If you missed 2009′s Batman: Arkham Asylum, you owe it to yourself to go out and buy that game, right now, and play it. When you’re done, come back and read this review for Batman: Arkham City, then go buy that and play it, too. Arkham Asylum was amazing. I had never played a Batman game before that really made me feel like I was in control of the real Batman. Arkham City took everything good from that game, injected an overload of awesome, and opened up half of Gotham City for you to run around and crack skulls in.
The story takes place in a closed off part of Gotham City called Arkham City, founded after Arkham Asylum was destroyed in the events of the first game. All of the psychos from the asylum and criminals from Blackgate Prison were moved here and walled off, essentially creating a giant city-like prison for everyone, including all of the wonderfully psychotic supervillains. Rumor has it Joker is dying, Two-Face is trying to make a statement, and the place is complete anarchy. To prevent a major outbreak, the place is watched over by a militaristic entity called TYGER. The rules are simple; stay away from the walls, and you don’t get shot.
Former Arkham Asylum warden Quincy Sharp, somehow becoming the mayor of Gotham and being more of an idiot than usual, decides to let the place be run by Dr. Hugo Strange. This raises some serious red flags, so Bruce Wayne decides to publicly protest in front of Arkham city. This has some unexpected results, and shortly thereafter inmates are having their faces smashed into walls at every angle while Batman searches for answers. Which brings us to the first awesome point of this game; the combat.
Holy crap! Is he hitting three people at once? Why yes, yes he is. There was a total of four faces broken in that single move. Only counted three guys getting hit in the image? Check your face. It’s probably broken. The fluid combat from Arkham Asylum returns, with several improvements that make it not only silky smooth, but even more incredibly brutal and satisfying than the first game. The controls appear to be very simple at first, but it becomes more complex as you start tossing gadgets around and are forced to deal with different enemy types with different maneuvers. You press (on PS3) square to strike, triangle to counter, X to dodge and leap over your enemies, and circle to stun. One of my favorite improvements to this system is that you can counter multiple enemies at once, often resulting in three inmates getting a boot to the teeth in less than two seconds.
Gadgets are integrated into combat a lot more than before. You can throw up to three batarangs in succession or use the grapple to pull someone toward you Scorpion style and clothesline them with all your might. You can cartwheel around while nonchalantly leaving some explosive gel on the floor, blow it up when your enemies get near, and you never have to break your combo. The combo options are near limitless, because you can use any of your abilities in any order, providing you aren’t getting hit. You get bonus experience for longer combos and variations in how you demolished the thugs. Get enough experience and you will level up, allowing you to unlock more gadgets, combat abilities, and suit upgrades.
Stealth was awesome is Arkham Asylum, and it’s just as radical in Arkham City. It still functions mostly the same. You hold R2 to crouch down and sneak around, and press triangle to choke someone out. Some cool additions are double takedowns and the ability to knock someone out faster after you grab them, but both of those make noise and can draw attention. You can hide in so many places that I’m getting giddy just thinking about going back through the game to sneak up on Joker’s lackeys in different ways. You can hide on buildings, in floor grates, ventilation systems, up high on gargoyles and platforms inside the buildings, and you can even burst through wooden walls like a black demon and give your target a heart attack before you even touch him. You’ll still knock him out though.
To aid you with your stealth endeavors, detective mode has made a return. This allows you to see your enemies from a distance and through walls. It will even reveal if they are carrying a firearm, so using detective mode is essential to approaching every situation with the right tactics. Bullets will ruin your day pretty fast, especially if coming from a sniper rifle. If you find yourself under fire, it’s always a good idea to make use of the new smoke pellets. You can drop or throw them at will, and when under fire, you can simply press triangle for a quick throw, allowing you a few precious seconds to grapple up and escape without your shooters ever knowing where you went. You will also eventually have a disruptor that can covertly disable up to two firearms before needing a recharge period. Staying stealthy gives you many different options to approach situations, and all of them are equally satisfying. Adding to that satisfaction is listening to the panicked thugs talk back and forth. Their obvious fear of the Batman makes you feel empowered.
When you’re not busy strangling hapless grunts or breaking their arms, simply navigating around the city is a ton of fun. I spent quite a bit of time just grappling from building to building, leaping high into the sky and flying around. You keep your flight going for longer, you can divebomb toward the ground and pull up to give yourself a little upward boost. If you complete some optional navigational training throughout the city, you will get a grapnel boost that allows you to launch yourself high above a building when grappling up to it, allowing you to continue gliding without ever touching the ground. It makes reaching time sensitive objectives much easier.
Catwoman’s sequences are fun, but navigating with her can be a little frustrating. Occasionally, when using the whip to pull yourself from the roof of one building to the next, she will get noticed by thugs when you didn’t want her to, and when Batman wouldn’t have. Oftentimes, those thugs have guns, and it sucks trying to get away without smoke pellets. She has a couple cool gadgets, but doesn’t even carry one fourth of the arsenal of Batman. She’s still fun to jump around with, but you shouldn’t expect to make as many clean escapes as old Brucey.
Some reviewers think that Batman’s movement feels a little stiff, but I think it’s fine. The way he moves fits in with the feel of the game, and fits in with the persona of the Dark Knight. Batman is portrayed perfectly, and his voice acting is outstanding. Kevin Conroy returns as the voice of Batman, and he has completely outdone himself. Mark Hamill also returns for his last run as Joker, and I couldn’t ask for better. All of the other important villains are voiced very well, too, and it makes you feel like every one of them is authentic, not somebody pretending to sound like them. The only complaint I have about the voices in the game is that a lot of the thugs sound the same and have the same lines, but I guess it won’t matter once you start shoving your fist in their mouths.
The graphics in the game are overall very good, minus some pop in and clipping issues. My main complaint is with the Batman Inc. alternate costume. His back often clips through the cape when just standing around, and it does so even more in other situations. There are other small clipping issues, but none of them are really worth mentioning because you’ll be having too much fun scrubbing scum off of the streets.
Now, I love the Joker as much as the next guy, especially when voiced by the wonderful Luke Skywalker, but I think that my favorite villain in Arkham City is the Riddler. Remember the Riddler trophies from Arkham Asylum, and how you stayed up until four in the morning that one night to collect them all, even though you had work at eight? Those have returned, and there are more than ever. Some of them are also much harder to get, even though they’ll be in plain sight. You’ll be solving special puzzles to open cages that the trophies are in. There are also special pink Riddler trophies that only Catwoman can collect.
The other types of riddles also make a return, but to be able to attempt everything Edward Nigma has to offer, you’ll have to activate a certain strain of side quests, which all focuses on the Riddler and the hostages he is keeping for you to find. To learn the location of one of his hostages, you must collect enough trophies or solve enough minor riddles. Once you’ve found the next hostage, he puts you through a mental test (turns out he’s quite a jerk) to decide if his hostage will survive. He is much more involved in this game, and his presence is strongly felt throughout Arkham City , especially with the green question marks painted all over. He is voiced very well, and his personality is captured perfectly. He is incredibly psychotic and egotistic, and I love every minute of it.
By the way, remember when I said all of the supervillains were all moved to Arkham City? Well, you’ll get to interact with most of them. Joker, Two-Face, Riddler, Penguin, Mad Hatter, Deadshot, The League of Assassins, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Calendar Man, Clayface, Zsaz… the list is HUGE. A few of them are only cameos, but their presence is appreciated nonetheless. You will be able to actively interact and take down several of them in expertly constructed side missions that require much more refined detective work than was found in Arkham Asylum. No more following trails of blood with detective mode; you’ll actually have to search crime scenes for pieces of evidence and put an entire case together to catch your man, or trace several phone calls from payphones around the city to determine the location of a single nutjob. It’s thrilling, and the open world design makes it difficult to decide what to do first.
I must also make mention of the combat and silent predator challenges. This are unlocked over time as you collect more Riddler trophies, and are accessed from the main menu. You will work to obtain the best scores possible and try to earn medals along the way by achieving certain goals throughout the match. Along with Batman, if you have the proper downloadable content, you can play the challenges as Catwoman, Robin (Don’t worry, it’s not Jason Todd) or Nightwing. Each character is more than a palette and gadget swap. All four of them feel entirely unique and are fun to play with in their own ways. You can’t play as Robin or Nightwing in story mode, but hopefully that will be rectified with future downloadable content.
I do have a couple complaints with some of the DLC. Besides the fact that you can’t wander around and terrorize Arkham City as Robin or Nightwing, all of the Catwoman content in the game, including her role in the main story, only comes free with new copies of the game. If you buy Arkham City used, you’ll have to buy the DLC, which is frustrating because she plays important parts in the main story, and I feel like it should have just been included in the initial install. My last complaint is that you can’t play as the Joker like you could in the PS3 version of Arkham Asylum.
Incredibly satisfying gameplay, an entrapping story with a shock ending, lovable characters and tons of replay value make Arkham City a winning package. It’s not without minor faults, but they are easy to overlook with how insanely fun this game is. It’s one of the best games I’ve played in the past year, and I don’t intend on getting rid of it until I have a Platinum trophy. I’ll be continuously returning to get better scores in the challenges and collect more Riddler goodies until I have it all.
Speaking of which, I have another hostage to rescue. Gotta run.
Did you get your hands on Arkham City? Did I miss your favorite part of the game? If so, make some noise in the comments.