Note: This post deals with the CAMPAIGN and contains SPOILERS.For an unspoiled look at this great game, check out our review here.
I ended the campaign with only 42% completion. That’s how big Arkham City is. The scope is so much larger than it’s predecessor, Arkham Asylum, that it’s able to make an honest attempt at being an open world. You’ll glide through the streets, solving the Riddler’s puzzles and fighting thugs in what is, as far as you’re concerned, an eternal night. You’ll follow the Bat Signal to your objective, be it the ringing phone of Victor Szasz,or the Wonder City of Ra’s Al Ghul. You will feel like Batman. That’s a grand achievement and the reason why this is the way to experience the Batman mythos.
Despite some of the great graphic novels in the franchise’s storied history, Arkham City captures the very core of what Batman is. Rocksteady wisely chose to take the property with a deathly seriousness that reveals the dark undercurrents of the existing fiction. The villians are frightening, hideous even, and every player death is met with a witty jab reminiscent of the Animated Series but made darker a graphically burned Two Face or bottle-eyed Penguin. They say things like, “Cut that mask off his face and don’t be gentle.” There is no buffer, no cartoon pantomime of a bad person, just the malevolent lilt of terrible people saying terrible things; kicking you while you’re down, so to speak.
But the city is the true star and it is truly horrible. Gothic architecture, grime, and bare, skeletal scaffolds characterize the sights. Occasionally a glaring neon light. That’s not so important, though. What is important is that it draws you in, so faithful is it in its rendering. Rocksteady added details where they had no right to; posters in alleyways, burning garbage cans, graffiti…. hidden rooms, wafting newspapers, steaming grates… all in out of the way places the average player will never see. These are the kind of details that make Arkham City‘s contrivance believable — that this is a portion of a larger Gotham, cordoned off. And when it becomes believable, you start to notice how spooky the rafter-filled basin is, how terrifying it would be to walk those streets, and the twisted psychology of a hero who would choose to spend his time there. The immersive quality of Arkham City is its greatest reason to be played.
Combat is the other. It is fast, fluid, and fun. Coming from Arkham Asylum, City’s combat is a solid evolution. Batman will still attack and counter, and can still quick-launch gadgets, but there is variety added to every fold. You get more gadgets, more combos, and more options for how to approach more encounters. Of course, it is possible to button mash your way through most of the game. Towards the end, however, missing a blade dodge or arial attack will mean bad things. There are numerous instances of Batman taking on tens of thugs in a row with mini-bosses thrown in for good measure… all before engaging some iconic boss in a fight that taps the very magic found in a classic comic panel. You are forced to to use unique tactics — the Mr. Freeze fight comes to mind — and the game does a good job of preparing the player for those times and lending a hand when it senses you’re not remembering a key move.
Where the game stumbled was story. While most of it was exceptional, other parts seemed a touch silly. It is a shame that for as great a work as this is, that very greatness highlights its shortcomings. There are times where simply pausing to ask “why” or “how” completely removes you from the story. For example, when you defeat Freeze, who had just before been intent on “turning your blood to ice,” he experiences an instantaneous change of heart and asks you for help in recovering his wife. Or how Penguin somehow sneaks a giant shark into the museum. On a prison island. Where the doors aren’t big enough to fit a shark and the ceiling is closed cement. There’s also the distinct feeling than many of the classic villians were added simply for fan service. It’s times like these when you have to ask whether the gameplay serves the intent. The answer is yes. The shark is a shocking, funny twist that fits within a comic story, and the villians are all fun to fight, even if we wished they’d stay longer.
I won’t spoil the ending, but I walked away satisfied. Will this be the last Batman game? Almost certainly not. The gameplay triumph here is huge and, casting story issues aside, simply running around through Arkham picking fights and grapple-gliding away the time is a ton of fun. When this game ended, I couldn’t wait to start “new game plus” mode. I’ll be buying the game when it comes out on PC this week, not because I need to for my job, but because it’s just that much fun to play.. With over 400 collectibles, dozens of side quests, and a story that’s a blast to play through, Arkham City is not only a great game, but one of the greatest Batman experiences to date — and one no gamer should miss.