I wasn’t so sure that I was ready to come back to the Arkham franchise; honestly I didn’t even finish the first one because I burned out on the combat that became more of a chore then a reward. That, being said I was still looking forward to the newest Batman game due to the fact that I have been reading so much Batman comics lately. The quality of Arkham city really took me by surprise, form both a gameplay and story perspective. Rocksteady learned a lot from Asylum and that really shines through in the refinement and polish.
The atmosphere and story are where Arkham city truly shines. The city itself is wonderfully realized with striking buildings and a great layout. The ambient dialogue from thugs creates an appropriate atmosphere of crime and suffering. All the villains and environments are heavily inspired by their comic book counterparts and the city looks exactly the way Gotham does in movies and comics. These wonderful visual designs add fantastically to the atmosphere which is enhanced by the brilliant story and the best voice cast so far this year. Nolan North is convincingly British and dangerous and the Penguin. This role is far different from his usual style, but he still puts on a wonderful performance. Listening to him viciously threatens and torture Batman is a ton of fun and I found myself looking forward to each new encounter. Troy Baker also stretches his vocal talent as Two-Face and some excellent schizophrenic rambling. Corey Burton also does a fantastic job at playing the main villain, Hugo Strange. I questioned this villain choice at first, but his sinister tones and clear intelligence make him a truly imposing figure for Batman to contend with, and of course Mark Hamill does his usual fantastic job as the Joker. The story, revolving around a mysterious plot by Hugo Strange, is fairly cookie cutter, but with some very decent twists that show Rocksteady was out to do more than make a video game starring Batman. They wanted to tell their own epic Batman tale.
Still none of this would matter if the gameplay was bad, and thankfully it’s not. Both the combat and exploration control fantastically, but there is a fair amount of reputation to be had in this game. The combat is largely timing based, focused on chaining together strikes at the right moment and countering your opponent’s blows. Later in the game new enemies arrive that force you to use your gadgets and moves more efficiently, but the majority of the combat is against the unarmed mooks. Boss battles are spectacular and the amazing voice acting adds to the mood and tension. The battles themselves are slightly disappointing, as they consist of mainly using your latest gadget to weaken the villain and strike their weak point. The movement also controls great with a combination of gliding and grappling that let you move around the city with ease and speed. An install will make the movement go much smoother as the frame rate tends to drop when traveling without one. Stealth is the other key gameplay element, where you hide in the shadows and silently take down the enemies armed with guns. The gun armed enemies are appropriately dangerous, forcing you to actually make use of your different abilities and gadgets. It’s unfortunate that this is one of the few cases that the environment design fails. The game has far more light then Asylum, which unfortunately leads to some situations when goons are staring right at Batman, but do nothing because he is “hidden”. Detective moments when you need to investigate a crime scene or follow a trail are by far the weakest parts of the game. These moments require the simple push of a button and add nothing to the experience except a mild frustration for having to go on a pixel hunt for the right object. Furthermore when following a path, you need to activate each step in the path otherwise the scripting will not display the rest of the path. Obviously having detective moments in a Batman game is important, it just would have been nicer to see some sort of minigame or a better designed puzzle to make it more fun. With the exception of the detective moments the gameplay is well designed and implemented, it would have been nice to see a little more variation in the combat.
The game is filled with collectibles and challenges from the one and only Riddler. Numerous trophies, riddles, and challenges are spread throughout the city. Some of these are relatively easy while others can be devilishly tricky. Completing these allow you to unlock challenge rooms where you can hone your skills and set high scores. Because I found the combat repetitive and am not much of an achievement hunter, I was not particularly motivated to complete them all, but rest assured there are many of them and you are rewarded with a confrontation with the Riddler himself at the end. In addition to the challenges there a numerous side missions hidden around the city featuring characters like Killer Croc, Bane, Azrael, and many more. These help flesh out the story and provide plenty of teasers for the next game.
Catwoman functions as both the games online pass and as a tie in to the main game story. It’s unfortunate that she does not play as well as Batman and lacks many of the gadgets and abilities that make him so much fun to play. Yet her third story mission adds much to the story and missing it could slightly hamper your enjoyment of the product. Overall, Batman Arkham City is a fantastic game. The story, characters, and atmosphere are almost perfect and the gameplay has only a few minor hiccups. It’s certainly worth a pickup especially if you are a batman fan.