Developer: Rocksteady Studios / Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Alcohol Reference, Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence]
Batman: Arkham Asylum came out of nowhere and took everyone by surprise with its fantastic story, amazing gameplay, and tonally perfect visuals. The sequel everyone has been waiting for has finally arrived, and brings with it significant expecations. Does it recapture the perfection of the first title? Time to find out.
Batman: Arkham City takes place one year after the events of Arkham Asylum. After Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Penitentiary were deemed unfit to house the criminals and insane inmates of Gotham, a portion of the city is sectioned off into a super prison a la Escape fromNew York and is run by Dr. Hugo Strange, who has his own devious plans for the city. Batman patrols the new section of the city and is campaigning to get it shut down, concerned it’s going to come apart at the seams housing all the super criminals ofGotham.
I’m really pleased with the way the story has been told in Arkham City. Upon first hearing that the game would take place in a sectioned-off area I was concerned about how this would work, but Paul Dini, the famed writer of the game who also is probably best known for introducing Harley Quinn in Batman: The Animated Series, has done a masterful job of making the entirety of Arkham City a believable, and more importantly, interesting place to explore. I’m not going to spoil the story, but believe me when I tell you that it is fantastic. Batman–one way or another–encounters a majority of the super-villains contained within the Batman universe, characters like Two-Face, the Penguin, the Riddler, and a lot of other villains that pleasantly surprised me in a believable and plausible way within the confines of the story.
The gameplay in Batman: Arkham City takes everything you loved from the first game and somehow manages to make it better. The game is much larger this time around, five times as big in fact, and is now, as the name states, out of the asylum and into the city. It’s an open world for you to explore with a ton of side missions to complete. The main story line kept me so busy at times I found it hard to focus on the side missions. The story creates such a sense of urgency it was hard to pull away. Detective mode has been revamped, and instead of being a crutch to navigate the entire game it’s used to plot out more effectively your stealthy attacks against enemies. The game also introduces a slew of gadgets for you to take your enemies down, whether that’s by plotting attacks with traps while in detective mode or using the quick attack variation of each of them while engaged in combat; all of the gadgets are extremely fun to use and are very effective within the game.
On the subject of combat, let me tell you, it is ridiculously satisfying. It’s easy to string together attacks while countering enemies, implementing gadget quick attacks, and employing finishing. Batman: Arkham City also provides the option to download and play as other characters. I used the code that comes with the game to play as Catwoman and I was totally flabbergasted to see that her portions of the experience were streamlined right into the main story. I went back and started a new game without the content and to my surprise, even though she disappeared completely from the game, the story didn’t feel like it was lacking anything. While it remains to be seen if the other downloadable characters will have this sort of integration, the Catwoman DLC was something that will definitely have me coming back for more. On top of all that the game has other challenge modes that will keep you entertained for a long time.
The visuals in Batman: Arkham City are flat out stunning. The team at Rocksteady has done a masterful job of creatingGothamCity. I can’t tell you how many times I just perched Batman up on a ledge to slowly turn the camera around to reveal the amazing city behind him. The character animations in the game are smooth, polished, and there are a large number of them to boot. The in-engine cut scenes in the game are all flawless. The small gripe I have with the visuals is something that was an annoyance from the first game as well: sometimes when you are completing your finishing blow on an enemy the camera will cut to an angle where you can’t see anything else. It’s not that big of a deal, but it tends to take you out of the rich combat experience of the game.
Batman: Arkham City has an absolutely pitch-perfect score. The game really goes above and beyond in this department, crafting a dark, intricate score that helps to create a sense of urgency, and sets the mood perfectly. It’s one of the best video game scores of the year. The voice acting in the game is top notch as well, employing the likes of Mark Hamill as the Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman, both of whom reprise their roles and give immaculate performances. All of the characters in this game really come to life in a believable way thanks in large part to the astonishing voice over work. Now, that being said, there is one glaring issue I had in the sound department… The Penguin. The infamous Nolan North takes up the role of the Penguin and it sounds like he’s trying to give him a cockney accent but it comes off as strangely and awkwardly Australian . It was extremely off-putting and didn’t seem to fit the character in the least bit.
The controls in Batman: Arkham City are an absolute breeze to use. Combat is extremely fulfilling due to the fact that you can string together attacks, counters, gadget quick attacks, and special moves completely flawlessly. Navigating the wide expanse ofArkhamCity is completely manageable and easy. Gliding around the city and using the batclaw to swing between buildings is simple and satisfying. The controls are definitely something the team at Rocksteady should be proud of executing, as it’s the glue that holds the game together in the long run.
Batman: Arkham City is a sequel that delivers everything the first game had and a whole lot more. It expands on ideas that were crafted in the first title and manages to make them even better. The team at Rocksteady didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with the game and I like that. They knew what their strengths were and focused on them making things better. While the title from 2009 has been coined by some as the best Batman game to date, Batman: Arkham City takes this title away completely. This game is fantastic and you would be doing yourself a huge disservice to not go out and pick up this title.
9.5 / 10