Game Review: Batman: Arkham City
How do you follow-up the greatest superhero videogame of all time? Sure, the list of games in the superhero genre is full of failures, and disappointments, but 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum rose above the rest, and finally gave us a game to be proud of. We finally had a game that let us feel like Batman. We were each the Caped Crusader, bent on stopping Joker, skulking in the shadows, and raining punches from the ceiling. We were the World’s Greatest Detective, stopping The Riddler and having him arrested.
And now, 2 years later, we are the Batman once more. Boy does this game put Arkham Asylum to shame. Before the game was even released, I heard that Arkham Asylum was just practice for Arkham City, and that is absolute truth. You’ll need the tactics you learned to get by in this game.
The backstory: You are Batman. Almost literally. In his previous adventure, you found yourself within the walls of Arkham Asylum, a place for the crazy, and the super villains of Gotham. After scheming to have the Blackgate Prison shut down due to an internal fire, the Joker had all of his henchmen from the prison moved to the Asylum in an effort to stage one of the biggest break out attempts seen in the Batman universe.
Over the course of the first game game, something called Titan, a toxin used by Joker to create monsters out of his henchmen, gets into Joker’s own veins, transforming him into a beast, hell-bent on breaking Batman. Well, needless to say, Batman still gets the upper hand, and the ending scenes show Joker nearly back to normal after the Titan was drained out of him. Well, the Titan seems to have had a lingering effect, and is now jeopardizing Joker’s life.
Story (4.5 out of 5): Unlike the previous game, Arkham City is an open-world adventure. You will meet MANY of Batman’s old foes, and with that, we get LOTS of story. The main story already takes you through Arkham City, including Sionis Industries (Owned by the Black Mask himself), to the museum (Penguin’s new hunting-ground), and Wonder City (an underground, futuristic utopian city that fell into decay and ruin).
The main story itself only took me around 4-6 hours, but that is without being deterred by any side missions. There are dozens of side missions you can take part in, and something that bothered me is how the game gives you so much right off the bat, and won’t tell you what is the top priority. The side missions SEEM very important, but the main story also sounds like a life-or-death situation.
Though, the side missions really make the game shine. These missions have taken my game from 6 hours, to 20 hours, and another 10-15 hours spent on completing the Riddler puzzles. This time the Riddler has not only left us to find trophies, and solve his riddles, but he’s also made a game out of it by kidnapping policemen and paramedics, and only giving us their locations after solving a certain percentage of them. Which leads us to a death trap, where you’ll need all of the gadgets at the Batman’s disposal.
The ending takes the game to uncomfortable places that are memorable at the very least, including some final sequences that left me in a daze for about 36 hours. Honestly, I spent like 2 hours reading and looking at a certain piece of artwork unlocked at the end of the game on the TV screen. Didn’t critique the artwork, just looked. Don’t judge me.
Gameplay (4.5 out of 5): The way this vast story plays out actually has let me down a little. The combat system is very much the same as the previous game, but the new gadgets give you more ways to dispatch the baddies either without being seen, or with a sort of theatricality right in the open. I did have a few instances where I was in the middle of a 30+ combo, and just going from a curb to the street was enough to cause Batman to go into a little stumble animation, and lose my combo. This may be nitpicking, but compared to games like Uncharted that seldom, if ever, gave me these moments of game-disconnect (moments where a gamer is suddenly very aware that they’re just controlling someone on a screen using a controller, as opposed to feeling LIKE the character), Batman will have to step it up in future installments if they want to win the competition for game of the year!
While the combat system was one of the brightest spots of the first game, it’s just too similar in this game, with a few small improvements. The biggest change is how the enemies react to these improvements and the Bat’s tried-and-true combat techniques, as they aren’t quite as dumb, especially on the hardest difficulty. There are villains armed with heat-vision, allowing them to see into the darkness the Bat likes to hide in, Two-face armed with a grenade launcher as Catwoman tries to take him and his henchmen down, and devices that shut-down Batman’s cowl preventing him from seeing enemies in the dark, these guys are well-armed, and WANT to win.
Batman may be the star of the series, but Arkham City itself is the star of this game. There are thousands of ledges to grapple onto, hundreds of puzzles to solve, and thugs hidden around every corner. Several side missions had you control Batman across the city as fast as possible, needing to grapple and glide to rescue someone, or answer a pay phone. With these thousands of grapple points, more often than not, these fast-paced races forced me to grapple quickly, and to a ledge I didn’t even see, and didn’t want to go to, making you redo a Riddler puzzle, or end up shot-down by a goon with a shotgun. Again, just nitpicking, but when you’re playing as the World’s Greatest Detective, a man who is NOT known for making mistakes, you see a bit too much of yourself in these moments. It’s an easy fix, such as limiting the distance the grapnel gun can fire.
Sound/Music (5 out of 5): How do you not give this a perfect score? Mark Hamill returns to his second-most popular role (second only to Luke Skywalker, of course!) and promised to go out with a bang. Mark finally retired from his role as the Joker after recording his vocals, and boy did he deliver. With the Joker being sick, you know he had to deliver quite the performance, and not once did I think, “Wow, that’s Mark Hamill!” It was more, “Wow, I can’t believe the Joker learned how to possess a human being, and spoke through this guy!” And Mark isn’t the only excellent voice acting performance here! Kevin Conroy returned as Batman, and Mad Hatter, voiced by Peter MacNicol, provided the perfect touch to his character. After meeting Mad Hatter, I was weirded out, grossed out, and amazed at the same time.
As many have, the only place they dropped the ball in voice acting is with the Catwoman’s lines. They were ALL cliché, all quite lame, and nothing memorable. After completing the Catwoman side missions, I do not remember a single thing she said. It was as bad as Catwoman’s lines in the movie Batman Returns, but they were still quite bad.
Visuals (5 out of 5): Like the Christopher Nolan Batman movies of late, these games by Rocksteady have tried to get some sort of realism out of the Batman universe, while maintaining the comic-book charm and wonder. Penguin is no longer a penguin/human crossbreed, Two-Face is no longer purple and white-haired on his bad half, and Batman’s suit gets beaten up, and badly. Mister Freeze seems a tad more believable, Solomon Grundy is less grey, more zombie. I was delighted with almost every inch of Arkham City. It’s beautiful. Sometimes I was very sad to have to hurry to go somewhere because I had just noticed a detail I didn’t notice the last time I went through the area, but when I did get that chance, I wasn’t disappointed. Added details like Crime Alley scrawled on a street sign, or even the chalk outlines of Bruce Wayne’s parents highlighted the detail that went into this game. Within minutes, there is enough work done where if someone told you it was hand-drawn, you would believe them.
Replayability (4 out of 5): Batman: Arkham City provides a feature I CRAVE in videogames: New Game Plus. If you complete the game on Medium or Hard difficulty, you unlock the feature, allowing you to start with many of your upgrades, a few gadgets, and some new costumes. But if you choose to replay this game, I highly suggest you don’t go very deep into the game the first time around. There is too much to do, and you will more than likely find yourself spent afterwards. Something not available in most games is that there is still Trophy/Achievement support in New Game Plus, so you will be able to use these gadgets to assist in completing tasks before they’re lost after reaching certain areas.
But you HAVE to be a big Batman fan to replay this huge, sprawling story. Luckily, for the ones that aren’t the biggest fans, the Challenge maps return, and can give you another 5-10+ hours as you attempt to get 3-Star performances on each of them as you strive for perfection. Additional DLC will be out November 1st, including a Nightwing pack, including Nightwing as a playable character for challenge maps, 2 new challenge maps, and a skin for the character. A Catwoman DLC pack will include 4 new story-missions to support her already well put-together story. 3 other DLC packs are expected to be released over the next month, so while the out-of-the-box replayability is a 4 out of 5, these releases are sure to bring that up to a 5 out of 5.
All in all, this game is the best game I have played in 2011 from start to credits. For three days, I found myself playing and playing, going to work, coming home for lunch, playing some more, back to work, then playing till it was 1 in the morning, and I was asleep on my desk. To suggest that this will happen to anyone who plays it may be a long-shot, but not by much.
Overall: 9.5 out of 10.