INTRO: Bruce Wayne has been arrested and thrown into Arkham City, the prison built from..well, a city to house all of Gotham's nastiest criminals. As usual for Bruce, this is a bad situation because Hugo Strange has got his hands in the mix and seems to be running the show. As if that wasn't bad enough, it seems that the Joker is still alive and there are tons of supervillains to deal with within the chaos of the city's confines.
If there's one thing you should know about me, you should know that I loves me some Batman. I've written my gushing fanboy pieces for the site, podcasted about it and even sport a Batman tattoo somewhere on my pasty white frame. Yes, I love the Bat.
When I heard that Arkham Asylum was coming out a few years ago, I had that familiar twinge of bittersweetness within my gut. Like almost all Batman games before it, I knew that I'd rent it (or maybe even buy it), cling desperately to the few things they got right, get frustrated, beat it and then tell everyone it sucks.
As you may know, I ended up being really wrong about that initial gut feeling and Batman AA became an instant all-time favorite. So, I've been absolutely itching to get my hands on the sequel, and I'm thrilled to say that I think it surpasses the first game, although it doesn't re-invent the wheel or anything.
Here's why Arkham City is awesome- you FEEL like Batman. You don't feel like a player's character who just looks like Batman, but rather you assume the cape and cowl and become the World's Greatest Detective.
You're prowling across rooftops, tuning into conversations from the inhabitants of Arkham City (which admittedly, can get repetitive). You flip into your cowl's Detective Mode, to find out that there are four goons below, with normal heart rates and having casual conversation about how they've heard that Joker's alive and truly off his rocker.
As Batman, your next move is up to you. Do you toss a Batarang to disable a thug and send them scurrying in fear? Do you leap from the rooftop, landing a hard double boot right to the thug's chest? Maybe you'll descend (using your cape) to a lower ledge, hang from it and perform a stealthy takedown. Better still, you might want to throw yourself in the middle of the group and just pound the crap out of them, dishing out some Dark Knight justice. The choice is yours- you're Batman.
As I said before, Arkham City doesnt' re-invent the wheel but it certainly takes the training wheels off the bike. Being in a big, open ended (to a certain extent) city, swinging from rooftop to rooftop feels awesome and never gets old. The city is so atmospheric and there's so much to do- you can spend hours just screwing around.
Combat still uses the Freeflow system, which is easy to button mash, but a true science to perfect. String together your combos and counters quickly to stop your foes and you'll feel like the best ever. It's very, very satisfying to lay out a group of 20 guys without getting hit once, and that seems like a fair fight in Arkham City. And yes, bad guys can still be tough, with those damn guns, pipes and throwable weapons you have to learn to dodge accordingly. I'm not a pro, and there were plenty of times I had a combo broken when I felt I dodged, but let's chalk that up to me being a gamer of average skill at best, ha!
New to this game is the ability to use gadgets quickly during the fight. Want to spray some explosive gel and have your foes dance on it before destroying them? Go ahead. Care to use your Batclaw to wring their necks from afar, then reel them in with a huge clothesline? Yeah, you can do that. Want to hold a foe at bay with a blast of electricity, then stun them with your cape and take them down? Oh yes, you can do that too. And it isn't always easy- I will admit I found myself accidentally spraying gel in almost every fight, but it's satisfying once you get the hang of it, and super badass. As you progress, you can level up your Batsuit, gadgets, and skills to become the best Batman ever. This felt organic and satisfying, and I loved choosing my upgrades.
The story in Arkham City is a bit all over the place, and you could see this as a blessing or a curse. There are a TON of character appearances and side missions and collectables, and this is my personal criticism of the game- it's a bit too much. I find myself getting overwhelmed at times with side missions, and don't even get me started on the Riddler stuff..I lose sleep over those damn challenges. If you're a completist, you'll be busy for a long time. I just feel like I'm missing out on things if I don't do everything and wind up sidetracked.
As a word to the wise though, don't worry about starting out the game and doing the Riddler challenges. There's something you get later in the game that makes it way easier to find them, so hang on til you get it. Also, I highly recommend downloading the Catwoman add-on, whether you purchase it or get it new with your game. It changes the ending and playing as Catwoman is quite fun, offering a different experience. Unfortunately, poor Catwoman is called a "bitch" way too many times for my liking, but what can you do.
Boss fights can underwhelm a bit, and you'll feel that some characters have awesome story arcs (like Freeze and Joker) while others just seem to pop in and pop out so they can drop names. With that said, Arkham City once again re-invents some awesome characters and takes them places you'd never expect, and that's a welcome thing.
I feel like this is already the longest review ever and I've barely scratched the surface, but take solace in knowing this. This is THE definitive Batman game, and it's a ton of fun. This game feels like it has overhauled fighting mechanics as we know them. It's just so damn satisfying to play as Batman. For better or worse, Arkham City takes what Arkham Asylum did, and makes it bigger and beefier, for better or worse.
Although the 360 is starting to get old, Arkham City really pushes the limits. The city is vivid and colorful and jam packed with detail, as are the villains and the Bat himself. Sure, some of the lesser characters lack some facial detail, but this game is absolutely beautiful to look at. Yes, I still think Batman is too thick, but this is a small complaint. If you're lucky enough to own a 3DTV (like me!), you can play this in full 3D!
Arkham City sports amazing voicework from the cast of the animated show and beyond, and the orchestral score and accompaniying sound effects are dazzling and impressive. I can't say enough about the audio portion of this game.
I play a lot of games each year, and this is a BUSY season for video games. With that said, I've got a lot of games just waiting for me and collecting dust because I'm too busy enjoying Arkham City. There are lots of games out there that are well made, but few games seem to truly embody everything about the experience you're looking for. I know I'm a huge Batman mark, but even if you're not, this game is undeniably fun, challenging and FULL of stuff to do. I can't recommend it enough.
Final Score: 9.5/10