Batman: Arkham City
After finally showing the world what can be done with a licensed title, in the form of Arkham Asylum, the pressure was on Rocksteady Studios to deliver once more. With the bar already set impossibly high, this could not have been an easy task. Instead of taking the easy route and just delivering more of the same, however, they went out of their way to make Arkham City worthy of the breathless anticipation that it generated.
Set a few months after the events of the first game, the slums in central Gotham have been cordoned off and turned into a super prison. All the asylum inmates and Blackgate prisoners have been dumped inside to fend for themselves. Overseeing the whole project is Dr. Hugo Strange who, through Tyger Security, a private military firm, ensures that no-one gets in or out. Strange knows the identity of Batman and abuses his power to throw Bruce Wayne into the prison. The situation looks bleak, but with Alfred and Oracle assisting him from the outside, Batman is determined to find out what is really going on.
The story for Arkham City was penned by Paul Dini, who is a veteran Batman comic writer and it reminded me a lot of the “No Man’s Land” arc that was popular in the comic books a few years back. Moving the action from the confines of the asylum to the open city streets is very exciting and immediately makes you feel more like the Caped Crusader out on patrol. While the city is large, don’t expect any Grand Theft Auto levels of open world freedom. Instead, the city serves more as a hub that links all the indoor locations together. Two-Face, Penguin, The Joker and a bunch of other foes have all staked out their claim in the city and there are quite a few wildcards running loose as well. This means that you can dip in and out of side missions as you please while following the overarching plot. The various villain hideouts also add some variety as they are styled to match the personality of the inhabitants.
The gameplay is still a mixture of stealth and combat, with Batman picking off foes from the shadows before wading in with flailing fists and feet to clear out the rest. You still only have one button for attacking and one for countering but the free-flow combat is as smooth as ever. Batman can now counter multiple enemies at the same time and your foes will also come at you in larger numbers. Batman will gain access to all the old gadgets as well as some new ones like the smoke pellets which can aid in escape or enable you to take on armed foes under cover. There are a lot more variety amongst enemies as well and it’s easy to see who the henchmen follow purely by looking at their attire. It’s not just bad guys that were thrown into Arkham either. Political prisoners, hostages, medical personnel and even undercover cops can also be encountered. As you swoop and glide around the city you’ll pick up chatter that can direct you to where you are needed most.
Since a lot of people played the first game almost exclusively with “Detective” vision on, thereby missing out on all the visual splendor, things have been changed somewhat. This mode is still useful to spot clues and enemies but not for navigation. This forces you to only activate it when absolutely necessary. You’ll make good use of it to track down a sharpshooter by following the path a bullet took on the way to its target or to analyze evidence found at crime scenes. The game features plenty of cameos by the likes of Deadshot and The Mad Hatter, which clearly demonstrates that it was created by fans that understand the value of the license.
Visually, the game looks good and once again makes use of the Unreal Engine 3 to power everything. The look and feel of the city is spot on and each scene looks like a comic book panel that has been brought to life. Batman is able to swoop and glide over the city like a large predator stalking its prey in the dark, snowy streets. You still can’t use any vehicles but traversing the city by zipline or gliding is quick enough. You’ll be visiting a lot of building interiors, like the museum, police station and wood mill during your quest as well as a mysterious underground section that reminded me a lot of Bioshock. Apart from some minor camera issues, the visuals are top notch throughout.
The first game used the authentic Batman voice actors to set the correct tone and Arkham City is no exception. Kevin Conroy returns as the voice of the Dark Knight, but it is Mark Hamill, as the Joker that once again steals the show. Harley Quinn has a new voice actress, but she does a good job and most people won’t even notice the difference. The ordinary street thugs are also very chatty and you’ll hear their conversations wherever you are in the city. It can sometimes become a little annoying to hear the same repeated sound clips for the umpteenth time, but overall the voices and sound effects are great. It goes without saying that the music is awesome as well and truly captures the Batman sound.
If you pick this game up on PC or get a new copy on console, you’ll find that it comes with a DLC code for Catwoman. She has her own set of story missions that run parallel to Batman and playing as her makes for a nice change of pace. Instead of gliding or zip lining all over the place, Catwoman uses her whip and razor sharp claws to traverse the city. While not as strong as Batman, she is very agile and can hold her own in a fight against the many groups of foes. She can also crawl upside down on certain ceilings, making her a very stealthy character. Her “Thief” vision enables her to spot enemies through walls and other obstructions and while she doesn’t have as much gadgets as Batman, she does have a few tricks up her sleeve.
The game offers a lot of value for money as it packs quite a bit of content. Finishing the main storyline shouldn’t take too long, but this is just a fraction of what is on offer. The Riddler trophies are back, but now actually require a bit of brainpower to collect instead of just smashing down walls. There are also special “Augmented Reality Training” missions to trigger which will allow you to get to grips with Batman’s gliding abilities. Then there’s the myriad of side missions involving Bane, Victor Zsaz and others I don’t want to name to prevent spoilers. A new Game+ mode also opens up after completion allowing you to really test your skills.
Rocksteady Studios have done the impossible and created a game that surpasses the already incredible original title. Whether they will be able to achieve this feat a third time remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, we can’t wait to find out.
*Review originally published in 2011.