I still remember the moment I fell in love with Batman: Arkham Asylum. No surprise, it was pretty early in the game, I entered a warehouse type room filled with the Joker’s henchmen, but rather than merely having me go rough ‘em up, I was challenged to find a new way around them, to think in essence, like The Batman. I used my surroundings, I stalked my prey, I turned their own fear against them. It was after this section that I realized that developer Rocksteady wasn’t just giving me the opportunity to play as The Batman; they were giving me a chance to feel what it would be like to be the Dark Knight.
With the sequel, Arkham City, a lot could have gone wrong. We all know most sequels suck and what are the odds of two Batman games in a row being exceptional right? Turns out pretty good. Everything you loved about Asylum returns, but only now they’re tweaked and reconfigured almost to a point of perfection. Arkham City is a sprawling and gorgeously detailed environment, and Bat-fans are sure to enjoy the little nods to the caped crusader’s past. It may not be perfect, as some of the flaws that hindered the last game are still naggingly present, but Batman’s latest adventure is still a damn good one.
Arkham City picks up mere months after the end of the last game; the asylum’s former warden Quincy Sharp is now Gotham’s mayor and has had the wonderfully smart idea to move all of the city’s most dangerous criminals out of Arkham and into a walled off area in the center of the city. Millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne isn’t a fan of the idea and stages a press conference outside of the newly named Arkham City to oppose it, but it’s not long before he’s arrested under strange circumstances and thrown in himself. This begins Arkham City proper – and it’s one of the most dynamic openings in recent memory. From the moment you enter the prison, and an inmate yells “Welcome to hell,” you can’t help but be amazed by the scale of it all, and how theatrical the presentation is this go-around.
These superb presentation levels extend themselves throughout most of the entire game. Arkham City is a decaying mecca in the heart of downtown Gotham City; and it feels like it. There’s plenty of back alleys and side streets to get lost down if you’re the gutsy exploring type, and the whole thing is done in striking light balance and detail. It’s almost awe-inspiring in certain moments when you’re on top of a building high above Arkham city taking in the scope and detail of the world around you. Of course, it still does suffer from occasional graphical pop-ins, and that damn camera that always seems to turn at just the wrong moment – but more on that later.
Much like the original game, Arkham City will have you ting out thugs and henchmen en-route to taking on Batman’s rouges gallery in an effort to uncover the conspiracy at hand, and that’s one area that this game does a ton better than its predecessor. Batman has perhaps the most well known villains in pop culture, and the first game had a few of them, but they pale in comparison to what Arkham City is packing. Throughout your journey you’ll take on The Joker, Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, the Riddler and a number of surprise guests from Batman’s past that are too cool to spoil here. Interestingly enough, the actual boss fights with the legendary characters aren’t that memorable and can be passed quite easily, but it’s the way Rocksteady built up these events with fantastic pacing that truly make them memorable.
Undoubtedly the game is at its best when it does what the previous one did so well, make you feel like the world’s greatest detective. It’s not uncommon to walk in to a room of ten or more thugs and still feel like you’ve got the upper hand. Though this go-round did feel a bit more linear than the previous game, just how many ways you can go about taking out your enemies is pretty impressive. You could go in and let your fists do the talking or you could go the route I did and use your wits and gadgets to take them out strategically. Disappointingly, it’s these large fights that also disappoint most in Arkham City as just like in before the game’s camera system can be incredibly frustrating. I remember one boss fight in particular where I kept having to run away just so I could get enough distance between myself and them to center the camera.
After you’ve completed the campaign (which you can jump back in to with all of your upgrades thanks to a new game plus mode), Arkham City still offers a ton of content for your money. Challenge maps are back, and much more plentiful, as are the Riddler’s trophy challenges, but what you’re really going to want to check out is the Catwoman mission pack. A code for these missions is included in each new copy (you’ll have to buy one if you’re buying it preowned), and they add a ton of backstory to the game’s main campaign and are best experienced when played in the context of the game itself. I was also surprised at just how much I enjoyed playing as Catwoman; she’s a lot quicker than Batman and is a lot of fun to decimate baddies with.
Rocksteady also must be commended for their remarkable job in delivering fan service to the legions of Batman fans with Arkham City. Exlploring those back alleyways and side streets will prove to be a fruitful endeavor as there are plenty of references and nods to Batman’s impressive history in pop culture. We’re still finding secrets in Arkham Asylum to this day; meaning there’s plenty to be found in the game as well.
The Blast Factor: Any game that can make you feel like The Batman is doing something right – -and Arkham City does that very well. Rocksteady has taken everything from Arkham Asylum and tweaked it enough to create one hell of a love letter to DC’s Dark Knight. It’s a great licensed game, but perhaps most importantly, it’s a fantastic game in general.
Batman Arkham City is available now for the PS3 and Xbox 360 from Warner Bros Games and Rocksteady Studios. It will be available this November for the PC. A Xbox 360 copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review.