Here it is. The big one. The super sequel. If you missed my review of Arkham Asylum, just know its one of my favourite games of all time. And yet I prefer City. Here we go.
Batman: Arkham City (2011) is an action-adventure game developed by Rocksteady Studios and sequel to Arkham Asylum (2009). It stars Batman/Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) several years after the events of Asylum when the mysterious figure known only as Hugo Strange (Corey Burton) has emerged and created a super-prison in the middle of Gotham City under the name of Arkham City. After being arrested as Bruce Wayne, Batman must investigate the conspiracy behind the prison while also contending with many notable villains, including a rather sickly looking Joker (Mark Hamill).
Bigger in every way
Arkham City does exactly what a good sequel should do, by expanding on everything the first game did well and doing it even better. In every single way from story to the cast to the environment itself, City is bigger and arguably better.
Not only does the story manage to weave a massive amount of Batman lore and characters naturally into an engaging story, but it cleverly continues plot-lines from Asylum in ways that weren’t even established in the previous game. While (especially now that I’ve played through the campaign a dozen times or so since its 2011 release) there are a handful of messy plot moments and threads that stick out on occasion, for the most part its a compelling and engaging mystery that both hardcore Batfans and casuals are likely to get a kick out of, which is a tricky balancing act.
As for the setting itself, its gone from the grimy, gothic confines of Arkham Asylum to the grimy, gothic skies of Gotham. Or more specifically, a dilapidated walled-off mega prison in Gotham. While some may be disappointed that the claustrophobic tension of Asylum has been lost, in its place is an open-world so immaculately designed that it more than makes up for not having a roof over your head the majority of the time. Gotham is a place caked in grime and gothic architecture, and the graphics (which have also improved on the originals) give the world a wonderful sense of both history and character.
Rocksteady has also once again proven how big Batfans they are with wonderfully intricate detail and a strong sense of what makes Gotham an engaging setting to make an open world. Places from lore, clever vistas and subtle easter eggs ensures that this world might not be immense, but its certainly dense with things to see and do.
Wham, Bang, Pow
As gameplay goes, Batman is more of a badass than ever. Each gameplay pillar from Asylum – combat, exploration and invisible predator – has been improved and developed in smart ways that honestly makes going back to Asylum a bit of a struggle.
Combat still involves the usual strikes, counters and rolls but now quick-fire gadgets and a number of new take-downs has given even more variety to the spectacle. This manages to expand the combat from simply a test of reflexes to actually integrating some basic strategy – should I freeze that thug before he gets to the gun-rack? Or do I let him get it and then disarm the gun so no-one else can use it? These small decisions, as well as constant awareness of the types of thugs you’re facing (of which there are now plenty more) adds plenty of fantastic new layers to a combat system that was already one of the best in all of gaming.
However its exploration that has been given the greatest boost thanks to the new open world. Riddler question marks constantly dot the horizon (430 of them in fact), and now for the first time the franchise includes a host of varied side-missions. These typically involve different members of Batman’s rogues gallery and what they’ve been up to in the mega prison. Not only does it add several more hours of gameplay, but it does a great job of fleshing out the story world as well as acting as a constant distraction from simply smashing through the main story. The Riddler challenges in particular are still the best designed way to integrate collectables into the game-world and this time there’s even greater incentive with fascinating interview tapes, concept art and hostages to rescue.
As for Invisible Predator, the greater variety of gadgets has opened this pillar up with multitudes of new opportunities. As well as adding new wrinkles to the challenge with armoured henchmen and mines, it still remains the best way to feel like an utter badass. The pace of this gameplay has been accelerated compared to Asylum thanks to the more overpowered options are your disposal, but it rarely detracts from the satisfaction. This is helped along by some great challenge maps to dive into post-game, which encourage the player to find faster and more innovative ways to take down thugs.
One additional type of gameplay, that did appear in Asylum but is expanded here, is the boss fights. These are typically well designed to give an epic grandiose feel, but can’t quite compete with the quality of the other pillars of gameplay – with one exception. There’s a specific boss sequence in here that takes the principles of Invisible Predator and turns it into an innovative, stressful and fresh experience. If you’ve played the game you know which one I’m talking about. If not, well lets just say its potentially the finest gameplay sequence Rocksteady has created to date.
The Dark Knight indeed
Honestly, its almost a struggle to find negative things to say about Arkham City. Lets see… it lacks the tension of the first game, story has some messy moments and a mid-game sequence is incredibly lacklustre. But that’s it. Beyond that, Arkham City is a damn near masterpiece that effectively built on everything the first game did great. The world, the combat, the characters, the voice-acting, the fan service – its all utter perfection. If you’re a Batman fan and you haven’t checked this game out, well… do it. Just do it. You won’t be disappointed.
Casual Gamer: Must-play
Hardcore Gamer: Must-play
Narrative-drivers: Highly Recommended
True Believers (Batman): Must-play