Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to the previous award winning Batman title, Arkham Asylum. It has been in the making for over 2 years and Arkham City has had more hype than pretty much any other offline game in that time. Hype is all well and good, but does the game live upto it? In brief, yes. But I was expecting a little more.
Don’t get me wrong, the game is a joy to play but when you consider that this was billed as one of the biggest releases of the year I almost feel let down. The storyline starts off with so much promise. North Gotham has been sealed off by a huge wall and then filled with every evil mastermind and petty criminal the city officials can get their hands on. Enter Batman. Naturally the Dark Knight isn’t going to allow his sworn enemies to live pretty much unsupervised, as he knows what they’re capable of and where it will inevitably lead: a break out (which is the only thing the inmates are not allowed to do), which would threaten the rest of Gotham and potentially the world.
Arkham City is officially overseen by Hugo Strange, a well-respected psychiatric genius who has manipulated the Mayor of Gotham into giving him the position – citing Jokers’ previous attempt at a hostile take-over of Arkham Asylum. Amongst all of this, the Joker seems to be at deaths door. Infected with a fatal disease called ‘Titan Formula’, which will eventually turn him into a crazed beast (just in case he isn’t already ‘disturbed’ enough).
All of this is fine and works well enough to be the entire storyline for Arkham City, and perhaps it should have been… The game suffers from random interjections from other big time villains such as Doctor Penguin, Bane and Riddler (who we’ll get to later on). They all make cameo appearances, but add no real value to the story and, in all honesty, just dilute its quality. This really shocked me as the game is written by Paul Dini, a legendary comic book writer who always works to the highest standards.
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Regardless, with all this craziness going on Batman takes it upon himself to ‘police’ the area in his own unique way, kicking ass and taking names. Whether it’s a group of 5-6 street thugs or an old foe and his band of bodyguards, they must be dealt with. Obviously such a job will require awesome gadgets, in mass! Fear not, for they have been delivered. You will be supplied with numerous tools to take down your opposition and what’s more, each one has its own button so using them on the fly and incorporating them into your button sequence is no problem at all.
In fact, the entire combat system works extremely well – most of it coming directly from its predecessor, Arkham Asylum. You have the 2 button basic system, one to attack and one to counter (because the Dark Knight is entirely too awesome to block and end up on the back-foot). Add in a few jumps, back-flips and well-timed use of his various gadgets and you have yourself a smooth and poetic battle sequence which at times almost looks like it’s a cut-scene. It’s really that good! You won’t have a hard time finding places to put the system to good use either as Arkham City is littered with baddies just waiting to be slaughtered.
The city itself is hardly massive, consisting of only a few blocks, but the level of detail within it is immense. Each building has clearly had a lot of time spent on it, both from a creative point of view and in development. My concern is that with such a small “map” you would expect there to be a lot of depth, but it just isn’t there. Only a relatively small amount of the buildings are actually able to be entered and that limits the amount of exploration that can be done massively. It seems to be that the designers of the game read the storyline and built only what was required, as opposed to adding a little more meat to the area/game for players to enjoy after the main storyline has been completed.
However, that said, it’s a real pleasure to move around within Arkham City, particularly leaping from one building and firing the grappling hook onto the next, all in one seamless motion. Once you have had enough of that you can fly around the city by swooping down and then pitching back up, catching the breeze just right to keep yourself in the air. It takes a little practice but once you have it down it’s a lot of fun.
In addition to the flying, jumping and limited exploration there are sub-plots. You can play as Catwoman and complete various objectives from her point of view or take on the monumental challenge the Riddler has placed before you in the form of 400 (yes, four hundred) puzzles. Each being unique and requiring a fair amount of thinking, but all very do-able if you approach them with a little logic.
In conclusion, I enjoyed the game as a whole. The voice acting helped to keep me immersed and the storyline, despite its few drawbacks, was of an excellent quality rarely seen in video games. I can honestly see this game going down, with Arkham Asylum, as one of the great console adventure games and collecting many awards along the way. Its graphics and action sequences will have you on the edge of your seat for hours on end and it’s just a shame, at least to me, that Rocksteady Studios made those few errors outlined above, otherwise Batman: Arkham City really would have been the absolute definition of perfection. While the game didn’t quiet meet the hype that it had been given I do feel that it has done the Batman franchise (and DC in general) proud.