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Batman: Arkham City—First Impressions

The Batman universe ought to have been fertile video game ground for years now. It has everything: a righteous yet complicated hero, a solid cast of supporting characters, and probably the best villains of any comic universe. But Batman video games have tended to be forgettable disappointments.

That changed with Rocksteady studio's Batman: Arkham Asylum. Released in September 2009, Arkham Asylum blew the video gaming world away with its great story, tight yet layered game play, and its crisp, atmospheric visuals. Asylum put Batman in a sprawling, gritty and Gothic world worthy of him, and set him up against the usual villains in a way that was true to the comic books, yet grown-up, fresh and even real. Asylum got the details right from Batman's gadgetry to the rats and roaches infesting the creepy island sanitarium, and by staying away from the TV cartoons and both the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan movie versions of the franchise, created its own viable space in the Batman culture. Asylum won game of the year awards and was the first real runaway hit in Batman video gaming.

Rocksteady's Batman returned this week to an expectant gaming universe, in a huge new adventure called Batman: Arkham City. Its release has been the equivalent of a big movie opening; one Gamestop near me had an opening night party that included a screening of The Dark Knight, food and giveaways leading up to the midnight hour when discs could go home with gamers. The game's trailer promised to deliver a massive, open world with you at the center, as Batman. Sign. Me. Up.

As the title implies, in the second episode Batman is no longer confined to an island asylum in Gotham harbor. The mayor of they city has taken Gotham's villains, the thugs and the insane, walled off a chuck of downtown, and put them there in what amounts to a kind of free range madhouse. As you might imagine, both Bruce Wayne and Batman have a problem with this and decide to investigate. Dr. Hugo Strange presides over the insanity, and opens the game threatening to expose Batman's deepest secrets.

So there's your setting: Every major Batman villain lurking or ruling within some part of an ultraviolent, even sadistict, world, called Arkham City. This, as you might have guessed, isn't really a kid's game. The grit comes with some coarse language, so parents might want to keep that in mind when evaluating whether to buy the game. It comes with a teen rating for a reason.