For a guy who has battled the Joker, overpowered Bane, outsmarted the Riddler and fumigated Poison Ivy, I had no idea Batman's greatest challenge would be fighting for attention on his own game box. The Arkham City - Game of the Year Edition proudly announces that it's a "10 out of 10" in a font so large that somebody wouldn't feel stupid for accidentally thinking that's the title. After all, the game's actual logo is dwarfed by four different magazine quotes, three company logos, an ESRB rating, a list of bullet points and the large "Game of the Year" strip at the top. It's hard to what is busier - the seedy underbelly of Gotham City or this cover art.
If any game can get away with this kind of gaudy box design, it would be Batman: Arkham City. This is a game that masterfully builds onto the greatest superhero game of all time, offering an open world full of bad guys to track down and destructive plans to thwart. I loved this game when I first played it, and my admiration for this sequel hasn't changed much in the last eight months.
In case you missed the game the first time around
, Arkham City is the name of a sectioned off part of Gotham. It's behind these fortified walls that Batman's biggest foes (and their followers) are living, hatching up a nefarious plan that could end with the death of a superhero. 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.
Much like Arkham Asylum, this atmospheric sequel finds ways to have Batman interact with a number of Gotham's greatest criminals, including the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Ra's al Ghul, the Riddler and many more. Some of the familiar faces show up for only a few fleeting moments (such as Bane and Two Face), while others play a surprisingly large part in the story (like the Catwoman, who even has her own missions). Even with a dizzying cast, Rocksteady somehow found a way to let every character have their moment.
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.
Not only does this Game of the Year Edition comes with the exactly same game I fell in love with almost a year ago, it manages to add in all of the downloadable content and more. This time around Arkham City is a two-disc set, with one disc dedicated to the Catwoman Bundle Pack (which came free with the purchase of a new copy of Arkham City), the Robin Bundle Pack, the Nightwing Bundle Pack, a Challenge Map Pack and the just-released story-based DLC, Harley Quinn's Revenge. Similar to the Borderlands Games of the Year Edition, all of the packs can be installed on as many hard drives as you want and are not locked to any one Xbox Live account.
The most substantial piece of content is Harley Quinn's Revenge, a post-credits coda featuring another hour or so of story-driven gameplay. Harley isn't especially happy with how things turned out in Arkham City (and for good reason), so she devises a scheme to kidnap Batman. That means that the boy wonder himself, Robin, will have to swoop in to save the day. For the most part Robin controls exactly like Batman, with the exception that he's speedy and has a shield.
Sadly, Harley's grand scheme feels tossed together at the last minute and is over just as it's getting started. What made Arkham City so much fun is that the bad guys send you for a loop, always changing the rules and forcing Batman to adapt. You didn't just take a straight path to a boss fight; you met with other bad guys and had to complete boss-specific challenges. It's too bad all of that is thrown out the window in Harley Quinn's Revenge.
This expansion recycles a lot of old ideas without adding much new. The countless arena battles are sewn together with cinemas, but it's not an especially compelling story. Worse yet, the game ends in the most anticlimactic way possible. Harley Quinn isn't a strong enough character to stand on her own, and that's blatantly obvious in this lackluster mission pack.
Most of the other packs are for the Riddler's challenge mode, the least exciting part of Arkham City. Here you're tested on your combat and stealth skills, all while abiding by the game's rules and suggestions. The on-disc downloadable content adds new Robin and Nightwing challenges, as well as a number of new levels to play on. These new characters are different enough to warrant some attention, though gamers not into this mode the first time around won't be any more impressed with the addition of Robin.
Believe it or not, I had the most fun with all of the different skins and costumes. Every hero has a surprisingly deep collection of looks, including designs that reference the Adam West TV show, Batman Beyond and the flagship animated cartoon from the 1990s. I love all of Catwoman's outfit changes, reminding me of just how many strong women have zipped up that leather cat suit.
While I appreciate the challenge room content, it's a shame Rocksteady didn't spend more time developing a big post-game storyline. Harley's linear quest wouldn't have felt nearly as shallow had it come after a Killer Croc storyline, another Riddler adventure and a real conclusion to the Two Face storyline. Add a few small storylines together and you have an impressive set of expansion packs. Sadly all we're left with is one, and even that one was disappointing.
These days every Game of the Year Edition re-release comes with some sort of downloadable movie or soundtrack, and Arkham City is no exception. This time around it's Batman: Year One, an hour-long animated movie starring Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Eliza Dushku (Dollhouse) and Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica). I'm sure it's delightful.
Regardless of whether you buy this massive Game of the Year Edition or just the plain old single-disc release from last year, Arkham City is a must-own action game. The writing is sharp, the characters are fully realized and the action is always exciting. This is a new high water mark for comic book-based video games. Some of the additional content may be disappointing, but Batman: Arkham City - Game of the Year Edition is definitely the most comprehensive version of this incredible game.