The World's Greatest Detective Is Back
Batman: Arkham Asylum was nothing short of a gaming tour-de-force. It had fantastically simple, yet deep combat, a story that kept everyone hooked, and it was bursting at the seams with extra content. Rocksteady had quite a task ahead of them, if they hoped ever hoped to surpass the original game, but they have. Batman: Arkham City is everything that its predecessor was and more. The combat remains fantastic, while still adding a few more wrinkles of depth and enjoyment and the story is one of the most interesting told in a while. Oh, and there is plenty of extra content.
You begin in Arkham City with almost no exposition, no idea of how this became to be, how long it has been since Batman shut down Joker's uprising, or who the hell would approve of Arkham City. These questions linger for a while, but they are all explained soon enough, and by that time, Rocksteady's writers have driven their hooks into you, and it is impossible to put it down. The story takes some dark and unexpected turns at times, and it also has one of the most memorable endings in a long time. Much like its predecessor, there are oodles and oodles of classic Batman villains, all with a unique and mature twist on them. Much of them are featured in sidequests, while the major ones--Joker, The Penguin, and Dr. Strange-- all play a key role in the story. For comic book fans, it must feel somewhat like fan service, but for people like me, who have not read a comic book in a long time (or ever), it might feel confusing. Luckily, the character bio page returns, which is a handy way of learning more about each villain or character that makes an appearance. Speaking of sidequests, there are only a few in number, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. Some of the sidequests will take you far longer than it would be to complete the main storyline alone, while some are fairly short. The interface, namely the map and compass, are slickly designed and make it easy to keep you focused and aware.
During all of the shenanigans during your time in Arkham City, Batman will be doing a lot of fighting. The combat remains mostly the same as it was during Arkham Asylum, but it has added a few new elements and features that manage to keep it exciting the entirety of the experience. For example, there are plenty of new gadgets for you to tinker with, inside and outside of the combat, and it is also easier to use them inside combat. They serve plenty of uses in combat, such as the grappling hook's ability to snag enemies guns right out of their hands. There are also a few new enemies that require specific methods to take down, and when you mix them all together, it can become quite a challenge to take them all down in an efficient manner.
In addition to the combat, Batman can also glide around the city with ease. I don't know about Batman himself, but I found this to be exhilarating. With the right upgrades, you fly from rooftop to rooftop with your handy grapnel tool, dive bomb to the surface of the water, pull up and glide kick one of Joker's thugs. As much fun as this is, there isn't much to do outside of the main story, sidequests, and The Riddler's Challenge. Because of this, it is hard calling Batman: Arkham City an open-world game, even though you can go almost anywhere you want to. Luckily, the sidequests and The Riddler's Challenge give you plenty of reasons to zip your way across the city, if you choose to do so. The Riddler's Challenge returns, and in full force. There are over 400 challenges to complete, some riddles, some trophies, and others are more repetitive actions that need to be completed. Only the most die-hard completionists will attempt these, but I probably never will even think about it.
There are only a few options left to do outside of the main story mode, but they all serve a distinct purpose for fans. The New Game Plus mode turns off the counter icons above your enemies heads and toughens enemy placement. The other modes are in the form of challenge rooms or challenge campaigns. Challenge rooms function basically the same as they did before, but the campaigns are a series of three rooms in succession. You can create your own campaigns if you like or play through the pre-made campaigns.
Much has been said about the other playable character, Catwoman, and the way she is being used as an online pass, but I am not here to speak on that particular subject. However, Catwoman is featured in the game in four chapters, where you can collect Catwoman specific Riddler Trophies or just flat out complete her objective. She plays nearly identically to Batman, however, her animations and her traversal mechanic help justify her as a playable character.
Rounding out the package, the graphics and sound are both stellar. The voice acting is just as superb as it was in Arkham Asylum, with Mark Hamil still creeping the fuck out of me as the Joker. However great the graphics usually look, this is an Unreal Engine 3 game, so there are some cases of distracting texture-pop in.
Rocksteady did what they do best, make kick-ass Batman games. Simply put, if you liked Batman: Arkham Asylum, you will love Arkham City. It really isn't that different than the original, but it adds enough depth to make the gameplay feel just as exciting as when you first played Arkham Asylum and the story itself is worth experiencing. If you love Batman, play this game. If you love games, you need to play this game.