[Review] Batman: Arkham City
Superhero games have generally stunk until developer Rocksteady put their foot into the Batman franchise and created the amazing Arkham Asylum. The game combined elements from the Dark Knight’s history and coupled it with a game that played fantastic. Two years have passed since that game blew everyone’s mind. What does Rocksteady do? Blow your mind again with Batman: Arkham City.
Yes, this review is nearly two weeks later than the release date. But the reason why is because of the sheer time invested in the game. The nine hour campaign was an awesome experience, but to truly value Arkham City, you have to dig into all of the side missions, Riddler trophies and challenge maps to get the potatoes to go with your steak. I have now spent nearly 30hrs playing Arkham City and am comfortable enough to say that it’s going to be difficult to pry that “Game of the Year” trophy it currently has in its clutches.
Batman: Arkham City picks up a few months after the events that took place in the Asylum. The asylum warden Quincy Sharp has become mayor and has transported all of the asylum and Blackgate Prison inmates to a designated area in Gotham that has now been dubbed as Arkham City. Dr. Hugo Strange oversees the chaos and Batman dives in headfirst to see what’s going on. As expected, it’s utter chaos in those villain filled streets. But the happenings taking place beneath the surface provide one of the more compelling video game stories this year.
Joker is dying, Hugo Strange knows your identity and Batman must delicately deal with the circumstances while coming into contact with virtually a who’s who of villains. Just about everyone from the Batman universe makes an appearance in the game. Although some villains play a larger role in the story than others. Some might complain that there are too many of Batman’s enemies rushed into the game but because you don’t necessarily battle them all, there’s always an opportunity to see them in later installments. It just feels good to see Two Face and Bane in the same game with totally different motives. The story is pushed along by the excellent voice acting of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill respectively reprising their roles as Batman and The Joker. You’ll appreciate just about every interaction you witness between the two as their chemistry is arguably the finest you’ll see and hear in a video game. Everything makes sense, feels like something from a Batman comic book and is worth checking out for the sheer novelty of it. Traveling off the beaten path will result in coming into contact with a multitude of other characters. Robin pops up during one sequence mid-game that is appreciated. Although its brief, it makes sense.
But none of this matters if the game doesn’t play well. Put it like this, Arkham City will be instantly familiar to those who played Arkham Asylum but with just enough new maneuvers to challenge you. Fights are still a blast as you can now top off your combos with a number of “quickstrike” gadgets. The animations and variety of moves Batman pulls off is mind boggling. Traversing the larger Arkham City is fun to do, but even better to witness because of its sheer depth and scale. There are many places to visit and a multitude of buildings to enter. The city is much bigger than the asylum and exploring it all will take time. Not to mention the multiple side quests that will force you to check out most of the nooks and crannys of the sprawling city. Using your grappling hook and cape to move about feels natural and it doesn’t necessarily feel like a chore. Because the city is overran by baddies, you have the option to swoop in and engage in a 8-on-1 scrap or be a little bit more stealthy and pick them off one by one. Either way is satisfying and you aren’t really forced into a particular approach, even though Batman still isn’t good at eating bullets. Boss battles might be the only thing lacking in Arkham City as none will truly test you. It’s not like the Metal Gear or God of War boss battles that are epic meetings that require brains and brawn to get past. But to complain would be nitpicking and Batman is a remarkable game regardless.
Visually, the game is stunning. But that’s expected. Animations are smooth and each character looks awesome. Environments have a dark, seedy quality to them that makes you feel like your are in a city overran by goons. Sounds and voice acting are all top notch (although I would have liked to see some variety in the voice acting of the thugs) and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything aesthetically wrong with the game.
Once you get past the main campaign (and a pretty chilling finale where the Joker’s singing will likely burn a hole into your memory), you can either double back and look for the 400(!) Riddler trophies and complete the side quests or do it all again with the new Game Plus mode. Game Plus takes all of the training wheels off of the experience. There are no counter indicators, no Batcomputer clues and enemies come at you far more pissed off than before. It’s certainly a challenge that you’ll want to do again. Add that to the launch day DLC content featuring Catwoman, whose story is woven into the game and plays much like Batman but with just enough to set her apart, and you have a game that is a blast to experience.
Who knows if Rocksteady will get back to work on another Batman game or seek out another superhero to save from the pitfalls of video game adaptation failure, but this is a game you must play and spend time with. You’ll be doing yourself a serious disservice if you don’t. It’s that damn good.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5