Of all the comic books, movies and tie-ins that featured at Comic-Con International in San Diego, the one I was unquestionably the most excited about was Batman: Arkham City. The upcoming sequel to 2009's Arkham Asylum video game drops the Dark Knight into a massive urban environment transformed into a city-sized prison for super-villains. While some big news came from a panel presentation that revealed a major role for Talia al-Ghul, it wasn't the only opportunity I had to learn a little more about the game.

Thanks to Rocksteady Studios and DC Comics, I was given the opportunity to check out a demo featuring Two-Face, Catwoman and a genuine buzzsaw-bladed deathtrap courtesy of the Riddler that took everything I knew from Arkham Asylum and made it bigger. Check out the video below!

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The most obvious change from Arkham City's predecessor is that it puts Batman into a far more open environment. Arkham Asylum was, by its very nature, an extremely claustrophobic game, full of dark, twisting corridors and ventilation systems for Batman to crawl through. While those elements are by no means gone, the addition of a giant sandbox to goof around in on your quest to end crime adds a whole new element of adventure. On the streets of Arkham City, using the grappling hook and gliding with your cape seem to become your primary way of moving around, and while the system's bound to draw a lot of comparisons to the similar mechanics in games like Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, the ability to grapple up to a rooftop, glide a trouble spot and come crashing down on a thug from ten stories up is very authentic to what fans have seen from Batman in the comics and movies.

There's also a really nice touch to how you move to different objectives in the city. As you navigate the environment, different side-quests open up in addition to the main storyline, and since you have access to the entire map right from the start, you're allowed to set your own destination. But rather than the standard glowing marker or arrow, Arkham City shows you where to go by shining the Bat-Signal in the sky from the direction in which you're needed. That's pretty awesome.

In the time I was able to spend playing through the demo, there were two different objectives to follow. The first involved the Riddler trophies that'll be familiar with anyone who played through Arkham Asylum. In the new game, however, collecting them and following the trail to the Riddler actually has an effect on the game: Get enough trophies and you get the chance to free one of the Riddler's hostages from a classic deathtrap. In the case of the demo, this involved using both a remote control Batarang (sure to delight fans of Batman Returns) and the new mechanic of being able to change directions in mid-air with your line-launcher (complete with ninja flips) to save someone from being killed by two of the most classic super-villain weapons of choice: giant saw blades and electrified floors.

The lead-up to this scenario also involved a cameo appearance by Jack Ryder (better known to comic book fans by his alter-ego, The Creeper) that introduced another mechanic: A thug that could be used as an informant. They glow green so they're easy to spot, and while they can be attacked and countered just like any other enemy, the idea here is to save them for last, taking out all of their enemies before grabbing them and intimidating them into giving up the information you need.

I really liked that the Arkham Asylum developers found a way to include the Riddler in an action game in a way that allowed him to be shown as a purely mental challenge, but this seems like a nice advancement of that in that it adds more of the action-platforming gameplay that you actually want, with a puzzle element that fits the character -- especially with how frustrating it can be. And best of all, while it didn't show up in the demo, the fine people at Rocksteady assured me that you will be able to punch the Riddler in the face by the end of the game.

The other mission was tied into the main plot and was far more heavy on the combat, showcasing how they'd refined the system for the sequel. The core system is almost entirely unchanged from what was used in Arkham Asylum, there's the same basic attack options and the same ability to just completely wreck eight or ten guys at once as long as they're not armed with machine guns, and as someone who loved that stuff in Arkham Asylum, that was just fine with me. What's changed is that there's more of it. Everything's been stepped up: twice as many animations for counters, new kinds of takedowns and the ability to execute those takedowns on multiple enemies at once. My favorite tweak came from the ability to use your grappling hook during combat. You could do this in Arkham Asylum to pull enemies closer to you, but it never really seemed like there was much of a point to it. Here, though, you can pull them into a hellacious clothesline that I can promise right now I will never get tired of doing in this game. There's also a nice touch added that when you come across one of the walls that you used to have to use explosives to break through, Batman can just smash it down with his bare hands to get at a thug on the other side, a move ripped straight from the pages of The Dark Knight Returns.

There's also a pretty great moment where Batman drops down into a crowd of about 30 thugs -- with a brutal aerial attack, naturally -- and half of them just cold run away. Because why wouldn't they? This is Batman they're dealing with!

There are also tweaks made to the "Detective Mode" system that allow for more interesting ways to investigate crime scenes. But beyond just what was in the demo, developer Dax Ginn told me about other mechanics that are going to be cropping up. Calendar Man, for instance, has somehow made it into Arkham City, despite easily being one of the least likely characters that could work in an action game. But he serves as an (appropriately named) Easter egg; if you visit him on different holidays, you get additional pieces of information relating to crimes he committed on those days. This may just be something done to add flavor to the game, but it's a pretty clever way of including a character from the Batman mythos that I would've never expected.

Unfortunately, I don't think there were any plans to include the KGBeast in a similar capacity. And believe me, I asked.


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