Reviews

Batman: Arkham City – Review

 

Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Rocksteady
Publisher: Warner Bros
Singleplayer: Yes
Splitscreen: No
Multiplayer: Leaderboards only.
PEGI: 15+

Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum took the gaming world by storm, wooing critics and gamers alike with the best portrayal of the Dark Knight ever seen and proving once and for all that superhero games don’t have to suck camel balls. But the problem with delivering something like Arkham Asylum is that people immediately expect great things from you, and even greater things from a sequel. Yet here we are with Rocksteady’s second take on the Dark Knight, but did they manage to improve on an already fantastic game? Oh hell yes.

Arkham City picks up a year after the events of Arkham Asylum. In that year warden Quincy Sharp has claimed credit for Batman’s actions in the Asylum and has used his new-found respect and power to wall of a massive section of the city to create a new Asylum to house the various thugs and villains of Gotham. But Quincy isn’t working along, as in the background is Hugo Strange who has been placed in charge of all the armed TYGER forces that patrol the new Asylum, and has somehow discovered the true identity of Batman. The journey through Arkham City’s storyline will, of course, also bring you face to face with the Joker who is still suffering from the effects of the Titan from the last game, as well as plenty of other big-names from the Batman universe such as Mr. Freeze, Penguin, Two-Face and Catwoman. Arkham City’s storyline, which is arguably weaker than it could have been,  does succeed in delivering an entertaining but fairly shallow tale, albeit it one with a rather neat ending. The flow of villains doesn’t actually help the stories overall quality, but it’s hard to care thanks to Rocksteady’s brilliant takes on each of the characters, with every one of them having some seriously talented voice actors delivering their well written lines. Sure, not all of the characters get the screen time or fleshing out that they deserve, but Rocksteady have once again proved that they know how to weave various characters into a tale and still keep it feeling solid.

One of the most common complaints surrounding Arkham Asylum, and one that I happen to agree with, was that the boss battles felt disappointing, never fully using the characters to their full advantage. While there were a few good battles, they mostly got overshadowed by the poor final showdown with the Joker. For Arkham City Rocksteady haven’t quite succeeded in crafting the greatest boss battles to grace consoles, but have certainly managed to make them superior to Arkham Asylum. A stand out moment comes in a battle against a certain Mr. Freeze which actively forced you to use a variety of tactics to take him down. It stands as the best boss battle in the game by quite a bit, seconded by a fun encounter with a certain Lazarus using character.

Moving out into Gotham city proper has given Rocksteady a considerably larger environment to play with than the one we say in Arkham Asylum. The city is a place of perpetual darkness lit by neon signs, giving it a classic Batman vibe. Running over rooftops and gliding gracefully over the cities streets and alleys is an almost mind-boggling experience, genuinely giving you the feeling of what it might actually be like to be the Dark Knight. As before Batman is easy to control, allowing you to effortlessly traverse the city landscape. An upgrade earned during the game also makes getting around even easier as it acts like a booster, throwing you high into the air so you can glide for quite some distance. Batman can now also enter a steep dive, hurtling toward the ground and terrifying speeds before opening his cape and soaring back up into the sky. These two new moves allow for quick and easy movement across the city, gracefully navigating the rooftops like the deadly predator you are.

And what a city it is to traverse, filled with an almost staggering degree of detail and famous locations. Somewhere in the two-year gap between Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, Rocksteady found the time to up their graphical game. Arkham City is, without a doubt, one of the best looking games seen on some time. The dark, neon lit city is beautiful to behold, managing to stay true to the comics but still keeping a distinctive look of its own, with every street and alley filled with details.  You don’t just spend all your time outside, though, as indoor environments make up a large chunk of the game as well and these areas look just as good, again with plenty of detail and plenty of little references to bat history. Get Batman in to a fight, and you’ll be doing plenty of that, and the animations are as smooth as you like, emphasising the fact that Batman is a complete badass who has trained himself to the peak of physical condition. Leaping over enemies, countering their attacks and firing off batarangs all flow seamlessly from one move to the next with only the occasional slightly awkward transition being present. So, then, it’s still a shame that you’ll be spending a considerable amount of your indoors time in Detective Mode (sorry, Augmented Reality mode), but more on that later.

The graphical qualities of the game certainly shouldn’t steal the show, though, as Rocksteady have once again provided a stunning level of sound quality, mixing a fantastic score with almost pitch perfect sound effects.  The soaring music matches the dark and atmospheric city-scape perfectly, managing to turn it in to an even more immersive world. Whether you’re using a grappling hook, admiring Batman’s cape or simply fighting for your life the sound effects are brilliant, lending a real sense of realism to the world. Just punch a baddie in the face and you’ll see what I mean.

Speaking of punching goons in the face, the combat system which split gamer’s opinions down the middle in Arkham Asylum has returned, replete with some tweaks. At its core it’s still a simplistic system, simply having a strike, counter and stun button, but arguably that’s what makes it so effective.  Chain a few strikes together and Batman enters freeflow mode, allowing him to gracefully dance between enemies, using his years of training in an acrobatic display of strength and skill. There’s plenty of new animations in the combat, making it fantastic to simply sit back and watch. Using the counter system remains a vital part of the game, and does still feel far to easy thanks to the early warning symbols above enemies heads, but flowing through a fight only to counter two enemies at once and slam them together is just plain brilliant. New enemies have been introduced along with new tactics to take them down: armour equipped goons require stunning and then a new beatdown move to be performed, while knife wielding foes require you to use a brand new style of countering. Some enemies now carry shields, again forcing you to use different tactics to take them down. In small amounts these new enemies are not very challenging, but mixed in to a massive group of enemies it becomes a different story as you need to pinpoint them and carefully try to take them down, all the while still combating the normal goons who are intent on denting your face with a lead pipe. Batman’s arsenal of gadgets come in to their own in Arkham City, with many of them assigned hotkeys so that you can quickly and effectively deploy them in combat to take down your attackers. However, managing the various quick-fire gadget keys and various special move commands can be a little baffling when you’re in the middle of a heated fight. Those who found the combat system far too simplistic in the first game most likely won’t find their opinion altered by Arkham City’s revisions, but if you did enjoy it then the new tweaks make it far more interesting and fun.

Combat may be fun, but it pales in comparison to the stunning Predator sections which allow you to grapple on to the roof and use stealth, cunning and general badassery to take down a room full of goons. The foes in these rooms often wield firearms, something against which even Batman is almost defenseless against, and so indirect attacks from the shadows are the order of the day. Batman himself is capable of a variety of Takedown moves, both silent and otherwise. You can grab passing enemies while hanging off a ledge, smash through windows and even grab them as they pass underneath your gargoyle, leaving them hanging upside down and screaming in terror. The arsenal of gadgets at your disposal come into their own here. Instead of making you get back all the gadgets you have in the first game, Rocksteady have opted to let you start with them all, and have then included plenty more for you to hunt down. The usual assortment of batarangs, explosive gel and batclaws are all here, and can be used in  a variety of ways, but new gadgets like smoke pellets, electrically charged guns and freeze blasts make Predator mode far more entertaining, allowing for a wide variety of strategies. Of course the various gadgets are still used in some genuinely smart ways throughout the rest of the game, too. It’s not just Batman whose learnt some new tricks, though, as the goons that make up these rooms have been to college and learned some new tricks to employ in their hunt for the bat. Enemies now more actively search for Batman, checking under floor grates and up in the rafter should they find a body. They’ll now lay mines, scan the rafters with thermal goggles, take hostages and communicate more effectively with their pals, making these rooms more challenging that they previously were. But it’s worth it, though, as theirs a sadistic pleasure to slowly stalking your prey, patiently watching them driven closer to the brink of snapping. As you pick them off, the survivors start to panic, firing at shadows, freaking out at the slightest noise and their teamwork deteriorating until they abandon each other to the shadows. It brings a smile to your face, it really does.

At will you can simply the shoulder button to activate Batman’s detective vision mode, which will allow you quickly assess an area for potential threats as the mode allows you to see through walls, with enemies highlighted blue, or orange should they be armed. Like Arkham Asylum the temptation to remain in this mode all of the time remains high, simply because it gives you such an advantage, and that’s a shame because you’ll likely miss the beautiful graphics if you do so. It also allows you to spot structurally weak walls or alternate routes that you can use to dispose of inconvenient guards, but don’t get too complacent with its use as the enemy can now employ jammers that stop you from using detective vision, forcing you to use good old-fashioned line of sight tactics to take down your enemy. In fact, these moments were often the most fun, requiring you to carefully track guards movements and play accordingly. On occasion Batman does like to remind us that he’s also the world’s greatest detective by using his super high-tech vision to scan for clues, follow trails and more. However, his detective skills still don’t feel as well implemented as they should be.

Hand to hand combat and stealthily taking out guards all gain you lovely experience points which eventually rank you up, giving you the opportunity to pick a shiny new upgrade from the Waynetech computer. The variety of upgrades on offer have been vastly expanded from Arkham Asylum, lending an extra degree of depth to the game. You can now upgrade gadgets, pile on the body armour, learn new combat tricks and more. It’s still not the deepest levelling system around, but serves its purpose well.

Scattered around the world of Arkham City are a handful of sidequests that you can take on, each of which feature yet another of Bat’s plethora of villainous…uh, villains.  As you progress through the main missions you’ll encounter these missions, such as teaming up with Bane to take out tanks of Titan, having a rather trippy experience with the Mad Hatter or even tracking down the deadly Deadshot. These little diversions are generally enjoyable affairs, deftly allowing Rocksteady to throw yet another villain in to the mix without ever feeling forced, but they do disappoint slightly as they don’t always feel as well-developed or fleshed out as they could be, and the rewards, simple character trophies, feel a little lacking.

If side missions aren’t your thing, or you’ve just completed them all, then you can amuse yourself by hunting down the ludicrous amount of Riddler trophies hiding around the map. This time around the Riddler has upped his game, challenging you to collect enough of his trophies to unlock the location of the next room where he’s keeping innocent people hostage, who’s lives are yours to save. The Riddler’s role in Arkham City feels far more fleshed out before, with his trophies now often having small but cunning puzzles to solve to gain access. It’s worth the effort to collect all the trophies, though, as they unlock the gamers various challenge maps, as well as oodles of art work and other goodies. His hostage rooms are just as devious and are genuinely challenging. Scouring the city in search of every trophy and challenge could very well take you into the next ice age and beyond.

Venture into a section of the game titled Riddler’s Revenge and you’ll find the games challenge maps have made a welcome return, again split into to Combat and Predator rooms. Each room has various challenges to complete which will help boost your leaderboard rankings and help to boost your skill, and only  last a few minutes, making them perfect to simply load up for some or to get some practice in. You can also create custom challenges by loading up an existing room and adding in special modifiers, such as disabling all your gadgets, making enemies tougher or even adding an aura which randomly moves from goon to goon granting them invincibility. However, you can’t change the actual medal challenges themselves, which is rather disappointing. The Riddler has also been hard at working creating “campaigns” which are a series of challenge rooms, mixing both combat and predator, where you have a variety of modifiers to choose from, with the catch being that every one of them must be used by time you finish the campaign. These little campaigns can actually be quite challenging and demand a certain amount of planning to complete, carefully assigning the right modifiers to the right challenge.

You’ve probably noticed by now that there has been no mention of Catwoman DLC that comes packaged in every new copy of Batman: Arkham City, and that’s because the Catwoman isn’t technically part of the itself and not everyone buying the game will get it. Therefore the DLC won’t be included in this review.

Somehow Rocksteady have managed to create a game superior to Arkham Asylum. In almost every regard Arkham City is the perfect sequel, building and improving upon the mechanics that made its predeseccor so damn good. in doing so Akrham City can proudly lay claim to the crown of “best superhero game ever”, having created an immersive, beautiful, fun game that captures the spirit of the comics perfectly while still retaining its own identity.

The Good:
+ Silently stalking my prey like the badass I am.
+ The Riddler has done some serious work!
+ Makes me feel like Batman.

The Bad:
– The story is a little weak.
– Not every villain gets the screen time they deserve.
– Sidequests don’t feel as fleshed out as they could be.

The Scores:

Graphics: 9.5
Both on a technical level and on art style this game is beautiful to behold.

Sound: 9
A soaring soundtrack, fantastic voice acting and brilliant sound effects bring this game to life.

Story: 7
Weak in places, but still an enjoyable tale.

Gameplay: 9.5
Arkham City takes what made Arkham Asylum great, polishes it up, adds in new features and presents a fantastic game that’s fun to play from start to finish.

Lifespan: 8.5
Around fifteen hours for the main missions and side-missions, but you can easily double that if you do the Riddler trophies and then add another few hours for challenge maps.

The Verdict: 9.5
Rocksteady have surpassed their previous effort in almost every way, delivering not only a fantastic Batman game, but one of the best games around. Truly amazing.

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