Review: Batman: Arkham City

In 2009, London developer Rocksteady Studios took the gaming world by storm with the surprisingly good Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was perhaps the first good Batman game ever, and certainly one of the few superhero video game adaptations worth playing. The bar was raised for the eventual sequel, and once again Rocksteady has managed to impress. Batman: Arkham City is better than its predecessor in nearly every way.

In the city...the city of Arkham.

The biggest change moving into Arkham City is that the game now features a full streaming city. While the city is much smaller than something from a Grand Theft Auto game, it’s still substantially larger than any of the outdoor areas in the original game. One complaint I had of the prior Batman game was that it felt too claustrophobic at times. Most of your time was spent in indoor areas that didn’t really allow you to maximize your use of the grappling hook. While most missions in Arkham City are still indoors, there’s something liberating about heading out into the city and zooming through. It’s particularly impressive that they achieved this feat using the Unreal Engine, which from experience I can say is not designed for open streaming areas.

The combat functions much like it does in the original game, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s built around the idea of counter attacks and quick strikes to several enemies at once, with some slow motion thrown in for good measure. One thing that has improved is the access to the various Batman gadgets while you’re in combat. It’s now not that hard to mix in electric stuns, batarangs, explosives, and so on. But I still would argue that it’s more fun when you stalk and surprise your enemies as opposed to rushing in and taking on several at once.

Kids, this is why herpes is bad.

One clear point of focus for Arkham City was to add more interesting boss fights. In the first game, most of the boss fights were pretty forgettable. And some, like the battle with Killer Croc in the sewers, were not very good to say the least. In Arkham City, there’s a much greater variety in how and when you engage the bosses. Fan favorites like the Joker and the Penguin are mixed in with some lesser known villains that I won’t spoil in this review. Overall, however, the game is perhaps too easy on the default setting for an experienced gamer. Luckily, you can change the difficulty at any time as you’re playing, so if you want more of a challenge I’d recommend setting it to hard.

The storyline once again makes very little sense, and feels like a typical comic book story. The game starts with Bruce Wayne getting arrested by soldiers of Dr. Hugo Strange, who knows Wayne’s deep and dark secret. And as you progress through the game, a conspiracy involving several of the other villains comes into focus. I’m not really a comic person in general, but I don’t think most will find the story that engaging. It’s worth mentioning, however, that the voice actors do an admirable job with the material they’re given. Just as in Arkham Asylum, the majority of the voice actors from the animated cartoon series lend their voices to the game. Mark Hamill is the headliner, and he once again does a masterful job as the iconic Joker. If he does end up retiring from the voice as is rumored, it will be hard for the replacement to fill his shoes.

Riddle me this?

Given that it’s now an open world game, it’s unsurprising the developers have added side quests. One has you answering ringing phones to track down Mr. Zsasz. Another has you solving a series of mysterious murders, while others have you doing more generic things like stopping random muggings. Most of the side quests are fairly enjoyable, and they do have a decent variety. Though at the same time, they aren’t tremendously exciting, and you wouldn’t miss that much if you skipped them all.

Also making a return in Arkham City are the Riddler challenges. Like in the first game, there are a few different types of challenges. Some have you scanning particular posters or landmarks in the world, while others, have you collecting trophies. It’s like grabbing a flag in Assassin’s Creed, but instead of just having to run to the flag, in many cases you may have to use a particular gadget or jump on a series of buttons in order to grab it. One nice feature that’s been added this time around is the ability to find and interrogate Riddler informants in the world. These informants will reveal a handful of Riddler challenges on the map, so you never get in a situation where you’re missing a trophy or two but can’t figure out where it is.

Catwoman is surprisingly fun to play as.

Being a consigner to Project $10, Warner Bros. included a Catwoman DLC code in the box. This unlocks 4 Catwoman missions which are sprinkled throughout the game. Her missions fill in some gaps during Batman’s story, and do provide somewhat of a change of pace. Playing as her opens you up to a quicker (and in my opinion, easier) style of combat than Batman. Though you can’t complete Batman’s missions as Catwoman, there are certain Riddler trophies which only Catwoman can get.

Outside of the campaign, there’s a challenge room mode which places you in a small area with dozens of enemies. Your goal is to kill all of them as quickly as possible in as big of a combo as possible. Depending on how well you perform, you’ll be awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal. The completionists out there might spend quite a bit of time getting all gold medals, as there are 24 challenge rooms. The game also tracks the medals separately if you play as Batman or Catwoman. Some special challenge rooms rooms allow you to play as Nightwing (a character I looked up online), and some future DLC as Robin. But in my opinion, the challenge modes really are no more than a minor diversion.

Overall, Batman: Arkham City is definitely an enjoyable game. While I don’t really have any major problems with it, at the same time there isn’t anything I can point to that blew me away. It’s a strong, solid, game; one that I’d recommend if you’re looking for something fun to play. However, at the same time I wouldn’t categorize it as “can’t miss.” And with a packed holiday gaming season, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you didn’t get a chance to play it.

VERDICT: HAPPY CANARY

Batman: Arkham City is available now on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Review was conducted on Xbox 360. Reviews generally appear every Friday on Game Canary. This was a Thanksgiving catch-up review. The Game Canary review system is detailed here.

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