Batman: Arkham City Review
2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum had no expectations to live up to. The track record of the Dark Knight in video games is spotty. For every good game, there are about 10 mediocre ones, and for the longest time Batman fans clung to the NES game as the only claim to greatness. Arkham Asylum changed all that, and exepectations for Arkham City couldn't be higher. It doesn't dissapoint.
You actually start off the game as Bruce Wayne, not Batman, as he is arrested and taken into Arkham City during a political protest by Tyger, the security officers of Arkham City. Tyger and Arkham is under the control of Hugo Strange, who has sectioned off a large part of Gotham city. Bruce Wayne soon fights his way out and suits up to bring back justice to Arkham, but inside he finds that the crimelords of Gotham, the Joker, Two-Face and Penguin, are fighting for control of the facility. If that wasn't enough, the Riddler, Mr. Freeze and other super villains are making things difficult for Batman. While I wouldn't dare spoil the ending, I thought it was terrific, which is better than the wrap-up ending we got in the last game.
Strangely, Batman starts out with most of his gadgets from the last game. Some upgrades have been omitted in the sequel(multiple batarangs and explosive gel upgrades), but there are more gadgets to find and upgrade. There's also a bigger focus on using gadgets in combat. Many gadgets have a quick fire and can be deployed as part of a combo, like the batarang in Arkham Asylum.
As you'd imagine, this adds an extra dimension to the combat. The combat is still great. You'll still primarily using the strike and counter buttons, but instead of every enemy circling around you waiting their turn, you may have to counter multiple attacks this time around. Stunning is something you'll have to use against crooks with armor or shields, while knives must be dodged or countered, but they can be attack as any unarmed foe. They've taken out the throw special move, but added three more in addition to the special takedown.
In predator, the enemies are a little more perceptive this time around. While there are gargoyles or similar places to sit perched, some foes now employ thermal goggles. You'll also run into foes that jam your detective vision. Their location is marked, but others will also flash in at times. This handicap isn't too severe, as you'll usually take out him first and the thugs are usually not aware of you until you do.
Rocksteady has said that Arkham City is five times larger than Arkham Asylum. I'm not sure if that's just on the ground or not, but Arkham City is a much more vertical oriented game than Asylum was. You'll zip to the top of tall buildings and glide halfway across town. The flight controls seem oddly inspired by Super Mario World, and gliding across town is very cool. While the city is large, you can get from one side to the next in a few minutes when gliding. Don't think that this is an open world though. You are confined in where you go until you reach certain story points.
The city looks great. It's an extension of what Arkham Asylum did in 2009, but it's more urban and filthy, but in a good way. From Joker's steel mill to Penguin's museum, the villains definitely put their personal touches on their strongholds. The city itself is that gothic, mid-20th century look that's kinda defined Batman for years now.
The game's voice actors do a terrific job as well. Mark Hamill is voicing the Joker again, and so is Kevin Conroy (Batman) from the animated show. The voice actors generally do a great job, though I could go without hearing the thugs saying "Forget him. We have other things to be looking out for." so often after finding one of their unconscious friends. But that's nitpicky, the sound in general is great.
There are a lot of side mission, of varying length. The Riddler is not so much a side story, as a whole game unto himself, and has left 400 riddles for you to solve. Others are decidedly shorter, ranging from simple fetch-missions to investigating crimescenes to beating up thugs. The challenge rooms are also back, should you just want to beat on dudes, and you can now do campaigns which has you go through three specific maps.
A word on Catwoman would perhaps be appropriate. Catwoman is available with new copies of the game, or as a paid download if you buy used or rent. She has a total of 4 story mission, and can be played after completion where she has her own side mission. She has significantly fewer gadgets and doesn't have as many upgrades as Batman, which means she's frailer and doesn't have as many options. At the same time, she can access areas Batman can't and has a few Riddler trophies of her own.
This is the easiest recommendation I've made this year (Edit: on review, this is the only recommendation I've made this year). When I got this game, I sat down and only got up twice in a 16 hour period. I essentially played through the story of the game in one sitting. I just couldn't stop playing until I saw that ending. I thought Arkham Asylum was the best game of 2009 and this just blows that game out of the water. If you're at all interested in this game, get it and love it.
Edit: added snarky comment
Edit 2: fixed some errors