As I had to do when I wrote up Batman: Arkham Asylum, I must start this by apologizing to Superman. As much as I like to believe that I am a Man of Steel kind of girl, I just can’t stay away from The Bat when he makes video games like this.
Batman: Arkham City follows the events of the first game, but this time around Joker (who isn’t looking too good health wise) and his fellow inmates are not running rampant within the confines of the asylum’s island, but rather, they have ventured out into the city streets, redecorating as they go to make it feel more like home. One of my favorite things about the first game was actually how it opens. Taking his/her first steps as Batman, the player follows the asylum workers as they wheel Joker into the pits of the structure, slowly showing the hallways and rooms that will house the action of the rest of the game. Arkham City does something similar to set up the story of the game, dressing the player up as Bruce Wayne minus the cowl and cape. But don’t worry, that will come soon enough.
Grand cities have always been a great stomping ground for many of today’s characters, and Batman keeps up with the standards set by games like Assassin’s Creed without forgetting the parameters of the character they are working with. In other words, where Altair or Ezio could fluidly scale buildings and jump from rooftop to rooftop with superhuman skill, the character animators remember the weight of the man in the suit. He can still climb walls and jump from building to building, but Batman isn’t stupid. He has a cape and grappling hook for this very occasion.
With the interior spaces of the first game, we just got a glimpse at what these two items allow Batman to do, so the open city sky above sets up quite a new experience this time around. With the skill built with some practice, it isn’t challenging at all to move from one side of the city to the other without ever touching the ground, especially when the grappling hook gains a quick pull option that will send Batman catapulting into the sky at higher speeds, adding a greater level of fun to flight (something that not all games pull off as gracefully).
With that said, there are still plenty of reasons to touch base with the ground every now and again, starting with the thugs that decorate the detective mode, birds eye view of the ground like Christmas lights. The combat is just as fluid as ever, though I will sheepishly admit that I didn’t take full advantage of it till way deeper in the game that I would like to divulge. Just remember, Batman plays it cool in fights, and so should you. Take your time, find the rhythm to the punches, mixing offensive and defensive moves to send the combo counter up to the double digits, mixing in area attacks and targeted takedowns to really feel like a man not to be messed with. In addition to smashing skulls with hands and feet, Batman can also mix in quick draw attacks with some of his weapons. A normal person would fumble with the spray bombs in his utility belt, but batman can decorate the ground mid front flip and flow smoothly back into throwing batarangs, countering, jumping over tasers, and making bad guys cry without missing a beat.
A lot of these items already come in Batman’s utility belt (no searching dungeons for treasure chests of loot here), but there is still an upgrade system that allows for better combos and skills that will further amplify the powers of these gadgets and The Bat’s fighting skills. In addition to that, every now and again an environmental takedown comes into play, but other than countering thrown items or pulling people off ledges, the combat is pretty straightforward. But here, the thugs feel no need to come in one at a time, providing a fun challenge / opportunity to laugh at their meager odds.
While flying around the city a few bits of dialog will be picked up from the ground below, but other than a line going a little something like: “Did they ever explain what the island was?” which will make any Lost fan smile with glee, the dialog quickly dumbs down to better represent the thugs speaking it. Repetition gets annoying, but these NPCs aren’t here to provide conversations, they are here to take a beating. Leave the dialog to those with skill, i.e. the big names.
Arkham Asylum did not shy away from the big names of the Batman world, mixing in Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Bane, Killer Croc, Scarecrow, Riddler, etc, but fear not, there is still a ton of material to pull from, bringing in even more baddies to try their luck against The Bat. Some of these encounters will come in the form of not so challenging boss battles, and Joker is always a treat to spend time with (he will even call and leave comedic messages on Batman’s voicemail), but some of my favorite moments actually came from the characters who were not actually connected to the main body of the story. For those familiar with sandbox games, something that often comes into play is that not everything works on the same timeline. Just like in L.A. Noire, when you would spend a couple minutes driving to the main quest point only to get a call about a robbery across the city, the same happens here. Swoop down to the entrance of the Museum fully ready to go toe to toe with the Penguin, yet a phone ringing somewhere nearby peaks your interest. Do you ignore it and go through the door, or do you chase time to beat the phone call to its final ring? The option is yours, but if you want the full experience the game has to offer, you better be sure to explore every side story to its end. I don’t care how overwhelming the amount of Riddler trophies littered around the map are; collect them! You won’t regret it.
Though I was a little disappointed that there were never any big changes to the gameplay as Scarecrow provided in the first game, the biggest disappointment comes with Catwoman. As the game was being made a big deal was put into reminding people that Catwoman would be a playable character, but her appearances in the game are rather unimportant. She shows up a couple times to interact with the Bat, but for the most part she has a completely separate story line that would have worked just as well, if not better, had she been an NPC like Robin, coming in and then leaving as soon as his dialog was done. She can be kept for the challenges, but as for the main body of the game, it probably would have been better without her. Especially when compared to the Bat. Her thief vision is just pitiful next to his detective mode, she cannot tag trophies on the map as a reminder to come back and get them later when dressed as Batman (as he can do for all trophies, including hers), and for the most part she is just a weaker fighter with fewer gadgets to play with.
Other than Catwoman and the sadness built inside when the audio went out and I missed the last line to end the main story (which I am more than willing to play the game again just to hear it, as well as try out the New Game+ option that many games are integrating these days), there is little to complain about in concern to this must play game. The characters are colorful and fun to come across, confined room attacks vs. open city street fights keep the thug encounters fun and varying, the mysteries of the city aren’t few and far between, and every moment in this world is worth it. So say it with me, I know you want to: “I AM BATMAN!”
Final Grade: 9 / 10 Follow @BewareOfTrees
Still need convincing? Then watch the launch trailer for the game here.