Batman: Arkham City
PS3 - Xbox 360 - PC - Wii U (Soon)
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive
Release Date: October 18th, 2011
- Combat is as fluid, and satisfying as ever
- Open world gives new freedom to the game
- Sharp visuals and animation
- Loads of side content worth investing time to explore
- Voice cast that amplifies the story
- Characters like Robin and Catwoman are stuck as DLC
- Slew of gadgets can become cumbersome
Superhero games have always led to disappointment in the past, with the main issue being the inability to capture what makes the comic book heroes so great. Batman: Arkham Asylum changed all of that, when Rocksteady Studios took the license and completely changed the game. Blending together everything that makes Batman the hero that he is, Askham Asylum came as a huge surprise to the gaming community when its incredibly satisfying gameplay and story combined to make an unforgettable experience. After being teased over and over with stills and thirty second trailers, the next installment is finally here. Batman: Arkham City perfects the previous formula, creating an incredible experience that is a love letter to fans and gamers alike.
City of Confinement
Arkham Asylum's darker take on the Batman license is alive and well, and that much is obvious from the first five minutes of the game. Bruce Wayne is kidnapped and thrown into Arkham City, an enclosed prison of miscreants and criminals. Donning his cowl and arming himself, Batman must dig into the heart of the city to uncover the truth behind its purpose. It is a story of intrigue, and one that holds your attention throughout. Sure the game depicts the struggle with your usual cast of Batman bad guys, but the heavy toll of handling all the anarchy is much more apparent compared to the calm, collective hero we saw in the previous game. It's a much darker, more interesting story this time around.
The second you grapple to a rooftop and fly around the city skies the change from the original game becomes obvious. Gone are the confining hallways, and in its place stand towering skyscrapers, shimmering bays, and open skies. It has the same effect that an open world Spider-Man game possesses in giving freedom to simply zoom around the city. The detailed textures of the world and characters alike are a joy to behold. Subtle features such as Batman's cape physics and the looming bat signal guiding you to your next objective make the game veritable eye candy.
The return of classic Batman villains with their respective voice talent are a welcome treat. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are incredible in their performances as usual, and further supported by Troy Baker (Two-Face), Grey DeLisle (Catwoman), and Nolan North (The Penguin). Even the soundtrack exemplifies the early Batman films from the Tim Burton era. The game is a true love letter for any fan of Batman media; be it the films or the comic books, there is something here to tug at your nerdy heartstrings.
Much like the previous installment, the game shuffles between exploration, combat, and stealth. The healthy balance keeps things interesting, and just when you think you have the hang of things a new gadget or enemy is thrown in to keep the game from becoming stale.
Combat remains the fast-paced one-button brawler that makes even the simplest move evolve into a fury of fists. Split-second decision making about which gadget to use, when to counter, and how to react are easy to pick up and difficult to master. Fighting twenty foes at one time can be intimidating, but as the freeflow combat has you dispose of each with a few taps of the controller you begin to realize what makes Arkham City so great. Simplicity evolves into a satisfying reward, as anyone can look and feel like Batman with a simple tap of the X button.
With faster and more intimidating baddies, comes new gadgets and moves to quell the masses. Freeze bombs, batarangs, and explosive gels are incorporated from exploration into combat with button shortcuts. Mixing the variety of these into your combat boosts your damage and experience reward to level up. However, twice the gadgets and moves also means twice the thought process on what to use next. There are times the combat can be overwhelming with so many odds and gadgets at your disposal, you tend to forget the shortcuts or leave some moves unused. For the most part it is an improved and enjoyable experience.
The stealth gameplay has also been fine-tuned. Still giving the feeling of being a predator instead of prey, you pick armed thugs off one by one as you hop to different vantage points. Enemies are much more equipped this time around with thermal visors, proximity mines, and jammers on your detective vision. This makes the stealth much more interesting, and keeps you from repeating the same strategy of hopping to a vantage point and taking your time.
Off the Beaten Path
Arkham City does one thing few other games have the capacity to do; make side content worth your time. The generic recycled side mission is instead a side campaign all its own. Missions will vary from simple brawls, to puzzles, to detective work of tracking down an enemy. Each yield a unique and enjoyable reward, mostly being the chance to view more of the cast of villains that make their debut in this game or returning characters.
The high point yet again lies with The Riddler trophies, now featuring over 400 different collectibles or objectives. You will stumble upon these trophies continuously through the campaign, and it is hard not to stray from the path to figure out a way to retrieve them. What makes these collectibles so great is that the majority of them are not simply lying hidden behind a corner, but baited in front of you, beckoning for you to figure them out. Coupled with the ability to interrogate certain enemies to gain locations of all the collectibles, it is one of the best times I have had scouring for hidden items.
A Worthy Challenge
When you finish the campaign, there are a slew of additional modes that will keep you busy. Besides the side content, you can start a New Game+ mode. This makes the baddies much more difficult, stealth missions more challenging, and removes the notifications on when an enemy attacks. Though you keep all items and upgrades, it is still a tough fight to the end and a great way to get a second play through in.
Upgrading Batman comes easy and naturally. With each room or brawl completion you are rewarded experience to upgrade as you see fit. You will be able to increase damage you can take, unlock new gadgets, and even upgrade existing moves. Experience is plentiful and you will find yourself upgrading rather quickly.
The reappearance of the challenge rooms further encourages you to subject yourself to more brawling and stealth. The significant difference are the inclusion of medals, where you soon become set on trying to get all three medals for each event. It adds replay value, but could have been a bit more varied. Tack on the fact that you must collect riddler trophies to unlock most of them, and the mode feels like it didn't get the attention it deserved.
Acting as launch DLC for new owners, the addition of Catwoman as a playable character is also available. Complete with four side missions that tie into the main game, the switch of characters acts as a nice reprieve. Catwoman's acrobatic style of fighting and travel are quite different from Batman. With Robin DLC slated for future releases, it leaves the question on why such characters are reserved for DLC when they add so much to the story and world.
Arkham City is not only an improvement on the first installment, but a great use of a license. It is hard to capture the feeling of being a classic comic book superhero, but as you dive bomb down to enemies or silently take out two guards at once you see that Rocksteady has gathered what was necessary to make you feel like Batman. It is an experience not soon forgotten, and not only one of the best Batman games to be released, but one of the best games to be released this year.