Are you a chicken man or a BATMAN?
Decidedly Batman Arkham Asylum had lots of room for improvement and people usually don't hate money so a sequel didn't take too long to come. Two years after the first game Arkham City arrived and tried the somewhat easy task of making everything grander. The island home to the most dangerous criminals seems to have lost its initial purpose and the political forces have clashed within Gotham, when things came to worse, Hugo Strange, highly proficient psychologist and advanced chemist, who worked in dodgy experiments within the Arkham Island came to power.
Using chemicals, Hugo managed loosen up the mayor's mind into some absurd ideas about quarantining a large portion of the city and condemn the most dangerous portion of the area to absolute chaos. It's not about the dream of having the most sophisticated mind facility in the world anymore; a gigantic pool of possibilities to understand and work with some of the most twisted, deteriorated mind in Batman's Universe. Arkham City is one huge garbage bin of humans.
Opposed to this extreme measure, Bruce Wayne runs for mayor of Gotham and the political elite didn't manage that pretty well. Bruce Wayne gets caught up in the turmoil and arrested by guards under orders of Hugo, who at that point pretty much had the current mayor under his thumb, and thrown into Arkham City. Upon arriving Alfred sends his gadgets by Batwing so he could dress up as Batman and initiate the story that unfolds within this "peculiar" prison that's actually a whole city under quarantine.
There are many twists over the course of the action, like the mystery of a plan called "Protocol 10" and the introduction of many familiar faces in the Batman universe. The most notable addition over the last game is a new playable character, Catwoman, who plays a bit differently than Batman. She has a more limited amount of gadgets at her disposal and needs to actually climb buildings using her whip upon button pressing instead of Batman's handy batclaw.
Catwoman also requires her own set of upgrades like decrease of damage from bullets or melee. She isn't as bulky as the main character, even at her prime. Her part in all going on is actually pretty far between, you get a major role in the beginning and another one at the end, before you can control her freely around Arkham. It's basically a side story that revolves around a playable character with different gameplay elements at her disposal.
Several elements from the previous game were reworked and now received improvements or completely new ways of functioning, aside from new additions that make up for quite an arsenal. Unlike in Arkham Asylum you can link uses of grappling around building with the glide function of his cape. It provides a control much more fluid than its predecessor and should make the transition to the previous game much more difficult. A boost technique makes floating around the streets of Arkham a breeze, after a while you'll get the hang of it perfectly.
The grapnel line can now be used systematically before even landing. By pressing a button you get to change direction while in midair. You can also build a balance line by stopping midway through and using the line as a ledge to move over your enemies. The hacking device got an overhaul, it now can detect radio signals as well as decoding passwords. The password decoding changed a bit too, you do the same movement with the sticks to find the sweet spot but not to override the system, instead you search for the right password as you move. In more difficult hacks you need to find the right set of words to actually unlock whatever you might be hacking.
If there is something I didn't really understand why they changed so much was the HUD. For me it feels like a step back from the the previous game, it's not such a big deal but I felt more engaged with leveling up in the old system. Improving your armor now has differing effects depending on which upgrade you have. The original health bar is simply extended in two branches, ammo and melee. Depending on which type of damage you take only one of the bars will go down. If you take only bullet damage you'll be killed while having your melee gauge unaltered so even taking damage can be used to your advantage depending on which type you've been receiving so far.
Newer weapons and gadgets include an ice gun which can be used in combat and to freeze small icebergs on water so you can trespass some puzzles. An electrical gun which features a cool system that has two triggers, one of them shoots repelling energy while the other shoots an attraction beam. You can use this to open or close doors, electrify motors and fight. There's also a new disruptor gadget that allows batman to disable sentries, mines and weapons from a distance.
The overall Gothic style is very much present here as well, this time you get to roam freely around a whole city. After a while the constant backtracking gets a bit tedious, the city isn't as big as it first seems to be, but since you won't really be following a straight path you'll get to revisit the location intensively throughout the adventure. This helps the game to make the player get to know the place and it's much more vast then Arkham Asylum was. It also seems to run much more smoothly than the previous game, even with the slightly improved graphics and much greater scale of things.
The amount of collectibles is almost absurd. Once again The Riddle has scattered questions marks all over and it's up to the player to find them all. The puzzles to get the question marks are much harder than the previous game which most of the time revolved around getting to the place and spotting the item. Now you need to beat a few puzzles involving pressure plates, light question marks and other twisted stuff. To get information about the location of puzzles Batman can find special Riddler thugs and beat them up so they tell secrets from their boss. If you've played the first Arkham game you might remember that this task was much simpler because you just had to find the map left by Riddler to get the location of puzzles in a determined area.
The gameplay involving stealth and precise button pressing for attacking and dodging attacks is pretty much intact. A few additions in countering enemies wielding knives or having to deal with foes with electric batons, shields and armors add a little more flavor but in the end they're just new enemies that require a different set of button pressings to deal with them. For example, making a comeback move on a knifed foe is so unwieldy that most of the time you'll probably just take the damage and beat him afterwards.
There's quite a few downloadable contents available but what really shines is the main game as always. The Challenges page has been revamped and now features four playable characters as well as a campaign mode which you need to take on 3 different challenges, that can be combat or takedown challenges, in a row to earn a maximum of 9 bonuses. You can play them alone as well, just like the last game, and just like the last game I find the combat challenges to be a waste of time while the stealth takedown challenges are the finer deal of the bunch. The only sad thing is that they're not really new anymore so it's nothing you haven't played already, even though they offer much greater challenge this time around.
This is a pretty good improvement over the first one, granted anyone could pretty much tell what needed improvement in the first one so there's no real surprise here except the city location which fits pretty well the chaotic nature of the narrative; there's always gangs of bandits spreading terror, going against each other and beating up political prisoners at every corner. You should probably play the first game before this one because if you get used to the dynamic movements in this one you might feel underwhelmed by going back. In the end, the only sin this game really commits is the fact that many of the improved features here aren't actually new, but that's perfectly fine if you enjoyed the first one.