Review: Batman Arkham City

October 26, 2011, By Christian Davis

When you create a game that is essentially flawless and then follow it up with a sequel, there’s a standard that has to be met and an expectation from the audience. Rocksteady is in that position thanks to their incredible venture into the Batman universe with Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s the best superhero game that we’ve ever seen, or at least it was.

The sequel to Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City gives a near perfect experience that I’m dying to relive again. The feelings of power, anxiety, panic, excitement and fear are all things that you’ll encounter when playing through Arkham City and that honestly does not happen enough in videogames. Rocksteady has created the world’s best Batman game that has an incredible story with embarrassingly tight combat, and a captivating world that is submerged with life and finesse.

Arkham City is a place where they house all of the worst criminals and villains in their own separate city in the center of Gotham. Naturally that sounds like a horrible idea and there are many opposed to it, including Bruce Wayne. During a campaign to shut down Arkham City, Bruce Wayne gets captured by the nefarious Hugo Strange. My initial reaction to the following gameplay incidents caused my jaw to hit the floor and it stayed there for a solid 15 minutes. The way the game introduced itself to me was such a surprise and captivated me instantaneously.

During the games introduction you encounter several of the game’s characters that you’ll grow accustom to such as Two-Face, The Penguin, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and The Joker. Rather than feel overwhelmed with too many characters, you’re excited to see some returning from the previous game and new ones being properly integrated and represented into the story. There’s such a vast variety of characters in Batman lore and a lot of them make cameos or appearances, such as Robin or Commissioner Gordon. As a result of this the world around feels even bigger and it has you wondering who you’ll end up running into.

The predecessor of Arkham City was more of a linear narrative, which felt open because the Asylum felt so lively. Arkham City takes this one step further and puts player inside an open world. Is it as large as other open world games? No, but it’s jam packed with so much to do, the extra distance it takes to travel from point A to point B isn’t missed and allows me to get into the action quicker.

There is quite a bit to do in Arkham City as well. There’s the main story that you can decide to focus on, though branching out and taking the various side missions will add several hours into your experience. For example: The Riddler challenges are back and are spread throughout the city, there are villains that you’ll encounter solely such as Bane solely because a side mission was taken, you can save people from getting beat up by prisoners, or even take on some side investigations as well. All of these take time to do and some even give you benefits such as new gadgets for Batman to use at his disposal, including in the middle of combat.

Combat in the game has actually improved over Arkham Asylum which I felt was already pretty tight. The freeflow combat has returned but this time there are some tweaks and additions. New moves have been added and are now more visceral and brutal than before. Long strings of satisfying punches and kicks to various locations on overly zealous thugs are still a huge portion of the combat, but these guys are much more prepared this time. A combo can be broken at anytime now because these guys attack in groups, and large ones at that. There was one instance where I fought off 20+ guys at once.

It’s exhilarating to fight that many at once as opposed to the first installment which threw at most three guys at you. It starts off with just your basic unarmed thugs and then quickly becomes more complicated when guns, knives, and other bludgeoning weapons are introduced. Then you’re required to do certain button combinations to stun, confuse, and avoid certain attacks to keep the combo string going. It keeps you on your toes for the entire duration of the game.

There’s a leveling system as well that allows you to buy new moves or upgraded versions of current moves. Since there’s a good variety moves the player can do, there’s an option to turn on a notification that lets you know when you can do certain attacks after a number of successful hits have been made in succession. As tough as Batman is though, there will be several occasions where you have to run and hide or approach a situation more cautiously. That’s where the plethora of gadgets comes in handy. You’re in the thieves domain now, so you have to me prepared.

From the beginning of the game most of the gadgets that you earned in Arkham Asylum are already at your disposal and make up a large portion of your gadget arsenal. That’s not to say you won’t gain access to others though. There are grenades that freeze thugs for a short period of time, high tech devices that blow up mines for you, the signature smoke pellets, and a few more things that will help you dispose of the foes in your path.

Detective mode makes a return to the game, but thankfully, you will not be in that mode unless it is absolutely needed. The issue with Arkham Asylum was that you’d spend a lot of your time in the blue tinted mode and were not able to enjoy the scenery much at all. That hardly ever happens here and it’s a fantastic balance consisting of 90 percent Arkham City and 10 percent Detective Mode.

With Batman being the main focus of the game obviously, the game mixes things up a bit and we get to play as someone else; Selina Kyle also known as Catwoman. There will be several instances in the campaign that have you take control of Catwoman and it is honestly a lot of fun playing as her.

She has her own set of moves, gadgets, and a completely different style of play. She‘s more agile and lissome so the experience changes completely. Her role in the story is pretty substantial actually and she can even cause the game to end in a different fashion which caught me by complete surprise. She and Batman share the same amount of level up tokens so you can choose to level up your character or the other in anticipation for their next mission.

Mobility with Catwoman is also different and more interactive than Batman’s. She uses her whip to get to certain points like Batman uses the Batclaw, however, when Catwoman gets to a building she pounces from spot to spot. This is done by timed button presses. Do them correctly and you’ll scale a building in two seconds flat. She can even crawl on the rooftops or under catwalks (no pun intended) that have gated surfaces.

This comes in handy when collecting Riddler trophies as well or even sneaking up on thugs for Catwoman only. It’s a nice touch that causes you to constantly explore and uncover new locations. I even discovered that some of the actions that Batman does affects Catwoman’s gameplay. There was an instance when playing as Batman and I destroyed some walls. I didn’t need to, but I did. When I came back to the same area with Catwoman later in the game, I couldn’t use those walls to hide behind.

Rocksteady’s second venture into the Dark Knights universe couldn’t be more perfect. There’s something really special about this game that has you completely satisfied all the way past it’s surprising and unexpected ending. The superhero games of the future cannot be anything less polished than this title and should always aim to meet the standards of Arkham City. The combat, storytelling, character portrayals, and overall atmosphere of the Arkham City does nothing less than bring you the quintessential Batman experience.

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