Reviewed: November 2, 2011
Released: October 18, 2011
The Dark Knight is back in his biggest adventure yet in Batman: Arkham City. With so much hype preceding this title I had to wonder if it could possibly live up to my unreasonably high expectations, especially since I could never really get fully onboard with Arkham Asylum. I tried to enjoy that game – I really did, but after several attempts and even a few restarts from scratch, I just couldn’t get into it for whatever reason. Thankfully, there are no such problems with Arkham City.|
Arkham City presents itself as an open-world game without all of the sandbox activities you’d expect from the GTA-inspired genre. At any given time you will likely have one or more main mission goals on your plate and there are plenty of sideline activities you can activate ranging from VR traiing challenges, to payphone time trial missions or unlocking all 400+ Riddler challenges scattered across the city, most of which you can’t even complete until you are fully upgraded or perhaps replaying the New Game Plus mode.
The game is massive, not so much in size but in the sheer amount of things to do. Even when the main story was completed I was only at 42% overall completion, and with Catwoman, Nightwing, and Robin mission DLC, there is plenty of gameplay that doesn’t even involve our caped crusader. Toss in dozens of combat challenges and the increased difficulty of New Game Plus where they remove the counterattack indicator, and you’ll be exploring Arkham City for months to come.
If you prefer your heroes with more curves and sex appeal then you’ll definitely want to check out the Catwoman DLC that not only includes four story missions, but also alters the opening of the game, assuming you’ve installed the content prior to starting the game. Each new copy of Arkham City comes with a free Catwoman code, or you can purchase from the Xbox Live marketplace if you're playing a secondhand copy. Selina Kyle is a great character with some killer combat moves and a great new rhythm-based way to scale buildings, plus she's just fun to watch.
Batman: Arkham City ultimately gets its start when Bruce Wayne is captured by Dr. Hugo Strange and imprisoned in Arkham City, the evolution of Arkham Asylum from the first game. The whole concept reminded me of Escape from New York where they just turn the entire city into a prison and let the inmates run wild. You have the Joker running his own carnival-style empire over by the shipyards while Freeze is in charge of his own laboratory, Two-Face is rallying the troops at the courthouse, and the Riddler taunts you from video screens while challenging you to solve his glowing green question marks scattered about the city. The game throws every major Batman villain, and even a few minor ones, into one of the biggest Batman stories ever told.
At the heart of the game is a solid combat model that allows you to unleash an impressive array of melee attacks using punches, grabs, throws, and counterattacks. The game eases you into the action with smaller encounters at first, but it won’t be long before you are going up against 20+ guys. Most of the combat relies on rhythmic tapping of the attack button and reflexive taps of the Y button when the counter indicator flashes. Once you learn to orchestrate these moves prepare to see some awesome combat evolve.
Batman can easily take on 20+ unarmed thugs but when going up against guys with guns some strategy is required. Making use of the detective mode to highlight elevated perches and grapple points allows you to move around undetected and launch stealth takedowns, thinning down the enemy numbers before going in full force. As the game progresses and you rank up you can unlock various perks, new combat attacks, and upgrades to your suit. It won’t be long before you are virtually bulletproof and able to zip through the Gotham skyline using your grappling gun without ever touching the ground.
The game looks amazing with fantastic character designs for the major players – obviously all the henchmen look like clones – and the animation is incredibly fluid with contextual attacks and counters that dynamically unfold based on proximity to the enemy and any current momentum. No two encounters will go down the same way twice. There are a few visually oddities. Lip-synch is off if you pan the camera to watch people speak, but on the plus side – their pupils will actual track to the person they are talking to – kinda creepy. Despite some minor pop-up, the city looks amazing in its epic scale and level of detail, There are distinct sections and you start to learn your way around by several key landmarks; useful for the timed missions like the payphone challenges.
The audio package is perfect with some great music, fantastic sound effects, and excellent voice acting. Kevin Conroy probably sounds better, or at least less raspy than Bale’s Batman, and Mark Hamill lends his signature voice to the iconic role of Joker – for the last time. Catwoman, Two-Face, Penguin, and Dr. Strange all sound great. There really isn't a bad vocal performance in the entire game, even down to the lowliest henchmen. The Dolby Digital mix envelopes you in all the sounds of Arkham City and there is a nonstop feed of enemy chatter to inform and entertain you while you swing around town. Some of the idle conversations are priceless and made eavesdropping one of my favorite pastimes in Arkham City.
There is a lot to do in Arkham City, more than you can probably accomplish in a single pass, especially if you are questing for all 1000 achievement points. The New Game Plus will certainly make a second trip that much more enjoyable, and it will automatically ramp up the challenge. You can finish the story in 10-12 hours but completing this game will take a month or more, especially with all the DLC characters missions.
The best thing about Batman: Arkham City is that I really felt like Batman. Sure, it would have been cool to drive the Batmobile or fly the Batwing or zip through town on that crazy motorcycle, and maybe we will someday in a future game, but this is classic old-school brawler Batman at his best. Batman: Arkham City is easily the most immersive superhero game I’ve played since those open-world Spider-Man games, and quite possibly a contender for Game of the Year.