Batman: Arkham City Review

Posted on October 23, 2011 by

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Batman: Arkham Asylum was perfect. Well, more or less. Croc’s lair was a bit rubbish and the boss fights were a bit samey, but by and large it was held as being the the perfect and true Batman game we had always wanted. It ticked every box, and frankly if you haven’t played it you want to go have your head examined. You weirdo.

So obviously when news broke of a sequel, the fandom rejoiced with much cheering and slapping of thighs (worth noting that the sequel was foreshadowed in an easter egg in the first game, that proved so hard to find that the developers, crafty and devious bastards that they are, eventually gave up and pointed it out). Well, after all the hype and press and demos at conventions and lovely screenshots and trailers, Batman: Arkham City is here, and it makes Arkham Asylum look like a tech demo.

This isn’t just heavy-handed praise (other websites have given it 6/5, for example). BAC is exactly what a sequel should be, in exactly the same way as Assassin’s Creed 2 took everything that was good about the first game, refined it, added a ton of fun new features, and completely did away with the stuff that didn’t work too well. Don’t believe me? Let’s run through the basics.

Plot. This game has it. In spades. There are, in fact, multiple plots, running parallel (sometimes perpendicular), interweaving and intersecting. I wont go into detail on any of them because pretty much anything I say would be a spoiler and I like to avoid those, especially with a game like this, which has a ‘holy crap, did you see that?’ moment every few seconds. The storylines are tightly knitted without overlapping and stepping on each others toes, and it really feels like Batman is in this city dealing with a million things all at once, because he doesn’t have much of a choice. There are gang wars, supervillains arguing with other supervillains, serial killers and madmen on the loose, an evil conspiracy, disreputable businessmen, an ancient cult (two them, in fact)and a certain sexy feline-themed thief to contend with. If you blast through the story mode, you can beat it in around 12-14 hours. If you take your time, deal with side missions, the ever-present Riddler (Who, is it just me, looks like Hugh Laurie?) challenges and generally take the time to really let Arkham City seep out of your television and into your brain, you’ve got at least 20 hours of solid bat-action.

Graphically, this game doesn’t just look good, it is actually pleasurable to look at. A game which is aesthetically pleasing on its own merits is actually rarer than you might think, and I can only name a handful (Uncharted, Red Dead Redemption). I can happily just explore and be content to be part of this world. The titular Arkham City Prison is a rich, deep environment with various zones, from the flooded-by-earthquake Amusement Mile, the industrial zone, which should be grim and grey except that Jokers taken up residence there and it’s been painted up in bright colours, and the slums of old gotham, including Park Row, also known as Crime Alley (in a ridiculously touching scene, Batman can visit the site of his parents murder. A command prompt appears, saying simply ‘pay respects’). Navigating the city by either foot or cape glider is a joyous thing to do.

The acting is, of course, all-round superb, although many fans are somewhat perturbed that Tara Strong replaced Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn, a role she’d been playing for the better part of 20 years alongside Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker (the best one, too, in my opinion). Strong does a good enough job , although she imitates Sorkin’s performance so closely they might as well have kept her. As mentioned, Conroy and Hamill give performances as Batman and the Joker which only two decades of practice can bring, and given the possibility that this may well be the very last time Hamill voices the Crown Prince of Crime, it really is a magnificent performance to bow out on. Delivering laughs, tragedy, pathos and slapstick, Hamill gives the performance of a lifetime. While we’re on the aural elements of the game, the score is a significant upgrade from Arkham Asylum, which had a robust, Nolan-movie sound to it, but not much in the way of variation. This time around, the score is more dramatic, more powerful and worth listening to all by itself.

The gameplay. Arkham City starts you off with pretty much every gadget and move you had at the end of Arkham Asylum, and in a rare twist, doesn’t take them away from you. There are two kinds of gameplay this time around- the slower, tougher brute force approach of Batman, and the nimble, acrobatic tactics employed by Catwoman, who is a playable character (but only if you are the ‘first purchaser’ of the game, i’ll get to that in a tic) who both offer surprising different styles of gameplay, combat and movement around the huge open world sandbox of Arkham City. Tons of new features have been added, far too many to list, but I’ll mentioned some of the best. Gliding has been upgraded to allow you to basically fly, covering large distances very quickly. A gun which shoots an electrical charge which is ridiculously useful. Freezing grenades which stops enemies dead in their tracks, and the ability to basically spam batarangs at people without waiting for them to recharge.

The flaws. Right, this is a bit nit-picky, but for balance i have to find something wrong with this game, and I did. The DLC. Straight out of the box, you can download the Catwoman DLC, which allows you to play as Catwoman and see parts of the story from her perspective. Now, out of the box DLC on new game (as opposed to a GOTY edition) irks me straight away. Why couldn’t they just include it on the disc? My second issue with it is that if you buy the game used, and want to play as Catwoman (and you should, because its terrific fun) you have to pay for a new code. I realise that this is basically a way of ensuring that the original developers actually get some form of revenue back from second hand games, which they wouldn’t do normally, but it’s still not very nice to gamers themselves. However, this is frankly only a minor gripe in a game that frankly has far too much goodness in it for me to comprehensively mention in this review.

Oh, and one last thing, Rocksteady have cottened on, and Arkham City has a New Game Plus mode. If only all developers would be so kind.

(In case you couldn’t tell from the rest of the review, or if you skip to the bottom for my final verdict to avoid spoilers, buy this game. You need it. If you don’t have it in your collection, people will point and laugh at you in the street. And then stab you).

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Posted in: Games, Review