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by James Harvey
As the synopsis goes, Batman: Arkham City builds upon the intense, atmospheric foundation of Batman: Arkham Asylum, sending players soaring into Arkham City – five times larger than the game world in Batman: Arkham Asylum – and the new maximum security “home” for all of Gotham City’s thugs, gangsters and insane criminal masterminds. Set inside the heavily fortified walls of a sprawling district in the heart of Gotham City, this highly anticipated sequel introduces a brand-new story that draws together a new, all-star cast of classic characters and murderous villains from the Batman universe, as well as a vast range of new and enhanced gameplay features to deliver the ultimate experience as the Dark Knight.
What the above synopsis leaves out is the insane amount of characters you’ll run across during the game’s main campaign and its assorted side missions. Joker, Harley, Mr. Freeze, Penguin, Catwoman, Dr. Hugo Strange and Two-Face are just some of the characters you will have to face off with during the game. There’s plenty more, but I’d hate to ruin some of the genuine surprises the game has in store for players. And all of these awesome friends and foes can be found within the walls of Arkham City, a bad idea that goes quickly horrible, and gets progressively worse with each passing hour, all leading up to a crazy finale. And, one way or another, you’ll have to face off against each of them, and you can’t always defeat them with a well-placed sock to the jaw. Prepare to team up (and be betrayed) with some of Gotham’s sicker foes to get you to that final fight (which leads to a jaw-dropping climax).
Now, to get to that finale, you’re going to have to pound and smash your way through an endless barrage of thugs and supervillain types. The further you go, the bigger the crowd of thugs and harder it is to beat them. Thankfully, combat is incredibly satisfying and gameplay excellent. It’s essentially the same system as the previous game - just with a few added gadgets and mores here and there. There are new quick fire gadgets and combat abilities to make, allowing for quick moves and fast takedowns. It’s easy to take down a dozen thugs without breaking a sweat, though the increase in challenge along the way, to the tune of more juiced-up thugs to beat up, does keep the combat from getting stale. It’s breezy, simple and fun, all things considered. Still, the difficulty does seem a bit played down at times. That being said, if you finish the game the first time through and find it a bit easy...try the Game Plus version. It increases the difficulty in a couple smart ways in an attempt to really test the player. It’s worth noting that the combat remains basically the same, though altered just a bit, when you fight off thugs and crooks as Catwoman. Still very fun, just a bit more sultry.
However, you will need to exercise some stealth, too. There are plenty of areas where you need to dispose of armed thugs without being seen, or will need to avoid bad guys gunning for your head. There’s one boss battle in particular with Mr. Freeze, where you need to stay out of sight at all time. If not? You’re done for? Ditto with one of the side missions, too. Once you’re seen...done. Be warned - Batman can fall pretty quickly in a hail of gunfire. However, there will be goons who can dismantle your ‘detective mode,’ making it impossible to layout your plan of attack before entering a room. The game will try to throw a few obstacles at your to force you to think on your feet. However, if things somehow become too hard, or you can’t figure out what to do, the game will pretty much tell you what to do after a few failed attempts.
And this game will throw plenty at you as you try to stop Strange and the Joker from completing their equally insane goals. The game does not let up, throwing you from one scenario to the next, which can honestly seem a bit disjointed at times. There is one mission in particular, toward the finale, that feels very out of place and just doesn’t seem to fit entirely even though it does have major repercussions in the game’s climactic battle. There are also times when you find you’ll have to abandon a side mission and race to the next chapter of the main campaign. Still, it all works toward the endgame and usually ends up pretty satisfactory. And boy, once you reach that end....I can only wonder how Rocksteady can top it.
Well, hopefully we’ll find out soon enough. But until then, Rocksteady has packed this game with a boatload of extras to keep fans busy for sometime to come. On top of the Catwoman sub-story DLC that comes packed in with new copies of the game, there are hundreds of challenges and missions to complete. Hunt down the Phone Booth Killer, or try to find the Identity Thief, or hone your combat or stealth skills, among dozens of other activities to complete. There’s also an endless array of Riddler clues to solve and trophies to collect, so make yourself comfortable...you’re going to be playing for awhile. And that’s not counting the DLC set for release for the game (including some apparently substantial DLC coming later this year/early next year). This game has plenty to keep you busy, even once you’ve completed the Game Plus mode.
There’s really not much to complain about here, if at all. The graphics are top-notch, though the game does suffer from the occasional frame-rate drop (but what game doesn’t?), but it’s incredibly infrequent and hardly noticeable. The game just looks fantastic, from top to bottom. All the characters look detailed and are animated beautifully. The design of the city itself is perfect – dark, dirty and littered with despair. The story is good, yes, but can jump around on occasion. Plus, with the huge amount of characters, some are stuck with being nothing more than glorified cameos. And the game tries, and kinda fails (but not really...you’ll see when you play), to replicate the Scarecrow levels from the previous games. Still, with a game positively overflowing with story and characters, that’s not entirely a surprise. Still, that’s not really a knock against it because, in all honesty, you likely won’t even notice any of this as you battle your way through the game. This game is full of so many revelations and jaw-dropping moments, and you find yourself moving from one area to the next so quickly, that it’s hard to comprehend everything that is going on.
If there is one thing that really sticks out to me as bad, it’s how terribly derogatory some of the language uttered by different thugs and villains is toward Catwoman and female characters. It actually becomes downright uncomfortable at times. There’s only so many times you can here thugs calling Catwoman a “bitch” and indirectly talking about raping her (or something else). There also seems to be some slight homophobia on display with some of the thug talk, but that’s debatable.
Unless they somehow manage to top themselves, Rocksteady and Warner Bros. Interactive have created the definitive Batman game. This game just feels like Batman. Compare this to any current Batman comic book and they’ll appear cut from the same clothe. In fact, DC Comics missed out on a big opportunity to get comics into the hands of more readers by not including a mini-comic as an insert. Slip in a copy of Batman: Arkham City #1 or the new Batman #1 – heck, even a Digital Copy – and I’m sure they would’ve snagged a healthy amount of new readers. This game is the perfect convert to get gamers into comics (if they don’t read them already).
The game has some flaws, but those are minor compared to what it gets right. An amazing opening, a great voice cast, an awesome story (even if it is riddled with logic gaps, glorified cameos, and questionable judgements left and right), plus so many goodies and extras that will keep fans playing for days. You want to feel like Batman? This is it. Even if you haven’t played Batman: Arkham Asylum, or get off to a rocky start in Batman: Arkham City, you will be cracking skulls in no time with the great combat system. It goes without saying that this games blows its predecessor away. Not that Batman: Arkham Asylum was bad...it wasn’t! It was one of the best games of 2009, actually. But Batman: Arkham City just builds on its foundation and just takes everything up to the next level (as clichéd as that sounds). Batman: Arkham City is definitely going to be a strong, strong competitor for Game of the Year 2011 – that is no question. This game is fun, expansive, and addictive. If you haven’t experienced yet, go out and snag a copy of Batman: Arkham City!