Batman: Arkham City Review (PS3/360)

Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to 2009’s critically acclaimed, Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was developed by Rocksteady and published by WB Games. After all the hype surrounding this game, does Rocksteady succeed in overcoming the pressure of outdoing themselves? Let’s find out.

Story: 5/5

Paul Dini returns again to craft the sequel to Arkham Asylum and fires on all cylinders. The story begins with Catwoman setting foot on Harvey Dent’s property as she attempts to steal something from him but fails. She is then brought to court to be publicly executed. In the meantime, Bruce Wayne attends a conference to speak to the public about why Arkham City needs to be shut down. During this moment, TYGER soldiers crash the public announcement, knock out Bruce Wayne and throw him in Arkham City for an interrogation with Hugo Strange. Strange knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman and plans to go public with this information. However, he also mentions how “Protocol Ten” is ready to commence with Batman stuck in Arkham City. Upon breaking free, Wayne contacts Alfred to have his Bat Suit dropped off at a nearby rooftop and it is from here where you set sail on uncovering what Protocol Ten is. The interesting thing about Arkham City’s story is how the main story branches off. Plots twists are abundant whether it is throughout the course of the main story or side stories, thus offering a deeper experience than most games try to do.

Gameplay: 5/5

Batman: Arkham City’s gameplay structure has changed from the linear gameplay to a more open-world style game. However, it still retains it’s “Metroidvania” progression system that is perfectly paced. It’s the perfect pacing that makes it a great challenge to try to put the controller down. The gameplay mechanics have remained essentially the same as Arkham Asylum but with some nice enhancements. First off, Batman’s traversal through Arkham City works flawlessly. Thanks to it’s smart grapple system, you can grapple to any point within range while running or gliding through the air. Gliding has also been significantly enhanced in the sequel. You can now “dive bomb” down into a crowd of enemies to take them down, but you can utilize the dive bomb for gaining more speed and altitude for gliding. One of the cool moves you can upgrade to is upon hitting the ground after dive bombing, you can send a wide shockwave that knocks back all the enemies within the blast radius.

Combat will feel very familiar to fans of Arkham Asylum but with more moves at your disposal now. Batman still attacks, counters, dodges and stuns like he did in the first one, but there’s more complexity this time around. Batman’s cape stun has been upgraded from a single action to a three-hit stun called an “ultra stun.” Ultra stuns are meant for taking down some of the bigger atrocities waiting for you in Arkham City. A new combat enhancement included this time is when you stun an enemy and then attack them. Originally, you would just keep utilizing Batman’s normal move set. However, in this one, he will do a complete beat down in which you throw rapid, lightning-fast punches at the enemy until they’re down. It’s one of the most satisfying combat elements in the game. The game throws more enemies at you at once which might make you wonder, will I have to worry about countering more than one enemy at the same time? Well, another excellent enhancement was the counter system. If you have two or more enemies ready to attack you at once, you can press the counter button multiple times (depending on the amount of enemies ready to attack you) and Batman will pull off a counter that involves dealing with the amount of foes on screen. There are two new type of counters to be aware of as well this time around. Foes that wield blades or knives will force the player to hold the counter button and constantly slap the control stick in multiple directions to dodge each strike. Also, enemies with riot shields need to be countered by stunning them and vaulting onto them. It certainly keeps the player more involved with the game and ensures that they have to utilize different combat tactics with each type of enemy.

Arkham Asylum was a ton of fun to explore…but Arkham City is too remarkable for words. The environment is ripe with detail and just asks the player to invest numerous hours to see everything waiting for the player in Arkham City. Whether you hear innocent bystanders screaming for help in an alleyway, tackle Riddler challenges or go after the side missions, players will invest over a total of 30 hours of content here. If you’re going straight through the main story and don’t do any side missions, the game will last about 7-8 hours, which is about the length of the first game. However, if you strictly stick to completing story missions, don’t think you’ve seen all the game’s villains. Most of the rouge’s gallery will be seen through side missions, some of which you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see. Upon completing the story mode on normal or hard mode, you will unlock “New Game Plus” so you can replay the game over with the abilities you purchased in your first playthrough.

Detective mode returns again in this installment, allowing you to analyze evidence and forensics, while being able to see where enemies are through walls. However, while you’re given the nature of being stealthy or aggressive and fighting your way out, the game isn’t as heavy on stealth as the first game. While it may sound like a negative trait for fans of stealth, it actually means it’s fine tuned to be played in more than one way. You can still be incredibly stealthy throughout the game, but those who’d rather utilize minimal stealth and resort to beating down thugs can go that approach as well.

Also, for those who purchase the game new (and I’d advise you do if you want to get the full experience), you will receive the Catwoman DLC that is integrated into the main story mode. Catwoman plays a little differently than Batman, which is nice to see Rocksteady’s devotion to the character’s detail. Instead of gliding, she has a whip to grapple long distances and grab the wall of a building. Interestingly, there’s a rhythm based mechanic in place here where you’ll have to time pressing the “pounce” button so that she can lunge to certain parts of the wall. If you’re too early or late in pressing it, she’ll be slower with her pouncing reaction. Getting a “perfect” or “good” rating for each button press makes her scale the wall effortlessly. It takes some time to get used to but once you do, you’ll be scaling up building with ease. Her combat is similar to Batman’s except her whip is her stun attack as opposed to Batman’s cape. She is incredibly nimble in her combat and is really neat to see in action. Is Rocksteady prepping work on a Catwoman game?

Graphics: 5/5

The graphics in Batman: Arkham Asylum were excellent and in this sequel, it’s gotten slightly better honestly. The grittiness of Arkham City is masterfully crafted and shows that this is not a city someone would want to live in, but rather, one that is clearly for the criminally insane. “Detail” is the key word here as Rocksteady made sure to completely polish this game’s visuals from the top to bottom. From the moment you start, to the moment you first see all of Arkham City right in front of you, to the moment you first set foot in the Museum (one of the more monumental areas in the game), Batman: Arkham City’s environmental detail perfectly nails the world of Batman. Batman still looks a bit stiff when running but all his other animations have been made more fluid than they already were. His combat moves provide a spectacle for the player to watch as you attack, counter, stun and dodge the enemies that are waiting for you within the city. Enemies all have a unique look to them in which they represent a certain villain’s gang. For example, if you’re going up against Two-Face’s gang, they’ll be wearing masks that show one side of a normal face and the other deformed. It’s these little details that add to the immersion of the game.

Sound: 5/5

The sound team at Rocksteady really has a passion for ensuring their games have exquisite sounds and it shows in Batman: Arkham City. Sound effects are incredibly crisp and powerful. Whether you’re “whachonk-ing” the bat cape (as Nick Arundel, the game’s composer stated at the Batman: Arkham City panel at NYCC), dodging bullets, gliding through the air, beating the crap out of thugs or listening to the ambience of a city in chaos, the audio is absolutely stunning. Voice acting is also top-notch like the previous installment, with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and Joker respectively. Harley Quinn has a new voice actress, Tara Strong, whom also does a great job of replacing the originally voice done by Arleen Sorkin. Grey DeLisle does a remarkable job of portraying Catwoman as the sarcastic thief as well. The soundtrack nails the sense of urgency and intensity the game is setting for the player and sounds similar to Hans Zimmer’s “The Dark Knight” score occasionally as well. While Batman’s music is geared toward a more orchestral vibe, Catwoman’s music has an orchestral and electronic style music infused together. Do yourself a favor and be sure to listen to the music in the main menu…it’s brilliant.

Overall Score: 20/20 = 10/10

Batman: Arkham City isn’t just an outstanding sequel or the best superhero game of all time, it’s one of the finest achievements in gaming history. Whether you’re a Batman fan or not, you would be hard pressed to ignore Batman: Arkham City. There are very few games that are truly a masterpiece and this is the definition of one. With it’s brilliantly designed game world, remarkable story, addictive gameplay, excellent combat, stunning audio and detailed visuals, Batman: Arkham City is a game that demands to be experienced.

PROs:

+ Fantastic Story

+ Addictive Gameplay

+ Outstanding Sound

+ Brilliant Visuals

+ An abundant amount of fan service and content

CONs:

– Batman’s running animation is still a bit stiff

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