Can you imagine having the daunting task of following up the greatest superhero game of all time, let alone what is considered one of the best games of this generation? Rocksteady Studios was faced with exactly this situation when they set out to create Arkham City. The original game is still heralded as a masterpiece by some and a dream come true for Batman fans, so how do you top that? Simple, you take what works, beef it up, polish it and then dish out the sequel everyone had been hoping for. Arkham City is truly a worthy successor to Rocksteady’s original effort and, once again, one of the best games you will play this generation.
The story picks up some months after the events of Arkham Asylum. Quincy Sharp is now Gotham City’s mayor, and he has created a new place to keep the scum of Gotham: Arkham City. This sectioned-off area is run by Hugo Strange and houses the inmates of Arkham Asylum as well as all prisoners from Blackgate Prison. After one of the coolest openings I have seen in gaming, you are thrust into the massive area to figure out exactly what is happening inside the confines of this correctional facility.
Before the game was released, it seemed a new villain was announced on a weekly basis. Some were concerned that the game was being flooded and the story would be stretched too thin. I am here to relieve those doubts, as each villain appearance makes sense, and gels with the main narrative. Some of the villains are merely side missions, while others play a significant role such as Freeze, Penguin and, of course, the Joker. Rocksteady is masterful at throwing the right amount of fan service in, and the inclusion of some more obscure characters really had me giggling with delight. Plus, this game contains one of the most dramatic and satisfying endings I have seen all year.
Arkham City is more open than Arkham Asylum, but not like you might think. This is no Grand Theft Auto by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, the city is large and you can glide around it and explore, but the scale is simply not like most open world games. This actually works because it keeps the experience tight and focused. There is little in Arkham City that feels irrelevant, plus there are plenty of things to keep you busy and, of course, the quintessential easter eggs and fan service.
Riddler Trophies make a return and, quite honestly, they are abundant. This was actually the one complaint I might have with the game. There are simply so many to collect that it becomes tedious after a while. There are over 400 Riddler things to complete including trophies, some scattered riddles and destroying objects such as cameras and balloons. I am going to be honest with you, if they weren’t tied to unlocking something nerdy I want to see, I wouldn’t bother collecting them all.
The main story will last you between 12 and 15 hours, but if you tackle all the side missions (most of which are actually pretty entertaining) you can spend upwards of 25-30 hours easily. This is when you combine the Riddler Rooms and his trophies with the other things to see and do. Arkham City is simply packed. It is also worth noting that you will take a break from the Dark Knight from time to time to play as Catwoman. She gets four missions that all interweave with the main story. It is also worth noting that she is the online pass content, which is kind of shady. Restricting offline content to an online pass is not something I approve of, but it is likely just the taste of things to come.
Combat feels just as fluid as the first game. The one thing Rocksteady nailed was making you truly feel like Batman during fights. You can walk into a room with 30 guys and know you will be the one walking away. You still attack with one button and use another for countering, but the team has done a great job of refining it, allowing for more freedom. You can now counter multiple enemies at once, fire more gadgets during combos and even disarm thugs who manage to grab guns. It all boils down to precision and timing, and when you pull it off, the combat feels like a ballet of broken bones. Catwoman’s combat mimics the Dark Knight but adds quicker attacks and more flexibility. Whomever you are beating down with (even Robin) the game plays as good as it looks.
Speaking of gadgets, Batman once again has plenty at his disposal. Almost everything from the first game carries over into AC. That is not to say you won’t earn plenty of new ones along the way. The Metroid-style gameplay returns, offering you chances to go back around the world once you earn a new gadget to collect previously inaccessible trophies. They are also useful in combat and, honestly, just plain fun at times. I love disabling a thug’s weapons before dropping in on them, or dropping a smoke pellet to confuse everyone around me. Batman certainly has the best toys, and Rocksteady has given him plenty to play with.
Once you complete the main game, New Game Plus opens up. This brings over all your levels, gadgets and Riddler collectibles into a more challenging experience. The notifications that let you know when to counter an imminent attack are removed, and harder enemies are placed into battles. This mode forces you to play the game as if you were actually Batman, planning every move carefully. What is cool, though, is that if you find it too challenging, you can always go back to your original save file and just continue collecting. Rocksteady has literally thought of everything this time around.
In addition, the challenge rooms also return and are known as Riddler’s Revenge. These open up as you collect his trophies, and are a mix of the classic combat and predator challenges from the first game. As you have seen, you can also play these as Catwoman, or depending on where you bought it, Robin. You can also use your skins and bonus costumes in this mode, of which there are certainly plenty. The new feature is campaign challenges that force you to take on multiple rooms at once with modifiers. These can be beneficial or detrimental and are always interesting. You can also create your own campaign challenges and, of course, compare scores with friends on the leaderboards. I wasn’t a huge fan of the challenge rooms in the first game, but it is still a wealth of content that is certainly fun to mess around with.
Visually, the game is gorgeous. Rocksteady certainly has milked almost every last ounce of the Unreal Engine. Characters look fantastic and I love the direction the team has gone with most of my favorite villains. The city is expansive and keeps the dark and somber tone of the first game. Some texture pop-in can occur at times, but most of the issues are remedied with the install on 360. Sound is, again, immaculate. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill deliver perfect performances while the rest of the cast is equally impressive. I love Freeze and Penguin and, of course, Steve Blum as every other thug in the game. The music is outstanding, continuing the comparisons to Nolan’s movie scores. It all feels epic and perfectly implemented into the game. Bravo, sound team. Bravo.
Batman: Arkham City is a rare treat, much like its predecessor. Not only is it a great licensed game, it is quite possibly the best superhero game ever made. It also stands tall as one of the best games of this generation. Rocksteady knows how to create fan service, on top of just being an outstanding game maker. Even if you are not a fan of the Dark Knight, you will appreciate how polished and well put-together this game really is. If you are a fan of Bruce Wayne’s alter ego then this game will easily blow you away. Everything about it screams quality, and, for me, it once again raises the bar for licensed games, as well as games in general.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.