The life of a superhero is one filled with great responsibility, plus a lack of sleep. In their fictional worlds, it seems like something is always going wrong – whether it’s a jewel heist, armed robbery or worse. Although this could just as easily be mentioned about Spider-Man’s New York City or Superman’s Metropolis, Gotham City could possibly be the most active of them all. Not only is it teeming with maniacal super villains, but there are always underlings waiting for their chance to impress through macho thuggery. The Dark Knight is a busy man, leading a guarded double life as both an aristocrat and a high-tech hero. Always being put to the test by his arch-nemesis the Joker and others, Batman could be experiencing his toughest test yet in digital form, via Batman: Arkham City from Warner Bros. and Rocksteady Studios.
Gamers who think that they have what it takes to become a superhero can test their chops in the island prison known as Arkham City. You see; the inmates run the whole shebang, and they’ve somehow managed to get Bruce Wayne inside for planned punishment. Though, that all goes awry right at the start of the game, when players get to break free in dramatic form.
Once free, Batman is reborn with a vengeance, in an attempt to find out about the Joker’s latest deadly plan. His latest cause for panic goes by the mysterious moniker of Protocol 10. Not much is known from the start though, as things progress, players are quickly treated to a showcase of just how disgusting the madman really is. As per usual, it’s Bats’ job to put an end to the maniac’s latest form of harmful deviance. Though, the smiling clown isn’t your only worry, considering the fact that prison warden Hugo Strange is also up to something bad.
With the inmates running amuck throughout Arkham City and its dated architecture (which includes a courthouse, church and other major meeting places), things are very chaotic throughout. As in Gotham City itself, the area always has something going on, with devious super villains having formed their own thug systems containing brainwashed common prisoners. It seems like every single Batman villain one can think of is locked up somewhere on the island, with each one having his or her own agenda. As you can surely expect, they don’t tend to play nice with one another.
Throughout the lengthy and gritty campaign found within Batman: Arkham City, players are treated to a bevy of different capers involving quite a few of these evildoers. The list is long and it includes some pretty tough competition, including Penguin, Two-Face, The Riddler, Harley Quinn and many others. Some members of the cast make their appearance known through committed crimes and side mission quests. These side quests add in a lot of extra content to the overall experience and can be discovered through game world examination and lots of travel.
As one can surely tell, Batman has a lot on his plate from the get-go in this one. A proper sequel to the critically beloved Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City aims to include everything but the kitchen sink in its shadowy portrayal of Gotham City’s egotistical deviants. This means that things are turned up to eleven, with an open world environment, a good deal of story missions, tons of discoverable side missions and even more.
Once you’re done with the main story, there will surely be reason to jump right back in. This is true whether your goal is to find each of The Riddler’s 440 question mark trophies, an attempt to save all of his hostages or a journey to complete every one of the many side missions available within the game. The question marked man plays a huge role within and his humorous queries make up the game’s collectible system, with tons of creative riddles to complete. If this sounds like a lot of content, you’re certainly correct in thinking so. However, this is just the main campaign.
The rocky, turbulent and downright evil campaign found within Batman: Arkham City is all of that because of its adult content. This isn’t your child’s biff, bang and pow. Instead, Rocksteady worked hard to create a very gritty representation of the Caped Crusader, which is best served on a platter beside an adult placeholder. Protocol 10 itself is one of the most evil plots we’ve ever witnessed in superhero fiction and gaming as a whole, though I certainly won’t spoil it here. Its accompanying side missions, main story quests and secondary objectives, also tend to take on very mature themes. There are sniper-based murders, political prisoner attacks, acid bath interrogations and deception. Not to mention a whole bunch of melee-based, freeflow combat.
Bruce Wayne is a lot like the James Bond of superheroes. It seems like he always has a new contraption to call upon in battle – whether it’s a horizontal grappling hook, explosive gel, remote-controlled batarangs or data encryption devices. Comic book readers must salivate at the idea of getting their hands on this technology in real-life, though that pipe dream will most-likely never come true. Lucky for those folks, Batman: Arkham City grants our hero with a large tool belt with lots of available storage area. You’re constantly needing to use some pretty badass devices, whether it’s for travel, getting to hard to reach areas or entering an area without raising alarm. These tools play a huge role in the game, especially if you want to lurk in the shadows to pick guys off one by one instead of having alarmed guns spew out their hot lead.
As the storyline progresses, Bruce comes across (or calls in) interesting new pieces of hardware. There’s a really neat electrical gun which can start seized motors, allowing for metallic doors to work once again. Plus, a neat little item which prevents the Mr. Freeze gun from affecting the player. The folks behind this outing certainly made sure to add in some extra variety, instead of resting on the popular laurels they meticulously crafted with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Most of your gadgets, along with combo maneuvers, armor and abilities, are all upgradeable. Physical prowess within combat earns experience points that correlate into level-up points. You’re almost always earning something by doing well in combat, which is addicting.
Lurking in the shadows is where Batman is certainly at his best. He’s able to methodically pick foes off from above, underneath and behind. Stealth plays a huge role in Batman: Arkham City, especially when armed guards are noticed. Trusty gadgets, inverted takedowns and quick finishers can dispose of those baddies quite well, with thought playing a vital role in approach preparation. Though, there are also many instances involving melee combat between the player and several guards. During these moments of fisticuffs, our hero has the ability to move from enemy to enemy in dance-like melee form. This polished and fun system is referred to as freeflow combat, employing a very fluid animation and maneuverability system. It makes good use of basic attacks and quick counters to help string together silky combos.
Detective mode is helpful in allowing the player to scope out his or her location. A high-tech scanning device of sorts, it can accurately read heat signals and heartbeats from enemies in every environment. This tool becomes a great asset as Batman attempts to pick off guys, one by one. Though, it also plays another role during detective work. Pressing the shoulder button to instigate detective mode allows for evidence scanning, blood tracking and the like. Being able to take on Mr. Wayne’s sleuthing abilities is another way in which this game delivers interesting variety.
Those who purchase a brand new copy of Batman: Arkham City will be awarded with a pass code. It’s not the type of online pass that one normally associates these codes with, but a Catwoman content unlock instead. The feline-loving Selina Kyle makes her presence known right from the beginning of the game, and can become a playable facet of the overall experience with the use of this pass code. If you buy the game new, Catwoman will only be available through a ten dollar online purchase.
Catwoman appears intermittently throughout the game, via several different one-off missions. The nice thing is that these secondary quests add in a breath of fresh air and variety, giving a nice breather from the Dark Knight’s foreboding worries. Endowed with feline reflexes and general cat-like abilities, Ms. Kyle plays in a very different manner from hulking Bruce Wayne. She’s fast, agile and quick to the punch (literally), with her own Riddler question mark trophies to find.
If there’s one downside to Batman: Arkham City from a campaign standpoint, it’s that the amount of content within is a bit overwhelming at first. However, that’s more of a nit-pick than an actual issue. After all, it’s hard to think of a member of the gaming public who wouldn’t want to spend sixty dollars on a polished game with a great amount of content?
You’re looking at hours upon hours of content here, lasting at least twenty plus hours. That number is quite impressive for a superhero affair, considering most tend to conclude shortly after the eight to ten hour mark. Once players get their bearings an hour or so in, things begin to make much more sense. The way this game works also becomes a lot easier to understand through progression. It’s not like things are different from other open world titles, but there’s a lot to look at right from the start, including augmented reality gliding challenges which are much tougher than they sound.
Much-like its predecessor, Batman: Arkham City contains separate options for the player to explore. This includes many different (unlockable) challenge maps, coming in a few different types. There are campaign-style ones, custom options and combat scenarios, to name a few. Your goal is to earn as many icons as possible, by achieving set scores or getting to certain plateaus, which can be tough yet addictive. Of course, you’re also going to find character biographies, interesting Gotham stories and many three-dimensional character statues, which are available through game completion.
Batman: Arkham City is an incredibly polished and detailed experience which showcases as both a passion project and a triple-A video game release. Everything works like it should without problem. However, I did notice a glitch where the game would not run when I installed it. After trying to load the 7.8 gigabyte install file off of my hard-drive twice (with the disc in the tray of course), I started to question whether the disc was defective. Though, after deleting the large file and attempting to launch the game off of its disc, I became aware that it was not the case. The game ran incredibly well using the more traditional method, so hopefully the install issue is just a glitch which will be patched in the very near future.
The shadow-filled world of Arkham City itself is a very dark and somber environment, which takes on a scary appearance during the dark night. It’s foreboding and archaic, showing signs of detailed architectural wear. The aesthetics team at Rocksteady Games have done an excellent job in creating a robust and interesting world for players to glide, lurk and battle through. Every single one of its evil inhabitants is also detailed meticulously, with the end result being one of jaw-dropping awe. It’s hard to find faults with the way this game looks from an art design standpoint. There are some times where things look a bit muddy, but those are easily overlooked due to the incredible architectural and character design within. This is all complemented well by fluid animations and great cape physics.
Established actor, Kevin Conroy uses his grand and gruff pipes to once again portray an adult take on our favourite billionaire crime stopper, seeming a perfect fit for the task at hand. He’s flanked by an incredible voice cast, including Mark Hamill, who makes his return as the Joker. If there’s a man better-suited for that role, it’d be a surprise. Hamill is disturbing, maniacal and varied throughout his performance as the green-haired clown. This great work is not exclusive to the two mentioned gentlemen, as the supporting cast is exceptional as well. The real surprise is hearing The Penguin with a British accent, showing off great range from veteran gaming voice actor, Nolan North. All of the in-game dialogue combined is well-written, informative and fanboy-worthy.
Not surprising is the fact that Batman: Arkham City takes its hints from the popular comic book fiction more than Adam West‘s live-action biffs, bangs and pows. As a result, gamers can expect to hear darker tones in both the music and sound effect compartments. The game’s original score is rich and sweeping, slotting in nicely with what occurs on-screen. Its varied sound effects are also very impressive, utilizing rich and relatively realistic audio designs. Finding auditory faults is incredibly hard to do. Then again, that is usually the case when something is top notch.
With their sophomore effort inside of the Caped Crusader’s world, Rocksteady Games have hit yet another home run. Batman: Arkham City is an exceptional video game which is more than worth its price tag and necessary time investment. Fans of superhero fiction will love this game from start to finish, most-likely showing interest in jumping right back in after the credits roll. Touted as one of this holiday season’s most-anticipated titles, the Dark Knight’s latest outing is one you cannot miss.
Batman: Arkham City was released on October 18, 2011. This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.