Batman: Arkham City
Welcome to Arkham City. Home of criminally insane supervillains, gangs, mobs and of course Batman!
Batman: Arkham City is comfortably the best superhero video game ever made. As you look down on Gotham City from the rooftops you begin to feel a little of what it might be like to actually be The Batman, watching over the citizens that he has sworn to protect. The numerous improvements on the already brilliant Arkham Asylum result in a game which is an absolute must play for any Batman fan and also stands out as one of the best adventure games released in years.
The game takes place in Arkham City, a massive open-air prison created by closing off a large section of North Gotham City. Within the imposing walls almost the entire Batman rogues gallery are incarcerated and allowed to run Arkham City as they see fit. Areas are divided into gang territories ruled over by the likes of The Joker, Two-Face and The Penguin. Worried that Arkham City is a recipe for certain disaster, Batman constantly monitors the area to make sure that the anarchy doesn’t spill out of the prison and into Gotham itself.
As in Rocksteady’s first Bat-game, most of the gameplay in the sequel is split into four key types: melee combat, predator combat, detective work and exploration. The melee combat system is even more impressive than it was in Arkham Asylum. The free-flow system returns allowing for incredibly smooth and responsive animation which sees you moving swiftly between enemies even when faced with massive gangs of thugs. You can now counter multiple enemies at once, allowing for brutal two and three way takedowns. Your gadgets come into play more than ever too. Batarangs and the Bat-claw are still all important in a fight but you can now utilize even more of the Dark Knight’s toys including new ones like a grenade with freezes enemies in place and a gun which fires an electrical charge, temporarily disorienting your foes. The combat is gloriously satisfying and sometimes brutal. It really captures the efficiency and skill of Batman and makes you feel that you can control seemingly impossible numbers of assailants.
Predator combat also returns. In these situations you are faced with large rooms full of armed criminals and must take them out using stealth as even Batman is not immune to bullets. Like the first game, this mostly involves hiding amongst gargoyles or other perches in the ceiling, dropping down to quickly dispatch enemies one at a time, then returning to hide as your foes begin to panic once they find their unconscious friends. This truly captures the essence of the Batman character, as you strike fear into thugs from the shadows making the job of taking them down much easier. The more scared the criminals are, the less careful they become, allowing you to create more elaborate takedowns, such as exploding a wall into them or hanging them from a gargoyle. The extra toys at your disposal create many more opportunities for dispatching enemies quickly, but some new enemies can make things more complicated. Some are armed with motion trackers which might detect you as you move from perch to perch. Some even have disruptors which prevent you from using Detective Mode until they are taken down.
Detective Mode has been toned down to some extent in Arkham City in order to make sure that you rely on it less for success. In the outdoor areas for instance, if is more difficult to see the environment and level geometry when using detective mode, encouraging you to explore with it turned off. For the most part though, if provides the same useful information as in Arkham Asylum. It shows you the location and state (calm, nervous, scared etc) of enemies and whether or not they are armed, as well as highlighting objects in the environment which Batman can interact with. At key moments in the game it is also used to analyse crime scenes for evidence or clues in order to progress the story, or to track a suspect, such as by following the trajectory of a bullet. Detective Mode demonstrates the intelligence of Batman well and helps you to understand why he is always one step ahead of his enemies.
The other key aspect of Arkham City is exploration. The setting presents you with a large open-world section of Gotham City which is filled with secrets and side missions. Many side missions involve the discovery of a crime which leads you to one of the many famous Batman villains. A huge number of famous rogues make an appearance through the side-missions. Almost all of them are huge surprises which provide terrific excitement and attention to detail for the hardcore Batman fans. Many more villains appear in the main story as well, making the list of inmates a fantastic cross-section of Bat-history. One bad-guy who appears in person for the first time in Rocksteady’s games is The Riddler. Once again, he has hidden Riddler Trophies and Riddles throughout the game world, this time with a twist. As you find them, he informs you of the location of hostages held in complex death-traps and challenges you to save them. There are over 400 Riddler items to find, providing massive longevity to the game, not to mention the huge number of hidden “Easter eggs” and references to famous Batman comics.
Arkham City also introduces a new playable character, Catwoman. She features as a free download for owners of new copies of the game, or a £10 download if you buy the game second hand. At certain points in the story the action switches to Catwoman’s perspective as she attempts to steal valuable items from other criminals in Arkham City. She also has her own set of Riddler Trophies to collect. Catwoman provides an interesting change of pace from Batman’s story, but controls so similarly to Batman that she offers very little extra gameplay value.
Outside the story there is even more to do thanks to the return of Combat and Predator Challenges. Combat Challenges see you face four rounds of increasingly tougher enemies in a particular environment. The larger your combos and the less damage you take, the higher your score will be. In Predator challenges you must stealthily clear rooms of enemies using specific pre-determined techniques in order to improve your score. Challenges can be played as Batman or Catwoman and this mode has been extended thanks to Challenge Campaigns, which feature sequences of several Combat or Predator Challenges which you must play consecutively. There are even Customisable Challenges where you can set your own parameters for almost endless replay value. On top of all of this extra content there is also a New Game Plus mode which allows you to start the story from the beginning using all of the upgrades you unlocked during your first play-through, but it removes counter indicators from the combat and provides tougher enemies right from the start for a new level of challenge.
Batman: Arkham City is a phenomenal superhero game and a terrific adventure. Rocksteady has given tremendous care to the story, characters and gameplay to create a very special experience which truly makes you feel like you are The Batman. The massive amount of content will keep you coming back for months and the story will live long in the memory. Whether you are a die-hard Batman fan or not this is a game which you absolutely cannot afford to miss.