flomby's Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360) review

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The Bat is back, and in top form.

The wait for Batman: Arkham City has been a long one, especially after its predecessor Arkham Asylum blew away the gaming community back in 2009. Batman had long been a franchise that had done reasonably well in cinema, but laughably badly in the gaming world. Fans of the caped crusader always hoped that the next Batman game would be the gem they were waiting for. So, when Arkham Asylum was announced, many gamers were rightly skeptical. After all the garbage that made it to shelves with the Batman moniker on it, how could this title possibly be any different? Then, we played Arkham Asylum, and our love for the Dark Knight came back with a passion. Who can forget the first time they glide-kicked into a thug and sent him sprawling? Arkham Aslyum breathed new life into an all but dead franchise.

After the resounding success of the first game, the gaming world went into a frenzy when the second game, dubbed “Arkham City” was announced. The mysterious title raised many questions. Arkham City? Why is the asylum now a city? How did Batman let it get this far? What’s The Joker up to now? The wait for fans was almost unbearable, especially once developer Rocksteady started the slow trickle reveal of the features and additions this time around. With the tweaking of the already insanely fun free flow combat, and the addition of new gadgets, gamers’ mouths were watering at the possibilities. The promise of an even bigger, better Batman was exciting.

Now Arkham City has been out for about a week, and Twitter and Facebook are on fire with statuses, pictures, and videos about their adventures with the caped crusader, not to mention the ferocious feline that is Catwoman (that is, if you bought the game new or paid the 10 bucks for the pass). I have finished the story, but that still left me only about 50% completion in the whole game. The other 50% is packed full of riddler trophies, side missions, free flow combat, catwoman trophies, and so much more.

Lets start with the story itself. Much of the attraction of the first game was the incredible plot. Joker has broken out of Arkham (I know, big surprise right?) except this time, he doesnt leave. Instead, he takes over the asylum and starts wreaking havoc. The opening scene from the first game still sticks in my head as one of the most powerful openings to any game I have ever played, with the foreshadowing thick in the air, and the Joker prattling on nonstop. The player’s journey through the asylum over that fateful night was intense, and you really got a feel for Batman’s expertise, and his iron determination. Eventually, you defeat Joker and the credits roll, with a bit of setup for a possible sequel (at least we hoped at the time).

Fast forward about two years and we have Arkham City. This time around, the Joker doesnt seem to be the mastermind. Rather, we have Hugo Strange pulling the strings. Somehow, Strange has convinced the now-mayor Quincy Sharp and the city of Gotham to wall off a section of Gotham, to transfer all Arkham and Blackgate prisoners there (as well as a number of innocent people who Strange has a beef with), and call it “Arkham City”. Bruce Wayne obviously doesn’t care for this nonsense and decides to throw his hat (and considerable wealth) into the ring to try and stop this from becoming a reality. While giving a speech outside the borders of Arkham City, Bruce is nabbed by Strange’s Goons and hauled off into the prison town.

The player then gains control of Bruce as he is processed into the facility, and after a quick dispatch of some random thugs, Bruce absconds to the rooftops and quickly calls in his Batsuit from Alfred. This is when Arkham City truly begins, as the player takes there first steps as Batman.

As for the gameplay, the combat is every bit as fun as it was in the previous entry, although this time around it has been beefed up with some new moves for Batman to use to punish his enemies. You can now do a double, and even sometimes, triple, counter attack when two or three baddies approach the Bat at once. All of the animations for the various attacks and counters look great, and they really flow into each other. At certain points, like when Batman does a backhandspring that lands him clear across a map to plant his feet in a thug’s face, it stretches the limits of suspension of disbelief. Thankfully these moments are few and far between.

Locomotion around the larger play area is achieved mainly through a combination of Batman’s grappling hook and his cape. Players can select a distant ledge to grapple to and then leap off the other side and glide to the next rooftop. There weren’t many times when I couldn’t continue my forward momentum, and there is always another ledge or rooftop to head to. Later in the game you can unlock another gadget or two that offer different locomotive strategies, but I found myself sticking with the grapple hook and cape combo.

Story wise, the game progresses nicely. The pacing is perfect, so you don’t get overwhelmed too early on, and later enemies are certainly not pushovers. Missions are constant, but are careful not to get in the way if you just want to glide around beating up baddies. The missions lengths themselves feel reminiscient of Arkham Asylum, long enough that each establishes its own plotline that adds to the main story, but not so long as to forget your overall goal. Again, the pacing here is spot on, as enemies in the beginning of each mission are substantially easier to take on than the bad guys towards the end. There was only one spot in the game where I really got frustrated, when Batman is having a showdown with Joker at the old amusement park (where else?). What with a titan thug, a one-armed mercenary fellow (much harder than it sounds), constant roller coaster cars flying through the arena, and the Clown Prince of Crime himself, I had to give that fight a good few plays before finally besting it. However, once I landed the final punch, the accomplishment I felt far outweighed the frustration of getting to that point. Other missions, such as the short Mad Hatter mission, and one the main plotline Ras al Ghul missions, weren’t particularly challenging but rather offered up a creative twist, and were just plain fun to play.

Once you have finished with the campaign mode, there are still the challenge maps to tackle. This time around, the Riddler in the one putting you up to it. While you can still take on a single combat or predator challenge, the fun is in the challenge campaigns this time around. Each campaign consists of either one combat challenge and two predator challenges, or two combats and one predator. The twist, however, is that there are a certain number of game changers that you have to use by the last challenge map. These can be things like reduced health or no counter indicators above attacking enemies’ heads. These serve to test players’ skills and make them try out new strategies. You can use as many or as few out of the list as you want during each round, but you must have used all of them by the last one. This adds some replayability to Arkham City as you can vie for the top spot on the leaderboards and compete with your friends.

There will also be a number of DLC packs released for the game, including two packs where you can play as Nightwing and Robin in the challenge maps. Each new character comes complete with their own distinct fighting style and gadgets, which fans are sure to love.

So if you are a fan of Arkham Aslyum, or Batman, or even just video games in general, and you haven’t checked this game out yet, what are you waiting for? Play this game as soon as you can, you will most definitely not regret it.

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