Batman Arkham City: The Review Gotham Deserves
I’ve gone on record many times to say that Batman: Arkham City is one of the best games I have ever played and one my favorite games that I have played in the past five years. I like it more than all of the Nolan Batman films combined and it was certainly my pick for game of the year in 2011; however, I’ve never actually giving it my own review.
In honor of the release of its prequel, Arkham Origins, I thought it was time to give Arkham City the review it deserves. Arkham City is the sequel to the surprise 2009 hit Batman Arkham Asylum, which showed the right way to do licensed games and super hero games. Arkham City upped the bar by putting you in an open world environment with a deeper, more complex story line and side missions. You, of course, play as one of the most badass fictional characters in modern times, Batman.
What makes these games stand out is the excellent gameplay that actually makes you feel like Batman, completely immersed with his skills, gadgets, environments, and characters. You feel like such a badass that I have literally caught myself saying ‘I’m Batman!’ after pulling off some crazy maneuver or beating the crap out of a group of thugs. Be aware that I will be going into some spoilers, as this game has been out for a little over two years now. If you haven’t played it by now and you don’t want anything spoiled, stop reading and go play it now! Otherwise, be ready for a more in-depth look than I usually try to give. Now put on your cape and cowl, because time to hit the mean streets of Arkham City!
The story takes place one year after the events of Arkham Asylum, where The Joker took control of the asylum and unleashed a dangerous new drug called Titan of which he exposed himself to. After this event, the Gotham City council tries to figure out what to do with the old Asylum. About that time, Professor Hugo Strange comes into the picture as Mayor Quincy Sharpe suggests building a mega prison in old Gotham dubbed Arkham City. Despite protests from Bruce Wayne and other Gotham officials, the plan goes through and old Gotham is walled off, with a PMC known as TYGER over seeing security of the facility and being headed by Hugo Strange.
All of the inmates from Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison are thrown into the open prison compound to fight for their own survival. The Joker, Two-Face, and The Penguin claim their territories and start to fight a bloody gang war as Bruce Wayne continues to protest an end to Arkham City. During a peaceful protest, Wayne is captured by TYGER guards and brought into the city. After being interrogated by Strange and escaping the Penguin, he dawns the Bat Suit and Batman is officially in Arkham City. He learns that Hugo Strange knows that he is Batman and that something called Protocol Ten will make Strange famous and somehow change the world.
Now, surrounded by his greatest enemies, Batman must face his ultimate challenge to stop Strange and save himself and Gotham from the horrible secrets buried in Arkham City.
The story itself is a step up from the previous game, which just felt like a typical comic book set up. Not to say Arkham City doesn’t feel like a comic book setting but it has much higher stakes and just feels much bigger. The story was written by Paul Dini who has had a lot of experience with Batman in comics and the animated series. The first and last act of Arkham City is an absolute blast, filled with plot twists throughout. The game’s pacing is one point of criticism that is often leveled against Arkham City as it really does kind of drag in the middle. I would be lying if I said it didn’t. Around the time when you need to go hunt down and find Ra’s al Ghul, things slow down a lot.
However, those who complain about there not being enough to do, you are clearly not playing the game to the fullest. There are several side missions in this game, many of which feature some of Batman’s most well known and lesser known villains.
Rocksteady Studios did an amazing job turning some of Batman’s more gimmicky villains into truly terrifying psychopaths.
The side mission with the Mad Hatter was awesome, but short (though Mad Hatter will be playing a much bigger role in Arkham Origins). There are some side missions that are extremely short with one step, while others require multiple steps and time. The biggest side mission deals with The Riddler, in which you must find the over 400 Riddler trophies hidden all over Arkham, solve riddles, and save hostages from Riddler’s death traps. The main story in the campaign mode by itself takes about 10 to 12 hours to beat but if you’re looking to complete the campaign mode 100%, it will probably take 18 to 20 hours, if you know what you’re doing. My first play through, it took me a couple weeks to find and beat everything (not including the challenge maps and Catwoman episodes).
The story delivers some real punches near the end of the game along with some unanswered questions that will lead to an eventual sequel. I do kind of wish that they could have pushed the envelope a little more, like forcing Batman to kill someone (as hinted in the launched trailer), though I’m sure Batman fans would have flipped over something like that. Almost every one of Batman’s major enemies make an appearance in this game is some way, including tons of Easter eggs and references hidden throughout the game. I’m pretty sure Penguin’s shark is a reference to the DEADLY-EXPLODING-SHARK from the 60’s Batman movie. The story is superior to the previous game in every way though is less focused due to the addition of side missions but I’m just fine with that.
Arkham City is what the Nolan Batman films should have been.
The meat of the gameplay in Arkham City can be divided into two sections: free flow combat and stealth. The free flow combat is easy to use, difficult to master but once you get the hang of it, you will definitely feel like the Dark Knight, able to take on groups of thugs and just kick the crap out of them. You want to keep the combos going as long as you can and counter when an enemy has the blue indicators over their heads. It starts you out with relatively small groups of bad guys to fight but, as the game progresses, you’ll face different kinds of enemies that require different methods to counter and defeat them. By the end of the game, you’ll be faced with a mix of all kinds of enemies at once but that’s child’s play for Batman. Unlike other games that use this similar combat systems (Remember Me, Sleeping Dogs) Arkham City’s combat system is very smooth and flexible. All the hits are satisfying and you can also quick fire your gadgets during combat which all have hot keys. This makes the combat in Arkham City extremely fun.
Stealth is the other half of Batman’s gameplay. When you encounter rooms with multiple armed guards, you have a variety of ways to take them down. It’s best to pick them off one by one and this lets you utilize Batman’s gadgets in any way you see fit. Batarangs, the bat claw, explosive gel, electric pulse gun, and more are all at your disposal.
These stealth sections are what truly make you feel like Batman.
Batman’s detective mode lets you see all enemies in the area as well as objects in the area that can be of useful to you, as well as spotting some of Riddler’s secrets. Periodically, Batman will encounter crime scenes that he must analyze. This mainly consists of finding clues in a certain area and scanning them. Not much too it but it’s supposed to be expanded more in Arkham Origins. In the ‘open world’ areas of the city, you’ll find the best way to travel is by flying and grappling around. Batman’s flying/gliding ability is a lot of fun but will require some practice to get the hang of it. You will need to get good at this as there are parts of the game that will require some expert flying skills. All over the city, you can find thugs walking around to fight and gain XP. You’ll need XP to level up, unlock/upgrade equipment, and moves. You also gain XP for completing major objectives and finding Riddler trophies (If you want to level up quickly and often, look out for those trophies).
Arkham City is far from the biggest open world game I’ve ever played and it probably won’t take you long to learn the areas of the city. However, you might be surprised by all the nooks and crannies in the city, especially if you’re hunting after all the Riddler trophies and riddles. I have heard problems about getting stuck in the geometry if you drop to close to buildings in some spots but I’ve never had any problems like that. Actually, I’ve never really run into any major glitches at all in this game. I should note I am playing on the PS3 and I find it to be the best system to play it on. I’ve heard the PC version of the game suffers from many glitches and errors though.
Outside of the campaign, you also have challenge maps which become unlocked as you uncover secrets throughout the game. There are brawl levels, where you go four rounds of fighting to try to reach target scores. Then there are stealth levels where you have to complete three objectives while trying to take down guards. You can also create your own challenge campaign where you play brawl and stealth maps back to back. You can also play these maps as Robin, Nightwing, and Catwoman. They can get extremely challenging but are a good way to hone your skills.
Speaking of Catwoman, she is also a playable character in the main campaign IF you download the Catwoman DLC or are playing the GOTY edition. I was very disappointed two years ago to find that Catwoman was not included in the game itself, even though I’m pretty sure they said she would be. Instead, she was a day one DLC that I did not get a chance to download till about six months later due to internet connection issues. I was very displeased about that. If you are playing the GOTY edition, you also get the add-on ‘Harley Quinn’s Revenge.’ It is set two weeks after the events of the main game and Batman has been captured by a mourning Harley Quinn. While you do play as Batman, you will play as Robin through the majority of the expansion. While it is very fun to play as Robin as he has his own fighting style and unique gadgets; Harley Quinn’s Revenge is very short at just 2 hours. With the lack of side missions or Riddle trophies to collect, it is very linear and just has no reason to do any exploring. It does give some insight into the aftermath of the main campaign and into what might be Batman’s state of mind in the sequel, but that’s about it. This DLC is best played only after completing everything in the main game.
GRAPHICS & SOUND:
Many open world games tend to not have the best visuals in order to make room for the size of the game. Arkham City, however, is one of the best looking open world games I have ever seen (up until GTAV).
The designers did an amazing job giving Arkham City the dark, gritty, and cold feel you’d expect from Batman.
All the buildings and streets are highly detailed with almost no texture pop-in. The game gives you this cold, grim feel similar to the first Metal Gear Solid. It fits perfectly into the Dark Knight’s world. Surrounding Arkham City, you have the beautiful background of the Gotham skyline that envelops the city, as well as a view of the Gotham Harbor and, if you look closely, you can see Arkham Island, the location of the first game. Character models are extremely detailed and well designed, putting some previous incarnations of some Batman characters to shame. As you unlock character trophies, give them a view to get a good look at all their detail. Also the concept art is interesting to look at. Usually concept art is a throw away extra in games, but Arkham City has some very beautiful and interesting concept art to unlock and check out. This is a hauntingly beautiful game.
Along with the dark visuals, is a very dark soundtrack fitting of the Batman universe. Composed by Nick Arundel and Ron Fish, the music has a more epic and lively feel than the previous game. The voice acting is top notch with Kevin Conroy, the true voice of Batman, reprising his role as the Dark Knight once again. Wally Wingert reprises his role as The Riddler from the previous game and he plays to the larger role given to him in this game perfectly, truly bringing out Riddler’s egomania and narcissistic character traits.
Corey Burton does an amazing job as Hugo Strange with a deep, intellectual, yet unsettling voice who many mistook for Christopher Lee. Grey DeLisle makes her debut as Catwoman. While she does a great job, most of her lines tend to be cat puns or sexual innuendoes, some of which are real groaners. Tara Strong fills some big clown shoes by replacing Arleen Sorkin as the voice of Harley Quinn. Strong generally does a great job, with some lines that sound just like Sorkin’s Harley but then there are others where it sounds very forced. There are many other voice talents that deserve mentioning in Arkham City but the one that steals the show is Mark Hamill’s epic ‘final’ performance as The Joker. Hamill says he won’t be returning to voice the Joker ever again but we’ll see if that happens. Anyway, I gotta wrap this up. I could go on forever about this game.
Overall, this is a must play for any Batman fans, super hero fans, and fans of open world games in general.
It is hands down one of the best super hero and licensed games ever made. In case you couldn’t tell, I really love this game. The only major problems I can find with the game is that if you’re not a fan of Batman at all, the characters and story might not interest or appeal to you. As with the first Arkham game, it is a love letter to fans. But that’s a matter of opinion and interest, not poor game making. I think the big question right now is how will Arkham Origins do? It has a tough act to follow but has a lot of promise and potential to show how Batman’s villains come to be in what has become known as the Arkham Batman universe. I’m looking forward to it and you can expect a review of Arkham Origins within the next week or two. Thank you for reading! Aside from the next Batman, I do not have any more planned reviews yet but my friend Grant will be reviewing Assassin’s Creed 4 and possibly Battlefield 4 within the next couple weeks as well. So keep a look out.
- Excellent and fun gameplay, combat and stealth
- Great story/characters
- Beautiful graphics, music, and top notch voice acting
- The 2nd act does slow down a lot
- Might not appeal to non-Batman or non-DC fans
- Though now irrelevant, the day 1 Catwoman DLC still bugs me