Batman: Arkham City Review

Platform: PS3/PS4/360/XB1/Wii U/PC
Originally Reviewed: 2011

To paraphrase a certain Mr Bleszinski, a great sequel should be ‘bigger, better and more badass’. Blunt as it is, Cliffy B’s somewhat brash boast of his own franchise perfectly sums up what the modern gamer wants from the sequel to a huge hit. A perfect sequel takes a successful formula and freshens it up, producing a longer and more involving story, tighter gameplay mechanics and subtle improvements on, and additions to, everything that made the first title so popular. Batman: Arkham City (BAC) is the perfect sequel.

BAC sees the city of Gotham in yet more peril after the construction of a ‘super prison’ to house the large criminal presence in the city after Blackwater Prison and Arkham Asylum are deemed no longer fir for purpose. Former Arkham Asylum warden, and now Gotham mayor, Quincy Sharp devised the construction of Arkham City and strangely placed psychiatrist and knower-of-Batman’s-real-identity Hugo Strange in charge of maintaining it.

Bruce Wayne, all too aware of the dangers involved in stuffing all the finest and most dangerous criminal minds in one place, decides to protest against Arkham City, only to find himself beaten up and arrested by Strange’s ‘Tyger’ security team and thrown inside the super prison. Once inside, Batman finds the walled-off city in utter chaos, as the city’s many super villains appear locked in bloody battle for control – something he needs to put a stop to.

It’s been well documented that there are a lot more villains in BAC than its predecessor, but the ‘secondary’ villains are nicely fleshed out through the side missions, leaving the main story focused and gripping throughout with Mark Hamill still on the very top of his game as the Joker and Nolan North putting in a terrific stint as a cockney Penguin. It’s a brilliant tale that’s well paced, superbly voice acted and featuring a spectacular, poignant and unexpected ending right up there with Batman’s, and indeed gaming’s, very best.

Gameplay is still fantastic in its attempts to make player feel like batman. The new gadgets are fun to use, but not nearly as fun as the still amazing combat system. Still simplistic on the surface yet remarkably deep and so perfectly balanced that in the hands of the skilled it can make the player feel like a superhero at the peak of physical perfection. The combat has also been subtly tweaked to great success. Taking down three goons at once, for example, is fist-pumpingly good.

The more open world of Arkham City is another new element that does change the tone somewhat from the first game and BAC does feel less ‘claustrophobic’ as a result. This sounds like a negative point, but the open world is a great way for this game to remain distinct from the first. Players shouldn’t want the same game and feeling again and the superb design of Arkham City makes being Batman feel fresh and exciting all over again. Gliding around the rooftops of Gotham and swooping down on enemies ensures that being a video game superhero has never felt so empowering.

The open world of Gotham also helps show what a terrific job the design team did on the art style. Gotham looks amazing and exactly how fans of the series would want. Haunting, majestic and overpowering – the city is among gaming’s best settings. The themed areas belonging to different super villains are an excellent touch, with Joker’s Funland a spectacular high point. Spread throughout the world is hundreds of subtle references to Batman lore that will ensure series fans look to uncover every nook and cranny.

Addressing one of the few problems with the original, the boss fights in BAC are much improved. Well designed and varied, some of them are extremely fine examples on how to test a gamers learned abilities and use of gadgets to the limits. A particular scuffle with a certain ‘icy’ character is one of the most intelligent boss fights you will ever experience.

BAC is not only a larger game than Asylum, but a much longer one too. As well as the numerous side quests, there are now 400 of Riddler’s trophies and riddles. These are among the best way to extend a game’s lifespan – grabbing the trophies is much more than a fetch quest and each one takes still, thought and use of Batman’s ever growing array of gadgets and ensure 100% completion is consistently more entertainment than frustration.

There really is very little wrong with BAC. The Catwoman sections bundled with new copies of the game definitely feel different to Batman, but consequentially feel significantly less satisfying. Although the main story is great, Two-Face feels rather under-utilised. Arguably a much more interesting character than Mr Freeze, Two-Face’s scarcity can only be seen as an opportunity missed.

The game’s side missions are great but some are a little anticlimactic when you finally get to the end. Spending hours tracking down a villain only to be greeted with a short cut-scene is a disappointment, but fair play to the developer for trying to fit a story into each and every one. Admittedly, the game does fail to provide a single moment quite as outstanding as the trippy Scarecrow sections in the original but BAC as a whole is such an improvement over its predecessor that it doesn’t have a negative overall impact.

Batman: Arkham City is an unbelievable video game. It is far and away the finest superhero game ever made and a solid contender for game of the year. The game’s incredibly strong story, free flowing and intuitive gameplay and superb voice acting are all benchmarks in modern gaming and it is so rare to see a game from a developer with such a strong, borderline obsessive, love for its subject matter. Rocksteady have created an absolute masterpiece that is sure to captivate, not only fans of Batman, but fans of pure triple-A gaming of the very highest quality.

Alex Aldridge

9/10

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