Batman is no stranger to videogames, starting out with the simply titled Batman on the ZX Spectrum way back in 1986. Numerous games starring the caped crusader have come along since, but none have really made players feel like they were the Batman. 2009’s Arkman Asylum came the closest, with the large island, great controls, and a collection of classic villains, but suffered from a post-game that left the island decidedly empty and devoid of things to do outside of starting a new game up. Arkham City alleviates many of these issues and adds much besides, but does this city of villains really need a hero?
If you explored every nook and cranny of Arkham Island, you may have come across the secret room that contained information about the construction of Arkham City, a massive open-prison for both insane and sane criminals. These plans have come to fruition, with the massive complex how a reality in the north of the city. Not everyone in Gotham is happy with the creation of this super-prison, least of all Batman who wonders that something more sinister is occurring. As Bruce Wayne, he starts a protest about the facility and is subsequently arrested and thrown into Arkham, quickly escaping, after a brief encounter of Penguin, Bruce dons a batsuit and starts his mission to piece together what is really going on.
It a strong story written by veteran comic writer Paul Dini (who also worked on Batman: The Animated Series). And through its narrative Batman will meet up with various nefarious faces of Batman cannon, including Two-Face, Penguin, and of course the Clown Prince of Crime, Joker. There are plenty of plot-twists and it will lead you guessing as to exactly what is going on and who is really firing the shots. A large collection of side quests are also available for Batman to partake in, which have had as much care put on them as the main story.
The Riddler’s also back, with his assortment of trophies and environmental puzzles for you to collect and solve, although obtaining many of the trophies isn’t as easy as it was the last time, with a few being mind-bending conundrums. These unlock the game’s bonus content, from the challenge rooms to back stories and character bios. While some of the information that these hold can seem a tad esoteric at times, refraining to the continuity of the DC comics, it helps to get others up to speed and is fairly good read, even if you have little interest in Batman outside of the films.
Rocksteady stated that Arkham City is five times biggest than Arkham Island, and it certainly seems to be the case, the city is large enough that you could easily get lost if not for the map. Batman’s ability to Glide is a necessity in order to get around the island in any space of time and with his grapple hook at the ready whilst in the air you can transverse the landscape with little problems, which is only increased when you gain access to advanced grapple hook that launches you at high-speed to prolong you flight time.
Combat hasn’t changed since the last game and those that played it will feel right at home with the attack/parry/dodge/stun systems. Further moves and tactics have been given to Batman to cope with an increase of enemies, such as the ability to counter parry two thugs at the same time and a dive-bomb technique that enables you to get a powerful first strike. Tackling enemies with guns head on is still suicidal for the most part, and so a certain amount of restraint is required, picking enemies off one-by-one, before darting back into the shadows. Like before, the enemies aren’t the smartest in the bunch, constancy failing to notice you hanging on gargoyles, though they will destroy said vantage points if you draw attention to your use of them too much. Later on the game you’ll come across enemies that are equipped with heat vision goggles and disruption devices that render you detective vision ineffective.
Detective vision is much the same as it was in the prior game, effectively allowing you to see through walls, seeing those around you as coloured-coded skeletons and also acts as a way of following otherwise invisible trails and clues left by others. Viewing the game in Detective vision allows you to see objects for miles, allowing you to easily find secrets and keep tabs on enemies, it is so useful at times that it can be temping to play the entire game with it turned on.
The original game had the problem that areas would become barren and lifeless after the story had no interest in the area anymore, meaning that the end game was one that offered little to do outside of collect the last few doodads leftover. In comparison, Arkham City actually feels like a living place with areas that you’ve cleared of enemies not staying empty for long, as new felons take control of vacant lots for themselves (with better armaments the further you are into the game).
Once unlocked, a separate series of challenge rooms can be accessed, similar to Asylum, these consist of combat and predator modes, the former sending waves of unarmed enemies for Batman to knock about, whilst Predator sends a lone Batman against gunned-up enemies, taking them out one-by-one, with certain criteria to follow if you wish to upload your times to the leader boards (the game’s only real online component). These modes can also be accessed by both Catwoman and Robin – if you have them to play as – Catwoman is on a online pass that comes with a new copy of the game, whilst Robin is accessible through buying the game at specific outlets at the moment, with him being released as DLC down the line.
Arkham City is a dark and foreboding place and the Unreal Engine graphics do much to introduce you to its grimy streets, that is when you’re not viewing the world with you’re x-ray vision, where everything looks like a neon blue wireframe. Animation is top-notch, with Batman leading the charge with his understated, practical fighting style, and enemies come across as the heavily brutal thugs that they are.
The framerate holds up extremely well, although traversing the cityscape at speed can occasionally trigger a load lockup, which in the worst cases brings the game to a sudden, albeit momentary stop. There’s a little bit of texture draw-in as the game streams data of the disc – which is more noticeable when it loads a challenge map from scratch than in the gameworld, but otherwise the draw distance is impressive.
Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill return to voice Batman and Joker respectively (with Hamill stating that this will be his last time in the part), with voiceover ventures Tara Strong (Powerpuff Girls) and Tom Kane (Spongebob Squarepants). The voice work is top of the shelve, with even incidental dialogue following suit, the street-thugs of the various gangs always have something to say based on the current events of the game.
If Arkham Asylum was a taster, then this is the full course meal, bigger, better and more ambitious. And while this may read as hyperbole, it is the best game based on a superhero that has ever been created. Atmospheric and brilliantly written, the few minor issues are tiny drops amongst the technical achievements. While the range of accoutrements between this and its predecessor can be said to be more content than a overhaul, it brings a game that is more than the average sequel. You should indeed take the cowl and cape, set forth into Arkham City, and become the Dark Knight.
original published on gamingtilldisconnected on 27th October 2011