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A Second Opinion – Batman: Arkham City

Decades of older Batman games forced the titular character in beat-em-up, racing, and arcade-style brawlers, though none of them came close to literally putting players deep into the world of the Dark Knight. The world’s greatest detective and martial artist needed a game that would allow him to use his investgative skills, wits, gadgets, and dangerous fighting styles without having to be shoehorned into tired genre staples.

Thankfully, in 2009, DC had finally broken the curse with Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum; eventually winning countless game-of-the-year awards and achieving retail success in the process. This success allowed Rocksteady to create perhaps one of the greatest superhero games ever made, and definitely the best game of 2012 with Batman: Arkham City.

The Dark Knight stalks his prey.

Taking place one year after the events of Arkham Asylum, Gotham City had deteriorated into one of the worst cities in the world; the mayor Quincy Sharp transformed the slums of the city into a full-on penitentiary. Sharp had also been imprisoning everyone who went against him, including billionaire Bruce Wayne, one of the most vocal of his detractors.

The game begins as Wayne is imprisoned and surrounded by Gotham’s most dangerous criminals. As Batman, he must investigate and fight his way to find out how and why Sharp had gained so much power in such a short time, and why master (mad) scientist Hugo Strange is in charge of Arkham City. And then there’s the evil of the most iconic villain, the Joker, as he threatens Batman’s life to save his own.

Those playing Arkham City for the first time may be overwhelmed by the amount of things happening all around Batman, yet these only add to the sense of desperation and urgency that the hero feels during the adventure.

Nothing says expert martial artist like Batman’s flying kick to the face.

As a testament to the depth and scope of Arkham City, expect to see who’s who of Batman villains in the game; with many of them having their own hefty side-mission story arcs that could easily have been a different game title altogether. And while other games would have lost focus, the side-missions in Arkham City actually give the world more personality and ties together the fates of the different good and bad guys in the world of Batman.

The game world is much larger than the original game; so large, in fact, that one may have to spend months to find every secret in every nook and cranny in the slums of Gotham City. This isn’t much of a problem for Batman though, as traversing the environments is actually pretty fun and feels natural. Batman can use his grapnel gun to get up to rooftops and, from there, use his cape to glide unto any place in the map.

Of course, just like in the original game, gadgets play a large role in travel and combat in the world of Arkham City. Thankfully, Batman isn’t gimped with the cliche loss of gadgets in the beginning of the game as Rocksteady gives the players all of Batman’s gadgets from Arkham Asylum by making them available from the start. The game then ups the ante by providing the players with more of Batman’s toys to play around with including freeze grenades, weapon and mine disruptors, and, of course, the Sonic Batarang.

The focus of the upcoming Arkham City DLC: Harley Quinn.

These gadgets not only help with finding every one of Riddler’s trophies, they also can be utilized in addition to Batman’s freeflow combat system. Arkham Asylum’s fighting system returns allowing Batman to counter multiple opponents at once. The game even throws bad guys that require a bit of strategy to defeat, oftentimes requiring Batman to use a number of his gadgets to stun or distract his opponents before knocking them out.

If there’s one thing that works against the game, it’s the addition of Catwoman as a playable character. And while her campaign does give a bit of a change to the Batman formula, it really doesn’t add much to the game. She only has a few gadgets and moving around Arkham City is a pain as she has to use her whip to latch onto items within the environments while using her claws to scale buildings. The gameplay with her character is a bit clunky and really detracts from the Batman experience. Thankfully, the Catwoman missions can be skipped as they’re part of the packed-in DLC.

Arkham City’s graphical presentation is top-notch. The game looks fantastic and really immerses players in the 1930-50’s inspired environments. There’s a ton of detail found in the game world, too. Many of the secrets and stories found all over Arkham City are so much fun to find because of the care and attention the developers put into the signs, the landmarks, and the character details found in the game. Players will really notice a unique feel and experience for every one of the villain’s territories; for example, the Joker’s steel mill has hundreds of giant clown statues as well as an overall creepy carnival theme.

Random thug, meet random thug. Pow! And then they see stars.

Music and voice acting in the game are impeccable. Mark Hamill’s portrayal of the Joker is unforgettable, bringing to life the iconic villain and foil for Batman. There were times where I was really perturbed by some of Joker’s voice messages for Batman. (Also, watch the end credits for a special message from the Joker.) Kevin Conroy’s Batman really immerses the player as his voice definitely brings back childhood memories of watching Batman: The Animated Series. The soundtrack reminds of the epic orchestral music found in the excellent film The Dark Knight. The music helps emphasize some of the more exciting, thrilling, and scary parts of Arkham City.

In the end, those who loved Arkham Asylum will find more to love about Arkham City. This sequel gives players more of what made the first game ridiculously addictive while adding a bigger location, more iconic villains, more gadgets, and more things to accomplish. Players will easily find themselves spending weeks, if not months, trying to finish everything there is to do in the game. The combat is easy to use yet allows for deep strategy, traversing the environments is fun and satisfying. All in all, it’s safe to say that Batman is here to stay, and Arkham City is for sure the best game of 2011.

If you still haven’t tried Batman: Arkham City, Don’t rent it; buy it.

Author’s Note: I originally wrote and published this article for SonyRumors.Net

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About janhutchings

Canadian Game Industry Blogger / Contributor for @Sonyrumors & @ShogunGamer / Communications and PR Professional. Voice of Canadian and Indie Gaming. http://jtmgames.com/

Posted on May 12, 2012, in Game Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I have a placed order of this game in the post coming my way, so I cant wait to get my hands on it myself. Having not played it I cant make a judgement call on this yet, but what do you think of the choice to crown Skyrim as game of the year over other nominations such as this one for example?(refering to VGA’s 2011 which I watched the other day). Great article!

    • To be honest I found Arkham City to be a more focused and interesting game compared to Skyrim. (But I think that’s just me.) Skyrim was fun and all, but as for action-rpg’s go, I’d pick Witcher 2 over Skyrim every time. Though I think Skyrim’s improvements over Oblivion is well worth the game of the year crown.

      Just not the PS3 version.

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