him.
After defeating the level's standard goons, and prior to facing off with Mr. Hammer, Batman must first engineer a new device that will prove useful during his trip into "Arkham City." It's called the Remote Electrical Charge, or REC. Similar to a stun gun, the gadget comes with various features that make it far better than your typical taser. Not only can Batman utilize it to temporarily stun enemies, but it can also be used on objects within the environment. Fire it at a pool of water, and it'll electrify the entire thing -- and whatever poor sap is standing in it. Hook it up to an elevator or an automatic door in need of turning on and you'll activate it with its temporary power charge.
Being able to use the REC in combat introduces one of "Batman: Arkham City's" greatest accomplishments -- being able to use gadgets in combat. You can still punch, kick and counter opponents in most cases, using a smooth transition system to take them down. However, this time around you can also use some of the Caped Crusader's "wonderful toys" to bring them down. This includes using a Batarang to knock villains to the ground, firing off a Freeze Grenade (from Mr. Freeze's tech closet) to immobilize them for several seconds, or, in this case, activating the REC to send Mr. Hammer into a swinging frenzy -- and wiping out several thugs in the process. This opens up the opportunity to stun the new behemoth with your cape and finish him off with a flurry of punches, leading to the conclusion of the latest game footage.
Following Mr. Hammer's takedown, Batman finds himself in a face-to-face situation with Harley Quinn. An EKG is playing a high-pitched, continuous beep in the background and Harley is actually in a weakened state, sobbing. As Batman pushes her aside to find out what's going on with the Joker, we discover Batman's maniacal arch-enemy lying there, with a monitor sitting next to him showing no kind of pulse -- along with the word "Deceased," which marks the conclusion of the demo.
This, of course, raises a lot of questions as to what to expect from "Arkham City's" storyline. The Joker has always been one for deadly pranks, and despite his weakened condition, he's bound to play some sort of pivotal role in the new game. Plus, from what we've seen in the recent Joker trailer there might just be more going on than Batman suspects.
Still, this latest demo introduced a lot of new aspects to the game -- the new objective locator, the REC, the use of weapons in combat, sub-bosses like Mr. Hammer -- that illustrate how Rocksteady's development team was committed to making it much more than just a basic continuation of "Batman: Arkham Asylum."
"Batman: Arkham City" hits stores October 18 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3