Rocksteady – Warner Bros Interactive – DC – PS3/Xbox 360 – Out now (released on PC November 18th)
Reviewed by Juanvasquez – Videogames Editor
Batman: Arkham City is quite possibly the most anticipated game of the year. It’s certainly generated a buzz in the HCF ranks, and after getting a hands on at Gamefest only last month, excitement increased tenfold! So here it is, the sequel to one of 2009’s most impressive titles. So how does Arkham City hold up against the Asylum? Given that it’s several times bigger, with new features and more characters, you’d expect to see a big improvement.
And big is the operative word! Arkham City is massive. Filled with Gotham City’s criminally insane, Arkham City is the brainchild of Gotham’s mayor, Quincy Sharp, and Dr. Hugo Strange. Sharp you will remember, was the warden of Arkham Asylum in the previous game. Now he runs Gotham, and does so like a police state. If anyone says or does anything untoward with regards to the mayor or Arkham City, it’s a one way ticket to the mega prison. The main story starts with Bruce Wayne holding a press conference in protest against Arkham City, and is promptly kidnapped by Strange’s mercenary squad, Tyger. Whilst being held captive,Wayne learns of Protocol 10, an initiative set up by Strange, and though nothing is given away, it’s something of great concern to Bruce.
Once released into the prison city, Wayne manages to escape from the convicts looking to do some damage, and call the Batwing to drop off that iconic suit. Once suited up, Batman heads to the old courthouse where Catwoman is being held on trial by Two-face. Here’s where the game really opens up. To enter the courthouse, you have to beat down some of Dent’s thugs. This is where you start to get to grips with the excellent free flow fight system (should you not have the Catwoman DLC – See below). At first you may find yourself button bashing, but the way you move between adversaries is nothing short of sublime. There are plenty of games around where you string combos together when dealing out damage to enemies, but none are quite as satisfying as in Arkham City. However, this fight is a drop in the ocean compared to what you come across soon after, with some fights involving up to around twenty adversaries. Some of your enemies are just thugs who will try and beat you, some are armoured, meaning you need a little more effort and technique. Some enemies have melee weapons, knives and shields and some even carry guns. Those with guns are best taken down first as they pose the most threat. Other types of enemy make an appearance too, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.
As well as all out brawling with the mindless subordinates, some sections of the game require stealth, and these areas are some of my favourite. Usually set in an area with several goons, you have the environment at your disposal to take down each bad guy one at a time, be it grating in the floor, blowing up fragile walls, or swooping down from the gargoyles in the ceiling. And with each enemy you take down, the rest get more and more scared, sometimes to the point of firing their weapons to the slightest sound and jumping at their own shadows. Sheer brilliance!
Another element to the gameplay is making your way around the city. Using a combination of the grapple gun and gliding, making your way around a city hasn’t been this much fun since Spider-man 2. As you progress through the game, you unlock quicker methods of using this system, making it easier to get around. With this being a Batman game, you’re kitted out with more gadgets than a Bond movie. Ranging from encryption decoding devices, smoke bombs, grappling guns and batarangs to name a few, the only thing that’s missing is the Shark Repellent Bat-spray! Add to that detective mode, which at the push of a button, can help you identify who’s who, which enemy is the most hostile and even at times, where a shot was fired from.
There are many side missions in throughout the city, and we see a return of the Riddler trophies, which have increased ten-fold in comparison to the previous Arkham game, as well being much more difficult to obtain. This time round however, The Riddler makes a more physical appearance, meaning you can finally put a face to the disembodied voice goading you on. It won’t be long before you realise that there’s a who’s who of villains residing in Arkham City, from the aforementioned Two-face, to the recovering Joker (who is messed up after his spell with the Titan chemical in Arkham Asylum) as well as a rather cockney Penguin and a Mr Freeze that will put to bed any linger nightmares of Arnie’s abomination from that god awful film.
There are many more that you’ll come across throughout the game, some that will come as a surprise and some that might not, but to tell would be to spoil things, and given how much of a thrill ride this game is, particularly if you’re a batfan, it comes better as a surprise. Those that bought the game brand new will have access to Catwoman sub-missions. These are intercut between certain sections of Batman’s main story, but after the second Catwoman mission, they are few and far between. They do have a bearing on the story and there is a section in the slinky feline’s missions that could have a larger impact on the outcome of the game. But on the whole, these missions take a backseat to the massive Batman story line.
If you just go straight through the story missions, you’ll find the main story ends at around 40% of your progress, which goes to show just how much there is to do. And don’t expect to get 100% without putting the man-hours in. That’s all of this on top of the challenge arenas and once you’ve completed the game, you unlock Story Mode +. This is the story mode but solid! There are no prompts or help in this mode and the enemies are twice as tough. Given how balanced the gameplay is in the normal mode, this will be one tough nut to crack.
If Arkham Asylum was Batman Begins, then Arkham City is definitely The Dark Knight. It takes what was brilliant about the first instalment, improves on it in an epic scale and leaves you feeling fantastic but downbeat. To say any more may reveal too much, but the ending is a shocker. It’s not a twist per se, but you certainly won’t see it coming! Once its over, you have the city at your disposal to get on with any side missions you may have missed.
Arkham City features some great voice talent, including Kevin Conroy, who has been the voice of Batman for sometime, not only in the games but in the animated shows as well. Another regular is Mark Hamill, who has been the voice of the Joker for many years, sadly makes his clown prince swan song in Arkham City, although it does seem like a fitting end to a fantastic role. Also making an appearance is Nolan North, who is better known for providing the voice of Nathan Drake from the superb Uncharted series, though he couldn’t be further from the smart mouthed adventurer, as he voices the Penguin.
To sum it all up, I’m not sure there’s anything I can say that hasn’t been said already. Not only is it the greatest comic book adaptation of all time, it is one the greatest games I’ve ever played. As well as having some of the finest gameplay ever, it’s visually stunning too. Arkham City boasts some of the finest graphics of this generation, and if you’re lucky enough to have a 3DTV, you can play with added dimension. If you’d have asked me at any point in the last decade what my favourite game is, I would have said Final Fantasy VII, without question. Now however, I think I have a new number 1. I feel my score doesn’t do it justice!