Batman: Arkham City ReviewNovember 4, 2011
Developer Rocksteady’s latest opus, Batman: Arkham City, is the definition of “bigger and better”. The game somehow manages to avoid the sophomore slump after dodging the superhero game curse with 2009’s critically lauded Batman: Arkham Asylum. Batman fans, rejoice- and say a prayer that someday DC’s other big hero, Superman, may one day get a film or videogame worthy of his name. Batman has The Dark Knight and Batman: Arkham City. Supes has Superman Returns and Superman 64.
2009’s Arkham Asylum managed to do a fantastic job of putting you in the Dark Knight’s boots and truly making you feel like the World’s Greatest Detective. It was a superb game with very few flaws, one of the only downsides being that you never got the chance to stand atop a Gotham City building, fly around the city streets and silently dispatch the criminals of the night. Batman: Arkham City finally gives us that chance, and it’s just as cool as I always expected.
You start off Arkham City with all the gadgets you picked up in your playtrough of Arkham Asylum. After a brief, very cool opening where you play as Bruce Wayne, you’ll soon acquire your BatSuit and your utility belt. A few seconds later, you’ll be jumping off a tall building, swooping throuh the air and shooting your grappling hook at nearby buildings mid-flight. Once you get the controls down, this is all very intuitive and fun. It definitely reminded me of swinging through New York City for the first time as Spidey in Spider-Man 2– arguably the last great superhero game before Arkham Asylum came along. Gotham City is huge- even just the walled off Arkham City part that you’ll play through in this game. Even though it can mainly serve in the game as just a hub world between missions, you will spend quite a bit of time in it. You’ll also spend a lot of time walking through Gotham’s most notorious areas, like the Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge and the site of Bruce’s parents’ death, Monarch Theater.
One thing everybody loved about Arkham Asylum was the myriad cameos from all the heroes and villains of Batman lore. This game manages to pack in even more, while adding more substance to their characters and giving them much more screen time. You’ll even get to play as some of them, provided you have some of the very cool preorder DLC. I ordered from Amazon, and so I picked up the very cool Catwoman DLC. I can’t speak for the other packs, like Robin’s, but Catwoman’s missions are extremely cool and directly tied into Batman’s story. If you have the Catwoman DLC, you’ll actually start the game as Catwoman, and you’ll play missions throughout the game as her when the story dictates, and you’ll even get have an extra mission to play after the credits roll.
One other huge gameplay element that Rocksteady got right in Arkham Asylum was the combat system. It was honestly the most intuitive and entertaining combat system I’d ever played. The system just worked so well that I was amazed that every other superhero game didn’t try to ape it. Since Arkham Asylum was still king of the superhero videogames leading up to Arkham City’s release, maybe some of them should have tried. This awesome combat system is expanded with even cooler combos and reversals, and Catwoman even has a complete set of her own moves. It truly makes the game feel complete, and you can easily tell that Catwoman was not just a tacked-on afterthought.
The story is even better than it was the last time around. Rocksteady had been teasing that the Joker may not live to see the end of this game (and possibly even Batman himself), and this plotline is handled very well throughout, taking many unexpected twists and turns, right up until the game’s shocking final moments. I honestly thought I had the story figured out by the end, and the writers totally surprised me. Suffice it to say that I am already anticipating Batman 3 just to see the after effect’s of Arkham City‘s last act. Even when I could barely keep my eyes open after hours of playing, I still wanted to press on just to see what happens next.
Batman: Arkham City is the best kind of sequel- the kind that I can’t say enough good things about. A sequel hasn’t gotten this many things right since Uncharted 2 came out. There are a few nitpicks, such as how much the difficulty ramps up in the final act and the fact that sometimes it can be pretty damn hard to figure out exactly where the hell you need to go, but overall this game is so good that those flaws are easily overlooked. Even after beating the game, new modes are unlocked, such as the New Game Plus, which is a harder mode that takes away the reversal prompts and throws more difficult enemies at you from the start. You can also replay any of the DLC missions, play challenges, and more. Considering that Arkham City probably took me at least 10 hours to beat, and I’ve only unlocked about 40% completion on the game, I’d say that this title has a lot of replay value. You’ll also gain the ability to wear any DLC Batman suits in your second playthrough of the game. Just like The Dark Knight was an even better film than Batman Begins,Batman: Arkham City has beaten out its only competition. Until the next Rocksteady Batman game (which will hopefully take place in a fully realized Gotham City) , you probably won’t find another superhero game as great as this one, even though I wish that weren’t the case. Can Rocksteady please make a Spider-Man game already?