Review: Batman: Arkham City

Review: Batman: Arkham City

A sequel should always improve upon its predecessor. It should take the established formula that worked so well, add a few new bells and whistles and create a game that is ultimately better that the first game in a series. Batman: Arkham City does not just do this – instead it takes the original Batman: Arkham Asylum, ramps it up about ten notches, adds a huge amount of stellar gameplay, storylines, more super-villains that you can possibly hope for and delivers simply the very best gaming experience I’ve played in years. Arkham City, in short, is utterly breath-taking.

Resuming the story established in Arkham Asylum, Batman finds himself within his ultimate nightmare: a sprawling, fenced-off area of Gotham City filled with criminal scum named Arkham City. Even more worryingly, there are rumours of strange experiments, mistreatment and a general sense of anarchism going on within the walls of the new Arkham City. Batman knows that Arkham City is a ticking timebomb waiting to explode and as such keeps a vigilant watch over the city, finally entering the prison complex in order to restore order to the mass of chaos.

Batman Arkham City

Arkham Asylum? It’s Got Nothing.

From the very start, Arkham City shines with an incredible level of polish.  It is impossible not to be impressed with the incredible amount of detail Rocksteady has poured into every aspect of this game; I was wowed repeatedly by the Arkham City complex itself, which feels like every single part of it has something new to discover at every single turn. Combine this with the absolutely incredible voice acting present in this game, the excellent facial animations and some truly brutal-looking fighting moves and you’ve got the recipe for a slice of gaming perfection. I even enjoyed the fact that when flying through snowy air, Batman gets snow on his cape. It’s these little touches that Rocksteady uses with such flair that really make this game shine and will leave you struggling to put the controller down.

It feels almost as if Arkham Asylum was merely a testing ground for Rocksteady. For the sequel they have taken everything everyone loved about the first game and improved upon it so dramatically that Arkham City feels like a totally different beast altogether, while somehow still retaining what made the first game so brilliant to play. Honestly it is a refreshing breath of air to see a game developer pour so much love into a sequel – too often in modern gaming are we treated to the same game in an annualized fashion with not a lot different, and to see Rocksteady put so much effort into crafting one of the finest sequels in history really makes you thankful as a gamer.

I could honestly talk for hours about how fantastic this game is, but I’m sure you want to know exactly how it plays. Arkham City is very similar to Asylum in terms of gameplay – you’ll still be free-flow fighting criminals, grapnel-gunning up buildings and general kicking some backside as only Batman can.  Since this is a sequel though, Rocksteady has again upped its game significantly and given Batman gliding mechanics that give an almost Spiderman 2-esque level of freedom, new and exciting combo moves and gadgets, better detective vision, new gameplay mechanics and an absolutely huge amount of things to do. Not once in the masses of hours I’ve poured into this title have I become slightly bored – being Batman is awesome at every turn.

Batman Arkham City

The combat system which we all grew to love in Arkham Asylum has been built-upon as well, offering an excellent array of new moves and brutal beat-downs that make fighting criminals better than ever before. You’ll still be countering and punching use two specific buttons but Arkham City’s free-flow fighting includes better use of gadgets including electrical charge launchers and explosive gel, multiple-enemy takedowns at once, new moves including the ability to attack with a swarm of bats and it also throws better, more aggressive enemy AI into the mix while also increasing the number of enemies Batman fights at once. At first it can be very challenging, but once you’ve learned the ins and outs of the combo-system (which fans of the first game will pick up in no time) you’ll absolutely love smashing the faces and kneecaps of Gotham’s underworld. There’s just something oh-so-satisfying about the slow-motion camera that appears every time you finish off the last enemy in a pack.

In addition to his combat manoeuvres, Batman also brings his stealth mechanics with him once more, this time honed to perfection since his exploits in the Asylum.  You may remember these vividly from the first game – the sense of enjoyment as you picked off enemies one by one using stealth, causing them to panic as you messed with their minds was extremely enjoyable. Well, Rocksteady’s done it again for the sequel as, while building on the original stealth mechanics and including new moves such as knockout smashes and freezing enemies solid, they’ve also made the stealth sections more intelligent, requiring the player to use new manoeuvres in order to dispatch the enemies around them. For example, you may remember that Arkham Asylum had a tendency to give Batman handily placed gargoyles to perch on, waiting for his prey. Arkham City, meanwhile, takes Batman out of his elevated comfort zone quite often and challenges him to find new and more intelligent ways to dispatch of his foes who try to counteract your antics by using heartbeat monitors, thermal imaging, sniper scopes and even mines. It can be tricky to employ the right strategy at times, but once you get it right, it is absolutely brilliant to pick off a room of enemies one by one.

The gliding mechanics of Arkham City are what truly opens it up and helps you to explore.  At the game’s beginning after becoming suited and booted as Batman you have access to almost the entire city bar a few locations and, after completing some basic gliding training exercises, you’ll then get access to the grapnel boost, which is one of the best gadgets ever. Now you may remember that in Arkham Asylum, Batman could occasionally grapple upwards to a ledge or a gargoyle. Not in Arkham City; instead Batman can grapple onto almost any surface, employ his grapple boost in mid-grapple and then rocket off into the sky, cape unfurled, effectively flying across the scum-infested streets of Arkham City.

Batman Arkham City

You’ll absolutely love exploring the city, which feels like a truly desolate place filled with suffering, pain and criminality. It’s also full to bursting with things to do; in addition to the main storyline, Arkham City is full of interior areas, side-missions, a ridiculous amount of Riddler trophies to find/riddles to solve and will ultimately have you searching every nook and cranny in the pursuit of discovering every single secret possible.

This level of freedom opens up the game much more than Arkham Asylum did, but it doesn’t detract from the story any, as there are constantly interweaving story moments cropping in Arkham City which involve an absolutely staggering amount of Batman villains. In addition to those who have already been announced such as Mr Freeze, Riddler, Joker etc, Arkham City is filled with villains that pop up often extremely unexpectedly. I won’t spoilt who they are, but rest assured each and every criminal present will interact with Batman in some way, shape or form ranging from the deadly traps and puzzles of the Riddler all the way up to Two-Face holding Catwoman hostage above a bath of acid.

While you may argue that filling the game with too many super-villains would surely detract from the overall storyline, using a massive amount of villains makes sure that the storyline is multi-layered, unpredictable and always has some mysterious villain skulking in the shadows who is pulling the strings. I found myself routinely becoming engrossed in the storyline as something unexpected happened once more, only helped along by the absolutely stellar voice acting that each character has. Seriously, every single person who has voiced these characters seems to fit their role perfectly – it was almost as if Rocksteady literally brought the fictitious characters to life and they sound, somehow, exactly how they should.  A special mention must of course go to Mark Hamill, who once again voices The Joker to absolute perfection.

Batman Arkham City

The Riddler also plays a much bigger role this time around – he’s actually present in Arkham City and is determined to outdo Batman once and for all. In order to beat him, Batman will have to collect over 400 Riddler trophies, rescue hostages from a wide variety of SAW-esque traps and solve a mass of Riddles along the way that involve scanning the environment and also breaking codes on an ‘Enigma Machine’.  The sheer amount of these secrets means you’ll never get bored and that finding every single one will take you some time, as well as require you to routinely use your brain and your full arsenal of gadgets in order to solve some of the most perplexing riddles. You’ll also want to collect them as acquiring the Riddler’s secrets unlocks a whole load of new content ranging from challenge maps to 3D trophy models, while also throwing a highly generous amount of sexy-looking concept into the mix for those art-loves out there.

To put you into perspective of just how long and varied this game is, I’m currently at around 20 hours plus of gameplay and, having completed the main story arc, I’m not even 50% through the game. There’s literally that many side missions and secrets to find, they make up around half of this game. Now that’s impressive right? The campaign itself took me most of those 20 hours as well, so I’ll probably of grown a sizeable and impressive beard by the time I finally find everything this game has to offer.

I haven’t even touched upon the other aspects this game offers yet though once you’re finished. Yes, in addition to a massive game campaign/secret searching, Rocksteady has also included a mass of challenge maps which incorporate leaderboards and also custom modifiers, meaning you can challenge yourself as you see fit. These vary in difficulty and there’s 12 ‘Predator’ and ‘Combat’ maps for Batman which will strain you to your limits in pursuit of the best possible score.

Ah, but I am yet to talk about the feline presence that stalks the rooftops of Arkham City also. Yes, as you may have heard, Selina Kyle herself – that’s Catwoman, if you didn’t know – is fully playable within Arkham City and she’s a very different character to Batman. Employing her own gadgets, speedier moveset, unique climbing abilities, sexy outfit and unique storyline missions, Catwoman’s sections are spaced out uniformly throughout the game and never interrupt the flow of things.

Personally I immensely enjoyed the different approach playing as Catwoman offered – while it was all well and good to wield Batman’s burly strength and grapple gun, using Catwoman’s parkour abilities and her highly fluid combat motions were a true joy to use. She can also do a lot of things Batman can’t, such as clambering along ceilings using her claws before dropping on unsuspecting victims. In addition, Catwoman is also playable at any point after the climax of the main story and, due to the fact she has unique, Catwoman only red-Riddler trophies, you’re going to have to use her in order to nab all the secrets. She’s also got similar challenge maps to Batman, which means technically you’ve got 24 challenge maps to play once you’ve finished the main game. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a generous amount of content right there.

Finally there’s also New Game Plus, which ramps up the difficulty significantly, but allows Batman to keep everything he acquired the first time around including any gadgets and moves that you have bought using the experience system. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind anyone who plays this game will jump straight into another playthrough – it’s just too fun not to.

The Bat-Conclusion

As a reviewer, it is hard generally, to label a game as perfect. I’ve often found myself skirting around giving a perfect 10 to a game because there’s always something at the last second that detracts some minor points from the overall score. In comparison, I, despite looking for a negative all the way through the entire game, can find absolutely no reason whatsoever to deprive this absolutely fantastic game of the highly deserving 10/10 score it deserves.  Batman: Arkham City is perfect.

Score: 10/10

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