Batman: Arkham City Review

Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: October 18, 2011 (November 15, 2011 for PC)

In some rare instances, I’m content with getting more of the same. Because nothing comparable was out at the time, Batman: Arkham Asylum was definitely one of those games. Even though I complain of the lack innovation in some titles, I was longing for that unique Batman fix so hard that Batman: Arkham Aslyum 1.5 easily would have sufficed. Enter Batman: Arkham City, the follow up, and not only does it bring scads of new content and abilities well beyond a normal sequel, but it is one of the finest crafts gaming has to offer. Batman does not disappoint.

Right off the bat (pun not intended), events start out with bang and immediately draw your attention. One thing leads to another and the Dark Knight finds himself inside Arkham City, a city that might be the world’s worst idea. This godforsaken dump was a sectioned off part of Gotham, but instead of housing soccer moms and businesses, it now is the home of prisoners. Hugo Strange is the warden of this scumbag facility and immediately threatens Batman with spilling his identity to the world and creating a mysterious plan to “make himself famous.” The world’s greatest detective must unravel what this plan is on top of other problems he comes across along the way.

Ah... what a crap hole.

Ah… what a crap hole.

I’m being intentionally vague because I definitely don’t want to spoil anything, but Batman begins to have a personal investment in the matter and time is of the essence. As if there wasn’t enough to worry about, many villainous dirtbags (again, I don’t want to spoil whom) have set up shop here giving Batman trouble from the moment he touches down in Arkham City. After all, this is an overblown prison so a good chunk of the inmates are foes from Bat’s past and they are all set in incredibly well.

You’d think that with so many antagonists fighting over screen time that it would all seem out of focus, but that isn’t the case. Incredible amounts of care were given to setting up how everyone fits into the story and performances from each are astounding. They have turfs, their own minions (who seem to all be voiced by Nolan North), missions, and they are even beefing amongst themselves and it all feels like it has a place. Even the infamous bad guys have been delicately woven into the optional (and numerous) side missions. No one is just thrown in there for kicks or for the sake of filling a roster checklist, which is an accomplishment in itself.

"Well 'ello Brucey boy."

“Well ‘ello Brucey boy.”

A bigger accomplishment is the phenomenal pacing and cinematic moments the game has. Story beats are executed perfectly to pique your interest in each mission and each ratchet up the intensity. There’s no filler content along the way, meaning every mission has a purpose and since the story is so damn urgent, marathon sessions are inevitable. Many times I would have “stopping points” but right as I would be about the call it quits for the night, an eye-opening revelation would occur and consequently glue me to my seat until my eyes were bloodshot. I wanted to keep playing and playing. Wait, I needed to keep playing and playing to see how it would all solve itself in the end.

It’s a good thing Arkham City does such an exceptional job leading you to the ending because the last few scenes are unbelievable. I was in utter shock at the finale, left speechless and with my mouth agape staring at my television like some sort of half-wit. It is executed perfectly, hitting every note without flaw, and even has the “extra credit” for playing some mood appropriate audio during the credits. Bold steps were taken from Rocksteady to create a memorable, emotional ending worthy of being thought of as one of the best ways to finish off a game.

The Joker puts up and amazing performance.

The Joker puts up and amazing performance.

Batman is one intimidating bastard and fearlessly belts out threats left and right, and pompously does so for a good reason: he can back it up. By “backing it up,” I mean he is capable of shattering every bone in any pursuer’s body without hesitation. Beating a thug’s face in translates well into the combat system, which has been greatly improved since last time. Countering and striking still remain the core cruxes of winning, but those have been made faster, a tad more responsive, and with greater range. In addition, hot buttons now allow gadgets to be more readily accessible and give even more options to knocking out your opposition. Changing and streamlining returning systems makes old veterans to the combat have a greater foothold on executing longer combos, but the real delight lies in the new additions.

One or two more brand new moves just wasn’t enough. Instead they opted to cram just about every button combination with some sort of useful special move for different scenarios. It would be exhaustive to list them all out, as the list is long, but these new abilities make the combat deeper by throwing an immense amount of choices at the player. Since new enemy types are consistently doled out along the lengthy campaign, these new moves have use and just look bone-crunchingly awesome. Both old and new systems work in unison to give the player the ability to create extremely satisfying free-flowing combos that can extend as long as you have the skill to do so.

Rejoice for double counters!

Rejoice for double counters!

Batman may have fists of steel, but he doesn’t fare so well against guns. Bullets are his Kryptonite, so when the guns are out, he opts to stick to the shadows, knocking out enemies in a ninja-like fashion in the dark. Whereas some stealth games are rooted in helplessness, the inmates tremble in fear at the sight of Batman, even with a deadly firearm in hand. Similar to how a cheetah stalks its prey, Batman uses fear, cunning, gadgets (well I guess cheetahs don’t use gadgets), and and strength make quick use of any foe turn his back on the Bat.

Like combat, stealth has also received a various amount of upgrades and improvements to further your strategy, but, also like combat, more checks and balances were given to keep you on your toes. Thermal goggles, detective vision blockers, snipers with laser pointers, and other anti-Batman gadgets add some needed challenge to make these sections more involving to keep you thinking on your feet. Hiding on the gargoyles is still a valuable tactic, but it isn’t always the go-to method, as some enemies can spot you on top of your perch or just shoot it down entirely. Deciding who to strike at what time and how to tackle it still remains as one of the game’s biggest thrills and, given the many improvements, it has only gotten better.

Solid Snake and Batman would get along just fine.

Solid Snake and Batman would get along just fine.

Having the word “city” in the title definitely sells it as being bigger than an aslyum, and this rings true. Arkham City is at least five times bigger then the previous installment and it lends itself surprisingly well as an open world. It’s a beautifully-rendered ugly place that not only a joy to swiftly move through, but a place to suck in the atmosphere. Being so dark and dank really lends to the notion that this place is a complete shithole run by a bunch of crazy lunatics.

Missions are also scattered throughout the large map, but if that wasn’t enough, there are Riddler secrets in just about every corner of the city. The Riddler no longer has you just meander lazily up to a lone trophy, but instead you have to figure out some devious puzzle to obtain the reward. Even though there are about 400 of these, they never become tedious or mindless but more of an incentive to test your brain and tap your inner obsessive collector.

Batman in a rare moment of not being threatening or beating someone up.

Batman in a rare moment of not being threatening or beating someone up.

Completing these Riddler challenges is a must if you want to have access to the addicting challenge rooms and given the quality of these extra modes, you’ll want to play them. These arenas test your stealth and combat skills by giving you scores to achieve and unique medals to get in every map and these goals keep them from getting stale. Chasing high scores and gathering medals with all of the different characters* combined with the addictive nature of the combat and stealth means these modes really have a life of their own to exponentially extend the overall replayability of the game.

I could go on and on about this game because Batman: Arkham City is the whole package. I didn’t even get started on the stunning boss fights (one of which has got to be one of my all-time favorites), Catwoman*, the absurd attention to detail, the upgrade system, the new game plus features, or the amazing voice acting because a game this impressive doesn’t need to broken down in every facet to be sold. Chances are, if you think of something Arkham City does, it’s of unbelievable quality and possessing an incredible amount of polish. It jumps off the solid foundation created by Arkham Asylum but far exceeds it in a way I wasn’t anticipating. Be prepared for an unforgettable journey where you strap the iconic suit on, snap some femurs, and become the Bat. This is the superhero game.

+Combat and stealth have been improved and still remain addicting (and fun) as hell
+Deep, involving story will keep you guessing and wanting to see how it wraps up
+Outstanding beginning and ending
+Many villains are thoughtfully placed and provide great antagonists
+Big map to explore with hundreds of secrets and plenty of side missions
+Challenge rooms are deeper and give incredible replay value
-Almost all of the thugs have the same voice actor

Final Score: 10/10

*Catwoman does have multiple appearances but she’s part of the “online pass,” so only new copies can experience her (unless you pay $10 for her). She’s important enough to mention in this excerpt but since she technically isn’t in everyone’s game, she only gets her little section here at the bottom.
Catwoman has four missions, only two of which are “actual” missions, but she is still a blast to play. She familiar enough to Batman’s skill set, but has enough of her own unique abilities to make the experience fresh. All of her moves have special animations, she’s playable in the challenge rooms, and she has her own Riddler challenges so she stands out as some meaningful content. Just be sure to download her before you start playing, as her missions are interlaced seamlessly into Batman’s and provide some interesting story background.
Also, here are reviews for the Nightwing and Robin DLC.

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