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Batman: Arkham Asylum is a great game and while it obviously appeals to Batman fans, I think it’s a solid stealth action game that would be fun to play even without the Batman coat of paint. It’s an excellent game made by developers who know how to make you actually feel like you’re playing as Batman. I can see the freeflow combat system not being for everyone because of its simplistic nature. I know people who really dislike it. But me, I thought it was fun and addictive. Developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Batman: Arkham City was released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in October, 2011, and for PC in November of that same year. I have beaten this before on 360 but for this review, I played the PC version. Specifically, the Game of the Year Edition which includes all of the DLC. The game was ported to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One along with Arkham Asylum in October, 2016 in the Return to Arkham collection. It includes some visual enhancements and I was going to play that version instead but decided not to after reading about numerous technical issues. Although, I did encounter technical issues in the PC version that I don’t remember being present in the 360 version. But it’s been a while. The game was ported to the Wii U in November, 2012 and included new content and I remember the framerate being wildly inconsistent.
After the events of Arkham Asylum, Gotham’s slums were converted into a prison called Arkham City, run by the infamous Hugo Strange. The story opens with Bruce Wayne being kidnapped by TYGER mercenaries before Strange discloses to him that he knows about his dual identity as Batman and then throws him into the prison. After Bruce escapes custody and dons the Batsuit, he becomes a problem for all the villains in Arkham City including the Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face, among others, and several of them control different parts of the prison. Joker is dying from the Titan formula mutating his blood and after he infects Batman with the same disease, Batman makes it a priority to find a cure. Overall, I thought the plot was pretty good. The game is basically Batman porn. The characters and world are goods reflection of their counterparts in other mediums like the comics and shows. You’ll encounter many characters and villains from the Batman universe and the game employs an ensemble voice cast including Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill who reprise their roles as Batman and Joker respectively. Tara Strong replaces Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn and Nolan North and Troy Baker lend their voices to several characters. The Catwoman DLC adds a small sub-plot to the main campaign where you get to play as Catwoman and the Harley Quinn’s Revenge DLC adds a small campaign to the game that is set after the events of the main story. It doesn’t take very long to beat and the coolest thing about it is that you get to play as both Batman and Robin.
The game plays a lot like the previous game did and all of the playable characters can perform the same set of basic functions and moves. They can walk, run, crouch, slide, jump, and take cover. Batman can glide and you’ll be doing that a lot since Arkham City is a pretty big place. It’s the best way to get around. You can perform dive bombs while gliding which can get you down quickly or be used to gain more distance. You can use the grapnel gun to grapple around and in the heat of the moment, I sometimes found myself grappling onto the wrong thing which can be annoying but it’s still fun being able quickly move around areas and vantage points with ease. At certain points, you’ll have to use Batman’s evidence scanner to scan crime scenes and track clues and once again, Batman can use detective mode to see important information in the world. This includes being able to see enemies through solid objects. It’s just as useful as it was in Arkham Asylum and can kind of take away from the presentation since there’s rarely a reason to deactivate the mode. As you engage and defeat enemies, solve riddles, and complete missions, you’ll gain experience. After earning enough experience, you level up and can spend a point to unlock a Waynetech upgrade. You can upgrade your armor, unlock new moves, and add additional functionality to your gadgets and Catwoman doesn’t have nearly as many upgrade options as Batman does. I like the upgrade system because it encourages you to try different things, fight, be stealthy, and explore. Upgrades can be very helpful in combat and help you access new areas in the world.
In the story mode, you’ll get to play as both Batman and Catwoman and in Harley Quinn’s revenge, you’ll get to play as Batman and Robin. The freeflow combat system returns and has seen some additions. All characters have their own moves and equipment but the simplistic nature of the combat remains. You press a button to strike, another to counter, and another to stun. Sometimes multiple enemies will attack you simultaneously, you’ll have to engage enemies carrying shields with aerial attacks, and you can perform blade dodges. If you didn’t like the freeflow combat in Arkham Asylum, you probably won’t like it here. I can’t say the combat, itself, is very difficult. When you have to engage multiple enemy types, it can be easy to mess up the timing of attacks, moves, and counters but the fights, themselves, are pretty easy. Defeating all the bad guys is usually never a problem. The real challenge is keeping up the combo or multiplier. Landing strikes and countering attacks in succession without taking hits or messing up increases your multiplier. The higher the multiplier the more experience you’ll earn. There is an addictive quality to the combat and you can use gadgets during a fight and I find it immensely satisfying watching Batman use the batclaw to rip a gun out of an enemy’s hand or the remote electrical charge to fire a shot at a foe, causing him to spaz out.
There’s numerous villains in Arkham City and most of them seem to have their own henchmen or goons. Some use melee weapons, some will look for things to throw at you, and you’ll have to attack the enemies with stun sticks from behind. Not only will you need to fight but also be stealthy. For example, some enemies carry guns and can blow you away pretty quickly so it’s best to sneak around and take them out quietly. Having the right gadgets and upgrades can make the stealth encounters a lot easier and gives you more options when it comes to how you want to engage foes. That’s the best part of the stealth encounters. You usually have plenty of options. Enemies are everywhere and you’re always outnumbered. Some are equipped with hearbeat monitors so if they go down, their buddies will be alerted. Some are equipped with signal jammers which prevents you from seeing their locations in detective mode and you should always target these guys first. Then there’s others equipped with thermal vision, allowing them to see you in dark areas. If you do get spotted, you can drop a smoke pellet to quickly escape from view. You will get to fight several bosses throughout the story and while I didn’t find any of them to be super difficult, each battle feels different and unique and some actually force you to think and use the different tools and moves at your disposal.
You’ll get to use the same gadgets that were in Arkham Asylum and then some. You can throw batarangs, use the batclaw to grab and pull things, use explosive gel to blow through certain parts of the environments, bypass security systems with the Cryptographic Sequencer, and the line launcher allows you to traverse long gaps easily. I think my favorite new gadget is the disruptor. When upgraded, it can be used to disable enemy firearms. It’s fun doing that and then approaching them and watching them freak out because their guns aren’t working. You’ll eventually get your hands on the freeze blast which can be used to immobilize enemies and freeze water and the remote electrical charge allows you to power up generators. Some of the gadgets won’t be utilized as often as others but they all do serve a purpose and when upgraded, some can prove to be extremely beneficial. Many upgrades are acquired through Waynetech but others are acquired only after completing certain missions like the grapnel boost for example. The other playable characters have their own equipment but they don’t have as many options as Batman. However, their different equipment will make you think a little differently about how you approach certain encounters. For example; Catwoman can use her whip and Robin can use a bullet shield to approach enemies with guns head-on. It’s pretty cool.
As mentioned earlier, the game is basically Batman porn. Almost everywhere you go is something recognizable from the Batman universe. The main missions will have you progressing through the story but you can easily get distracted by side missions, riddles, and Riddler Trophies. You’ll have to track down Victor Zsaz by tracing his calls, blow up Titan containers for Bane, and the Mad Hatter will try to screw with Batman’s head. The Riddler has placed Riddler trophies for Batman and Catwoman all over Arkham City and there’s riddles to solve in each area. You acquire more gadgets as you progress and some riddles and trophies can only be solved and found by utilizing certain gadgets. You’ll get to run across rooftops, navigate the streets below, and explore numerous buildings. You’ll get to engage enemies at the G.C.P.D., in a museum, steel mill, and in the sewers, among other locations. Thugs and henchmen are everywhere which means there’s plenty of opportunities to fight which means plenty of opportunities to earn experience. You’ll get to listen to their conversations and it’s neat hearing them comment about different characters and things going on in the story.
Scattered around the world are Riddler associates and you can interrogate them so they reveal the whereabouts of Riddler secrets on the map. There’s always something to see and do and that’s one of the best things about Arkham City. I was never bored. Even if you’ve been to an area before, you may have new gadgets and upgrades that could mean there’s new areas to access or that you can finally acquire that trophy you were eyeing before. The game gives you plenty of reasons to explore and you’re always rewarded for doing so. Furthermore, it’s cool seeing all the things in the world that you may have read about in the comics or seen in other mediums. There are Riddler challenges to complete which is one of the game’s ways of encouraging you to try new things. Completing a challenge rewards you with experience. You’ll have to do things like a glide a certain distance, perform certain actions during combat, and destroy a certain amount of things scattered around the world like Joker Balloons and teeth, Harley Heads, Penguins, and cameras. The Harley Quinn’s Revenge DLC is set in a small portion of Arkham City and is much more linear than the main campaign. I think the biggest novelty of this DLC is that you get to play as Robin. You go from objective to objective, engage enemies, and there’s Harley balloons to find and destroy along the way. Ultimately, it’s disappointing. You can beat this campaign in under two hours and it’s not as rewarding as the main campaign.
In addition to the story are challenges to complete and there’s different challenge modes. You’ve got the challenge maps which are just like the ones in Arkham Asylum, Challenge Campaigns, and Custom Challenges where you can apply modifiers to the different maps. To unlock Challenge maps and Campaigns, you have to find the appropriate Riddler trophies in the story mode. The combat and predator challenge types return and the Challenge campaigns are the real standout here. They require you to complete multiple challenge maps in a row. You have a limited amount of retries and will have to apply different modifiers to change things up. Whether’s it’s a map or campaign, you can earn medals for reaching certain scores in the combat maps and by completing specific tasks in the predator maps. The combat challenges will put your freeflow combat skills to the test. You’ll want to keep that multiplier going. The predator challenges are interesting because the objectives you need to complete to earn medals show you different ways to utilize your gadgets effectively. One of the best things about the Challenges is that you can play through them with different characters including Batman, Robin, Catwoman, and Nightwing and they each come with different skins and have their own equipment. Furthermore, each character has to earn their own medals in the maps. Needless to say, the challenges have plenty of replay value.
Arkham City does look better than its predecessor and the presentation nails the dark atmosphere the Batman universe is known for and the locations themselves are well represented. The character models look good, the lighting is great, and if you keep detective mode on all the time, it’s easy to miss all the little environmental details. Abandoned and/or destroyed vehicles can be found on the streets, debris is everywhere, a TYGER helicopter flies around above the prison, you can see the rest of Gotham City in the background, Batman’s suit will show more and more visible damage as you progress through the story, and each building you enter looks and feels different. The soundtrack is composed of a lot of dramatic sounding tunes and the sound effects are excellent. The sounds of strikes are satisfying, explosions are loud, and you’ll get to hear enemy chatter as you navigate around the prison. On the technical side, the frame rate would stutter here and there but most of the time the gameplay was smooth. The game did crash on me when first fired it up and I had to turn off PhysX to get it to run. Other than that, I didn’t encounter any serious issues during gameplay.
I had a blast with Arkham City. It’s one of my favorite games in the series. The combat is fun and addictive, the stealth mechanics are solid, and exploration is rewarding. Navigating the outside areas of the prison are easy enough thanks to being able grapple and glide everywhere and the world is small enough that navigation doesn’t feel tedious. In fact, there’s basically no filler areas. There’s a lot to see and do in Arkham City and Batman fans will be able to appreciate all the little details. Despite my positive outlook on the world design, I do sometimes wish you could fast travel, if only to get out of a building. If you want complete all the Riddler challenges and collect all the trophies, you’re going to have to revisit previously explored buildings and getting through them can sometimes be a pain in the ass. But it’s only a small nuisance. Completing the Riddler challenges and finding all the trophies not only rewards you with challenge maps and campaigns but also character trophies, stories, and concept art. The game is filled with content and I enjoyed the expanded Challenge mode which can consume hours of your time if you’re a completionist.
I would absolutely recommend Batman: Arkham City to fans of Batman and the previous game. This is yet another experience that does a great job at making you feel like Batman. It takes what was great about Arkham Asylum and does it even better. The game retains the fun and addictive combat and rewarding stealth gameplay from Arkham Asylum but the bigger world and new gadgets and mechanics give you more options when it comes to deciding how to deal with enemies. All the unlockable content and Challenge modes can keep you playing for a while. Definitely check out Arkham City.