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Batman: Arkham City

In 2009, developer Rocksteady disproved a myth commonly believed by the video game community: Batman will never make a great game. They did this by releasing the critically acclaimed Arkham Asylum. Terrific combat, excellent environments and a strong story made Arkham Asylum a thrill to play, and Rocksteady did everything imaginable to ensure that Arkham City would not disappoint. Now, Batman’s playground is an entire city, and his utility belt is bulging with new gadgets.

Professor Hugo Strange has been entrusted with an experimental correctional facility project titled Arkham City, a prison made by cordoning off the northern-most part of Gotham. It houses so many of Gotham’s foulest villains, it’s only a matter of time until the evil runneth over. Batman’s alter ego, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, speaks out against Arkham City and is kidnapped, thrown head-first into the facility. After quickly fighting his way through a line of thugs, he escapes to a rooftop, phones in an equipment drop, and dons his cape and cowl becoming the Dark Knight. He learns of a mysterious plan called Protocol 10 that he needs to stop, but he’ll run across some old, unwelcoming faces along the way.

The first thing you’ll notice about Batman: Arkham City is that its environment has been completely opened up for you. Instead of the compartmental structure of Arkham Asylum, Arkham City takes on a more sandbox-style approach. Every building you can see can be reached but not every area will be accessible, as you’ll need to wait for a story event or gadget upgrade. Batman’s trusty grapnel gun has made a return, allowing the Dark Knight to very quickly traverse the rooftops where he can leap from them using his cape to glide to the next. Once upgraded, the grapnel gun can launch Batman over the anchor point making it possible to move from one area of the city to another without ever touching the ground. This ease of traveling the city has, until now, only been reserved for the Spider-Man games.

Much of what made Arkham Asylum a joy to play has returned, including the impressive FreeFlow combat. Batman uses one button for a melee attack, another to counter, another to stun and another to dodge. It’s pretty much all he needs to beat a group of thugs senseless. Batman can also counter up to three attackers at the same time, and he can incorporate just about every one of his gadgets into the combat this time around. Batman’s range of animations, along with his enemies, is designed in a way to make every possible attack and counterattack look as natural as possible. The result is nothing short of poetry in motion, melding simple inputs with lighting quick reflexes to reward the gamer with some truly spectacular moments.

Batman’s also got some new gadgets that he can use in a brawl, such as smoke pellets, electric charge guns, freeze grenades and disruptors that disable enemy guns. His foes have learned a few tricks as well. Now there are knife-wielding thugs that require Batman to deftly dodge each swipe, enemies donning body armor that require a flurry of punches to take down, and shielded goons that can only be attacked from the rear. Unfortunately, the same problem with Asylum‘s combat rears its ugly head again. Even though you may press in the right direction, Batman might miss with a gadget or attack the wrong character giving the enemy the exact split second they need to hit you and bring your high combo count to a skidding halt. It’s a blemish on an otherwise highly polished combat system.

Batman’s Detective Vision has made its return, allowing Batman to see his enemies through walls, detect breakable surfaces and pick up blood trails and other sources of evidence. Batman is a detective after all, so part of your time in the game will be spent trying to figure out what your prey did and where they went. Making yet another appearance is the Riddler, so the cowl helps you keep track of Riddler trophies you come across by tagging their locations on your map, as well as making invisible question marks visible. New to the game are Riddler rooms that pit Bruce Wayne’s intellect against his own in order for Batman to free hostages. Their locations aren’t revealed to you unless you collect enough trophies and solve puzzles, so that’s an incentive to keep your radar up.

[pullquote_right]Rocksteady has proven that they are not a one-hit wonder.[/pullquote_right]Riddler isn’t the only villain that makes another appearance. Several others will appear, making unlikely alliances with the Dark Knight if only for a short while. The self-mutilating Zsasz returns, sending Batman chasing around the city for ringing phones, slowly divulging a story with every call. New villains such as Mr. Freeze, the Penguin and Two-Face serve up their own challenges. Just as with Arkham Asylum, it’s a lot of fun to study them and figure out to how to safely defeat them. All of these enemies are greatly incorporated into the story, and one such villain plays an integral part to a doozy of a twist at the end.

People who buy the game new will be given a code to unlock the Catwoman content contained on the disc. Catwoman provides a terrific distraction to playing as Batman, as her adventures in Arkham City see her using her own set of gadgetry, whipping from rooftop to rooftop, climbing ceilings and dealing with her own villainous menaces. It’s content that you don’t want to miss out on, as it’s very fun to play as Catwoman, so make it a point to buy new or at least secure an unredeemed code if you buy used.

Once you finish the game, Arkham City still has more to offer. Some side quests will not yield new clues until the game is beaten. You’ll most likely still be purchasing upgrades with the experience points you’ve gained, and if you purchase new you can swap to and from Batman and Catwoman. If you’ve been solving Riddler’s puzzles and collecting trophies along the way, Combat and Predator challenges unlock that can be played by both Batman and Catwoman. Combat pits your hero or heroine against wave after wave of enemies, while Predator places you in a room with armed enemies to take down as discreetly as possible. If you were addicted to climbing up the leaderboards in Arkham Asylum, you will once again relapse with Arkham City.

Batman: Arkham Asylum was a gorgeous game, and Arkham City manages to up the visuals even more. The environments are incredibly detailed with littered streets and decrepit buildings, capped off with a dark, yet beautiful, cloudy sky. The moonlight struggling through the clouds compliments the gleam of the Bat Signal. The character models are wonderfully built adorned with high quality textures. Special effects are impressive, be they as massive as explosions, or subtle as snowflakes melting on Batman’s cape. Just as with Arkham Asylum, you’ll also see Batman’s suit take considerable wear and tear as the game progresses. Animations are just as excellent as the first game, with the only minor flaw existing in the lip syncing as it’s off by just a hair.

The audio in Arkham City may be terrific, but it sounds almost identical to that of Arkham Asylum. Every sound effect from the grapnel to the remote batarang to the detonation of the explosive gel sounds like it was lifted from the first game. It’s not a bad thing, though, and the bone-crunching finisher moves sound as devastating as ever. One of Asylum‘s strongest facets was the well-composed soundtrack and that department doesn’t disappoint in City; it delivers the same Gotham-esque atmosphere. Even more important than the soundtrack is the expertly performed voice acting. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and Joker respectively, and Hamill somehow manages to top his performance in Arkham Asylum. There are a couple of exchanges between the two characters that will literally send shivers down your spine.

Rocksteady has proven that they are not a one-hit wonder. Many sequels end up inferior to their original because not enough was changed or nothing was refined, but Arkham City manages to end up feeling eerily familiar yet remarkably renewed. The story is also darker and more engrossing, making you wonder what’s going to happen next. Batman can finally spread his wings and fly thanks to the open-world environment, although its scale is a bit deceptive, but gliding through the night sky is exhilarating nonetheless. A lengthy story mode and a bevy of challenges and other unlockable goodies gives the game great value. Batman is now the number one contender in quality comic book games, and every other developer should take note from Rocksteady.

The Good

Everything that made Arkham Asylum great, but set in a bigger game | Mark Hamill does an even better job as Joker

The Bad

Still too easy to screw up a FreeFlow combo | Catwoman requires a "First Purchaser" code to unlock

4.5/5

Born and raised in Denver, CO in 1979, I've been playing games since I was old enough to hold a controller. I was weened on Atari, then Nintendo and Sega, and currently own just about every console and handheld made. I'm an avid hip hop fan and I love to read books. Favorite authors include Dean Koontz, Stephen Hunter, and Christopher Moore. I'm also an avid movie watcher and I try to collect as many Blu-Rays as I can.

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