Batman: Arkham City – Review

I’ve had some nice responses/hits for my Assassin’s Creed reviews, (here, here and here,) so I thought I’d copy a few more reviews across from my account on Dooyoo.co.uk for you. Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of my favourite games in 2009, I snapped up the sequel immediately. Here’s what I thought of it…

BatmanCatwomanArkhamCityBatman: Arkham Asylum was something of a surprise hit back in 2009. Developed by little known studio, Rocksteady, the game managed to combine original gameplay with a very authentic interpretation of DC Comics’ darkest hero into one of the finest games produced this generation. A sequel was inevitable, and when the first whispers of Arkham City started to appear people began to wonder if Rocksteady could make lightning strike twice. The final game is here now and we can see how well it lives up to its predecessor.

Arkham City picks up loosely where Asylum closed with a large section of Gotham City fenced off and turned into an open prison for all the thugs and crazies that make up Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Though, funnily enough, the neighbourhood also seems to house most of Gotham’s famous landmarks. The so-called Arkham City has become a political and legal nightmare which is brought to a head when Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne is arrested in the middle of a peaceful protest and locked up with the rest of the baddies. This is not entirely unwelcome however, as Batman can now investigate the city from the inside and find out exactly who’s pulling the strings behind the whole shady affair.

BatmanArkhamCitySkylineWithin Arkham City, you’ll also find some subplots involving a lot of the supporting cast from the Batman comics. The Joker has a major storyline that interweaves with the overall plot which is tied to the plot of the first game, but you’ll also see some faces we missed last time. The game features are great take on both the Penguin and Mister Freeze, you’ll also spend a lot of time solving the Riddler’s puzzles once more. Each of the characters feel like they were written and designed by people who read and love the Batman comics. For anyone familiar with the comics, it’s very much like returning to that world of plot twists and interlocking characters, and it’s nice to see a Batman game that takes this source as its inspirations and not the films or cartoons.

ArkhamCityJokerThe game has made some changes from Arkham Asylum. Where the first was a tightly scripted affair, walking you through the Asylum building by building, Arkham City is an open world game. You are free to make your way around the city as you please, but the story will guide you to various locations such as the old police station or the abandoned steal mill. These sections are more tightly controlled and feel much more like the previous game. This creates a nice balance between the exploration sections that let you really feel like a superhero, and the more plot driven moments that give the game a stronger sense of narrative. One of Arkham’s Asylum’s biggest strengths was the feeling of authorship, of being guided through a really well constructed story. This is a double edge sword however, as the game occasionally felt on-rails and restricted. In Arkham City, the balancing of these two factors does have the consequence that the story feels like it has been placed on the back burner a little. The effect when you finish the game is a little less grand, the whole experience less gripping, but it feels necessary. A sequel could not have returned to the setting of the first game, nor performed the same tricks in a similarly structured location. It’s a step forward, but a little is lost in the process. Still, Rocksteady do a lot with their transition to open world. There is a lot to find in the game, ranging from in-jokes and trivia for comics fans, to whole sideplots you might not discover until you’ve completed the main game.

ArkhamCityPenguinThe combat system returns, with very few tweaks, from the first game. This is easily one of the best fighting styles in games at the moment and the gameplay is so strong that the game is comfortable making set pieces entirely around one of Batman’s martial arts battles. Essentially combat is divided into only two controls, Attack and Counter with more complex moves arriving later in the game. The goal is not to unleashed complicated attacks on enemies, but to fight multiple opponents gracefully. Moving from next to next without getting hit yourself. It has to be played to be understood really, but it remains one of the series’ best features.
Also returning are the stealth sections. These take the form of rooms or locations patrolled by prisoners with serious weaponry. These fights are generally impossible to win when attacked head on, instead you are required to pick off opponents one by one using stealth attacks. The combination of the flowing martial arts sections and the slow stealth rooms really add to the feel of being Batman that make these games so unique.

ArkhamCityFreezeWhere things have changed from the previous game, they have mostly changed for the better. Batman is equipped with “Detective Vision,” a sort of x-ray vision, computer mode that highlights enemies and strategic objects. In the previous game, this was criticised as having no restrictions. It would be too easy to simply leave it on permanently and play the game with super-sight. Arkham City however places clever restrictions on this that feel natural. Essentially, while the new detective vision highlights enemies and weapons, it obscures the environment somewhat. Leaving it on all the time will make it significantly harder to discern the room’s details further away. You also can’t view other directional info with detective vision enabled. This forces you to be more tactical and is a definite improvement.

Most of the gadgets from the first game return, with many of them unlocked from the start of much earlier in the game. There are even a few new ones. The game adopts the Legend of Zelda model, and uses the gadget progression model to lock you out of certain places earlier in the game, keeping you moving through the story to explore further. You can use the in combat also, but they’re mostly superfluous and unless you’re trying to get your trophies/achievements, you’ll probably never use them.

Arkham City is a definite step forward from Arkham Asylum. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is better in every way. It is an excellent game, but Asylum offers a more tightly scripted experience that moves from scene to scene with precision and timing. City looses a lot of that by going open world, but what it gains in return is a sense of forward momentum, a real reason to play the sequel. Most importantly, Batman: Arkham City is not a game to be overlooked by those who aren’t necessarily Batman fans. It’s a really great game that would appeal to all kinds of players.