He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector…a Dark Knight.
Ever since Rocksteady got their hands on the Batman franchise and shot to fame with Arkham Asylum, we’ve all wondered what lay ahead for Batman and his Gotham City playground. Some of took the time to seek out hidden plans, others waited for what has become of Arkham City. Riddle me this, will they be triumphant this time around? Read on to find out.
Game: Batman: Arkham City
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
(PC version out soon)
After the chaos caused by Joker in the Asylum, Quincy Sharp (now Mayor of Gotham) decides to take the prisoners of Arkham and throw them into a cordoned off section of Gotham City itself. This part of Gotham, rather aptly, comes to be known as Arkham City.
The story kicks off with Bruce Wayne, whose dislike of the move becomes readily apparent, and it’s from here things take a turn for the worst. Batman emerges from the shadows and begins to unravel Arkham City’s web of criminal deceit.
After the excitement of Arkham Asylum and the cohesive story driven experience it delivered, hopping into the wide open world of Arkham City is by no means an easy feat. You’re thrown immediately into the deep end, and things hardly get easier as the game progresses. Saying that though, it’s clear to see that Rocksteady have done an amazing job at increasing the grand scale of the plot, many twists and turns await you as you go forth on a journey in search of answers.
In charge of Arkham City is Dr Hugo Strange, formidable foe of not just Batman’s but Bruce Wayne himself. Fans of the Batman comics may know what to expect from Strange, but going into Arkham City as a fan solely of the films, discovering Strange and his role within Arkham is nothing short of fascinating.
Adding to an already impressive cast from Arkham Asylum, Arkham City is packed with foes a-plenty ranging from Penguin and Joker, all the way to Two-Face and Mr Freeze. There are some characters that only Batman aficionados may know in any great detail, but you’ll still happily venture into the wild and take them down in the name of hard justice.
There are many stories that play out in Arkham City, and as you stumble across each one the feeling of depth is very much apparent. It’s so impressive, in fact, that it may come across as a little overwhelming at first, as there’s just so much to see and do. You might even find yourself a little lost from time to time, but that is by no means a complaint, it’s every Batman fans dream come true.
When it comes to looks, Arkham City literally shines above its predecessor. Ranging from the added polish to the character models such as our hero Batman and the environment itself as the brightly lit street signs shine delightfully on to the rain soaked street of Arkham City. By anyone’s standards, it’s a visual treat.
New additions like Two-Face and Catwoman have also been shown great attention to detail. Two-Face’s burns are eerily reminiscent of Harvey Dent’s burns in the Dark Knight film, whilst Catwoman’s agile animations and sultry curves replicate her personality thieving temptress extremely well.
There are of course cut-scenes a plenty throughout Batman: Arkham City, and if you witnessed any of the trailers in the run up to release you’ll have a fairly good idea of what to expect from them. Everything down to the specs of rain on Batman’s mask are expertly captured, and its small details like this that really draw you in and keep you invested in the universe.
Returning to the franchise once more is of course Mark Hamill, who played a shockingly frightful representation of the Joker in Arkham Asylum and he returns to form nicely this time around too. Meanwhile, Kevin Conroy steps back into the vocal chords of Batman, and he conveys a great display balancing the Dark Knight’s stern determination and detailed thinking he puts into each plan of action. The rest of Arkham City’s cast are equally as convincing as their in-game counterparts, but Hamill and Conroy are especially successful in bringing two iconic characters to life.
The introduction of radio feeds is a welcome one, it adds that little something extra to the overall atmosphere. Whilst travelling on foot or by flight, Batman will overhear a multitude of information ranging from local Gotham media, evil henchmen and even the Tyger Police Force as they handle Arkham’s deviants. You may even notice inmates mention Batman himself from time to time, especially during large brawls that spill out in to the open streets.
Also included, lurking in the background, is a hauntingly climactic soundtrack for the game, and whether you’re stalking the rooftops hunting for prey or glide kicking yourself in to trouble the audio expertly moves between the tense and somber, providing the ultimate back-drop for DC’s finest.
In terms of combat, Arkham City initially picks up where Arkham Asylum left off, but the further you get in to the game it becomes very clear just how different the two systems can be. Praise was heaped on the hand-to-hand combat in Arkham Asylum, and in Arkham City the same formula exists, but it’s a much smoother and weightier affair. What this added weight does is provide even more bone crunching satisfaction as you tear in to hordes of disrespectful thugs, and you know what? It’s more fun this time around too.
From time to time though, the combat can become a touch frustrating, not so much in the combo department, but more the camera angles and brief time lapses. Aiming for a thug when they’re not even on-screen does presents a few problems, and it’s a shame that richly detailed combos can be rudely interrupted because you judged the direction incorrectly when attacking an enemy you couldn’t even see. In all honesty, this doesn’t damage the game as a whole and it does balance Batman’s far superior powers to a certain extent, albeit for the wrong reasons. The combat is frighteningly addictive in Arkham City, and it requires time and patience to truly master Batman’s entire arsenal.
As for predator (or stealth) gameplay you still have access to gargoyles and underground passages just like before, but there have been some other impressive additions too. For example, if you lurk around in one spot for too long henchmen now become aware of your presence which will result in death or your ledge being destroyed. This definitely adds a little more tension to the predator parts of the game, and forces you to think on the move. Some thugs are even equipped with thermal goggles, which makes stalking them in the air a little awkward, but it also makes unlocking the upgrade that blocks thermal vision a very high priority.
Another new addition to Arkham City which impresses are the side missions, and these range from helping out unfortunate civilians to augmented reality training that improve Batman’s skills. Some of the side missions contribute to the main story arc, whereas others are simply there to add variety. Either way, you’re more than likely to welcome all of them with open arms.
Last but not least, we have the grand return of the Riddler secrets, which were one of the major success stories of Arkham Asylum. There are a massive 440 Riddler secrets to be found in Arkham City, this number includes the 40 dedicated to Catwoman (more on her shortly). Some of the secrets in Arkham Asylum were pretty difficult, but in Arkham City an even higher level of time and dedication is required to solving some of the harder puzzles.
Those of you who register your online pass will also be thrust in to the world of Catwoman and you certainly won’t be disappointed after the minimal effort it takes to redeem. As well as the Catwoman specific trophies you also have the pleasure of controlling her in four separate episodes that intertwine with the main story line. Once you complete them, these can also be replayed individually via the main menu if you wish.
The difference in combat styles seen when controlling Catwoman is very evident as soon as you pick your first fight with one of Arkham’s goons. Catwoman isn’t as heavily equipped as Batman or anywhere near as strong, but her whip-cracking agility makes her more than a match for anything the streets of Arkham can throw her way.
Catwoman’s episodes compliment the main story well, and have their own superstar cast of villains too, with the most enjoyable being the return of Poison Ivy, whose epic boss battle from Arkham Asylum still lives fondly in the memory.
With Arkham City being five times the size of its predecessor, it’s fair assume that the opportunity to extend your playtime is massive. The story will likely take around 10-12 hours depending on difficulty, however, taking all the side missions and Riddler secrets into consideration it could stretch to 20 hours plus.
Another aspect of Arkham City’s staying power is the new game + mode which allows you to play through the story again, keeping all the gadgets from your previous save. For the trophy/achievement hunters out there, playing through in new game + mode will also net you a nice slice of accomplishment glory.
This is all before you even get to the Challenge Maps, which will keep you as busy your competitive spirit requires. Playing as Batman is the obvious draw, but with Robin and Nightwing DLC also available the choice really is yours.
There’s no doubt that Rocksteady will continue to support Arkham City handsomely over the coming months, with more Challenge Maps surely becoming available. Who knows, there could even be more story based DLC, maybe even co-op that allows you to stalk Arkham City with a friend.
Overall, there is a tonne of high quality material to play through in Arkham City, and if you enjoyed its predecessor, then there’s no way you won’t enjoy this game. Where Arkham Asylum was more focused and intensely story driven, Arkham City feels free and open, allowing you to tailor your own Batman experience without ever losing the narrative that made the original so great. You played as Batman in Arkham Asylum, in Arkham City you become the Dark Knight himself.