Arkham City is the type of place you only see in the pages of comic books. The idea of turning a giant chunk of a major metropolitan area into an insane asylum sounds like the single worst city planning idea of all time, especially given a sky high crime rate. Even with the economy tumbling out of control, it's hard to believe any city doing that in real life. And yet, that's exactly what Gotham City has done at the start of this brand new Batman adventure. Now it's your turn to do your part and clean up this closed-off city/prison/warzone.
The Dark Knight hasn't had much time to relax since his last run
in with the Joker. It's been six months since he ripped Arkham Asylum inside-out battling everybody from Bane to the Scarecrow to Killer Croc. He may have won that fight, but clearly he hasn't prevailed in the war against super villainy. It's time for round two; complete with bigger, badder foes and a villainous plan that will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
This time around it's Professor Hugo Strange who has stepped up to kill the Bat. From the get-go we learn that Strange knows Batman's secret identity and used it to kidnap Bruce Wayne. After all, the easiest way to get rid of Batman is to kill his alter ego. But you manage to break free and escape his evil clutches. From there it doesn't take long to snag your trusty bat suit, let everybody know where you are and get to the work of defeating Strange.
It turns out that Hugo Strange is hardly the only person in Arkham City gunning for your demise. This time around our hero is harassed by the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Ra's al Ghul and many, many more. The word on the street is that the Joker is dying after his last bout with Batman. The Titan formula he pumped into his blood is slowly killing him and he's been searching for a cure. The good news is that he is poisoned and there's a good chance he might die tonight. Unfortunately, the bad news is that he injected our hero with the same poison. It's up to you to track down the cure and save yourself and the city.
Of course, that's going to be easier said than done. It turns out that everybody in Arkham City has their own agenda. Mr. Freeze wants the Penguin, Two Face wants Catwoman and the Riddler just wants to play a game. And don't even get me started on all of the villains that only show up for a few minutes, like Poison Ivy, Calendar Man, Deadshot, Victor Zsasz and Harley Quinn. It's going to take everything Batman has to track down the cure, arrest every last villain and get out of Arkham City alive. Needless to say, it's going to be a long night.
Batman: Arkham City doesn't deviate far from the Arkham Asylum formula. While there are certainly more villains to battle this time around (including some I have completely forgotten to mention), the story still unfolds in a linear fashion. You are still swooping through the night beating up thugs, sneaking up on armed guards and using all of those wonderful toys. The only real difference is the location, which is significantly larger and more open.
But this is not your typical open world action game. Compared to Liberty City and Stilwater, Arkham City is downright cozy. It won't take players long to swoop from one side of the city to the other, which may disappoint some people who wanted to spend hours exploring every nook and cranny. But what Arkham City lacks in size it more than makes up for in atmosphere. This is a rundown pit of a city, overrun with street gangs and overturned cars. You won't find anybody driving on the streets, there is simply too much debris in the way to use traditional means of transportation. I was left wondering if defeating the evil running rampant through Arkham City would be enough to make this area livable again. Sadly that's a losing battle.
While it's fun to swing from one building to the next, much of your time will be spent inside of buildings. These expertly detailed interiors are full of artifacts of a bygone time. The museum is completely torn apart now, but at one time it was full of dinosaur recreations and educational exhibits. The police station is now an icy prison and the city wood mill has been turned into a house of horrors only the Joker could love. You'll have to use all of your ninja training and special tricks to survive this prison experience.
In true Batman style, you'll be equipped with a bunch of useful gadgets. You get the items from the first game (including a batarang, plastic explosives, etc.), as well as a bevy of cool new toys. Players will earn a line launcher that lets you zip over large pits and other obstacles. You will be able to create a small ice raft, allowing Batman to ride safely atop water. And the remote controlled batarang allows you to smack people and solve puzzles from a distance.
Better yet, you'll be able to incorporate these new gadgets into your hand-to-hand fights. The game is full of controller shortcuts, allowing you to quickly freeze an opponent, pull somebody over with the grappling hook and lay down an explosive. With so many different moves to learn and master, it can be tricky getting used to the controls. However, before long you'll be linking these gadgets together to create even better combos. And much like the first game, players will be able to upgrade their own fighting techniques, allowing Batman to bust out impressive power moves that will drop just about everybody on the screen.
One of the cool ideas in Arkham Asylum involved the glide ability. Here you could fly from one part of a room to another without being noticed. The problem was that you rarely had enough room to truly use this ability. Sure there were a few outdoor locations, but so much of the game involved you sneaking around in enclosed areas. That is not the case in Arkham City. Now you'll be able to glide to your heart's content. You will also be able to unlock an upgrade that lets you hook onto a building to get even more speed. Once you've mastered your glide you'll be able to stay in the air for minutes on end; practically avoiding all street-level thugs. If you really want to show off there are some glide challenges that will be sure to give you a tough time.
But the big new addition has very little to do with your gadgets or the city's layout. In fact, it has nothing to do with Batman. The big new addition is a second playable character -- Catwoman. Gamers who buy the game new will have access to download Selena Kyle's alter ego for free (everybody else can pick it up on the Xbox Live Marketplace for $10). This adds four new segments to the game and helps fill in the story. She's around to help Batman and battle Two Face. Outside of the obvious differences, Catwoman has her own set of special moves and cool items. You can also upgrade her with new combos and armor. These sections aren't as compelling as the Batman content, but they do help to break up the action.
Even with the open world and super villains coming from all sides, fans of Arkham Asylum should already know what to expect from this sequel. The combat, bat vision and graphics are all largely the same. You're even met with the same type of mockery when you die. Instead of changing the presentation or gameplay mechanics, Rocksteady has instead focused their attention on making a more ambitious and compelling narrative. If you're the one person who disliked the first game, you won't find much here to change your mind. On the other hand, everybody who loved the 2009 masterpiece will have no problem jumping back into this world.
With so many threads to deal with at the same time, it's a shock that Batman doesn't get completely overwhelmed by Arkham City. Just when you think you've gotten a handle of the story, you'll get thrown for a loop and have to reevaluate how to deal with the mountain of bad guys. To add even more pressure, Professor Strange keeps announcing a countdown that promises to change the way you look at this destroyed city. Think Arkham City can't look even more rundown? Just wait until you see what these super villains have in store for you in the final act.
The story itself is about the same length as the first game, coming in at around 10 - 12 hours. I ended up spending twice that amount of time searching for the 440 Riddler puzzles. And that's not even including the challenge rooms. Much like Arkham Asylum, this sequel features a bunch of challenge rooms that will test your fighting and hiding abilities. You'll earn rewards for taking thugs out in creative ways, such as breaking through a wall or finishing a frozen enemy. There are also challenge rooms for Catwoman, complete with their own objectives to complete. These are a fun diversion, though they aren't nearly as compelling as the main storyline.
Batman: Arkham City is a sequel in the most traditional sense. It offers a larger scope, more options, improved performance and all of the tweaks you wish were in the first game. It also tells a compelling story that will have you guessing all the way to the end. It's not nearly as original as the first game, but the wide open world and non-stop parade of super villains more than makes up for that. There are even hooks for a third game, assuming you're still up for the task after watching the emotional finale. Fans will definitely want to see how this game ends.
It's easy to be hyperbolic when talking about this Batman series, but Rocksteady has managed to turn a simple comic book franchise into one of the best video game franchises. With its stellar presentation, voice acting, gameplay and bonus modes, there's no reason not to pick up Batman: Arkham City. If only every developer put this much effort and love into their superhero games, maybe we wouldn't be stuck with so many half-assed comic book games.