Batman: Arkham City, the follow-up to Rocksteady‘s multi award-winning foray into the adventures of the Dark Knight continues, both in terms of award-winning quality and story content.
Set shortly after the events of Arkham Asylum Batman is launched into the beautifully detailed criminal environment of Arkham City; north Gotham’s new high walled criminal district where every Bat hating megalomaniac is fighting tooth and claw for supremacy. Once again its Batman’s duty to rid the city of its scourge and fight his way to safety, battling a plethora of familiar faces along the way.
Expanding upon the ground covered in Asylum, this ‘new’ game leaves the more confined surrounding behind exposing a new and exciting semi open world to discover. A wonderfully diverse city that ranges from the sinisterly twisted Industrial District home of the Joker to the flooded streets of Amusement Mile. Each sector has its own individual feel and atmosphere, presented with painstaking attention to detail.
Despite the fact I’d been away from Gotham for some time I found myself at home inside Arkham City, all my memories from Asylum came flooding back and it felt like I’d never been away.
The standard set by the previous title is hard to escape, in my eyes it was one of the best games I’d played all generation and it couldn’t have set the bar much higher. Thankfully Rocksteady have pulled another blinder, releasing another stellar title.
I’ve put ‘spoiler’ but let’s be honest, everyone should have played this game by now, I’m slightly ashamed its taken myself so long, anyway… The story begins with Bruce Wayne being snatched by a group of TYGER guards while giving a press conference outside of Arkham City. Once taken and imprisoned it becomes clear that Dr. Hugo Strange is pulling all the strings, threatening to reveal the true identity of Batman and unleash the mysterious “Protocol 10”. After escaping from his incarceration, Mr Wayne receives his bat-gear via a root-top drop off and the game truly begins.
A short while into the game our old friend the Joker crawls out of the woodwork suffering some serious side effects from the escapades of Arkham Asylum. The Titan serum that transformed the Joker into the monster seen at the finale of the previous game is now slowly eating away at everyone favourite villain. Luring in Batman with the assistance of the mysteriously attractive Harley Quinn and in a desperate attempt to find a cure, Joker transfuses some of his own poisoned blood into Batman. From this point on the main storyline is split between finding a cure for B-man while also uncovering what on earth Strange has planned.
Due to the more open world nature of Arkham City my honest thought is that the main storyline isn’t as strong as the one in Arkham Asylum; the more linear approach of Asylum lent itself to a strong singular native. While the story in City is still thoroughly enjoyable and engaging throughout it just lacks some of the spark, heart-pounding and jaw-dropping moments I experienced playing it predecessor. The intertwined story-lines of Joker and Strange work well but my biggest gripe is with Catwoman.
Her inclusion; albeit via free downloadable content, is welcome and provides some refreshing variation in gameplay but being abruptly taken away from the Dark Knight to complete a single Catwoman story quest just annoyed me, I was just thankful to get back to normal proceedings. That single mission stealing some equipment added nothing to the overall progression of the main story. If it wasn’t designed to be directly apart of the main story then why was it shoehorned in there, it should have been left for side quests.
That brings me to the main disappointment of Arkham City and I’m being fairly picky but with a game of this quality, picky is all you can be. Side missions and Villains, specifically the ‘boss fights’, they are just to short and anticlimactic. While playing the main quest a whole handful of known enemies are presented to Batman, including: Riddler, Freeze, Two-Face, Penguin, Bane, Zsasz and Soloman Grundy. Freeze and Penguin are woven neatly into the main story and their rise and fall feel well thought out and substantial. It’s the other villain based side missions that left me wanting more, a lot more.
Running around Arkham City destroying Titan chambers for Bane had me rather excited, fully absorbed in the role of the Dark Knight I knew that Bane would be up to no good. My reward for destroying these chambers? A cutscene where Bane is trapped in a lift. Doesn’t he have super strength?! I was geared up for an Asylum esque show down but got nothing. It’s the same story with Zsasz. You finally get his location and navigate around his hideaway to be rewarded with a cutscene showing his capture. The buildup to these missions are good its just such a shame they are let down at the end.
Likewise with Asylum, the area that really shines in this game is the combat. It is some of the most rewarding combat around. You have one button to attack, one to counter and one to dodge, it couldn’t be easier. Yet this simple approach will satisfy both casual newcomers to the series and experienced combo freaks. You could spend the whole game using only strikes with the occasional dodge, or challenge yourself to use as many quick-fire weapons as possible. This expansion upon the combat from Asylum includes nearly every weapon having a quick-fire button combo that you can press to unleash some explosive gel or freeze charge mid battle without breaking your combo. Making it an incredibly deep combat system should you wish it to be.
The balance of life and death is also near perfection. It isn’t until you face a group of 20+ henchmen that you really need to start thinking, especially if presented with a variety of enemy types; such as knife or shock staff grunts. Even so, it doesn’t take much practice to feel invincible inside Arkham City, which is good, you’re freakin’ Batman at the end of the day. With that said, there are the occasional moments where some suspense and excitement is lost because certain boss’ just aren’t that difficult to defeat.
The upgrade system is also back giving enough options to unlock new moves or improve Batman as you progress through the game. I initially thought that starting with a number of gadgets would make the game too easy but that wasnt the case. You soon realise there are plenty of location you can’t yet reach.
Along with Arkham City’s awesome combat is its visual presentation, even now over a year on, it still looks stunning in comparison to most similarly open games. It has the typical traits of an unreal engine game; the occasional texture pop and every character is either abusing steroids or a tiny waisted wonderbra model but at least its kind of fitting. The size of the map hasn’t come at the cost of the visuals which is good and I can’t recall seeing any blurry or stretched textures anywhere. I have seen a few clipping issue with the cape and Batman has a rather stiff walk but for the vast majority of the time these issues go unnoticed. The cutscenes are wonderful with noticeably ramped up visuals. The lip sync is great and the facial animation is a lot more fluid; especially Batman’s, the expression extend beyond just the lips and eyebrows; that we get ingame, with more movement in the cheeks.
It might appear that I’ve flagged up a number of things that Arkham City hasn’t done well and been a bit nit-picky but as I said before, with a game of this quality its a lot easier to pick out the very small faults (some subjective I’ll admit).
To summarise, Arkham City is a stunningly beautiful and atmospheric playground that lets you rip through enemies utilising the most satisfying combat on offer in any video game, while keeping you coming back for more. You’ll be playing long after the main story is complete; I finished the main story with only 39% complete on my save file. Then if that isn’t enough there are all the Riddler challenges, Catwoman missions and combat challenges to keep you entertained.