The sheer amount of titles released these past couple of months have been hitting gamers hard and fast leaving tough choices to be made as to which one to pick up. Gears or Battlefield? Zelda or Uncharted? Sonic or Mario? Gaming is an expensive hobby and choosing is often very tough. Batman: Arkham City on the other hand was always going to be a must have. Ever since getting hooked on Arkham Asylum and naming it my favourite game of 2009 I eagerly awaited the Dark Knight’s next adventure expecting grand things. But was I getting my expectations too high or did Rocksteady make a truly surprising gem even better.
Story wise things pick up some time after the first game with Quincy Sharp (now mayor) deeming Arkham Asylum and its penitentiary as not suitable to house its criminals. Buying out a large area of the city of Arkham, it is then turned into a prison in itself with the sinister villain Hugo Strange unexplainably put in charge. Things start off bad for Bruce Wayne as he tries to warn people of the dangers of Sharp’s plan and only continue to get worse from then on as he tries to uncover what is really happening. But to say anything would be ruining what could easily be the best story in a video game to date. Voice acting is superb, cutscenes are full of action offering twists and turns at every corner and the emotion Batman goes through really translates on screen especially as you hit the fantastic final act. Overall you couldn’t ask for anything more.
While Arkham City does offer an ‘open world’ to explore the real story pieces, boss battles and fights occur within large buildings scattered around the map. Sure you’ll swing and glide your way around on the outside, but it’s usually to get to a steel mill or several hundred foot tower in order to advance the story further. Grand Theft Auto this is not, but instead the game feels far more focused while at the same time offering you enough side missions and secret hidden Riddler trophies to hunt along the way should you want to.
Battling enemies can take one of two forms. The first is the simple fist fight that sees you outnumbered sometimes fifteen to one, punching and kicking away until you’re the last man standing. The combat system as with the original is fantastically simple and brilliantly rewarding where breaking bones, countering two incoming criminals and disarming brutes are just a button press away. The other type of encounters are much more stealthy where hiding in the shadows and picking off fully armed guards one at a time is the aim. Moving around using your wealth of gadgets to gain the upper hand is always great fun and it’s these sections that make you feel truly like the Dark Knight. Even when the odds appear against you, you know that as Batman they don’t stand a chance.
While fighting takes up a fair amount of the game you’ll also come across light moments of investigation work as you scan areas for clues and hints. Quick and useful, these areas give the game a bit more substance and help you remember that Batman is still at the core a detective. Bosses are lightly sprinkled here and there supply the games crescendo points in the story but unfortunately these could have been a little better. While still good fun they lack the real sense of terror you’d expect from some of Gotham’s most menacing criminal masterminds.
Those who have seen trailers will know that Catwoman makes an appearance in the game in some form and while it is pretty cool to get to try out a brand new character, her inclusion in the story doesn’t really add much to the overall experience.
On my first playthrough I spent a good ten or so hours tackling the main story while also getting a couple of the side missions completed too. These can include having to trace the calls of a killer to teaming up with an old foe and locating hidden tanks full of Titan. With a dozen of said missions as well as over four hundred trophies to find or solve there is plenty to do in Arkham City. And that’s even before taking on the harder difficulty. What’s even more impressive is that none of the game feels at all like filler. The game opens strongly with next to no lull points following. Constantly exciting you won’t want to put the controller down.
When you want a break from the drama of the main story mode, you can opt to tackle ‘Riddler’s Revenge’. Here you’ll find a true test of skill as you compete in both fighting challenges and the more stealthy ‘Predator’ ones. These are a nice break and offer you something to jump into quick if you only have ten or so minutes free. Tougher still are the campaigns that take three of said levels and also throw in a handful of hindrances and help-lines. Ranging from lower health and banning gadgets to recovering health and faster reflexes these small tweaks require you to start thinking outside the box making for some interesting battles.
Visually the game looks great with Arkham City having a gritty feel to it while often at times one of wonder. When it begins to snow and small flakes land on Batman’s shoulders it’s these little things that really help create a great sense of atmosphere. The art style for the characters are spot on and offers some of the best enemy designs I’ve seen or read in any Batman media. Joker, Hugo, Two-Face they all look fantastic. As mentioned before the voice acting is spot on and never at all feels cheesy. As for the music this again matches the stellar voice work with standout pieces throughout the adventure. Just loading up the game I was treated to a tremendous tune playing over the menu that had me sit there and listen for five minutes! A rarity.
As far as action adventure games go, Batman: Arkham City is one of the very best. Portal 2 set the standards ridiculously high near the start of the year and somehow Rocksteady have reached even these delivering an unmissable journey that must be played, fan of Batman or not.