When it was released back in 2009, the original Batman: Arkham Asylum was a mega surprise hit, and changed the game when it came to licensed game quality. And while some of my other editors might not have it enjoyed as much, I personally thought that it was one of the best games in a year filled with Uncharted 2’s and Borderlands’. Well, now the sequel has been released, and I’m happy to say that developer Rocksteady has changed the game once again. Despite some technical problems, I have found my leading pick for Game of the Year, in a year full of Uncharted 3’s and Skyrim’s.
Taking place about a year after the events of Arkham Asylum, B:AC starts with the revelation that the corrupt warden from the first game, Quincy Sharp, has successfully run for mayor of Gotham City, and made good on his promise to clean up the city. And by “clean up the city,” I mean that he has quarantined off a large chunk of Gotham and tossed in every criminal, lunatic, super-villain, and political rival in the larger Gotham Area and giving them free reign over the place. Bruce Wayne (Batman’s playboy billionare alter ego) comes out publicly against this new super prison, dubbed Arkham City, in a rare political move. However, he is quickly arrested and thrown into Arkham City. Soon after, the prison’s warden, psychiatrist Hugo Strange, reveals that he knows of Wayne’s double life as Batman, and will tell the world if he interferes with Protocol 10, a mysterious plan of Strange’s that Wayne knows nothing about. After Wayne gets thrown into Arkham City proper and escapes some Penguin thugs, he becomes the Batman, ready to strike fear in the hearts of villains and find out just what Protocol 10 is.
The story in Arkham City is well-written and expertly told, with set pieces that are a good combination of movie special effects and comic book logic. Over the course of this 20 hour main story, you’ll come across many classic Batman villains, including (but certainly not limited to) Two-Face, the Penguin, and the ever present Joker. The game could have been an excuse for Rocksteady to cram in as many villains as possible with no real connection, but thankfully, all connections between villains make sense and further the story along. Many objectives come from the constant warfare between the gangs of the three above villains, with plenty of minor villains ready to harass you as well.
Getting around Arkham City is a breeze, and also one of the coolest things about the game; gliding, dive-bombing, and grapnel boosting off of tall structures allow Batman to get across the entire city without touching the ground. As an environment, Arkham City certainly isn’t the largest open world in gaming (Just Cause 2 can rest easy), but it is by far the most intricate. Small details like Two-Face recruitment posters and billboards that confirm the fact that, yes, you will die if you try to escape, are awesome, and locations like the Sionis Steel Mill and Wonder City are also filled with cool details. The Museum level wins the award for best level in the game: filled with exhibits on dinosaurs, the ocean, and evolution, it is the best place for beatdowns and stealth missions.
Those beatdowns and stealth missions are back from the first game, and vastly improved overall. In hand to hand combat, the Freeflow system of countering, stunning, and face-punching has returned, and is as fun as it ever was. This time around, Batman can use most of his gadgets mid-combo using a series of hotkeys assigned on the controllers, in addition to now being able to counter multiple baddies at once. These new tactics come in handy when facing new shielded, armored, and blade-wielding enemies. The game encourages you to plan out fighting strategies ahead of time, making every fight as much a game of chess as it is a epic bone breaking montage.
Stealth is changed only very subtly, and most changes go to the enemies, although now Batman can perform double silent takedowns, in addition to punching through walls to get at thugs. Now, when picking off henchmen one by one, they will scan the gargoyles that so many people use for the Dark Knight, and destroy them when they become wise to your tactics (my “tactics” involved inverted takedowns. Lots of inverted takedowns). Thankfully, the stealth missions provide enough options that you can try out different strategies and still succeed.
The story and multiple sidequests in the game are great, but I’m not going to spend weeks playing and re-playing the story (although with the New Game Plus feature, you can start the story again with all your gadgets and upgrades, but with tougher enemies). No, I’m dedicating my time to Arkham City’s Riddler challenges, which are carryovers from the original game. Now, I pride myself in having found all of the Riddler secrets in Arkham Asylum, without the use of an Internet walkthrough. However, even I may need to consult the Interwebz to find all of Arkham City’s Riddler challenges. The total amount of these trophies, riddles, and breakable objects total up to over 400 challenges. Yeah, I’m going to be playing this game for a loooooonnnngg time.
The sound of Arkham City is so good that it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Ambient noises from around the city give off waves of discomfort and terror, which is a plus, considering that’s what Rocksteady was going for. The voice acting in the game is top notch, with awesome performances from Nolan North doing the best Penguin in a long time, and Mark Hamill in what he says will be his last role as the Joker. The graphics in the game are also well done, with gritty textures and sweeping backgrounds. However, there are some major texture pop-ins when traversing the world, which are hardly unnoticeable. In addition, there are several times during gameplay that brief loading times would break up the flow of the game. Although rare, these loading times were definitely a nuisance, especially during the more intense sequences in the game.
Challenge maps make a return in Arkham City, allowing for individual stealth and combat challenges. If you score well, you can post it on the leaderboards. This provides incentive to keep playing the game months now to perfect that sweet combo you’ve been working on.
Catwoman is playable in the game if you purchase a new copy. I not only recommend getting a Catwoman code, but also downloading and installing her levels before starting the game, as they provide some cool backstory that you wouldn’t normally get as Batman. In combat, Catwoman moves much more quickly than Batman, and I would actually say that her combat is more fun at times, especially after getting her individual gadgets.
Batman: Arkham City is so ridiculously good that I am now convinced that I can be Batman. This game provides the finest Caped Crusader simulator to date, and is worth anyone’s purchase. If you love Batman, buy this game. If you don’t love Batman, buy the game, and you will learn to love him.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10
The Good: Excellent writing, Great voice acting, fun and exciting combat, Catwoman, Riddler Challenges, Stealth Navigation, and an overwhelming sense of being Batman
The Bad: Technical Problems, such as texture pop-ins and ill-placed loading times
The Ugly: A cancerous tumor that requires you to think about playing this game when you want to get on with your life.
Second Opinion by Clint Prentice
I’ve always been a huge Batman fan. Rocksteady has crafted near perfection with Batman: Arkham City. From controls, to visuals, to story, this is World’s Greatest Detective at his finest. I can’t think of the last time I had a single player experience so enthralling that I found myself dreaming about it. Minor graphical hiccups aside, Arkham City is the most fun I’ve had playing a game all year. This is such a good Batman story that it actually got me so excited for more Batman that I ran into my nearest comic book store and bought as many Batman comics as I could. Arkham City is rich with references to many Batman stories and appearances by a plethora of Batman’s Rogue Gallery of Villains. The combat is fluid and fun, never frustrating. I always felt like I had complete control of Batman’s movements.
I could say a hundred more great things about Batman: Arkham City, but I think you get the point. Batman: Arkham City isn’t just the greatest Batman game, or the greatest licensed game (which it is), but it is one of the greatest games this generation. While there are one or two graphical hiccups, the rest of the experience surrounding Batman: Arkham City is close to perfect.
Final Score: 10 out of 10.