Batman just can’t get a break. Between Nolan’s films, a recent anime series, and reboot afer reboot, the caped crusader sure is putting a lot of criminals behind bars – just to have them break out again of course!
But in this particular instance, he has a few tricks up his sleeve, and the outcomes of his encounters aren’t as predictable. In fact, whatever issues I had with Rocksteady’s first Batman outing have been solved — simply put, Arkham City presents an unprecedented interactive Dark Knight experience.
Right from the beginning, Rocksteady’s second entry lets you know that it’s serious about topping its predecessor. Without spoiling too much, within the first five minutes of the game, Bruce Wayne is incriminated under a set of mysterious circumstances.
Through the help of an incredibly well done interactive opening scene, he has to fight his way out of the newly founded city-wide prison known as Arkham City. In a stark contrast to the creepy setting of “Asylum“, “City” feels more bustling and alive, pitting The Joker’s, Penguin’s, and Two Face’s crews against each other in a city-wide conflict.
From there, Arkham City plays out in a similar manner to Asylum, in that it retains the same free-flow combat and free-roam systems, but it expands them masterfully. For instance, one of my smaller complaints from Asylum was that the combat system was too simple.
To rectify this issue, Arkham City basically doubles your gadgets and move sets, in addition to pumping up the difficulty a bit both in the stealth and free-fight sections. Not only are enemies more plentiful and built to last, but the thugs themselves also have their own wide array of weapons and gadgets at their disposal – such as detective-vision blocking equipment, riot shields, or proximity mines.
These simple additions, strewn out over the course of the game, help keep things fresh and unpredictable. It seemed like every half an hour or so you had to learn a new tactic or counter-tactic, which gives the game a more exciting “on the fly” feel.
To combat these enemy buffs, Batman can activate gadgets in combat using various button commands, such as the super simple “RT/R2″ double tap to throw a freeze bomb. Pinpointing targets in combat is as easy as moving towards them, and despite a few misfires every now and then, the system works quite well.
Batman will also have some more help this time around, in the form of four unique playable Catwoman sequences. While these sections aren’t absolutely neccesary to enjoy the game’s story, they are a ton of fun in their own right, and short enough to not overstay their welcome. While Catwoman isn’t as versatile as the Dark Knight, her sections reflect that, and are still a ton of fun to play. At the end of the game you can freely switch between Batman and Catwoman to roam about the city and complete unfinished business, which is an ingenious addition.
Story wise, explaining the narrative isn’t as simple as saying “Arkham City presents an intruiging tale that will have you rivited from beginning to end”. I wouldn’t feel right reviewing this title without making specific mention of famed writer Paul Dini’s ability to craft a spectacular story – simply put, that man can write, and the actors and actresses deliver in spades.
Even dialogue that’s as simple as banter between thugs, that would normally be throwaway in other games, is pure genious. In fact, I found myself multiple times stalling a thug takedown just to listen to a conversation – it’s that good.
In terms of longevity, Arkham City also delivers. In addition to a 12-40 hour campaign (depending on your need to finish sidequests/collectibles), City has a New Game+ mode, extra skins, and a more robust fully themed Challenge Mode. Instead of Asylum’s bland “Challenge Rooms”, that basically threw you into a situation with no explanation, Arkham City’s Challenge Mode is presented by none other than a fan favorite villain: The Riddler.
Not only will you encounter some pretty unique scenarios this time around, but you’ll also be able to use Batman, Catwoman, Robin (DLC) and Nightwing (DLC), all while being taunted by Gotham’s own Edward Nigma.
While it would have been nice to play as Robin during the campaign, Arkham City is packed full of enough content to justify the $60 price tag, and even being able to play as four characters in challenge mode is a feat in itself (most action games will give you two characters at most to play around with). The Ridder’s in-game collectibles also aren’t as easy to locate as before – you’re going to have to use all of your techniques and gadgets to obtain them all this time around (completionists beware!).
All in all, outside of a few minor issues, I couldn’t ask for a better Batman experience. If Arkham City was a graphic novel, it would be considered a classic.