GAME NAME: Batman: Arkham City
DEVELOPER(S): Rocksteady Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Warner Bros.. Interactive Entertainment
PLATFORM(S): PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): 21 October 2011
The sequel to Game of the Year 2009 has finally landed. Rasmus has donned cape and mask to tell all about the Caped Avenger and the new adventures of Batman: Arkham City.
It’s hard to be Batman. Firstly, he is plunged into Arkham City, a cordoned off part of Gotham, surrounded by a huge wall that now serves as a mega prison for all of the city’s vermin. Secondly, the head of this prison, the rather sinister Hugo Strange, found out that Batman is Bruce Wayne’s secret identity, and it is clear that he is plotting something big, while Gotham has evolved into a smaller policed state where Strange’s private security force also cages petty criminals and other undesirables inside Arkham. Ergo, Strange must be stopped.
Thirdly, the Joker, who was mortally ill after he had a run in with the substance Titan in the previous game, overpowered Batman and gave him a huge dose of his blood, so the Dark Knight is now in a race against time to find a cure for both himself, his arch-enemy and the hundreds of hospital patients which the Joker has ensured also become infected.
This is the brief story of Batman: Arkham City, the sequel to what was voted 2009′s best action game. At a glance, I might as well make it clear that Arkham City meets or exceeds the quality of Arkham Asylum in every way imaginable.
The largest and most significant change, compared to its predecessor, is the location. Like the Asylum, City mixes both outdoor and indoor environments, but the island in the Asylum was divided into separate areas, the city of Arkham is one big area where you can enjoy yourself as you please. When I first stood on top of the Ace Chemicals building and looked out over the landscape, I could not help but think of Sony’s Infamous for PS3. The game also shines with its large urban landscape, you can go up, down or wherever you want. Batman has similar freedom here, thanks to new abilities and toys.
Most of the gadget arsenal from the first game is intact, with very few exceptions, all accessible from the start. In addition to running a host of new tools, each provides access to areas and secrets you could not previously reach. It is classic Metroidvania, and has been just as carefully and delicately done as in its predecessor. It has been a long time since we last played Arkham Asylum, its maybe just a little overwhelming at first, but once the game starts it doesn’t take long to completely enthral you.
In addition, Batman has become much more mobile in the air. You have far more control over direction and dip, and thanks to an upgrade to Batclaw, you can grab gargoyles, walls, railings and so on and “launch” into the air with renewed altitude and speed, so Batman can, in practice, be suspended from one end of town to the other without ever touching the ground.
Most of the villains are new faces, including Penguin and Two-Face who play major roles. Joker and the other two villains have more or less divided the city between themselves in order to fight against various minions depending on where you are.
Besides the main story there are a variety of side missions and other activities. The Riddler is obviously at stake again, and has again scattered small trophies everywhere in town. Unlike previous games it is not just about finding them because they are often locked behind crafty puzzles with printing plates, switches and other obstructions, which in some cases can only be done when one has the right gadget. Again, there is an almost endless series of puzzles to be solved by scanning the correct object in the environment, but Riddler is also taking more drastic steps in this game, and has furnished deadly space with obstacles that must be solved to rescue poor kidnapped civilians.
Riddler tasks are far from the only challenges. There is quite a wide range of real side missions where you need to both help and fight new and old acquaintances and almost every villain in Arkham. Some are as simple as stopping attacks on political prisoners while others involve long murder investigations. Regardless of where you are, there’s always something to do, and you can have hours of gameplay, without going anywhere in the main story.
The combat system was one of the big drawbacks in the previous game, and it has been expanded in a big way in Arkham City. The basic premise is still the same: one button to hit one for counters, and so long as you are not hit into the air and you do not get hit, you build combos.
The new feature is in the form of these very special attacks, the ability to use more of your gadgets in battle as part of these combos, and a much more versatile enemy selection. Some enemies are wearing armour, while other enemies use knives and others stabbing weapons, to avoid these attacks you must be hitting the counter button while hitting back. There are also certain enemies equipped with riot shields who must be attacked with a special jump move, while enemies with shock batons should only be attacked from behind.
Finally, up to three enemies can now turn on you at a time (in the Asylum it was the only one), which also means that you can make double-and triple-counters.
It still functions excellently and the many new enemy types and weapons provide an extra tactical element to battle, as, even more than before, you are forced to prioritize the opponents. The feeling that you wiped out ten or more opponents in one long continuous combo is nothing less than amazing, and when looking at the combo count in the corner of the screen showing that you just did a series of 45 battles, it’s hard not to sit with a smirk that would be worthy of the Joker.
Batman is badass like few other superheroes, and it shows in Arkham City to the fullest.
The dynamics are completely different when there are firearms in the picture. Batman has learned a few new tricks, such as throwing smoke bombs and a couple of new attacks from the air. The same applies, however, to enemies – some of them have night vision, so they can see Batman when he sits hidden in the dark, while others are equipped with jammers that block Batman’s X-ray vision… Miner also makes life hard for Batman, and that all combines to provide the situations where you’re up against armed enemies, more depth.
Batman is not the only one who gets to hand out beatings. you are also allowed to play as Catwoman in four special missions, placed at strategic points in the main story, and she can also be used in challenges. Unlike Batman, she cannot fly and has no batclaw to reach high places. In return, she has her claws and whip that allow her to climb virtually any surface and soar through the air like Spider-Man.
Where Batman in battle is fierce, brutal and utilizes his brute strength, Catwoman uses different weaves and is more quick and agile. The combat system works similarly when playing as her, but the animation emphasizes the sharp contrast between the two. I’m not afraid to admit that she is the sexiest game character I have ever seen, yet she kicks ass like few others.
On top of this, the Riddler scattered a number of trophies around the city which only Catwoman can reach, and once the main story is completed, you can switch freely between Batman and Catwoman in the hunt for all the secrets.
As I said, Catwoman missions are woven into the story, but it all still hangs together without them. they are a bit of a late addition to the game because they do not have quite the same level of polishing and packaging. This does not mean that they are not entertaining – they’re still better than most other action games. However, the level does not match that of the Batman missions, although Catwoman is a pleasure to play with.
The soundtrack is, of course, fantastic. The Voice acting is excellent across the board, and both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as the Joker and Batman excel once again, respectively, just as omnipresent Nolan North is excellent as the gruff and coarse Penguin.
The music is perfectly aligned with the gameplay, with clear references to the soundtracks from previous Batman works like Inception and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and when appropriate, epic tracks play in the great struggles and battles.
I have already mentioned the impressive animation, but the rest of Arkham City’s visuals are also incredibly strong. The winter darkness town oozes atmosphere, details of architecture and surroundings are excellent, and the characters have also become significantly more attractive since the first game. The designers have also squeezed an impressive amount of variety into the interior areas, each with its own unique style, both architecturally and in terms of colour and lighting.
Besides the campaign, the Batman also faces other challenges, this time under the name Riddler’s Revenge. there are two types, Brawl and Predator, which are respectively pile fights and clearing space for armed guards. They can be played individually, but they can also be played in campaign. Here you have to clear three of them in succession, in a combination of both Brawl and Predator orbits, and each campaign has different modifiers attached to be used along the way. One can, for example, make sure a random enemy will not be damaged, another puts a time limit on the pitch, while a third makes Batman regenerate. All can be used but you can choose which lane each will apply to. You can play as both Batman and Catwoman (via the supplied tag, that is), and the farther into the game you get, the more challenge-tracks and promotions unlock.
Batman: Arkham City is very long. It took me in the region of 15 hours to complete the main story, including detours to side quests and hunting trophies and puzzles. And when the credits roll slid across the screen, I still lacked well over half of the trophies. After writing this, I poured about another 5-6 hours in the game and have since reached a completion rate of 52%. As I said, Arkham City is big.
Batman: Arkham City is a show of force. The game’s predecessor took me by surprise by virtually appearing out of nowhere and delivering one of the best licensed games ever, and just when we thought they had outdone themselves, they present another title that blows our minds. It’s a great game, and has met all my expectations. Arkham City is one of this year’s best games, which says a lot when you look at the release calendar for 2011, and you should urgently get down to the nearest gaming shop to buy your copy.