In 2009 Rocksteady Studios rewrote the book on how to do a proper comic book-based video game with Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was dark, demented and represented everything we could have wanted in a Caped Crusader video game. As soon as it became a hit Rocksteady Studios set out to expand the Dark Knight's world, and in the end Batman: Arkham City was what was decided. Who would've guessed that this sequel would make its predecessor look like a Joel Schumacher film (post-Falling Down, of course).
Picking up a few months after the events in Arkham Asylum we find that half of Gotham has been transformed into Arkham City, a closed-off area where the baddest of criminals are held under heavy supervision by Dr. Hugo Strange. Fed up with the treatment of his beloved home Bruce Wayne takes a turn at politics and holds a press conference to attack what is happening behind the doors of Arkham City. Suddenly Tiger Security appears and apprehends Mr. Wayne, who takes him to Dr. Strange, where it is revealed that he knows of Wayne's biggest secret. Quickly Wayne escapes from Strange's clutches, and after a run-in with the Penguin suits up as Batman and begins searching for clues behind what's really going on.
From there Batman runs into many of his old foes, including Two-Face, Joker, the Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Harley Quinn and just about every memorable villain in the Batman universe. He also winds up rescuing Catwoman, who has her own selfish reasons for being inside Arkham. With the assistance of Alfred, Oracle and (on occasion) Robin the Detective searches for clues to figure out what the mysterious Protocol 10 is all about, while at the same time find a cure for a poison that is running in his and the Clown Prince of Crime's veins.
In Arkham City elements from the previous game continue to take center stage, one of which is detective mode. Using this visual aide will help you to find clues to solve puzzles, find out how many henchmen are in the room & which ones are holding weapons and discover hidden objects that will either assist Batman in the long run or give him some extra points that will be added to your personal trophies collection. Taking down henchmen is also fun once again in Stealth mode, where you can sneak up from behind or above and take them down silently or with a loud smack. The puzzles found in the game feature many tests and trials, some of which can be completed easily with the detective mode; other times it will take you a fair amount of effort to discover the answer to them (especially in the case of the Riddler's challenges).
Controlling Batman around Arkham City is a cinch, even with the dozen or so weapons at your disposal. Moving and attacking using melee maneuvers can be a button-masher at times, but with enough practice and timing you can take out a massive group of henchmen in just a couple minutes. Flying around Arkham and using your Batclaw to swing around buildings also has their perks, but when it comes to using the Dive Bomb technique it might take a few tries in order to perfect it. Switching your weapons with the D-pad also proved to be quite useful, as it came in handy when I needed to change what I was carrying during mid-fight.
The graphics in Batman: Arkham City are dark, grimy and exactly how we would picture Mr. Wayne's world. Each rundown building (as is the case with the majority of them) just sparks character, and the snow-drenched environments are hauntingly beautiful. The characters in the game also look phenomenal, as there is no other superhero game that has been able to capture the overall appearance of its heroes in villains. Batman looks intimidating, Joker and Two-Face appear gruesome and Catwoman & (surprisingly) Harley Quinn have never looked this sexy. (Let's just say I will worship any female gamer that can pull off one of these outfits for future cosplay.)
You cannot talk about Arkham City without discussing the sound, which truly makes what this world is. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill have always been the perfect Batman/Joker pairing, even better than any movie adaptation of the Dark Knight's adventures. You don't just hear Conroy's Batman brood, you feel it; Joker, on the other hand, always manages to put a giant smile on my face, even when he's putting a gun to my hero's head. It's a real shame that Hamill will no longer be voicing the Clown Prince after this video game, but if there was ever a moment to go out on top then this is the right way to do it. Tara Strong does a fine job with the voice of Harley (replacing Arleen Sorkin), and Grey DeLisle brings the sexiest, most flirtatious Catwoman since Michelle Pfeiffer brought life to the character in Batman Returns. The soundtrack by Nick Arundel and Ron Fish compliments every scenario seen in this game, acting like a great companion during Batman's journey to find the truth.
The biggest props for this game have to go to scriptwriter Paul Dini. Arkham City had more twists and turns than I could've ever wanted in a Batman game, and it delivered each with awe-inspiring results. Joker's dialogue is some of the funniest in a long time (the Lost reference had me in stitches), and Bruce's monologues and delivery manages to hit you both in your heart and brain. Not since Batman: The Animated Series have I seen a Caped Crusader story told as well as this, rivaling even the recent Christopher Nolan Batman films.
The main storyline will take you roughly twelve hours to complete, but there is plenty to come back to as soon as you've beaten it. With many side-story missions, the ability to play as Catwoman, Robin & Nightwing, tons of hidden goodies to discover and plenty of villains to battle it out with you will be spending many days and nights within the walled-off world of Arkham City. Then you have New Game+ mode, which amplifies the difficulty and gives you no hints to fend of henchmen. There is also the small Easter Eggs that are found throughout the game, one of which could be hinting at a third game. (I won't say what it is, but it involves Ms. Quinn.)
- Looks, feels and plays like a Batman game should
- Fantastic voice-acting, foreboding soundtrack
- One of the most enduring Batman stories ever conceived
- This is the last time Mark Hamill sends in the clown
Batman: Arkham City not only exceeded my expectations for the Dark Knight's gaming return, but it also made my jaw smack down to the ground at just about every corner. There are words to describe this title, such as "flawless" and "breathtaking," but if I had to choose just a mere word to describe Batman: Arkham City it would be this: perfect.
FINAL GRADE: 10 (out of ten)
WRITER'S NOTE: I would strongly recommend getting the Collector's Edition of Batman: Arkham City, as what is enclosed is a bargain compared to buying everything separate. The soundtrack (featuring music from Serj Tankian, The Duke Spirit, Raveonettes and many other indie rock bands), DLC, the anime film Batman: Gotham Knight, the beta code for Gotham City Impostors and a greatly-detailed statue of the Caped Crusader are all worth the $100, something I rarely see when companies release special editions for popular games.