When Batman: Arkham Asylum released in 2009, it quickly became known as one of the best examples of a comic book hero turned into a playable video game character. With the game reaching critical as well as commercial success, Rocksteady Studios quickly got to work on a sequel. Have they tweaked enough of Arkham Asylum to warrant a purchase? Find out in our review.
Arkham City starts with a great opening as you begin playing not as Batman, but as his secret identity Bruce Wayne. After being nabbed during a political press conference and dragged into the city, you get to see just how much of a badass the Batman is even without his suit and gadgets. Punching out The Penguin is always a great way to start a game. As soon as you make your escape from the initial area, the entire city is yours to explore. It actually seems a bit overwhelming at first. But after spending a few minutes grappling from rooftop to rooftop, you do get your bearings. Gliding around the city is fun but a bit slow at the start of the game. It’s when you upgrade your abilities later on that gliding practically turns into flying with gadgets such as the grapple-boost. You can lose hours of time just stealthily moving about the city, looking for secrets or listening in on thugs.
It’s amazing to think that Arkham City uses the Unreal Engine 3. The game looks absolutely stunning, and close-ups of Batman and other characters seem too good to be true. The game never falters during combat, and only on rare occasion pauses briefly as it loads a new in-game cutscene. Everything is just so fluid, and you have the freedom to go from intense combat to the top of an apartment building as quickly as you want. The city looks and feels dirty, seedy and beautiful all at once. There is architecture of all different types here, from majestic churches to disgusting sewers. Burning cars and trashed train carts add to the lived-in and decrepit feeling to a city, as does the gloomy weather. Arkham City has really gone to hell but has done so in such believable fashion. The lighting produces shadows that bounce off the ground and objects realistically, and thankfully weather and special effects such as smoke do not bog down the game’s engine. The Unreal Engine 3 may have been around for a few years now, but it has evolved and kept up to date with the best of them. This is a showcase title for the engine, to be sure.
The audio in this epic episode of Batman’s adventures is masterfully done. Criminals around the city have an incredible amount of voicework, and it seems that anytime you progress the story, even slightly, they have something to say about it. They are generally buffoons who provide for a good chuckle seemingly any time they open their mouths. Yet these goons also have some major cojones, as they will taunt you if you grapple to a nearby building and they lose sight of you. Just think about what kind of gusto it takes to make fun of Batman! Their smack talk can definitely incite you to get them back, and it is surprising to hear. Switching into Detective Mode has a very sci-fi-esque sound to it, as it seems as though you are tapping into previously-inaudible audio wavelengths. The game is presented in at least 7.1 surround sound, and you can tell fairly quickly where an attack or noise is coming from. Combat is as visceral as ever, with punches and especially knockouts that you can feel, especially if you have a decent subwoofer in your sound system. The sweeping soundtrack proudly plays as you move throughout the city, and it ramps up during intense moments so naturally it inspires you to take your time playing. Even without a fancy setup, you can tell Rocksteady Studios worked hard at getting the audio in their latest title just right.
In Arkham Asylum, you felt like a badass. This feeling is refreshingly replicated in Arkham City and is, in fact, improved upon. You can listen in on criminals’ conversations, save political prisoners from being beaten up, hunt for some of the 440 trophies The Riddler has planted throughout the city, and so much more. There are few moments that really capture the feeling of being Batman than jumping from a rooftop, slamming into the ground and sending a shockwave to a group of enemies. From there you have plenty of options at your disposal to deal with enemies. Combat is more or less the same as in Arkham Asylum when you begin the game, but it quickly expands beyond that with new abilities and moves that are fun to unlock as you gain experience points. One warning for anyone who hasn’t played the previous game in a while or at all: the “Hard” difficulty level is actually incredibly challenging. It is not for the faint of heart. Your timing has to be nearly flawless to perform counters, and enemies can take a lot more punishment before going down. “Normal” difficulty is no slouch, either; you have to keep an eye out for that “incoming attack” icon that flashes over an incoming enemy’s head, as well as time your counter should they be carrying a weapon. While you can get through enemies by mashing the Square button, it takes a long time, and for good reason. With new combos available to you, utilizing them when the moment calls can help you clear a room in no time flat. There is a rewarding amount of depth to Arkham City‘s combat mechanics which just begs to be experimented with.
It wouldn’t be a Batman game without his gadgets. You get to use all the toys from Arkham Asylum plus four new ones. Now, although you are in a city this time around, you do not drive the Batmobile. While some fans may be disappointed, since the city is in such disarray it would not have been a fun drive. Gliding and grappling is so efficient you won’t even remember Batman has a supercar unless someone reminds you of it. They each serve their own purpose and can be combined in countless ways. Much like the robust combat system in place, with so many gadgets and such an open environment you can experiment to your heart’s content and approach each situation presented to you in almost any way you desire. Do you attack a group of thugs head-on, or do you take a few out in a dive-bomb combo then grapple to a rooftop and come in for a second attack? Perhaps you will lure any armed thugs away from the group with a Sonic Batarang, disarm and knock them out before taking on the rest of the group. The choice really is yours, and you can feel as resilient as Batman himself when surrounded by a large group of enemies. If there is anything to complain about in Arkham City, however, it’s that the enemies seem to be blind and I feel as though they lose track of you a bit too easily, especially if you are in a small enclosed area. They are smart enough to run up flights of stairs to get to you, however. Heck, they even flank you if there are multiple paths to reach you.
Detective Mode is back, and better than ever. The addition of interrogating certain enemies keeps you on the lookout. Instead of going into a battle with the sole goal of knocking everyone out, you now have to remember to be ready to question a thug for key information while on a mission or just roaming the city. There is no time limit or meter when using Detective Mode, and you can turn it on and off at will. While some people may think this makes the game a little easier, it allows you to play the game as you like. If you want to challenge yourself to find the next direction to go without any hints, then just don’t use this mode. Knowing what sort of opposition you are up against, however, works in your favor. It is disorienting to move about while in this view, though, so it seems the developers have ensured that you naturally won’t want to play the whole game in this way. Besides, who would want to when the game looks so damn good?
If there is one game you buy this year, make it Batman: Arkham City. Few other games released this year will reach this level of polish, variety, story quality, action, scale, and length. This is a serious contender for Game of the Year; Uncharted 3 is going to have to perform some seriously mind-blowing antics to compete. With so much game packed onto this disc, it’ll have you scaling the vertical landscape of Arkham City for easily 40 plus hours. Playing as Catwoman and Robin also helps add to the playtime as well as provide different, refreshing ways to tackle situations. Rocksteady Studios has knocked it out of the park yet again, and we are looking forward to what this talented team comes out with next.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ New gadgets and combat mechanics give you numerous ways to approach enemies.
+ A lengthy campaign supplemented by entertaining side missions and other playable characters.