To say that Batman: Arkham Asylum gave super hero games a ker-thwack in the backside would be an understatement. Considered by most to be the best comic book hero game ever, it won praise and awards from every corner. What’s more, it came from a rather untested and unproven developer, Rocksteady Studios, which made the game all the more impressive, and quickly propelled the team skyward.
Seeking to capitalise on the huge success of Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady has unleashed Arkham City, the next Batman outing, and this time the stakes are higher than ever, with a game that dwarves its predecessor in every way.
Escape from Gotham City
Borrowing a story idea or two from a certain Mr Carpenter, Batman: Arkham City sees the Dark Knight tackle the new super prison that is the titular Arkham City. This is a walled of section of Gotham in which the most dangerous criminal and super villains of the city are placed. Within the heavily guarded walls, prisoners are free to do whatever they like, and have to survive on their own. Gangs have formed with some of Batman’s greatest foes heading them up, and the streets are paved with thugs and murderers. It’s safe to say, it’s not a very nice place to be.
Enter Bruce Wayne, who’s on a campaign to shut down Arkham City, fearing it as a major threat to the good people of Gotham. Of course, Brucie baby can only do so much, and it’s his pointy-eared alter ego that soon finds himself within Arkham City’s walls.
As with Arkham Asylum, Arkham City is a free roaming adventure that’s heavy on the combat and exploration, and has more than a hint of Metroidvania-style play. This time, however, there’s no walled off sections of a small island, but instead a whole section of the city to play around in. This open world, although not all that huge, is absolutely packed to the gills with missions, collectables, secrets, side missions and more.
Right from the start, following a great story set up, you’re free to glide and climb your way around the entire city area, which is teaming with inmates and dripping in atmosphere.
There’s a main, and excellent, story arc to follow, of course, but as with all good games of this type, you’re not limited to stick with this, and you’re just as free to wander around, seeking out hidden secrets, side missions, or simply kicking the bejesus out of some of Gotham’s finest gang bangers in random encounters. There’s always something to do, and as you progress through the game you’ll unlock new equipment and abilities that enable you to visit areas previously inaccessible, or grab items, such as the massive number of Riddler trophies you couldn’t reach before.
The larger, more open world has forced Rocksteady to alter the experience somewhat from Arkham Asylum, and Batman’s glide ability is far more prevalent here than before. To get around the city, you’ll constantly use a combination of this and your grapple, and some challenges will test your gliding skills to the limit. Gliding around the city is easy though, and whilst you do so, you’ll appreciate the scope of the world, and the effort that’s gone into creating it.
Arkham City‘s setting pulses with life and content, be it from the impressive visuals and detailed environments, the constant chatter of gang members, radio channels Batman can monitor, or the plethora of Riddler challenges, which will entice you to spend hours in an OCD-like haze finding and solving them all.
Gameplay is very similar, and in some ways identical, to Arkham Asylum. As before, combat is a core element of the game, and it’s a fast and fluid as ever. The simple controls make for an enjoyable scrapping system, with dodging and counters being as important as always. Batman has a few new moves though, as well as some new gadgets, such as a taster-style stun gun, which adds to the flexibility of the system. Add into this the much more large scale environment, and the scope for ‘being’ Batman is increased tenfold. Jumping down on foes from building rooftops never gets old, and the streets crawling with ever increasingly difficult foes adds to the challenge.
The predator-like aspect of Batman is also beefed up considerably this time, and stealth is a key skill in some fights, seeing you once more prioritising the more dangerous foes, or having to tackle tricky enemy abilities in different ways. Some situations also require special tactics, such as hostage situations, and most encounters you’ll find yourself in leave things open to how you approach them, not limiting you to a set route or solution.
The missions and locations you’ll tackle during the game’s ample length are every bit as impeccable as the previous outing, and the stellar cast of super villains and side characters elevate the fan service to meteoric proportions, with even side quests being brilliantly catered to. Make no mistake, this is a true Batman fan’s title, and the Dark Knight has never looked so good.
Other elements of the original also return, including the detective mode. Rocksteady felt that this mode was used too much in the previous game, so it’s been reworked a little here, and isn’t practical to use at all times (waypoints and your handy radar are removed when this mode is active), making it an aid to progress instead of a permanent fixture. One cool new addition is the ability to ‘tag’ items you can’t reach until you gain a needed ability later. This shows up on the map, making it easy to come back later and grab your reward. This is essential for finding one of the more elusive Riddler trophies strewn about the city prison. The aforementioned waypoints also show up as bat signals too, which is a cool touch.
Alongside the lengthy campaign there’s also the return of challenge rooms, which will also add to the longevity of the title, as will the new game plus mode, which increases the difficulty even more.
Challenge rooms are also now linked together, and can be played in a kind of mini-campaign, and with the return of leader boards, is a high score hunters paradise.
If you buy the game new, or buy a redeem code you can also add Catwoman to the mix, complete with her own missions and story. She comes with her own combat style and gadgets, and adds that little bit extra to an already packed game. True, she’s not as original or different as I’d have hoped, but she’s a welcome addition, and playing as another character only helps to flesh out Rocksteady’s take on Batman universe.
Batman: Arkham City has managed to better its predecessor by leaps and bounds, which is quite some achievement given the quality of the previous title. Just as all good sequels be, it’s bigger, better and more varied, and it improves upon all the important areas, with a fantastic setting and top notch production values to boot.
Voice acting is excellent again, with returning performances from Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill’s last ever performance as the Joker, and the twists Rocksteady has given to some of comicdom’s finest villains are great.
Whether or not you’re a Batman fan, this is one game you should rush out and grab right away. Don’t waste time thinking about it. In a year so packed with AAA releases, that elusive game of the year award may be harder than ever to bag, but Arkham City has to be an odds on favourite.