Batman: Arkham City Review – The Dark Knight Returns To Glory

In 2009, then little known developer, Rocksteady Studios, unknowingly set out and created a game that defined their studio and all superhero games with Batman: Arkham Asylum.  Not settling for the same thing, a mere two years later they managed to release Batman: Arkham City which took that winning formula and expanded it to include more villains, side missions, challenges, and an open world to explore around in with The Dark Knight.

Does Batman: Arkham City once again triumph over superhero game mediocrity or does The Joker finally get the last laugh?  Full review after the jump.

As a sequel to the wonderful Arkham Asylum, former Asylum Warden, Quincy Sharp, has become Mayor of Gotham.  In his infinite wisdom, he decides to purchase the rougher/slum part of the city and turn it into a sort of walled off prison city for the inmates.  He even invites psychologist Hugo Strange to head up the newly named Arkham City.  Worse still, the various super villains have begun to take over sections of the city and begin to quarrel with one another over control and dominance.  Not is all as it seems however as Strange begins manipulating the Arkham City situation which gets the attention of Bruce Wayne/Batman.  The only thing is, Strange knows his dual identity and is planning something for him with the code name “Protocol 10″. 

First and foremost, I wasn’t sure how it was going to feel moving around an open environment coming from a fairly linear and indoor location from Arkham Asylum.  Thankfully, Rocksteady nailed it.  It’s a breeze to glide around the city and most of the time, I found myself just cruising around looking for the over 400 Riddler trophies/challenges, doing the side missions, or just revel in breaking thug limbs.  The look and feel of the game is top-notch as well.  Arkham City features a very urban and gothic style to its buildings and fits extremely well into the Batman lore.  You’ll see various landmarks such as the Iceburg Lounge, Monarch Theater, Catwoman’s Apartment, and Ace Chemicals for example.  It’s quite a thrill seeing these landmarks and being able to interact with some of them.

The controls have been refined and improved from what you remember in Arkham Asylum.  The FreeFlow combat is still the focus so one button will perform a counter, attack, stun, and dodge, but you’re now supplemented with “Quick Use” gadget items.  You can still fling batarangs quickly, but a face button and trigger combo will allow you to quickly use one of the various gadgets you’ve acquired like the grappling hook, or the freeze grenade.  Having these available to supplement your already formidable combat prowess just adds a new layer of awesome to an already fantastic combat engine.  That’s not to say the game is now a cake walk.  Rocksteady also managed to add more diversity to the inmates and thugs introducing guys with stun rods, makeshift riot shields, and knives for example.  You’ll need to change-up your tactics a bit to be successful which definitely made each battle unique and exciting.

What’s more interesting this time around are the boss fights.  While they won’t leave you stumped on what to do, some of them can provide a bit of difficulty in executing what needs to be done (looking at you Mr. Freeze).  Even with that said, they’re still extremely well done and at the very least, mix up what you’ve come to expect so far.  You’ll even be surprised at the amount of Batman lore Rocksteady has managed to cram into this title.  It wouldn’t be fair if I spoiled any of it here, so you’ll have to go play it to find out.

The world of Arkham City, while big, isn’t quite the open world you’ve come to expect from a game like Grand Theft Auto.  There’s plenty to do while flying around, but for the most part, it acts as a hub world with places you can enter to do the actual missions.  Not every building you see if accessible, but the more you progress, the more things you’ll see that you can do around the City.  If anything, the Riddler Challenges alone will keep you occupied for quite a long time.  They’re seriously everywhere.

For the most part, you play as Batman, but in an interesting twist, you’ll also take control of Catwoman.  I was pleasantly surprised by this as she plays extremely well and fits the game’s theme very well.  She comes armed with her own move sets and can move around the city with the help of her trusty whip.  She’s much faster than Batman, but still utilizes the FreeFlow combat and provides a nice change of pace.  Just like Batman, you can also upgrade her abilities and armor with the experience earned from combat, finding Riddler trophies, or completing quests in the game.  There’s a wealth of items to upgrade all of which prove useful in some capacity.

The voice acting also deserves a special nod as it’s once again top-notch.  Mark Hamill reprises his role as The Joker, and Kevin Conroy puts on the cape once more as Batman.  Other standout talent includes Tara Strong,  Tom Kane, Corey Burton, Wally Wingert, Troy Baker, Dee Bradley Baker and Nolan North.  Seriously, everyone in this game does a tremendous job of bringing these characters to life and making them believable.  The soundtrack is especially well done, giving off a very heroic and dark tone.  It reminds me of something you’d hear out of the Christopher Nolan movies to be honest.  Just fits the game perfectly.

The Challenge rooms make a return as well, this time under the name Riddler’s Revenge in the main menu.  There’s not much unlocked at the start, but start completing his challenges and collecting those trophies, you’ll start unlocking the maps.  You still have the combat maps and predator maps, but added to the mix now are Campaign Maps which introduce modifiers that you need to use before you end the campaign.  The sheer amount of maps available to you in this mode is staggering.  You unlock more maps by playing the main game, but just looking at the available spots for challenge maps is almost overwhelming.  You can easily play this game mode for quite a long time. 

It must have been with black magic that Rocksteady managed to top its previous release.  The fact that they created an open world style game with THIS much content in it in only two years boggles my mind.  The game runs smoothly, features an interesting story line, has enough content to keep you going a long time, and looks stunning.  If you’re looking for arguably the best superhero game ever made, look no further.  This is easily one of the best games of this year and is an early front-runner to take home Game of the Year.  I know I couldn’t stop playing…

Batman: Arkham City gets a well deserved 5 Riddler Trophies, out of 5

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