When Batman: Arkham Asylum came out a couple years ago, it got attention. Rocksteady Studios had done what others had tried to do for quite some time, develop a super-hero game with fluid combat, great graphics, a well told story arch, and enough freedom to keep you distracted if you chose to be. It was nothing short of brilliant game design. Although Arkham Asylum was already a vast game, Rocksteady announced that its follow-up, Arkham City, would be even more-ambitious.
Set in the middle of Gotham City, Arkham Asylum (ruined in the previous game) is now known as Arkham City, and one look at the map will show you have a lot more ground to cover than the first game. Now, it is very hard not to go on about the story, or even set the stage for you. But I feel that ruins the surprise.
If you bought the game new, or bought the Catwoman DLC, the game will open up with a sequence played as Catwoman. Throughout the game, her small piece of the story will be intertwined and woven in with Batman’s very seamlessly. I read a lot of people that rented the game asking if it was worth it, and yes, it feels wholly different, and was a great second perspective, especially overhearing things that you had just done as Batman.
After that short mission, you take the role of Batman. Taken prisoner and beaten, you are unmasked and left to fight your way out of custody in Arkham City. I will leave you hanging at “you find your suit”, but the unfolding events will keep you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next.
In comparison to Arkham Asylum, this plot was more entertaining, and the twists were more epic, I swear during each cut scene I shook my head with disbelief. And I mean that in a good way. You don’t see storytelling in games this great. The voice acting is, again, also top notch. The Joker, specifically, is by far my favorite character, and is so well written that i swear I am watching a movie during the cutscenes. The cast of characters offers a robust variety in dialogue, from Harley Quinn’s romantically evil comments about “Mister J”, to Two-Face’s back-and-forth “justice”. Even Catwoman brings her “bad kitty” attitude in to spice things up from time to time (again, if you have the DLC, which you should).
Even little trivial things (things I usually don’t even pay attention to, mind you) will come back up in the story later. Some of the people you save show up from out of nowhere, it seems, and while it is never anything overly important, it is just nice to see a developer bounce back to these things. It’s kind of rewarding to see familiar faces that you saved earlier on still be okay.
Most of the boss fights were no challenge, and offered nothing of value besides seeing said-bad guy get defeated, but one particular boss late in the game (not the end), was so well designed you can’t deny it as epic. While the others simply used an evade-attack method, this fight utilized Batman’s whole arsenal. A few more bosses should have used a variation of this, because it was easily one of the highlights of the game.
One of my single favorite things (besides the plot, of course) in the first game was combat. And it’s back, and better than ever. Batman will dazzle you with more moves this time around, with the same fluid combat style as before. The simple, timed button presses make things interesting as you progress and come across a wider variety of foes. And while it is simple, it never gets old. The only downside is Batman himself can be a little distracting as I am playing as I will miss a counter from time to time while watching him leap, kick and punch foes with ease.
The stealth sequences are very much the same as before. But that’s not a bad thing. After all being Batman really is the hook in these portions, right? Thus you will find yourself carefully plotting out your next string of moves from high above your prey quite often. And it is rather satisfying to swoop down, tie up a thug, swing to the next gargoyle, and send him thumping to ground like a sack of potatoes by cutting the line with a Batarang.
For the most part the mechanics have remained pretty much the same. A few new gadgets and a few new upgrades but the same basics as the last game. So outside of a stronger plot, what makes this game shine brighter than the original? The sheer size alone isn’t enough, but everything you can do inside of that space is.
Between gliding across the skies in search of a fight, or hearing something over the radio that triggers a side event, you will have more to do and more to find than you did in Batman: Arkham Asylum. The Riddler collectibles and challenges return, and finding them will unlock different pieces of backstory from time to time. Side missions flow seamlessly into the story, much like the Catwoman pieces and oyu will find random groups of thugs harassing people, at which point you can save them or keep on going. Of course, you ARE Batman, so we all know what you will choose to do.
An expanded challenge map system returns. With the same “Combat” and “Predator” system as before, they’ve also added “Campaign” maps, which is a set of maps that combine both types and add bonus objectives in a gauntlet style series. You also have three modifiers to pick between, like “Protective aura- adds a protective shield to an opponent, which switches targets randomly”, and HAVE to use them all by the end. Between those challenges, and the standard challenges, you have even more replayability than the robust campaign already adds.
In essence, Rocksteady simply took the foundation for Arkham Asylum, and built a more massive and rich Batman experience. While the notion of an open-world is a scary thought, I never found it to be a problem, or got too distracted by it. Sure, I would do the occasional side mission, but my eye was on the prize the majority of the time, and that was the unforgettable story I wanted to see unfold.
Pros: exceptional plot and dialogue writing, top-notch voice acting, more content-per-dollar than most single-player games
Cons: (wait, is this part mandatory?)