October 24, 2011
We reconvene with Batman months after the events in Arkham Asylum and unfortunately for the Dark Knight, things have gone from bad to worse - Mayor Sharp has condoned the creation of Arkham City. Hugo Strange has been appointed mayor of the city and holds control of all inhabitants as well as all police forces within the city. Most of Batman's previous enemies now reside in this area, but, of course, not in harmony. It's kind of setup like how Manhattan was in the 1950s with sections like Hell's Kitchen and Little Italy. Instead you have Poison Ivy's area which is decked out in vines of all shapes and sizes, Joker's fun house which is decorated in flamboyant carnival lights, Mr. Freeze's laboratory, and so on. Throughout the whole campaign, Batman plays damage control in all of these sections providing a well rounded experience with each of the villains.
The most prominent of these villains is none other than Joker, who steals the spotlight in more ways than one. Joker is not looking like himself this time around as he has contracted a fatal illness that's left a ton of scary red growths all over his face and body. Instead of dealing with his issues himself, he instead injects Batman with a bit of his infected blood and expects Batman to find a cure for them both in the short span of time they have before they both die. Batman's first obstacle is to find Mr. Freeze and you will quickly be sent on a path which leads from villain to villain. This might seem a little bit confusing, but Rocksteady did well to spotlight the Batman series' primary villains instead of those who would only be familiar to comic book fans only. They also kept out a lot of the villains who were in Arkham Asylum, paving the way for villains who didn't get a lot of screen time first time around.
It makes for a solid story throughout and one that has a rather interesting ending. There's even good pacing despite the constant side-quests that will take you away from your main calling.
Fighting is very similar to the previous game. There's the “fight” button that allows you to beat down all of your enemies and if you're a button masher, you will find that Batman tends to literally leap from enemy to enemy causing some unwanted confusion. There's also a “counter” button which, if you press it right when notice your enemy sprouting blue lightning bolts on their head, will allow Batman take care of anyone trying to throw a punch. Also, silent takedowns are back for those who prefer to take a more covert route when fighting.
Button mashers may find the system a bit confusing at first, as there's a definite need for strategy in the combat. If you just whack the attack button, you will quickly find yourself outnumbered. You need to make sure your attacks are well timed, so you aren't mid-attack when you need to counter. Spatial awareness is also a rather useful skill to have, as when facing upwards of 10 opponents, it's very easy to become swamped.
Batman wouldn't be completed without his Utility Belt, so it's no surprise that his trademark gadgets are back. Explosive gel and the Bat Claw make successful returns, but selecting the gadgets can be a bit cumbersome. If you want to select a weapon directly on the left, right, up and down sides, that's all good, but if you want a weapon that's diagonal from the center, it tends to get a bit glitchy as the d-pad doesn't really like to go that way a lot of the time. So where you'd want to use the Cryptographic Sequencer, you may accidentally choose the explosive gel or the batarang. And when you need to do these selections on the fly, it can be a bit frustrating.
Arkham City does expand on gameplay though with an all new upgrade system where you are able to learn techniques or boost armor resistance each time you gain a level. The upgrades are specific to certain categories such as “Batsuit”, “Gadgets”, and so on. You may also upgrade Catwoman's stats if you wish although there aren't as many upgradeable items. The upgradeables aren't just stat-focused; some can really save you when you are in a pinch. There's one upgrade that'll make it so enemies can't see you when they use thermal goggles which is really handy when using stealth. This is also how you pick up a lot of combos which will help when trying to take down enemies quickly.
Although her role is rather miniscule in the grand scheme of things, Catwoman's presence in Arkham City has been the talk of the town and, to be perfectly honest, Rocksteady did her justice. Although technically her moves are very similar to Batman's, fighting with Catwoman makes things go a lot faster as she is so limber and quick. Watching her leap around the screen and jump from enemy to enemy is pretty hypnotic. She has access to a few toys including her famous whip and switching between her and Batman provides an interesting change of pace. It's just a shame her role was so small, but it's understandable when looking at things from a content strategy.
Along with Catwoman, quite a few villains make cameos in Arkham City in various side quests. For example there's a whole section with Victor Zsasz completed through phone calls. In order to find out where he is, you'll need to trace his calls to his exact location and free the hostages from him. It requires a lot of running around the map and listening to his story. However, if you are really into the stories of the villains in Batman, a lot of the information you can learn from them is pretty interesting. These replace the villain interviews from Arkham Asylum and incorporate a bit more gameplay.
There's also things like Calendar Man where if you come back and visit him on the days circled on his calendar, you'll be able to hear a bunch of his tales and thoughts which normally correspond to what holiday is being celebrated that day. These additions are really beneficial to the fans who seek more information about Batman's many villains and it's good that they're simply side-quests so if these missions aren't your cup of tea, you don't have to do them. Not many other developers would take the time to add this level of detail either, so it's very appreciated.
Riddler trophies are back in a big way this time. Not only will you have to pick up 400 of these little plaques, you will also need to successfully solve the puzzle that goes along with it. Puzzles range in difficulty and size, but many of them require mastery of Batman's many gadgets. After collecting a certain amount of trophies, you'll then need to use the Riddler's clues and try to find a hostage that he's taken. This then leads to even more puzzles. With so many trophies to find, it could easily take you a day's worth of gaming. There are quite a few which require a bit of thought and planning, but overall the addition of puzzles make earning trophies more like a strong accomplishment. Thugs can also help you in locating trophies. You'll find certain thugs that are outlined in green which you'll need to keep alive in order to interrogate. The issue with these guys is that, you'll need to kill all of the thugs around him in order to get anything out even if you use a sneak attack making interrogating a little less enjoyable.
Probably the biggest addition in Arkham City is the "Open World" map, which allows you to go wherever you want in Arkham City. However, things are still heavily restricted depending on what gadgets you have at your disposal. Many of the doors will have locks on them which you can hack using the Cryptographic Sequencer, but if you're really not allowed to go inside, these locks will not open no matter what you do. It's just nice to be able to fly around the city, encountering scum all the way. Just make sure you keep an eye out for pesky snipers though.
Although, Batman: Arkham City is not perfect, Rocksteady have proven once again that they can make a super hero game work and work rather well at that. Arkham City provides players with hours of content layered underneath a solid storyline and compelling gameplay. Now that Rocksteady have made Batman an open world experience, it's hard to say what innovations they'll bring into the next game, but for now, Arkham City can proudly hold the torch as one of the greatest superhero games of our generation.
Batman: Arkham City was reviewed on the PS3. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.