Review: Batman: Arkham City

NOTE: Part 2 in “Judge’s Batman Extravaganza”

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a review of any kind.  The last thing I remember doing was…Gunpla Builders.  The last game review I did was Fear 3.  A big reason is that there hasn’t been a game that’s really engrossed me enough to sit through and determine a fair grade.  Until Arkham City that is.  I swear, it’s been a long time since a game has gripped me this much.  Batman: Arkham City by Rocksteady Studios (published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment) is everything I could have wanted in an action game.  It truly is a worthy successor to Batman: Arkham Asylum.  Let’s get started!

Beating up goons was never so much fun

For those of you not familiar with the story, ex-warden of Arkham Asylum and new mayor of Gotham Quincy Sharp created Arkham City, stuck all the criminals inside, and let Hugo Strange run the show.  This is obviously not a good idea.  Bruce Wayne speaks out against the idea of having a “city” full of criminals in Gotham.  He is captured by Hugo Strange, who reveals that he knows Bruce is Batman, and throws him in the city.  He warns Batman not to interfere, but we know that he’s not just going to sit back and listen.  After an amazing opening cinematic, Bruce frees himself and the player is showed the basics of movement.  Bruce dons the batsuit and thus Batman begins his quest to find out what is really going on in this madhouse.

Me? I'm just gliding around Arkham City and taking in the view

Right from the get go, we are introduced to the vastness of Arkham City.  Unlike Arkham Asylum, which was linear, Arkham City is an open world.  You are free to explore the many sectors of the city at your pleasure.  This is one of the big draws of Arkham City.  You aren’t forced to immediately complete the main quest.  In fact, I found it much moar enjoyable to complete the various side missions scattered throughout the city.  There are about 15 hours worth of gameplay in the side missions alone, so you’ll be busy for a while.  Half of those hours will be spent finding the 400 Riddler challenges hidden across the map.

However, if and when you choose to pursue to main story, you won’t be disappointed.  The narrative and storytelling is top notch; Rocksteady really outdid themselves this time.  The main story, for the most part, takes place at specific dungeon-like areas in Arkham City as opposed to the side missions, which are scattered about (again for the most part).  You’ll encounter Two-Face in a courthouse, the Joker in his steel mill base, the Penguin in the museum, Ra’s al Ghul in the sewers, and Mr. Freeze in the old Gotham Police Department, to name a few.  While traversing through each mini-dungeon, you’ll uncover the moar sinister plot behind Arkham City.  Of course there are twists and turns, and for those of you who are hoping to see a continuation of the Joker story from Arkham Asylum, don’t worry, you’ll see plenty of him; he has his own little gig going in the play.

Whee! I'm Batman!

As far as playing Batman goes, he’s just as badass as you would expect.  Laying a beat-down on a few thugs has never brought a bigger smile to my face.  This is due to the extremely enjoyable combat system. Arkham City implements the same “freeflow” system as the first game, but polishes it up, turning it into a work of art.  It’s not just fun to play, it’s fun to look at to.  Watching Batman’s brawl and counter animations were amazing.  You’ll learn special combos along the way, and of course you’ll have your vast array of gadgets to help you deal with enemies.  Being able to use your gadgets in combat via hot keys was a huge plus; near the end of the game, I was mixing in standard punches and combos and freeze grenades, explosive gel, batarangs, my grapple hook, and a shock gun.

The system is simple enough for anyone to pick up, but real masters will learn to get insane combos going, taking on 20 goons at once without breaking a sweat.  Things aren’t that easy though, as the farther you progress, the moar diverse the enemies get.  Soon you’ll be facing thugs with guns, riot shields, body armor, stun sticks, and knives, making fights that much moar interesting.  My one complaint was the boss battles; I thought they were a tad on the easy side, except for the Mr. Freeze fight mentioned below.

Gentleman, I believe I've won

Of course Batman isn’t all about beating the crap out of people.  He’s a detective too, and I sure felt like one at certain points in the game.  Detective mode returns from the last game, and trust me when I say you’ll need it.  They’ll be plenty of situations where you’ll need to use your head, especially when dealing with the Riddler.  You’ll use detective mode to find the slightest clues to solve a puzzle or case.  The Mr. Freeze fight was especially memorable because of the amount of thinking you had to do (make sure you turn off hints in that fight, or it spoils it!).  Also, when you want to be stealthy, detective mode is a must.  There were many times that engaging in a straight-up fight was a ticket to death, so discretion was needed.  Observing a layout of a room with 10 enemies helped me plan the best course of action.  Lurking in the shadows and grappling from one ledge to another while listening to the fear in my enemies’ voice made going for the kill that much sweeter.  Silent takedowns are awesome, plain and simple.

She's so damn sexy

For a nice change of pace, there were times you got to play as Catwoman.  She has her own mini-story going on, and her sections make up roughly 10% of the gameplay.  I rather enjoyed these sections not because she is incredibly good to look at (although that is a plus), but because she required a different strategy when in combat.  She doesn’t have the brawn or tech that Batman does, so she compensates with her guile and acrobatic ability.  Her movements also reflect this, and traveling across the map is a little moar burdensome.  Nonetheless, I would love to see Rocksteady create a standalone game for her, but for now the promise of moar Catwoman DLC will have to do.  By the way, for those of you wondering, yes you can switch between Batman and Catwoman after the end of the game.  How else would you complete the 40 Catwoman-specific Riddler challenges?

Overall, there’s just so much going for Arkham City.  The gameplay is solid, and the side missions will keep you entertained for hours.  If you complete the game and thought it was too easy, there’s New Game Plus which amps up the difficulty, throwing moar diverse enemy groups at you from the start.  You’ll really need to become a combo master to survive this mode.  There are also the many challenge maps to keep you entertained.  I’m in the process of collecting all the medals to complete my achievement list.  The cast of Arkham City is immense, with mainstays like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill returning to voice Batman and the Joker respectively.

However, my biggest complaint was that shared by many others: perhaps the cast was too big.  While it was fun encountering the various villains in Arkham City, the feeling of excitement was far too short-lived.  Some felt as if they were just thrown in to say they were in the game.  Yet this is a but a small dent in the armor.  The majority of side mission villains and easter egg encounters were satisfactory.  I encourage you to find all the hints that suggest a sequel is coming 🙂 And on that note, I bid you farewell.  Hoped you enjoyed the review.  Until next time people!

Rating Breakdown
The story and setting are both amazing. A few characters didn't get the attention they deserved, but Arkham City is still an extraordinary experience.
I'm Batman. At least I feel like Batman, which is great. Movement and combat are solid, playing a detective and using your head is fun, and being stealthy never felt so good. The Catwoman sections were also a great change of pace.
There were numerous times where textures would clip or would not render out correctly, creating some ugly looking buildings. But overall, the city was a sight to behold while perched atop a tall building. Did I mention that both Batman and Catwoman's suits would show wear and tear as the game went on?
The soundtrack is top notch and the voice acting is second to none. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill return, and Grey DeLisle is one sexy Catwoman.
You have the main story, 15 hours of side missions, a New Game Plus mode, and all the challenge maps. You'll be playing this for a while.
Batman: Arkham City isn't perfect, but it's close as it can to being perfect. The definitive Batman experience. This game's Batman takes the cake over Nolan's Batman. Yes I said it.


Miscellaneous details:
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Notable people involved: Paul Dini (writer)
Available on:  PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Genre: Action-adventure
Rating: T
Release date: October 18th, 2011 (PS3, Xbox 360), November 22nd, 2011 (PC)

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