Batman: Arkham City Review

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Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed) | PS3 | PC

Developer: Rocksteady Studios

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive

When Arkham Asylum came out it blew everybody’s expectations out of the water and gave us a truly great cat and mouse chase between The Dark Knight and the Clown Prince Of Crime. It also catered for just about every type of Batman fan out there, from those who just casually drift in and out of his adventures to those who religiously follow the graphic novels, by cramming a rich and long history into one game. Now if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably played the original numerous times and despite knowing what’s going to happen it’s still a cracking way to spend a large chunk of time because the narrative is so wonderful. The announcement of a sequel was a great day, but it was also a worrying one; could Rocksteady deliver the same high quality entertainment and make improvements at the same time?

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Well, that’s exactly what they’ve done!

Once again the story is masterfully told and it’s incredibly hard to break away from. I’ll give you a brief warning now, Arkham City is possibly one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played, so be prepared to cancel all of your plans in the immediate future before loading it into your platform of choice. There’s a vast array of super villains and psychos to deal with including Hugo Strange, The Joker, Solomon Grundy, The Penguin, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, The Riddler, and Victor Zsasz to name but a few. To get this out of the way now, whilst I felt that The Penguin was exactly what he should have been, a small time crook who poses little threat to The Caped Crusader, Nolan North’s appalling “British” accent ruined him for me. I’m not going to go on about the story too much because I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I did like that things aren’t black and white in Arkham City; Batman will form fragile alliances if it allows him to protect Gotham. It’s also nice to have Alfred backing you up and I did enjoy walking around as Bruce Wayne even if it was only for a brief period of time.

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To help you sail through the various perils that the city contains you’re armed to the teeth with gadgets old and new. The gadgets that you’re already familiar with have received little tweaks to increase their effectiveness, but I’ve got to admit I did miss knocking out several inept goons in one go using the multi batarangs. Detective mode’s just as good at locating the exact whereabouts of your enemies, but now you probably won’t spend all your time with it on because it compromises your normal vision ever so slightly. The new gadgets only add to the experience, and it’s great fun to disappear in a cloud of smoke as a bunch of guards empty round after round into thin air before they scratch their heads in confusion as to where you’ve gone.

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As you’d expect Arkham City’s a much bigger playground than Arkham Island, but that won’t slow you down because your manoeuvrability’s much better. Gliding above the streets is great fun when you get the hang of it and should you start to fall dangerously close to the pavement you can now activate the grapple gun in mid air, which means that you’ll probably spend very little time scrabbling about at ground level, unless you’re pummelling your foes for information or trying to access a heavily guarded building. If you’re high in the air and you need to quickly get to floor level gliding isn’t the most effective tactic, so it’s a good job you can rocket to the ground using the new dive bomb move, which also doubles up as a good way to isolate a single enemy from a group and take them out before their friends come to their aid. Another new move that can also be used in combat is the slide, which you can use to slip under small gaps, or knock an enemy’s legs out from underneath them. Finally, navigating your way to specific locations could have been tricky, but luckily once you’ve set a waypoint a huge Batsignal will appear in the sky above the place you’re trying to get to.

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That leads me onto the combat, which is just as good as before, only now you can perform double silent takedowns, you can throw back objects that enemies have tossed at you, you can counter two enemies at a time, you can take people out from above, and if all that’s not enough for you there are even contextual take downs.

When you’re not taking part in the main story there are plenty of side missions to get through. Also, The Riddler’s decided to make your life a misery again by scattering riddles, riddler trophies, and other assorted tasks about the city for you to solve, only this time he’s not content just to gloat about how much more intelligent than you he is, he’s been taking hostages and placing them in elaborate traps to test your skills. Collecting riddler trophies used to be a simple case of finding them and picking them up, but now many of them are held within containers that you’ll need to open, some of which are surprisingly challenging. Now, don’t worry if you can’t find these bits and pieces because you can extract their locations from the scumbags the Riddler’s hired to do his dirty work via some hilarious interrogation sequences.

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Playing through as a single character for an extended period of time always carries the risk of becoming stale, so it’s a good job that you can slip into Catwoman’s shoes too. OK, I’ll admit that I initially wasn’t particularly excited by this prospect, but you know what, Selina’s sections are surprisingly good fun. She’s quicker and more acrobatic than Batman, you’ll be stunning enemies with her whip rather than a cape, and her gadgets include caltrops and bolas to keep hostiles at bay. Staying out of sight isn’t hard in certain areas either because Catwoman can leap up onto the ceiling to avoid enemy encounters. There are also purple riddler trophies lying around that only she can pick up.

Once you’ve made your way to the very end of the game there are still things to keep you coming back, such as the Story + mode and the Riddler’s Revenge challenges. Story + mode is identical to the normal story mode, only you carry over everything you’ve unlocked from your previous play through and it’s a little bit harder, whereas Riddler’s Revenge is a combination of predator, combat, and custom challenges, which you can take part in as either Batman or Catwoman.

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OK, now whilst I can’t really think of anything bad about the game (with the exception of a certain voice actor’s accent), there are a couple of things that disappointed me and stole a 10 score away from this one. Yet again you’re not able to drive the Batmobile or pilot the Batwing and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be the only Batman fan who’s moaning about his one. It’d also have been nice to have had the option of co-op crime fighting, then again that could have ruined Batman’s brooding solitary image.

So to sum things up, Arkham City’s beaten all the odds and built on the original game whilst maintaining everything that stole our hearts a couple of years ago. I can’t recommend it highly enough, although you will have to clear your schedule if you decide to pick it up because you’ll find it almost impossible to stop playing and there’s a slight risk that you’ll end up believing you actually are The Caped Crusader by the end of it. Now I’ll leave you with this thought; seeing as the two games in the series share a word in their titles, I’m hoping the next instalment’ll carry on this tradition, which’ll mean that hopefully we’ll end up with Batman: Gotham City next!

Pros:

  • Great story
  • Lots of content
  • Brilliant crime fighting fun

Cons:

  • Nolan North’s “British” accent!
  • No Batmobile or Batwing!
  • Co-op might have been nice

The Short Version: Rocksteady have succeeded with the ‘difficult second album’, smashing expectations and delivering a darker, deeper and more delicious experience than before. Go, go and buy it now, you won’t be disappointed!

9/10

First published on Dealspwn (24 October 2011)

 

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