Batman: Arkham City – the PS3 Attitude review
In 2009 Rocksteady Studios rescued the superhero genre from the depths of mediocrity and disappointment with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Making it safe for fans everywhere to thrust themselves into Bruce Wayne’s cape and cowl without hesitation.
While in development, the narrative surrounding Batman: Arkham City (BAC) evolved to whether or not it could surpass the lauded achievements of the original. Having spent considerable time with Arkham City we can lay to rest any and all reservations concerning Rocksteady’s second tour with the Dark Knight with a decisive yes.
Gotham City once again finds itself in the throes of despair.
With Arkham Asylum reduced to little more than a pile of smoldering rubble the powers that be have elected to transfer the entirety of Gotham City’s criminal population to an aggressively sequestered territory smack dab in the heart of downtown Gotham known as Arkham City which is more monitored than policed. As fate would have it this decision turns out to be an imprudent one spurring Gotham’s citizens to wonder if they’ll ever catch a break. Luckily they’ve the Dark Knight to intervene.
Within the towering walls of Arkham City various criminal factions engage in a violent turf war for control of their new surroundings. Inmates scramble to align themselves with one of the super criminals and before you know it pandemonium ensues. Joker’s thugs square off against Penguin’s flock, Two-Face’s gang and so and on and so forth.
Lording over this massive ant farm is Professor Hugo Strange who observes Arkham City’s transgressions with the detached disposition of a child pulling the wings off of a fly to watch it squirm. Leave it to a city like Gotham to put their faith in a man named Strange to look after the likes of Edward Nigma (E.Nigma A.K.A. the Riddler) and Victor Fries (Mr. Freeze).
Each of the major outfits have their own distinct look and slightly altered fighting style granting fantastic vitality to the city. Furthermore a wide array of situation relevant dialogue can be picked up as Batman approaches a roving band of mercenaries as word travels fast on the inside. Foiling Two-Face’s latest plan will result in an avalanche of gossip and second guessing on behalf of the throngs of punch-hungry underlings. The unique division of not only each gang but also of individuals within the ranks is executed beautifully by the Rocksteady team adding refreshing depth to every encounter.
The city itself is substantially larger than that which was featured in Arkham Asylum and provides a backdrop that is easily one of the most stunning the industry has seen to date. In keeping with standards set by the original game each building is rich in detail and distinctive qualities resulting in a living environment which personifies the strife within its monumental walls.
The ample history of the Batman universe provides a level of intricacy that the majority of titles cannot hope to achieve thanks in large part to characters which have already been flushed out . Make no mistake, BAC is a brazen love letter to Batman lore and the story penned by Paul Dini is among the best the Dark Knight has to offer in any medium. Batman: Arkham City would have made tremendous comic or film and I won’t be surprised in the least to see it one day adapted for either. Needless to say, the tale of BAC is a on a level far exceeding that which is typically found in video games.
Nods to lesser known characters and chronicles are everywhere on the map highlighted by the inclusion of landmarks like the Sionis Industries and ACE Chemicals buildings. The histories and origins of a plethora of Dark Knight related folklore awaits uncovering for players who don’t mind a little reading with their gaming. If you ever wanted to know why Penguin has a broken bottle stuck in his face this is your chance to find out.
Story lines are played out faithfully due to the masterful understanding the development team has of the DC Comics license. The narrative is well paced and crescendos nicely into a potent final act.
A grand cast of characters is brought to life by a stable of top notch voice-over talent. Their efforts cannot be overstated as they engage the player in a manner which will likely paralyze the most dedicated fans of the Caped Crusader with absolute giddiness. Dialogue between Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as Joker is sublime.
The sheer expansiveness of Arkham City dictates the inevitability of Batman covering great distances in order to keep the peace. As a result the Dark Knight is more reliant than ever on the grappling hook to ferry him about the city. Combined with the bat’s capacity to glide long distances, traveling in Arkham City is strikingly reminiscent to the methods of a certain web-crawler. As much as this seems a necessary component, periods of near flight inevitably feel out of place beneath Batman’s cowl.
Inside Arkham City there exists a wide variety of tasks to be completed at the players leisure. Side missions, Riddler trophies (decidedly more difficult), story missions and general duress dot the map along with roving gangs which can be engaged or ignored. If the mood should strike you hours can be spent taking a beating to the pockets of ne’er-do-wells around the city.
Combat this time around feels more refined in the return of the FreeFlow mechanic featured in Arkham Asylum. Encounters with henchmen routinely amass into extensive bouts with plenty of foes which is balanced by the game’s emphasis on fluid transitions and gadget use.
The philosophy of boss battles, which represented somewhat of a dividing line between gamers in Arkham Asylum, has been tweaked to provide gamers with clashes that are tailored to the plot instead of shoehorned in to shake up gameplay. They’ve been done organically ultimately creating a better overall product.
Outside of the main story campaign BAC is brimming with value beyond its $60/£34.97 price tag. Upon my initial story play through in which I collected a sizable portion of Riddler trophies along the way I stood at roughly 50% completion.
Concept art, 3D character models, and a story synopsis can all be unlocked during the course of a play through provided you pick up enough of Riddler’s at times aggravating collectibles. Challenge rooms of the predator (stealth) and combat varieties make their return this time with the added bonus of online leaderboards. Campaign challenges, another holdover from Arkham Asylum, force you to clear a room of henchmen while utilizing various and specific takedown methods. To go along with the challenges modifiers have been introduced which when activated can greatly alter the battle or stalk. Time limits on encounters, the removal of counter indicators and impenetrable enemy shields are but a handful of potential adjustments.
Simply put Batman: Arkham City is one of the most, if not most, complete games I’ve ever played easily finding its way onto the ballot for game of the year and entering the conversation for best game of this console generation. A no-brainer must play for anyone considering it.
It is exceptional in every aspect representing a culmination of talent indicative of the progress and hopeful trajectory of the video game industry.
Note: Due to a regional problem with the DLC code I was unable to sample any aspects of the Catwoman portion.