Batman: Arkham City
Platform: PS3, X-Box 360, Windows PC
Genre: Superhero, action adventure
The follow up to Rocksteady's massively successful Arkham Asylum, this time sees Batman in a whole city of criminals and monsters.
Arkham City is set a year after the events of Arkham Asylum. In that time, the corrupt former director of Arkham Asylum has become mayor, Gotham is descending into a police state, and half the city has been turned into a giant prison slum for the inmates of Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison. Bruce Wayne speaks out against the corruption and disappearances, and gets chained up and thrown into Arkham City for his troubles. This all turns out to be a ploy by old-school Batman villain, Dr Hugo Strange, who knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman and intends to show off how his super prison will succeed where Batman has failed. All this is explained before you even get your hands on your batsuit.
The game lets you walk before you run, and does a fair amount of the work for you, auto-aiming a lot of the jumps and grapple hook shots. Combat is not just a button mash, although you can go that way if you don't feel creative. Instead, rhythm and timing are the key to combat: careful feints followed up with devastating punches and kicks to take down gangs of thugs at a time. While you can pummel your way through countless goons, the real joy of the game comes in the detective mode and stealth. Batman's moniker of “The World's Greatest Detective” is pushed to its limits, with a touch of CSI style deductive logic directing the plot, such as tracking trajectory of bullets to find snipers, tracing radio signals, even determining the best way to approach armed guards. The real fun comes from being the Dark Knight, zip-lining about a room while guards fire blind, escaping under cover of smoke and darkness, and sneaking up on them one by one. You can measure enemies “fear” and the sneakier you are, the more panicked they get, swooping down when they least expect it.
The Batcave from Arkham Asylum has been replaced with an autosave, and it works regularly enough that the hassle of saving stops being a concern. Much of the interface is similarly simplified and intuitive, and if you feel like playing it easy without doing it on Easy mode, you can leave hints on: A gentle reminders of the best approaches for any given problem.
There's superficial similarity to the Nolan Dark Knight movies, with Batman decked out in military style armour and a score that owes a lot to Hans Zimmer. Under the skin of the game, it's true heritage is that of the comics and the 1990's Batman Animated Series, with mutant monsters sharing the Gothic streets with thugs and criminals. Paul Dini, the writer of Arkham City, was the producer of the cartoon series and much of the voice cast is recognisable from their work there too, most predominantly Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as Joker. The game manages to be faithful to its roots without pandering to the fanboys.
A weakness that's also a strength with Arkham City is its size. The footprint of Arkham City is five times that of its predecessor, and the sprawling Gothic slum is fairly densely populated, with antagonists, a few bystanders, and the odd ally or two. While re-playability won't be a concern, it's very easy to get sidetracked, with side missions, trophies, and downloadable content that allows you play as Catwoman, Robin and Nightwing (the original Robin, all grown up). Unlike many sandbox games where once you accept a mission it becomes your immediate priority, at least Arkham City allows you to select which mission you're currently pursuing. You can stick to the main plot, but it does require a fair amount of focus. And you need to accept that beating up every last gang you encounter is just counterproductive if you want to progress through missions.
The other main drawback to the game, again related to size, is the complexity of the plot. Named characters appear regularly, as befitting a character like Batman with a giant rogues gallery and 70 years publishing time. It's very easy to get sidetracked from thwarting one villain with another popping up on your way there. You start off opposing Hugo Strange, run over the speedbump that is the Penguin, try to go straight for the Joker, only to have to divert to Two-Face to rescue Catwoman. It only gets more complex from there, and perhaps a little more clarity would be helpful.
Is Arkham City loaded with innovation that will redefine gaming? No, and that's probably why it lost the title of Eurogamer Expo Game of the Show to Guild Wars 2. It fine tunes an already excellent game, but doesn't break the mold as Arkham Asylum did. Don't let that discourage you from buying it. Arkham City delivers on expectations, and has a tonne of side missions and downloadable extras that will keep you playing long after you've finished the main game and you've gone hoarse from growling 'I'M BATMAN!'
Rent or Buy: Buy
Graphics: 4.5 / 5
Gameplay: 4.5 / 5
Overall: 4.5 / 5
Reviewed by: Baz Nugent
Story by | 12:01 | Friday 21st October 2011 | Games