You don't necessarily need to be a fan of the source material to enjoy one of the best made games of not only 2011, but in gaming history. Arkham City is not perfect by any means, but the pros outweigh the cons substantially. There are several villains in the game, but some of the more popular ones are not done justice. A few of them felt like they were just thrown into the game just to be there, while others stand out as the best interpretations of the character in any medium. Rocksteady didn't roll over after the success of Arkham Asylum and instead created a game that is five times larger; contains more villains, cameos, gadgets, animations, playable characters, challenges, and side quests; and even manages to craft an even more enthralling narrative than its predecessor. Arkham City begins 18 months after Arkham Asylum with Batman infiltrating a section of Gotham that has been branched off and made home to the city's most notorious villains and their gangs, the criminally insane, as well as the depraved and politically imprisoned. This is all made possible under the tutelage of Arkham psychiatrist Professor Hugo Strange, who has carefully manipulated his way into power. Strange also just happens to contain Batman's greatest secret, making him a greater threat than even the more vile of the Bat's rogues gallery. Thus begins another unpleasant night for the Caped Crusader in which he must traverse the new criminal city while crossing its deadly inhabitants and also getting to the bottom of Strange's plans.
Added to the mix is Catwoman, which players will control for about 10% of the game in four separate missions interwoven within the narrative. It can't be stressed enough how engrossing the story is, written once again by the award winning Paul Dini. From the surprising opening to the cataclysmic ending, Arkham City will keep you glued to your controller as the events unfold. The game's plot can be concluded somewhere between 15-20 hours with at least an additional 15-20 hours in side quests, individual combat and stealth maps, and 400 collectable and hidden Riddler challenges. Throw in a more difficult New Game Plus mode after completing the story, an open world littered with an abundance of criminals to beat down until your heart is content, and you have a medley of gameplay teaming with replay value. Batman's mechanics aren't changed much from Arkham Asylum. He still walks a little stiff, but the incredibly brutal combat system returns with even more animations, takedowns, and equipment to dispose of your threats in ways that are undeniably Batman. Imagine yourself surrounded by 10-15 thugs and simultaneously incapacitating each with heavy blows, acrobatics, counter attacks, and an arsenal of bat gadgets without taking a single hit. This is all possible in Arkham City. Stealth gameplay known as Predator Combat returns and is utilized less efficiently the second time around, and will require more careful planning to clear a room of armed thugs.
One of the newest and most fun additions to the game is Batman's method of travel. Just about every building within the sectioned city can be grappled to and followed immediately with a wide spread of the Bat's cape for instant gliding satisfaction. Players will find themselves gliding, dive bombing, and then soaring right back into the sky with seamless animation for one of the most entertaining action-adventure traveling in awhile. Then there is Catwoman. She plays differently from Batman with a unique style of travel using her whip and pouncing/climbing techniques, and her combat is faster with more finesse. As much as you may love playing as Batman, it's possible to enjoy Catwoman even more. She is included in game as a DLC code which should be downloaded before beginning the game just to ensure her narrative structures into Batman's. These aren't just story quests, but she can also be used to explore the city and hunt down her very own Riddler trophies. Returning for the second time is a fantastic vocal performance from the likes of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil, and introducing the fantastic Nolan North as the Penguin. Some of the voices are a bit overplayed on the generic thugs, but it's of little distraction. The game's soundtrack is incredibly well orchestrated and fits in perfectly with the atmosphere while being reminiscent of the Animated Series and Tim Burton films.
Everything from the bat gadgets to the crunching sound of Batman's fist on a thug's face are nothing but gratifying. Rocksteady uses the Unreal Engine and utilizes it once again to its potential. Like the art style presented in Arkham Asylum, Batman: AC has a very tenebrous tone and gritty design that is closer to the Frank Miller interpretations of Batman. The colors implemented in both the world and the characters really assist in making the game more dynamic, though there are some graphical issues here and there like texture hiccups and grainy shadows. The character designs are some of the best and most unique takes on the characters, instantly individualizing them in Rocksteady's Bat Universe. Batman: Arkham City will require at least a second play to even feel like it's really completed. If you enjoy hunting down items and collecting them, the Riddler trophies will keep you busy for days or weeks. The New Game Plus mode adds some more difficulty by upping the enemy A.I. and taking away the counter indicators during combat while allowing you to keep the many upgrades unlocked during the first play through. This is the mode to really test your capabilities with the game. Batman: Arkham City is everything a good game sequel should be. Improved gameplay, new mechanics, and an even stronger story denote whether you care about Batman or not, it's still a game worthy of your time. With some easter eggs possibly hinting at plots for a third game, let's hope Rocksteady isn't quite done with the Dark Knight.
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Platform: Reviewed for Xbox 360
Release Date: October 18, 2011