Another Fantastic Batman Experience
Generally, licensed video games have had a bit of a sorry history. Save for a few exceptions they’ve largely been mediocre titles rushed out to squeeze money out of people who don’t know any better than to scoop up anything labelled with the name of a franchise they like. But in 2009 Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum hit shelves, showing us that licensed video games can’t just be good but also truly great. In late 2011 its sequel Arkham City arrived, and once again Rocksteady proved their ability to make high quality Batman experiences.
Set months after Arkham Asylum, in Batman: Arkham City an area of Gotham City has been walled off, and is being used as the new site for housing Gotham’s infamous criminals. When Bruce Wayne is taken into the city himself he dons the Batman costume and uses it as his opportunity to shut down Arkham City, but with the Joker allegedly dying things have gotten complicated. From the get-go Rocksteady manage to once again present a gritty and suitably atmospheric environment filled with well-characterised interpretations of Batman and his adversaries. The story takes some interesting twists and before the game ends you’re almost guaranteed to be impressed with where it manages to go. The voice performances serve as the real icing on the cake though, with Mark Hamill’s delightfully twisted Joker once again being a stand-out piece of voice acting.
The same core gameplay that made Arkham Asylum so memorable returns in full force too, but this time in different trappings. While Asylum was a largely linear game, often involving plenty of backtracking and spending time indoors, Arkham City takes more cues from open world games. There is a single, linear, main storyline which keeps the narrative well-focused, but reaching missions and finding collectibles involves traversing the streets and rooftops of the open world environment of Arkham City. However, with Batman’s grapple and improved gliding abilities, getting from A to B is not only easy, it’s also genuinely fun. The game also features a number of optional side missions to take on which gives it more opportunity to deal with interesting characters who weren’t prominent enough to be part of the main story. Overall this allows Arkham City to feel refreshingly different from its predecessor, while still delivering everything we loved about the first game.
Naturally the combat is as satisfying as ever, providing a simplicity which lends itself well to repetition, as well as a system where button mashing is permitted for those who want it, but well-timed hits are rewarded more than anything else. For those not familiar with the fundamentals of the combat, X is the basic attack, Y counters enemies about to attack, B can stun enemies and A is the dodge button. From this basic system the game is able to derive a surprising amount of challenge. The rhythmic flow of the combat remains hypnotising throughout the game and long after its completion, and the animation stays smooth and fluid, with Batman’s attacks looking elegant and effortless, while simultaneously hard-hitting and brutal.
The game also provides a few new gadgets alongside everything in Batman’s previous utility belt. Freeze grenades and smoke bombs are among the new additions, and altogether the game manages to give you just the right amount of equipment to make things seem interesting without it getting too overwhelming. There is also a vastly expanded selection of upgrades, including everything from ballistics armour to the ability to summon bats in combat. Batman is also able to use any gadget from his arsenal in fights, such as batarangs and his new plasma gun, but the trade-off for this often seems a little lacking. I found it much easier to focus on just hitting, and dodging enemies than worrying about all the extra abilities which would have granted me reasonably little in terms of actual combat advantage. Batman’s detective vision which allows him to better analyse his environment also has the same problem it did in the last game of sucking the colour and detail out of a lot of the well-crafted in-game environments, although this game does provide some additional motivation for turning off detective vision with the on-screen radar only being viewable with detective vision off.
Of course head-on fist fights still aren’t the only way to take your enemies out and often aren’t an option at all. Aside from a decidedly reduced number of gargoyles this time round, Arkham City doesn’t change much about the abilities you’re given when dispatching enemies from the shadows, but it doesn’t need too, watching enemies cower in fear as you pick them off one by one still makes you feel like a force to be reckoned with. New enemy types also help keep things fresh, with enemy variants that change both how you tackle face-to-face brawls and stealth sections.
Beyond the main storyline and side missions the game provides a hefty load of additional content, courtesy of The Riddler, who has trapped multiple hostages who he will only free if Batman can solve his puzzles. Arkham City is packed with Riddler trophies to collect and riddles to solve, making it possible to lose hours to the game without simply running through the usual action-adventure game steps of “find all the hidden items”. Once found the Riddler trophies often involve solving puzzles or displaying your prowess at quickly traversing the city and utilising your gadgets. Riddles also involve more genuine puzzle solving this time round with the player having to view whatever aspect of the environment they believe to be the answer to a riddle and holding down a button to scan it in.
When collecting Riddler trophies and genuinely solving the riddles there is a great sense of satisfaction and capability within the world, unfortunately the riddle system also encourages you to randomly scan in obvious-looking objects in the environment in an attempt to bypass the riddles. The game also considers the Riddler content in the Catwoman DLC for the game to be part of the overall Riddler challenges, meaning that unless you buy the game new or pay for the Catwoman DLC the game will be left frustrating reminding you that your Riddler progress is essentially incomplete.
Overcoming Riddler’s challenges doesn’t just let you rescue other hostages though, in addition to unlockable 3D models and concept art, the game has plenty of combat challenges, stealth challenges and modified sections of the campaign to open up. A new game plus mode that unlocks after the game is completed also provides a more challenging second run through the game for Batman devotees, and altogether means that there’s no shortage of bang for your buck in Arkham City.
All in all, Batman: Arkham City, much like its predecessor, is not only an excellent action-adventure game but stands up as one of the best licensed games ever created. Combining wonderfully empowering gameplay with an enthusiasm and respect for all that is Batman, chances are if you have any degree of interest in this game it’s going to provide you with a great deal of enjoyment, I know it did for me.