After receiving near perfect scores in the past, can Rocksteady Studios top Arkham Asylum with this latest Batman installment?
The events of Arkham City take place roughly a year after the end of Arkham Asylum and new mayor Quincy Sharp has bought out a number of slums in Gotham to be converted into a huge, open-air prison for the ever-growing criminal population.You begin the game rather surprisingly in two ways, one of which I won’t spoil but the other involves assuming the character of Bruce Wayne, protesting the opening of Arkham City. You are then taken prisoner at Hugo Strange’s request and early on the major villains in this chapter are revealed, most notably Hugo Strange (who proposes a new plan for Arkham City, codename “Protocol 10”), Penguin, Two-Face and The Joker (who are all battling with each other to gain control of Gotham), as well as other major villains who will be tied into these storylines (I would love to mention them, but for spoiler purposes I won’t). You escape the confines of the prison before Barney Stinson style “suiting up” in your batsuit to stop Protocol 10 from reaching critical mass.
Joker is still one of the major driving features of the plot and is still feeling the effects of the Titan from Arkham Asylum. There are a few tie ins to this story which drive the game, but I can’t really mention them without ruining a bit of the story. Unfortunately, you’ll have to trust me then that the plot itself works incredibly well and credit goes to the writing staff who have put together a game that DC Comics would be immensely proud of.
I have to touch on the game’s ability to immerse the gamer in the DC Universe. I was never a comic book fan and must admit my knowledge of Batman stopped at anything outside of the films (Batman and Robin still being the worst comic book film of all time); but I commended Arkham Asylum for introducing me to characters and back stories, even if it was just biog cards or interview tapes. Indeed, I felt like I knew certain aspects of Batman that otherwise I would have been oblivious to. After Arkham City though, I have a new found appreciation for everything DC. Not only are a large number of characters from the DC Universe introduced in the game, but you get to fully interact or control them throughout the game. I only touched on the main story mode but even without getting sidetracked I counted 16 characters from the DC Universe, and the design and detail that went in to them was incredible.
Gameplay is not too dissimilar to Arkham Asylum, with fight sequences flowing between attack, counter and dodge immensely. Since fighting is the delicious filling in this game (and you will be doing a lot of it), it would be a good idea to shake things up a little from the previous game, and to the game’s credit, it does. New combinations, weapons and fighting styles have been introduced, which helps keep things fresh. Although it is a little difficult when surrounded by 20 enemies to remember the different button combinations it takes to break an attack, especially when you have a split second before a makeshift shield gets embedded in your skull. It all works very well, though, and keeps things interesting, with the multi-hit combo “beat downs” the highlight.
The most satisfying aspect of gameplay in Arkham City,however, is the free-roaming environment and open-world aspect, which is very reminiscent of Prototype. Like Prototype, the most gratifying thing to do is just glide around and hop from rooftop to rooftop with joyful ease. While some open-world games like Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto have massively sprawling maps to explore, sometimes the method of travel can be a bit of a chore, getting from one side to another. In Arkham City, it is an absolute joy to glide, climb, swoop and grapple onto the numerous buildings and vantage points.
The one criticism I had with Arkham Asylum was the “boss fights” were a bit too samey. Every one felt like the standard batarang to the face of a juggernaut enemy, dodge and watch them headbutt a wall. Thankfully, this complaint has been ironed out with the boss fights now being a highlight and something to look forward to rather than being small roadblocks between you and progression in the story. Also, it should be noted each boss fight will require a different set of skills in order to defeat them and some need a change of tactic a number of times for conquest.
Side quests and DLC
While online multiplayer is the main driver for most games when it comes to continuity, it wouldn’t really work for Arkham City. This, however, doesn’t hinder the game when it comes to longevity, though. The main story mode with Batman is about 11-13 hours long if you ignore all other aspects. Add to this the challenges, riddler trophies and side quests involving characters from the DC Universe and this will ensure gamers get their monies worth. Indeed, after playing for 12 hours or so, I checked back to see my game progression – 24pc. Surely, some mistake I thought, but no, while I was 85pc through the primary story, there was three times as much game to get through with side quests and added gameplay with additional characters. And if, like me, you weren’t quite satisfied until you found all the riddler trophies in Arkham Asylum, good luck with Arkham City … there’s 436 of them!
The DLC for additional gameplay characters has been much touted for this game, with both Robin and Catwoman story modes available for download. I’m always wary with DLC, as I feel a little cheated at having to pay for content that I’ve already had to fork out a small fortune for in the first place. Fortunately, though, the Catwoman DLC comes with Arkham City and the Robin edition doesn’t seem to be too much more (with a “Nightwing” edition coming soon).
On a side note, while we are talking about price, if you haven’t bought the game already I’d recommend shopping around a bit first. I went to town to pick up the game and two stores, 10 feet from each other, had the game with a 35pc difference in price between one and the other. Madness.
In my Portal 2 review, I pointed out it would take something ridiculously special to steal “Game of the Year” from under Valve’s noses and that is exactly what Batman: Arkham City is – something ridiculously special. Wonderfully written, atmospheric and gameplay flows better than any game I’ve ever played and Mark Hamill gives another five-star performance as The Joker. The game is far darker and grittier than Arkham Asylum but it suits it. I can’t quite put my finger on why the formula for this game works so well but all elements just seem to mesh together seamlessly and as pointed out above, it is the game’s ability to immerse you in the DC Universe even if you are not a fan of the comics that is the real master class.
The ending cinematic is better directed and more poignant than most Hollywood movies that have been produced in recent years and tops off a gem of a game. This game is absolute perfection from start to finish and I am contemplating retiring my thumbs due to the harrowing thought that I may never play another game of this standard.
10/10, or if I can use Spinal Tap metrics – 11
Buy your tickets now!