Batman has taken on the likes of The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze and so much more. But the only villain to ever hand him defeat after defeat was the infamous licensed video game. Sure, he’s starred in a handful of decent games, but he has also starred in some really painful ones (Batman Dark Tomorrow, anyone?). All of that changed in 2009, when Rocksteady Studios was finally able to strike back for justice and delivered the phenomenal Batman: Arkham Asylum. Here we are again, two years later, with the guys at Rocksteady teaming up with The Dark Knight for a second outing, could this new Dynamic Duo deliver the same stunning performance a second time?
Well one thing that’s remained consistent is that Rocksteady knows how to start off these games with style. The game begins with a structure similar to the James Bond-film franchise. We get a cold open segment with Catwoman that shows just how she ends up in trouble in Arkham City. Then we are treated to perhaps one of the best video game opening credit sequences which depicts how exactly Bruce Wayne/Batman end up behind the walls at Arkham City. It is an interesting way to start a sequel for sure, as it serves as a base tutorial while furthering the plot in interesting ways.
After this introductory segment, the game kicks it into high gear as Batman crosses paths with Two-Face. Here is where the game really begins to open up for the player, and you’ll encounter the first real marked improvement over its predecessor as the game introduces larger scale battles. In the original, you would do battle with perhaps 5-10 of Joker’s goons at most, but here we are forced to face off (no pun intended, I promise!) against 15-20 of Two-Face’s men.
The inclusion of more enemies means that Batman needs to learn new tricks as well, and not everything comes from his utility belt. One of these changes, and perhaps one of my favorites, is the ability to counter multiple foes at once. If Batman is surrounded by 2-3 thugs, a well timed press of the triangle button will allow him to counter all 3 foes at once. As with the original, most of the combo is automated once the button is pressed, but I’ve seen everything from double face masks to swinging an unwilling thug into his two friends. No matter what happens, it makes you feel like The Batman.
Like the original though, the combat can still be criticized for being more button mashing than skill-based. While it is a fair point, that mashing square/X will get you far into the game, it does miss the point of the combat system, and combo meter. You want to use all of Batman’s skills and gadgets to maximize your score/XP and well look awesome while doing it. Aside from his ability to counter multiple targets at once, not much else has been expanded in his moveset. The basic melee, counter, stun and evade maneuvers from the original game make a comeback. The use of quick use gadgets like the batarang, grapple hook and others have returned as well. None of which sees a drastic improvement from Arkham Asylum, but there really wasn’t much room to improve on the system. It was pretty solid the first time around, and remains fairly solid the second time around.
Some new gadgets get a time to shine as well, with explosive gel being added to your quick gadget movies, and some new gadgets that I won’t spoil expanding your repertoire in combat and in puzzle solving. One gadget also makes for a great time in freaking out folks.
The other key aspect of the Arkham City structure is of course the stealth portions of the game. At certain junctions throughout the game, Batman will find himself in a room with a bunch of armed thugs while it is possible to go mano-a-mano with these guys, it is never a wise decision. For the most part, bullets will tear Batman to pieces in seconds. Instead, it is wiser for Batman to lurk in the shadow and pick off his foes one at a time. Again, not much has changed this time around. You still find plenty of areas with perhaps way too many gargoyles built into the structure (honestly, who uses them in doors?). You still hide in grates to randomly pop out and take a foe down. You still hang upside down and pull an unsuspecting thug into the air. You still set those explosive gels to take out interested parties. And while it may sound like I’m down on it because, we’ve been here before. There is only one other game on the market that does it, and it was a treat then, and its even more of a treat now.
One major addition, and I think is really cool is the ability to use smoke pellets. Let’s say you’re timing was off by a bit, and you snuck up behind a thug and took out him out a silent takedown, but at the same time his partner walks around the corner and spots you. You can try to evade him by grappling from point to point or you can press triangle/Y and drop a smoke pellet, which confuses him. Now, it is up to you on how to follow up on this. You can still sneak away to fight another day or you can proceed to jump out of the smoke and beat the tar out of him! The smoke doesn’t just work when busted either, there’s a great feeling about throwing a smoke pellet into two unsuspecting thugs, glide kicking one and then taking out the other before they know what happened!
Its moment like these in which the game truly shines. I’ve seen complaints from gamers that this game wouldn’t command as much respect and accolades if it wasn’t a Batman game. And to me that misses the entire point of the package. It is impressive because it is a Batman-title, its the entire point of a licensed product is to put you in the shoes of your favorite characters or universe. This game works because ultimately it makes you feel like you are Batman, which is the entire point of the product.
Speaking of feeling like Batman, one thing Arkham Asylum excelled in was its voice-acting. Getting Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to reprise their roles of Batman and The Joker, respectively was a stroke of genius. And for the most part, the sequel continues that legacy. While there are some voices, I take question with like The Penguin, for the most part they work. It is a stunning cast from top to bottom, and even the random street thugs are given some interesting dialogue to say, though by the end it really does wear thin with all of the repeating taunts and cat-calls.
Speaking of the game’s audio, a special nod has to be given to the Rocksteady sound department for so many things. First and foremost, the theme song that plays throughout the game is an amazing piece of music, but also extremely versatile since it plays throughout most of the game and never becomes annoying or sounds repetitious. Second, goes to the audio mixing just being able to listen in on random street level chatter while gliding and not being overwhelmed with information is impressive. Finally, just general thing like the static-esque sounding audio when in detective mode and burglar mode (I’m not quite sure what Catwoman’s version is called).
Detective Mode has been a source of grief for both versions of the game. While I get the idea behind it, and it is really put to great use in this version, it does distract from the overall presentation of the game. You’ll find more often than not that it is better to have it on just because of the sheer amount of information it feeds you. You want to know if an enemy is armed or not, use Detective Mode. Want to find the Riddler trophy in the area, use Detective Mode. Want to trace the trajectory of a bullet, use Detective Mode. I mean I think Rocksteady tried their best to balance it so you would actually wouldn’t use it the entire game such as not being able to see the navigational compass while using it or de-activating it whenever you enter a room or a building. But other than that, it still makes more sense to use it.
Catwoman is granted a similar ability, but I found hers to be a whole lot less useful. Since, it really only shows you the location of Riddler trophies and enemy placement. You can’t even tell if they are armed or not using her Cat-senses. Later on in the game another piece of vital information is added, but this is way down the line.
Might as well touch on the Catwoman segments as well especially being that a portion of gamers will have to purchase this content if they buy the game used. And the short and simple of it, its not worth the 10 bucks you would have to pay. If you get it in the package, it is fun, but really only adds about 90 mins of game play, and 4 missions throughout the course of the game. Sadly, I haven’t played the game without the Catwoman DLC so I’m not quite sure what the game does to fill in those portions? Maybe, its just the cutscenes surrounding them without the interactive bits. That said, it is enjoyable. Catwoman controls differently than Batman, and she transverses the landscape differently than he does as well. But it does give you a nice, different feel for a bit, and she is fun to mess around with.
Finally, the world of Arkham City.. or I guess the city of Arkham City was one of the aspects I was most frightened about going into the sequel. Arkham Asylum worked because it gave you this small chunk of the world to play around in, and it was easy to travel back and forth through the various buildings. When Rocksteady started to utter that Arkham City’s map would be roughly 5 times the size of Arkham Asylum, I was afraid that the open-world nature would dilute the charm of the original. Luckily enough for me, and you, that isn’t the case here. And the simple reason is gliding. Or I should say traveling in general. Just being able to leap off any building, go into an nosedive, pull up and gain some air and glide uncontested for blocks really does make getting from point A to point B exciting. Along the way, you’ll usually stop off to solve one of Riddler’s riddles or take out a rooftop of thugs and goons. In my adventure, I never got tired nor found traveling to be tedious, which is a huge credit to the developers.
Sadly, I must note that the game is a bit buggy/glitchy, so I was unable to unlock one of the side missions, which opens up a new gadget/ability to make traveling go even faster. So I can’t comment on how much that actually improves the game.
The world of Arkham is also really nice looking. You get a ton of landmarks from Batman-lore, there’s Crime Alley (which features a really touching segment with Batman if you decide to sit through the whole thing), there’s Wonder Tower, there’s the Joker’s Hideout, there’s GCPD Headquarters and there’s the Iceberg Lounge. While the nerd in me wants to say, some of these areas aren’t geographically correct based on what we know about Gotham, the fan in me was just excited to visit them!
To make the city, the character models and designs are pretty sweet as well. There are perhaps one or two characters who design I felt was too generic or too far removed from their comic counterpart, but aside from that, I dug the design. You’ll sometimes get graphical glitches or slow loading textures, but very minor complaint in the big-scale picture.
And it wouldn’t be a review if I didn’t have some complaints about the product. As I mentioned, the game can be buggy at times, twice it told me my save file was deleted, and boy did that almost bring a tear to my eye. I’ve had one or two encounters where the framerate dropped to like 1-2 FPS, we’re talking moving picture slow. There are as far as I can tell, two side missions that won’t open up in my game even after beating it, and using a guide to locate specifically where the events should trigger. Much like the original, I find most of the boss battles to be the weakest point of the game. There are some marked improvements to be sure, and one really creative battle, but for the most part, they were kind of meh to me. And this is more a personal beef, but I feel the story kind of fell off the rails at the very end with.. well I’ll leave you to find that out!
Recommendation: Buy It- I won’t lie, I’m a huge Batman fan, have been for all my life so I know it colors my impression of the game. But for my money, and I’m betting for your money, there is no other Batman product in the world that puts you into the role of The Dark Knight better than Arkham Asylum and now Arkham City. Not only do you get a fantastic Batman experience, but you get perhaps one of the finest games of this generation, and currently the best game to be released this year.
I touched on all the major single player campaign stuff, but even after you beat the game, there is still a New Game +, the ability to finish collecting all Riddler trophies and upgrades, and the combat rooms make a triumphant comeback. Its more bang for your buck than most games on the market, and it looks like Rocksteady plans to support it with a healthy dose of DLC.
This comes with my highest recommendations to own it!