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Batman: Arkham City Review

Batman: Arkham City
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC
Released: October 18, 2011
Price: $59.99 – Available Here

If you had to name a Halloween costume that nearly anyone has worn at some time in their life, Batman would probably be a correct answer nine times out of ten. Nearly everyone has once thought about being the Caped Crusader at least one time in their lives, but recently Rocksteady has made it easier than ever to act as if we were the big Bat himself.

Two years ago Rocksteady and Warner Brothers released Batman: Arkham Asylum which was not only a success in sales, but a title that could easily claim the title as best Batman game of all time. Now the problem with making such an amazing title, is making a sequel that would be even better than the original title. The team has taken two years to create such their sequel, named Batman: Arkham City. Does the new Batman stand up to the original and take the title of best Batman title from its predecessor? Let’s find out.

After the events that occurred in Arkham Asylum, obviously the prison facility had to be shutdown. However through a strange course of events, every criminal, thug, homicidal maniac and lunatic has been moved right into the heart of Gotham City. No they haven’t let them loose per say, rather they have created perhaps one of the most interesting ideas in their incarceration. They have created something called Arkham City, a large section of the city that has been surrounded with gigantic walls and military grade weaponry. Then they simply let everyone run rampant.

If this doesn’t sound like a bad idea already, the person in charge of Arkham City is Hugo Strange, a villain in the Batman universe. Though while he may be in charge, the true rulers of Arkham City are the in-mates as The Joker’s, Penguin’s and Two-Face’s crews all prepare for a bloody war on the streets of the decrepit city. To make matters worse, a certain rich man named Bruce Wayne has been mysteriously arrested and thrown in with the rest of the criminals.

Not only is it quickly revealed that Strange knows about Batman’s true identity, he goes on to explain that Protocol 10 will soon go into effect. Not only does Batman have to find out what is truly going on inside of this city created by a Villain, but survive amongst hundreds of thugs and the worst criminal masterminds he has ever had to deal with.

With a history as long as Batman’s there is quite literally a ton of content that can be drawn upon to create the world we experience in Arkham City. There is a plethora of characters from the Batman Universe, some we’ve seen before in past games and some that are brand new in this game, but memorable from the comics and animated cartoons. Fortunately for you, I will not spoil these surprising inclusions to the story, as it is certainly an interesting aspect to wonder what villain may show up in the next mission or even as a side mission.

At the same time however some of these characters feel like they are rushed out the door a little too quickly. There are a few well thought out side missions which are not only diverse enough to keep the player interested, but also explore enough about certain character’s motivations to create an engrossing experience. On the other hand there are a number of characters who simply show up for only a few minutes only to be dismissed rather quickly and never seen again.

The main storyline of Batman: Arkham City will run around eight or so hours to beat if you are extremely eager to see the ending, however that doesn’t even touch upon the vast amount of optional content that litters the streets of Arkham City. It should go as no surprise to anyone that Riddler has returned, and the vastness of Arkham City has allowed him to take his twisted game to a whole new level. The city is absolutely littered with hundreds of Riddler trophies meant to be found by Batman, riddles to be solved and certain feats to be performed. All of this culminates occasionally in the need to rescue a hostage being held by Riddler in a deathtrap of cruel design.

Now although she is more of bonus content for purchasing Batman: Arkham City new, Catwoman deserves a mention for her own storyline as well. Catwoman is given four story specific levels to be played in, and they are interlaced with Batman’s own storyline with her missions springing up at certain spots in the game. While her storyline isn’t anything amazing on its own, it is interesting to see the other side of events and it certainly justifies a new purchase of the title.

As a whole, Batman’s story may feel a tad bit rushed through a few characters, but that is only a very small blemish on what Arkham City is as a whole. Batman fans have asked for an engrossing experience and Arkham City delivers that in spades. Even non-fans will find an amazing story within the walls of Arkham City and find themselves searching through every alleyway for trophies and side quests in an effort to extract every drop of play that the title has to offer.

If there is one that can be said about Arkham City, is that it certainly doesn’t look like a nice place to live. The city is in complete disrepair and the occupents of the city have never looked more grim and eager to fulfill their own criminal plans. The city feels like a breathing entity all on its own, as thugs patrol the streets and later the rooftops, helicopters patrol the skies and snow fall, appearing on Batman’s cape.

Arkham City also keeps with Arkham Asylum with the way that Batman’s outfit happens to get damaged over time. There is something to be said about seeing battle damage appear after every major battle in the series and you see Batman growing increasingly hurt as the story moves on. The character designs themselves are absolutely amazing and any Batman fan will be able to easily recognize nearly every villain they see in a moment’s glance. Even the various thug’s for different villains have unique outfits to label them as either Penguin, Two-Face, Joker or non-affiliated men.

In Arkham City it is all about the atmosphere and you will find it extremely difficult to not become immersed in the experience provided within the game. As you venture around the city your cowl will pick up on idle chatter between thugs through local survelliance which helps let you know various things that are occurring around Arkham City ahead of time or even provide a hint as to where to go next.

That is nothing to say about how Strange’s or Joker’s broadcasts through the streets constantly make it feel like Batman is truly a man on his own. To make things even better, the voice work for the title is absolutely amazing and Kevin Conroy has done a great job providing the voice of Batman. Plus, though the combat sounds may seem a little exaggerated at times, the sound effects certainly help add to the rhythmic feeling to Batman’s combat system.

Now being the sequel to Arkham Asylum, it is inevitable to make some comparisons between the two games. However there is one aspect which completely blows the first game out of the water, and that is the fact that Arkham City literally takes place in an open city. The open world aspect of Arkham City is perhaps the biggest improvement to the series as the free roaming aspect that it provides adds an amazing amount of playability to the title. Players occasionally enter various buildings and navigate inside of structures but much of their time will be spent outside gliding through city streets and running across rooftops.

This would all have been for naught if the navigation controls weren’t as top notch as they are here. Players can easily navigate through the city by controlling Batman in a revamped glidign system that allows the player to dive down and pick up speed before swooping back up and traveling a further distance. That doesn’t even cover the use of the grappling hook which easily provides access to any rooftop or ledge nearby during a glide or when running along. There is an issue with the aiming of the grappling hook however when you use the one touch grapple system here, as the system will sometimes pick up a random ledge rather than the one you want.

Now besides the grappling hook and being able to glide with the help of his cape (though I’d love to know how it still works with as many holes as it obtains), Batman has access to more gadgets than ever before. Nearly all of his old gadgets return from Arkham City including explosive gel, remote controlled batarangs and the line launcher, but a number of new ones also provide new ways to explore and fight. This includes a freeze grenade, electric shooting gun and even a gun jammer.

All of these gadgets then flow freely into Batman’s combat system which has not only been transferred flawlessly from Arkham City, but also improved upon. The combat system is very fluid and you will often be able to string together attack combos of 30x against the vast amount of enemies you will be fighting against. While some may see Batman’s combat as a bit simple as all you need to do to win most fights is pummel everyone into the ground with one button, later enemies are introduced which require a few special moves to take down, such as stunning them or jumping over their heads first. That being said there is an immense amount of enjoyment to be derived from fighting the numerous, and respawning, thugs of Arkham as you counter their attacks, take them down with flourishing attacks and just brutalize them by using Batman’s gadgets midfight through a few extra button taps.

Now while fighting and brawling is always a fun way to take out enemies, there is also the stealth aspect of things as well. As in the past game, gunfire is extremely deadly to go up against and there are many areas inside of buildings where you will be able to stealthily take out a number of armed enemies through any means necessary. This means you can of course, try and take them on in a big brawl, but most likely end up full of holes. Players can batclaw up to gargoyles or various other ledges to get the drop on unsuspecting thugs, hide in floor grates or even crawl through vents to stalk your enemies and picking them off one at a time.

Besides the main game there is also the return of the Challenge Map where players will fight waves of enemies to obtain a certain amount of points and unlock Riddler medals for reaching a certain amount. There are also a number of Catwoman challenge modes as well, though these are only obtainable through buying the game new or purchasing a pass.

Now Catwoman herself plays quite differently from Batman, as not only does she use completely different fighting moves, but she also doesn’t sport the same gadgets to get around as the Big Bat does. Catwoman is much more difficult to navigate Arkham City with, because unlike Batman she cannot glide through the city and she only has a minimal range on her whip, which is a replacement for the batclaw, which means she will usually have to climb up a building through a series of timed button presses. Plus she can climb upside down on certain ceilings which is interesting at the very least. That being said, her fighting style is quite enjoyable to see and she does provide a nice little break in the constant attacks you will be seeing as you play as Batman. She only has a few gadgets at her disposal however so don’t expect each fight to be as varied as Batman’s could be.

If you finish the main game and don’t feel like trying out the challenge modes at all, then you can always enter into the New Game Plus mode. New Game Plus is harder right off the bat, as it takes away counter icons and provides tougher enemies earlier on in the game than you would normally see them. This isn’t too much of a problem however, as players are able to take over all of Batman’s upgrades and Riddler data into New Game Plus, allowing players to continue the search for things they haven’t found yet.

Now I did experience a few issues with freezing in my playthrough of Batman: Arkham City. Upon meeting a certain villain underneath the city the camera panned to the side and would not return to its normal position, requiring a reload of checkpoint to fix. There was also a number of times that the game would freeze right when it was started from the Xbox Dashboard which hopefully will be fixed soon.

While some may have said it couldn’t be done, Rocksteady has indeed surpassed their previous creation and created an even more superb Batman experience. Batman: Arkham City, at least at its core, is very similar to Arkham Asylum but everything has seen a major upgrade from the past game. Arkham City is quite large in size and there is more than ever to do in the streets overrun with criminals. With more villains than you could possibly shake a stick at, the story often takes unexpected twists and even after you finish it off the main storyline it draws you back in to experience it’s greatness one more time.

I give Batman: Arkham City

Travis Bruno
Travis Bruno
After playing games since a young age and getting into anime a bit later on its been time to write about a little bit of everything.