The shining paradigm of all licensed games ever made
Licensed games always got the shaft back in the olden days, as anyone would tell you, and Batman was no stranger to mediocre tie-ins. While I can safely say that most of the retro Batman games were at least decent, hardly any of them managed to vitalize Batman's true potential, instead being so-so sidescrollers at best and terrible beat-em-ups at worst. After the golden age of SEGA/Nintendo, Batman went into hibernation, and we didn't hear a murmur of development on a new Batman game for nearly a decade. It was beginning to look like curtains for ol' Batsy...
...that is, until Batman Arkham Asylum hit store shelves.
I can't really say much about Arkham Asylum that hasn't been said by other critics, it introduced one of the most stylish combat systems to ever grace an action game, allowed you to take full control of Batman's entire arsenal of gadgetry and projectiles, and introduced puzzles that even Edward Nigma would be proud of. The game was a hit, a culture shock that broke free of the dull licensed game monotony we were used to seeing up until that time, and I absolutely loved it.
So, as you could imagine, when Rocksteady announced that there was a second title in the works, fans jumped out of their seats and the expectations rose to ungodly levels. Rocksteady would have to come out swinging with the sequel if they were going to get even close to topping the first installment. And oh boy, did they ever.
Arkham City is, simply put, one of the greatest action-adventure games I've ever played, and even saying that doesn't bring it justice. If they could have improved anything that they humanly could from the original, they did. The navigation, the combat, the puzzles, the dialogue, everything about this game is better in every conceivable way, and this is the sequel to a game that revolutionized the way we define the action-adventure genre.
But, as long as I could keep on with it, squealing about how superb this game is doesn't give any tribute to it, so let's find out how they improved the un-improvable in my review of Batman Arkham City.
Think about this for a second; Batman Arkham Asylum included an incredible cast of characters, ranging from Commissioner Gordon to Killer Croc to Scarecrow to Harley Quinn, and that's barely scratching the paint.
Batman Arkham City's entourage is even better. Not only is it miraculously larger than Arkham Asylum's, but it also brings new light to characters such as the Penguin and Mad Hatter, and even a couple of cameos and references to past asylum inmates, all with an updated look that perfectly suits their personalities. This game might as well have handed the fans platters of money and replicas of the entire cast of the game. And it actually does. (well, at least half of it, anyways, you can unlock character trophies by beating Riddler challenges) And Catwoman... oh, lord have freakin' mercy, Catwoman...
But wait! It gets better!
Poison Ivy's in this game too an d she's wearing nothing but a Not only are there a lot more... physical... aspects added to the game, but the combat was also revamped. Now, Batman has the ability to counterattack more than one mook at the same time, and that's not even a fraction of it! There's new unlockable specials you can execute, more gadgets that open up even more opportunities to bring the pain, and the game also includes more enemy types, such as inmates with riot shields and armored henchmen. The 'predator' missions have also been given a face lift, improving the AI on armed foes and giving them special tools to hinder your progress, such as radar jammers that you have to disable when you knock out certain enemies. All of these additions, including the ability to glide across the landscape, feel right at home with the Caped Crusader's play style.
BUT WAIT! If you can believe this, IT GETS EVEN BETTER! Seeing as though Arkham Asylum, while not exactly too linear, was rather tightly-spaced, the developers upped the ante and, true to the title's word, compiled an entire section of Gotham City for you to explore, fight thugs, collect Riddler trophies, complete sidequests, and simply use your abilities as Batman to the fullest. The game world is ripe with extra challenges to complete, courtesy of the Riddler and a few other surprise guests, which could all be considered just as exciting as the main story line. If you don't feel like progressing through the game or doing random sidequests, you can find the nearest group of inmates and prove to them how unlucky they are for being in the presence of Batman. And if you wish to challenge yourself, there's unlockable hand-to-hand fistfight/stealth takedown missions in the main menu, each with their own online leaderboards so you can prove you're better at being Batman than the rest of your friends.
There is but one tiny fault I find in Batman Arkham City, and it's in the story. With all of the improvements Rocksteady made to the game, you would think the story would have blown it out of the park, and it does for the first few acts... but, for some reason, it just doesn't hold up, by the end of the game, quite as much to me as the first game did. I loved the whole 'gang war' aspect, where inmates are forced to choose sides and duke it out with other factions, but the story just bounced all over the place, and half the time I couldn't even tell if the main antagonist was supposed to be Hugo Strange or the Joker. The original felt much easier to understand, and the story behind this game isn't half-bad, either, but it didn't really have the simplistic charm of Arkham Asylum's story. This is a personal complaint, so you might have different strokes on it, but I think they could have intertwined the two main plots a little better.
And there you have it. If by now I haven't convinced you that Batman Arkham City is, without a doubt, the most amazing licensed title in the history of video games, then you'll just have to buy it and see for yourself (and buy it new, it comes with the Catwoman DLC. Hubba hubba!). Everything about this game feels fresh, exciting, enticing, and breathtaking, whether it's the fantastic artwork, the simplistic-yet-beautifully-brutal combat, the excellent stealth sections, the satisfyingly-difficult puzzles, or the fantastic, comical dialogue that pieces it all together. This game doesn't just deserve to be called the most fantastic licensed title ever, but one of the most terrific action-adventure titles ever made, and people will look back on this game in the future much like RPG fans look back on Final Fantasy VII today.