Genre: Action Developer: Rocksteady Studios Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment Classification: MA15+ Release Date: 19th Oct 2011 Platforms:
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Batman: Arkham City is the sort of game people will be talking about for years to come. It's the sort of title you'll measure others by. It's an old school approach to value in a time when most games seem to race to the finish line. If it's the sort of game you want, it's exactly what you want.
I know what you're thinking; "What is the sort of game I want, Joaby?" and, "Way to set me up for disappointment, Jerk." In reply I say; "What does freedom mean to me?" and "Actually, I really haven't."
I guess a less obscure answer to the first question is - Batman: Arkham City is a Action Adventure RPG done 2011 style with spectacular execution. It's an Open World game with dungeons you'll want to revist for items you probably don't need. It's Zelda, but you're the goddamn Batman.
The story - written by Paul Dini - is probably the best contained Batman story in 20+ years. Maybe a close second to "Under the Hood" - but a close second. Any Batman fan will see the pieces of the puizzle falling together wonderfully. Constrained by the events of the first game from Rocksteady - Batman: Arkham Asylum - it quickly becomes apparent that everything in that game happened for a reason.
The Joker's experimentation with the Titan drug has left him... unwell - and his new placement in Arkham City isn't helping. His solution is eloquent - in a somewhat insane sort of way - in that it draws Batman (and by extension you) into a classic joke - and the punchline is a doozy.
Meanwhile Dr. Strange is pulling the strings across all of Arkham City - he was put in charge following the former Arkham's warden, Quincy Sharp, becoming mayor of Gotham. He's busy pitting the likes of Two-Face and the Penguin against each other - but that doesn't mean he hasn't got plans for you too. All the while The Riddler's machinations are apparent everywhere - and of course, he only has eyes for you.
Of course, you can't forget the ladies. Talia Al Ghul joins Harley Quinn and Selina Kyle's Catwoman on the ground in Arkham City, and all three play pretty big roles in the way the game plays out - though only the latter is playable.
This sort of name-dropping doesn't even start to cover off on the sorts of villains who make an appearance in Arkham City - but they'll be that much more fun to find for yourself when you get to them.
Batman's interactions with some of them might surprise long time Batfans, but thanks to the fantastic writing they fit perfectly within the game's universe (and they're not terribly alien anyway).
Those returning to the cowl after Arkham Asylum will instantly notice the fluidity of the animations in combat - a lot of attention has been paid to the way Batman (and Catwoman) fights, with as many as double the animations added.
The enemy strengths have also been upped - as have their numbers - and more than one thug will attack at once as well as weild a variety of different items in their attempts to kill you. Dozens of enemies will attack you at once - and towards the end of a long fight things will definitely get tense.
I thought the introduction of Riddler informants was a stroke of genius. After the hundredth enemy the whole fighting thing might be a little simplistic for some of the more dexterous folks out there - when fighting a group of guys where one of them glows green though you have to try to knock him out last. Of course, he won't be waiting for you to 'get around to him' - so suddenly you're beating up 10 guys and deliberately not beating down one.
The boss fights are genuinely challenging, thanks to a combination of decent puzzle solving and tough combat. One in particular is quite cool. On a few occasions though, I did think they simply resorted to throwing more enemies at you just to keep the pressure on.
Batman has a huge amount of gadgets available to him in Arkham City - some have returned from Arkham Aslyum, but others are straight up new additions. Most of the combat important ones have quick button access - you can throw a batarang by tapping left trigger or combine LT and X for an instant burst of explosive gel.
Arkham City itself has a stack of character. It's a massive, sprawling area of slums, with each area themed depending on the 'super-criminal' it belongs to. Getting around it takes some getting used to at first - eventually you unlock an upgrade which allows you to use your Grapnel to fling off buildings, but I found with some practice I could make significant distances without ever touching the ground even before I unlocked the upgrade.
There's no shortage of stuff for Batman to do, either. Outside of the actual story mission there are literally hundreds of Riddler clues/questions to solve, political prisoners to save, Catwoman missions to complete and more stuff related to... things I won't mention. Sometimes these things lead to bonuses, sometimes they don't - the beauty of the game is that you simply won't care... you'll do all of them because that's what Batman would do.
Gotham's perpetual night gives Arkham the perfect atmosphere, and during the game it's tough to miss the attention paid to all the little things. As the night wears on the Batsuit starts to get tattered, holes appear in your cape and even Catwoman starts to look a little worse for wear. The cutscenes are absolutely gorgeous - and while the in-game action isn't quite as pretty it's still beautifully rendered.
The soundtrack deserves a special mention - the work on the voices is what you'd expect from the very best in the business, but the musical score does fantastic things for establishing the atmosphere in Arkham City. The ambient sound also does wonders for keeping you grounded in the world you've entered - inmates of AC will discuss their living arrangements with one another, they'll talk about what they think of their various bosses and even discuss the heroes of the world.
The more you get into Batman: Arkham City, the more you get out of it - and there is so damn much to get out of it. Challenge maps return, Catwoman has her own missions (and her own mini-storyline) and New Game Plus once again makes things simultaneously easier and more difficult.
Batman: Arkham City is the best in a lot of ways. It's the best treatment of a comic book character outside of graphic novels ever. It's the best Action Adventure/Open World game ever. It's the best game I've played this year. And finally, it's the best superhero game you've ever played. Or the best one you're going to play, right?