Game: Batman: Arkham City
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Rated T for Teen
Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the biggest surprises in recent memory. It was a great game that offered a fine mix of engaging combat, exploration, puzzle solving and storytelling, neatly wrapped under a fantastic comic book plot and the best characterization of the Dark Knight ever captured in video game format. When the sequel was announced I felt mixed emotions; excitement of course, but also fear that the game wouldn’t live up to the hype or the standard set by the original. Well, Arkham City is here and not only does it live up to the hype, it shatters them and sets a higher bar for future titles.
While the original game felt more like a Metroid or Castlevania title (a confined space in which you opened up new areas by backtracking after acquiring certain gadgets and skills) the sequel is much more open. From the beginning pretty much every area is accessible and the size of it is tremendous. Flying around from rooftop to rooftop using your cape and batclaw is a breeze and there is always something around the next corner to catch your attention, whether that’s a group of thugs in need of a beating or a riddler trophy begging to be captured.
Without going into lots of spoilers, the plot follows the events of the first game. Quincy Sharp is now the mayor and he decides to build a super prison in North Gotham to house all the inmates under deplorable conditions. Basically they are allowed to do as they please, food is scarce and none other than Hugo Strange is in charge. Strange knows Batman’s secret identity. Bruce Wayne is arrested after speaking against the prison and that’s how the adventure begins. Of course, there is a lot going on, some of it hinted at by trailers (such as the Joker being sick after his experience with Titan) and a lot more that will surprise fans. Major characters like Penguin and Two-Face show up for the first time while others like Bane and Poison Ivy return from the original. Oh yeah and Catwoman has her own (rather short) story and is a fully developed playable character, complete with unique moves and gadgets.
The combat is as satisfying as it was on the original, with several added wrinkles, including new quick fire gadgets, the ability to counter two or three enemies at once and several new takedowns. Just like in the first game, combat is both fast and beautiful, as you move from area to area delivering hits and escaping certain doom. It’s a violent ballet of movement and bone-crunching hits and mastering it makes you feel invincible. Nothing says “superhero” like flawlessly disposing of a dozen goons.
The other “action” portion involves the “Predator” areas in which you need to stealthily dispose of armed thugs. Combining silent takedowns, glide kicks and gadgets to terrorize the armed goons and make THEM feel like they are the unarmed ones is satisfying, although later sections are challenging with thugs that can use a special gadget to jam your predator vision or see you even in darkened areas.
Talking about Predator-vision, it is as useful as it has always been, but thankfully not as necessary as it was in the first game, allowing you to truly enjoy the environments
Once you are done with the main story there is still plenty left to do. There are half a dozen side missions that feature apperances by classic villains and a whooping 400 “Riddler Challenges” that are a mix of trophies, combat/predator feats and destroying certain environmental objects. The trophies range from easy to challenging and they are mostly very clever, requiring puzzle solving skills, exploration and practice. Contrary to the first game’s trophies, the ones in Arkham City are fun to get and became a favorite part of mine. Besides these goals you also unlock a New Game+ that allows you to keep the gadgets and trophies you have already acquired over the course of the original playthrough. New Game+ ramps up the challenge and even makes some changes to the game’s ending, making it worth playing.
Then we have the challenge maps that come in both, combat and predator variants. They come accompanied by medals to unlock, usually by disposing of thugs in a certain way (predator maps) or meeting certain scores (combat maps). They are a nice diversion and can become addictive.
The graphics are fantastic, with detail character models and well-designed environments. The animations (especially the bone crunching takedowns) are a treat. Sure, the game relies a lot on dark colors, but nobody in their right mind expects Batman to be colorful. The sound fits the mood perfectly with a lot of spoken dialogue (all of it good or great), the discharge of guns and the wails of pain of the “thugs” you manhandle. Important characters like Batman and Joker stand out over lesser ones, but they all sound great.
But no game is perfect and neither is this one. I have spotted graphical deficiencies like slow-down and jerky animations, but they are not frequent. The story also felt a little convoluted, with the appearance of certain characters nothing more than a cameo, but in a game filled with so many characters that was bound to happen.
Despite a few mishaps, Batman is as close to perfect a game I have played in years. Even when other big hitters like Uncharted 3 and Battlefield 3 came out I have been unable to put the Dark Knight’s game down. If you are even remotely interested in the fiction, give this game a try and prepare to have your mind blown!