Batman: Arkham City Review
Written : Friday, October 21, 2011
By: Richard Walker
I'm Batman. As I stalk Arkham City's rooftops tapping into radio frequencies, tuned into the pulse of the criminal network, I can run, leap and glide off the edge of a building, zip-line from ledge to ledge, never losing momentum. I can beat seven shades of crap out of entire armies of henchmen without breaking a sweat. I've got more gadgets than Currys and Comet combined. I. AM. BATMAN. Except... I'm not really Batman. Or am I? No, I'm not. But in Batman: Arkham City, it feels pretty damn close to actually being the Dark Knight, or rather, about as close as you can get without dressing up like Fathers for Justice and scaling Buckingham Palace with a placard.
Batman: Arkham Asylum was a watershed moment for superhero games, showing the world that comic book licenses can be done justice by remaining faithful to the source material without seeming derivative or without re-telling past stories to the letter. Too many superhero games rely on some sort of gimmick, or silly narrative MacGuffin to bring its story to the masses, but Batman, is simply, unreservedly Batman. He's exactly as he should be, without any of the excess fripperies and rubbish found in other comic book video games. And while some criticised Arkham Asylum for being too linear, it was unanimously held up as the first truly great superhero game, and so with Arkham City, Rocksteady has decided to build upon its previous success by letting the Dark Knight off the leash.
"What's that smell?"
From the very moment you start playing Batman: Arkham City, you just know that you're in for something special. Next to Gears of War 3, the Unreal Engine 3 has never looked so good, and Rocksteady has really gone to town in creating a brooding Gothic nightmare in the titular city itself, a dark hive of crime and wanton violence, where no corner is safe and where unhinged, criminally insane villains ply their trade on the rain-slicked, neon drenched streets. In short, it's the perfect playground for Batman to be let loose in, and the Dark Knight has a whole range of new gadgets and abilities to make his fight against crime that little bit simpler. Bats can use his grapnel gun over far greater distances for starters and is able to glide for longer to cover more ground, especially if you can master his graceful dive bombing and swooping ability.
The caped crusader is more nimble in a fight too, able to counter several foes at the same time with some spectacular bone-crunching combos that make confrontations with large numbers of enemies a welcome opportunity to really let rip and crack some skulls. There's far more variation in the criminals you'll encounter too, so each of Arkham's villains has their own posse with their own distinctive look, as well as various weapons and strengths. These factions are at loggerheads too, as the city's many villains vie for control over the decaying urban sprawl. Bats is more than well-equipped to take on pretty much anything that comes his way though, and the control system is surprisingly intuitive and accessible given the variety and complexity of Batman's moves and skill set. Almost every gadget has a quick fire function now and Bats has an expanded repertoire of moves that includes beat downs, ultra stuns and a host of other skills that you can unlock as you level up.
As open-worlds go, Batman: Arkham City's seems relatively small compared to some of the vast expanses we've seen in other similar games, but what's remarkable is the sheer level of detail and the density packed into the world, which has a lot going on beneath the streets as well as along the skyline and the rooftops. It's one of the richest and most absorbing game environments you'll ever spend time in, and you'll want to soak up every side mission and distraction it has to offer, from the 400 Riddler Challenges, to the sick games of cat and mouse you'll play with Viktor Zsasz, a mysterious serial killer (whose identity we won't spoil by revealing here) and a watchful stalker, keeping an eye on your every move. You'll also stumble upon a host of other little secrets that you could otherwise miss if you're not into exploring, so it pays to poke around in every one of Arkham City's nooks and crannies like the great detective that Batman is.
"You kick me? I kick you!"
Meanwhile, there's a main storyline to pursue that sees Bats forced into an uneasy alliance with his nemesis, as they join forces towards a mutual goal. Of course, things don't go nearly as smoothly as they should, and the Dark Knight finds himself fighting for his life. It's incredibly dramatic, edge-of-the-seat stuff that demands to be seen through to the bitter end, and each character slots seamlessly into the narrative, with every villain playing their role in a huge cast that could have potentially suffered from a loss of focus. Rocksteady has brought it all together masterfully, doing each and every one of Arkham City's criminals the justice they deserve, bringing the fan favourites to the fore, while keeping the support players in the wings for the side missions. It works remarkably well, and enables Rocksteady to cram plenty of activity into the city without any compromises or concessions.
Batman: Arkham City has all the makings of an all-time great game then, building brilliantly upon the template established in Arkham Asylum, taking it far beyond what you'd expect from a conventional sequel. It's The Godfather Part II to Arkham Asylum's The Godfather, taking the same themes and ideas established in the first game and expanding them to epic proportions. And we haven't even got onto the Riddler's Revenge challenge rooms and Catwoman sections yet, which again, have been expanded far beyond the few challenge rooms you were presented with in Arkham Asylum. Both the Bat and the Cat have their very own Riddler's Revenge challenges to tackle, with hundreds of medals to earn and there's countless hours to be spent trying to beat your friends on the leaderboards.
"Bats grinned before doing his 'boo!' routine."
There's a lot of achievements dedicated to earning every single Riddler's Revenge medal too, which also extend to the Catwoman bundle packaged with the game – which incidentally comes with the Animated Series and Long Halloween Catwoman skins too – meaning you'll have to really put in the time and effort to beat every target score and get every medal. No mean feat in itself. Then you have the standard story-based progression achievements as usual, as well as a few dedicated to some of the less obvious side missions and villain cameos tucked away in Arkham City. It's a perfectly solid list, and encourages you to sniff out some of the hidden Easter Eggs in the game.
Batman: Arkham City is quite possibly one of the greatest sequels – if not one of the greatest games – we've played in recent years and it's most definitely the best superhero game of all time, bar none. Beautiful to look at and an unmitigated joy to play, Arkham City is a flawlessly executed game and an unbridled work of brilliance. There's not really enough hyperbole and praise we can heap upon Rocksteady's second crack at the Bat, as it succeeds in conveying the deeply complex nature of Batman as a character and his sick, bizarre relationship with the Joker, while realising one of the most detailed and textured worlds we've experienced in some time. No other game makes you feel like the hero as much as Batman: Arkham City does, and for that it should be applauded. I'm Batman, and it feels completely awesome.
A score that does subtle during the game's downtime and knows when to bring out the orchestral bluster when it's needed, is complemented by the requisite comic book 'thwacks' and 'pows'. Like Arkham Asylum, the voice-acting is utterly top-notch too.
Batman: Arkham City is nigh on flawless from a visual standpoint, but the devil's in the details. Looking out into the distance from a rooftop is amazing, but watching Batman crouched on a statue with snowflakes gently falling and melting on his cape is also a thing of beauty. Brilliant.
Combat is just as fluid as ever, which is an achievement given Batman's expanded repertoire, and traversing the city is good fun with all of the Dark Knight's gadgets. Playing as Catwoman is also great too, with her own set of distinctive skills and gadgets.
A massive game world with loads of side missions and activities to complete. The story is a little on the brief side, but the wealth of Riddler Challenges, secrets and Riddler's Revenge combat and predator challenges will have you playing for ages. More Catwoman sections would have been welcome too. There's only four of them, and they're fairly short.
This is a perfectly good list, with a good selection of story-driven achievements and a few for performing various actions. You'll also want to explore as there's some interesting hidden stuff to track down, but the achievement list is let down by an over-reliance on earning Riddler's Revenge medals, which is a bit dull.
Batman: Arkham City is an outstanding sequel in every department, with stunning gameplay, an immersive world to explore and fantastically well-realised characterisation. The music and voice-acting is exemplary and the visuals are gorgeous. Batman: Arkham City is an incredibly well-crafted, labour of love and no mistake. In short, it's genius.