In 2009, Rocksteady Games surprised the video game industry with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Arkham Asylum wasn’t only a surprise because it was an amazing Batman game, but because it was also an amazing video game and undoubtedly the best superhero game of all time for its faithfulness and portrayal of The Dark Knight’s universe. This year, Rocksteady has returned with a sequel, a new Batman title facing the immense hype of gamers who have been waiting two years for a worthy follow-up. Good news: Batman: Arkham City is the game that Arkham Asylum fans have been waiting for and measures up to even the strongest of hype.
Batman: Arkham City is the story of Mayor Quincy Sharp and Batman nemesis Hugo Strange collaborating to build an isolated sector of Gotham called Arkham City, in which all of the inmates and villains who broke out from Arkham Asylum are contained. Bruce Wayne, after voicing opposition to the creation of the criminal prison city, is kidnapped by mercenaries hired by Hugo Strange and dropped into Arkham City. Upon arrival into AC, Bruce realizes that Batman has to do something to get to the bottom of this situation, why Strange is involved, and what he’s after. In the mean time, Harley Quinn and an ailing Joker return and continue in their quest to pursue Batman…but not for the reason gamers might think.
The story of Batman: Arkham City is immersive and engaging, possibly even more so than Arkham Asylum’s. Paul Dini has done a terrific job of crafting a much darker, more twisted and moody Batman story that fits the dangerous atmosphere of Arkham City. Dini’s script is nothing short of authentic Batman, featuring a Joker closer to his darker graphic novel presentation and who’s who roster of Batman characters and villains absolutely true to Batman lore. Rocksteady also deserves credit for bringing Dini’s script to life with authenticity as well: they’ve built the right character models, constructed the right boss fights, and hired the right voice actors to flesh out the story he’s written.
As for Arkham City itself, don’t let the open-world or sandbox feel of the game fool you: this game still remembers its Metroidvania-esque roots first planted in Arkham Asylum. Arkham City is packed with areas to explore and areas that gamers will be able to explore later when they pick up gadgets later on in the game. Gamers who spent hours combing through Arkham Asylum for its hidden rooms and Riddler Trophies will find more than enough to discover and satisfy their need for exploration elements.
The depth of Arkham City’s exploration is matched by depth of gameplay as well. Batman: Arkham City presents a sizeable evolution of the Arkham Asylum formula, from combat to Predator sections to gadgets and challenge rooms. All of the gameplay from Arkham Asylum has returned with bigger and better additions, although combat has a tendency to have a bit too many takedowns for specific characters with specific weaponry (although this really doesn’t become an issue until long after the midway point). Regardless, Arkham City is far more than Arkham Asylum 2.0. The game provides an advancement of a successful formula that doesn’t just add controls, but challenges gamers to think about the additions made and how best to use them.
Perhaps the single most impressive aspect of Arkham City is that the game never seems to run out of quality content. Arkham City’s side missions are high quality and never feel like just a means to add extra content to the game. The side missions are nearly, if not equivalent to, main Story mission quality and usually have a notable member of Batman’s rogues’ gallery as the mastermind behind them. Whether gamers are playing through the rollercoaster Story mode with an amazing ending, hunting Riddler trophies, or taking a brief moment to explore a side mission, they will have found that hours will have passed and that they have had as much fun as engaging in any other kind of content in the game. Gamers who cry out for emphasis on quality single player content in video games or complain that side missions in open-world games are too plain will find much to love about Batman: Arkham City.
Speaking of side content, a note about Catwoman: Gotham’s resident nimble feline thief makes a cameo for a handful of missions in the game and is tied to an Online Pass for Batman: Arkham City. Her content in the game adds quite a bit to the overall Story experience and feels essential for gamers to experience. She has her own controls, her own gadgets, feels more agile than Batman, and has the same amount of care in the way her character is handled as the rest of the cast of Arkham City. Also, one or two story parts of Catwoman’s cross over with Batman’s, making her sections feel like they complete the game and help flesh out the story more. Catwoman’s missions feel integral to the Arkham City experience and every gamer playing Arkham City should make sure that they play them.
Graphically, Batman: Arkham City is using Unreal 3 and like with Arkham Asylum, the engine provides the perfect graphics style to match the grit of the Batman universe (as the engine also notably does with Epic’s own Gears of War franchise). The old, rusty buildings and rough-looking thugs that populate Gotham really are well accentuated and well detailed by the engine, helping to add layers to Arkham City’s already stunning presentation. Unreal 3 agrees with Arkham City and if Rocksteady is planning another Arkham game before the end of this generation, they should continue to use it, as Epic’s graphics engine has arguably become as much a part of the feel of the Arkham franchise as any other of the game’s major components.
Batman: Arkham City, without question, is a serious Game of the Year contender. By taking the Arkham Asylum formula and evolving it to new heights without sacrificing quality, Rocksteady has once again created the ultimate Batman game that stays true to the source material and offers nothing short of a stunning gameplay experience as The Dark Knight. Arkham City’s ability to start off as a great game and finish as an amazing one is one not seen enough in games, let alone with the depth of Rocksteady’s latest. Including the gameplay, the story, and the sheer amount of attention to detail to Batman’s universe, Rocksteady has crafted an amazing single player game experience that Batman fans from casual to hardcore must experience.
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