Review: Batman: Arkham City
Rocksteady made their mark in 2009 with Batman: Arkham Asylum, which was the best comic book superhero game of all time. It's 2011 now, and the reason I say "was" is because the studio has done it again, and they've not only, once more, created the best Batman game in history, but have made a firm statement in the gaming industry that licensed games have the potential to stand at the very top.
- Worth The Time?Yes, there's absolutely no doubt about it.
- Things LovedThe free-flowing combat is better than ever, the stealth element has been greatly enhanced and is the star of the show once again, free roaming is fantastic, the sound track is incredible, the exciting and compelling story leading up to a dramatic finish, the excellent use of the villains in the game, the sheer amount of replay value and extra things to do, the awesome graphics and visual design of Arkham City, the great surprises waiting to be found through exploration, the New Game+ feature, the variety of challenge maps to be played with Batman, Catwoman and Robin.
- Things HatedThere are some hiccups in dialogue and voice acting, aspects of the story sometimes get dealt with too quickly, the majority of boss fights are forgettable, the few Catwoman sections are very short but can sometimes feel largely insignificant and quick - almost intrusive on the main story.
- RecommendationIf you're a Batman fan and you enjoyed Arkham Asylum, then there really is no excuse for not having bought this game already. It's an absolute must-play, and amongst the very best of action adventure experiences this year. Even if you're no big lover of the Dark Knight, this is a worthy action game that will provide more than enough awesomeness, fun, surprises and game time to make it worth the purchase. Buy it, play it, love it.
- Name: Batman: Arkham City
- Genre: Action Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox360
- Developer: Rocksteady Studios
- Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Price: R351 (PC), R527 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3
Batman: Arkham City feels like a game that I’ve had to wait forever for, but by that same token it’s the game I’ve always dreamed of having, being the obsessive Dark Knight fan that I am. Before getting into inevitable detail, however, I must express that it feels difficult to talk about a game so rich with ambition and brilliance, and sum it all up into one review. But that aside, I personally realised one distinctive difference between Arkham City, and 2009’s Arkham Asylum – granted, both are extraordinary games, but when I think back to the last game, I realise that what the majority of people talk about most and love most about the game were the unforgettable Scarecrow moments. With Arkham City, I find myself excitedly talking about many parts and little to big stand-out moments spread across a grand stage that is the Batman universe, and it feels much more dynamic and deep this time around. Does that make this a better game than its predecessor? Maybe, maybe not, but it definitely makes it a much bigger one, and there’s more than enough here to convince you that this is one of 2011’s stand-out titles.
Rocksteady seem to consistently find ways, by means of both story concepts and contexts, to exploit the very best out of the Batman universe. The game takes place one year after Arkham Asylum, where Quincy Sharp is now the mayor of Gotham City and, with the help of Dr. Hugo Strange, has moved all of the scum from Blackgate Prison and the inmates from Arkham Asylum into the heart of Gotham, converting it into a quarantined zone titled Arkham City. Strange runs the place, and that spells all kinds of trouble, which leads Batman to enter it and investigate, fearing that things will escalate out of control. There exists a three-way war between Joker, Penguin and Two-Face, all who are fighting to be top dog in Arkham City, except that Joker is suffering from the potentially fatal side effects of the Titan formula – and hides it. This makes for a grand opening to the game and introduction to the story, and once again Batman is in for another night in hell, as he races against time to fight against the city’s most dangerous criminals, and put a stop to Strange’s plan for Arkham City, which will commence once the night reaches its end. Codenamed “Protocol 10”, Batman must discover the true nature of Strange’s goal and figure out how to prevent it before time runs out, and Gotham is plunged into chaos.
From beginning to shocking end, Arkham City is an engrossing thrill-ride that stays constantly at a high. Sure it has a few stumbles on the way, and towards the end, and occasionally throughout, some aspects of the story get dealt with too quickly, and of the handful of boss fights, most are completely forgettable, but that doesn’t take anything away from what Rocksteady has achieved. It’s simply brilliant how well the studio has drawn from the source material in their game, in their own way too, and how much they’ve actually managed to include in this game without making anything seem like it was thrown in for the sake of it. The game makes astounding use of its concepts and villains, and brings the Dark Knight, his world and its classic comic book characters to life in a way you could never have believed possible for a video game. It’s the stuff comic fanatics’ dreams are made of, and I can say that with ease as I myself, as mentioned before, am a huge fan of Batman. It’s almost unreal to believe that, twice now, Rocksteady has achieved what was previously thought impossible, creating a licensed game that is as good, if not better, than any action game currently on the market. The narrative is great, the pacing is excellent and, all-round, this is a tale that is worthy of being part of the DC universe.
Rocksteady have not gone for reinvention here, but rather refinement and supreme expansion. A much greater emphasis has been put on free-roaming and exploration, but Arkham City isn’t exactly a full-on open world setting, its instead a much bigger version of Arkham Asylum. You’re free to do what you want in the large open environment, but you’ll also take on missions and explore the interiors of buildings you can enter. For exploration, Batman’s grapple hook and flight ability have taken the spotlight, creating a fantastically flowing system that is exhilarating, precise and expertly executed. The grapple hook automatically targets the optimal building or ledge according to the direction of your camera, and it’s pleasantly surprising how accurate it is, although inevitably sometimes when you’re in a hurry you can grapple onto the wrong thing, but getting back on track is simple and easy. You’re able to freely glide like before, except this time you’re faster and you’re able to plummet down from above at high speeds and keep yourself in-flight without touching the ground, using an acquired grapple hook extension, which can keep you entertained for long periods of time. The system also fits the theme of the game, which is making you feel more like Batman than ever before, and you really do feel awesome each time you descend from the skies and attack a group of ill-prepared enemies.
The combat has been vamped up and polished, making it better than ever. The same system of strike, counter, stun and dive is still here, except the added ability to counter multiple enemies at once and use assigned hotkeys to seamlessly integrate your gadgets into combat is awesome. Even better is that you’ll be able to react to all kinds of enemy attacks, including, for example, thrown objects which you can counter and knife attacks that you can dodge and counter with the required combat upgrades. Again, you’ll truly feel like Batman, and it’s a thing of beauty and sadistic pleasure to watch the Dark Knight take down his enemies and break bones in perfect flow. There are more special combos to unlock, a few extra moves, a wide variety of animations, and a higher pace to the combat, although it’s the same at heart, just better. You’re really required to be alert, especially when special enemies start entering combat – the ones who carry guns, stun rods, knives, shields and such. You’ll need to be aware of how to beat them and constantly mix up your attacks and be on the move in order to win. But really, how better could the feeling of being Batman be captured than by the fact that you’ll feel in perfect control and as though you’re at the advantage when you’re outnumbered and surrounded by a small army? That’s the feeling you’ll have playing as the Dark Knight, especially now that you can drop smoke bombs when under fire and use a wide variety of gadgets to bring enemies down.
The predator sections are back in full force, and they’re the star of the show again. Nothing beats stalking your enemies and picking them off one by one as you watch your prey become increasingly afraid and reach a point where they’re cowering in fright and shooting at shadows. And it’s so much better this time around, with more variety in gadgets, such as the disruptor which disables enemy weaponry, smarter enemies and more options for takedowns, including from vents, through walls and from above. It was especially cool as well to see Batman use his Batclaw to aid him in a ledge takedown where the enemy was a little bit out of reach. You’re also able to stealthily take out your foes in the open world, which is both fun and rewarding. Like before, you’ll die in seconds against bullets, so you need to be smart and fast, and make good use of Detective Mode to set your sights on vantage points, enemy locations and objects of interest. Of course, just like before, while it makes things easier to keep Detective Mode on, it ruins a lot of the experience because you’ll miss out on a lot of the fantastic visuals, so it’s best to keep it on for brief periods of time, when needed. And you will need it, because while the game is not that challenging on easy and normal difficulties, hard and New Game+ will definitely give you an enjoyable challenge without being too hard or too easy, which is great.
The city is littered with interesting things to see and do, and the game is almost overflowing with content. There are thugs everywhere to fight or prey on, the entire city to explore, side missions to take on and, through them, cool secrets to uncover and, of course, encounters with many villains by means of the main quest, exploration and side missions. Additionally, there are over 400 Riddler challenges to complete, although like before you’ll need to backtrack for trophies when you don’t have the right gadgets to get them. Still, being able to set waypoints on your map and mark trophies you’ve discovered, but can’t get, is a great help. All of this is not even taking into account the dozens of Challenge Maps, fully playable with Catwoman and Robin too, if you have the codes, as well as the New Game+ feature, which is unlocked after finishing the game. As if the main campaign doesn’t make you feel enough like Batman, New Game+ makes a few tweaks that makes everything so much better. In this mode, which is separate from your original save game, you retain all your unlocked gadgets and upgrades, but the difficulty is ramped up, enemies are stronger and the counter indicator is gone.
Sadly, there are a few flaws that are present, but it would be a shame to focus on them in a game that does so much right. However, they can’t go unmentioned, and that said, it’s a pity that, just like before, most of the boss fights are forgettable, as I previously said, and are just repetitive affairs. Rocksteady definitely tried to make them interesting, and that they certainly are, but aside from the very clever, unique and awesome tangle with Mr. Freeze, and the shocking final showdown, the rest are pretty much the only aspects of the game that aren’t great. Secondly, I personally felt that the Catwoman sections felt largely insignificant and quick, save for one genuinely fantastic moment towards the end, but even that gets wrapped up in a hurry. They do nicely to change the pace a little, but because being Batman is just the highlight of it all, it almost felt intrusive at times to have Catwoman interrupt the main story. Still, I would definitely say that it is worth it to have her in, because if you download her content, which you should do before you start playing, the beginning of the game literally changes and you not only get to experience some extra variety and collect Catwoman-specific Riddler trophies, but you also get to see what’s happening off-camera, so to speak, and get a different perspective on things. But in the end, you won’t miss too much in the grand scheme of things if you don’t have the code.
However, despite these flaws and whatever personal gripes you may have with the game, you will most likely realise as you play that your concern for them will disappear. It’s a great thing that the more you play Arkham City and get into it, the more you’ll actually want to play it and long to get back to it when you’re unable to play. That doesn’t just boil down to it being very addictive, which it is, but also because overall it’s just an excellent game. And at the end of the day, to ask the obvious, who the hell doesn’t want to be Batman? There’s just something remarkable and extremely rewarding about a game that constantly gives you more reasons to play it at every turn, whether it’s just for the sake of taking out some more thugs, flying around and exploring the city, doing the interesting side missions or chasing after Riddler trophies and challenges. And that’s just within the main campaign. Don’t forget about the challenge maps and additional features, which are worth the time as much as the main story is.
There’s definitely a lot to keep you entertained here, but it’s important that you take your time with Arkham City and don’t rush it, because you can unfortunately miss a great deal of the experience if you don’t allow yourself to indulge in the world and its content. For example, if you don’t do the first four, beginner AR Training side missions, you won’t get the grapnel boost upgrade which lets you travel faster and stay in the air. Truly, if you rush or only stick to the main path, and don’t do a bit of exploring and side quests, you’ll miss out on awesome parts of the game, such as Riddler’s tense missions, Victor Zsasz’s dangerous game or even Mad Hatter’s crazy surprise to name a few. There’s so much to discover and so much more value to be added to the experience if you’re willing to devote time to the game, and it’s all completely worth it. All of this, the Riddler challenges and the New Game+ feature makes this game beg to be played at least twice, giving you so many reasons to do so, and when you’re done there are still the challenge maps, of which there’s more to get involved in.
Aside from being able to play as Batman, Catwoman and Robin in the challenge maps, provided you have the codes, there are also three different types of challenges. Firstly you get the standard challenges from the last game, which are a mix of combat and Invisible Predator maps all with three badges to earn based on your score, and the idea is to get the most points possible. As the names say, combat challenges have you take on increasingly harder waves of enemies, while predator maps require you to stealthily eliminate your enemies as quick as possible, completing challenges along the way. Then there are the Riddler Campaigns, which mix three challenge maps together and add in some modifiers, such as giving you a time limit or less health. Finally, you’re able to choose a third option, which is to play the challenge maps with your own selected modifiers, and it’s great because you can either make it easier for yourself, such as by giving you the ability to regenerate health over time, or make it harder for yourself, and it’s good to increase your skills and challenge for leaderboards.
Graphically, Batman: Arkham City is amazing, with the city beautifully realised in a dark, gritty sort of way, and character models being intricately detailed and fantastic. It’s simply amazing to glide over the city and take it all in, or watch from atop a vantage point and observe what’s going on or listen in on radio chatter – you truly get the sense that you’re in a living, breathing world. There are, however, some minor issues with lip-syncing at times and occasional texture mishaps, but it’s nothing major really. Also on an extremely high note is the truly exceptional voice acting, especially by the two leads Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (Joker) who really are a dream team, delivering out of this world performances. All of the other important characters deserve a great deal of credit as well, with the only problem being that the generic thugs don’t have too much variety. And it certainly can’t not be mentioned how incredible the soundtrack for the game is, with some of the predator moments featuring music that reaches epic proportions. At times, it’s enough to stand with the best out there.
Batman: Arkham City is something special. It’s not only the best licensed game ever made and the perfect Dark Knight experience, but it’s also amongst the best action adventure games currently out on the market. To say that this game is better than Arkham Asylum would be a disservice to both games and their separate merit. But this game will, without any hint of doubt, be considered as the benchmark for all future games like it, perhaps even as a benchmark for this entire genre. It doesn’t just live up to the hype, it surpasses it as well as any expectations you could have had. It’s a dark, brutal and brilliant adventure that may be a few steps short of perfection, but in the end is nothing short of a masterpiece.