Batman: Arkham City Review

By Jason Wishnov - Posted Oct 14, 2011

Batman: Arkham City is one of the greatest games ever made. Period.

The Pros
  • Unbelievable production value and art design brings Gotham to life
  • A wealth of content offers spectacular value
  • Polished gameplay and useful gadgets give the player an incredible number of options to take down opponents
The Cons
  • Some of the advanced augmented reality gliding missions are nearly impossible

Batman: Arkham City Review:

I tried to find any reason not to give Batman: Arkham City a perfect mark. I went in looking for flaws, for mistakes, for missteps. Surely there would be some foolish design choice, some subpar voice acting, some glitch that I could lance in my ever-so-clever review, that I could use to whip the fans into an angry frenzy. This game, I vowed, could not be perfect; surely, I would find something. But hours passed, days. The credits rolled. I kept playing. Twenty-six hours of gameplay after I spun up the disc, only 67% complete by the game’s telling, I dropped my controller, shaking my head.

You win, Rocksteady. You beat me. This game is perfect.

 

 



The City’s Slicker

This game, were you somehow not aware, is a direct sequel, building off of the already superlative Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2008. Essentially the entire combat system and most of the gadgets from the original make a triumphant return, immediately available to the player from the start. Still, improved AI makes things a bit harder. Enemies now more actively root you from your previously safe nooks and crannies: they use night-vision goggles and preemptively destroy gargoyles, limiting your grapple points. In return, however, each room has ever more ways to sneak around, unseen, picking off foes individually. The additions to Batman’s arsenal, meanwhile, are excellent: new, expanded movements off of the stun action, a dive bomb technique while gliding, and a vastly improved grappling hook that makes slinging around the city a breeze.

And what a city it is. Arkham City (a walled-off section of Gotham proper) is a masterpiece of art direction, bringing to life a world even more fully realized than that of Nolan’s iconic films. Industrial-gothic architecture spirals into the always-night sky, even while decay runs rampant at street level. Every section and building is wholly unique, every alleyway bristling with the Riddler’s well-placed trophies, every street a battleground between the warring factions of Arkham’s supervillains.

 

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It is quite easy, in fact, to argue that the city itself is the main attraction. Though stalking through the claustrophobic corridors of Arkham Asylum was undoubtedly fun, I didn’t feel like Batman; I could have been any action hero with some dazzling array of gadgets; however, in Arkham City, things were different. To glide through the city streets, grapple up to a high tower gargoyle, activate detective mode to scan, coldly and precisely, the city streets below...it’s an awesome feeling. That is to say, I was full of awe.

In Arkham City, I was Batman.

Batman: Arkham City

Cast and Crew

Being Batman, however, is not so nearly as fun without his cadre of supervillains with which to contend. Arkham City, its very nature precluding any possibility of contrivance, manages to squeeze nearly every major ally and antagonist in the history of the franchise into one, glorious campaign. Revealing the specifics should be considered, of course, spoiler territory, but it’s worth mentioning that several major villains don’t even make an appearance until you tackle their particular side missions. These completely optional objectives feel so fleshed out and rich that you would be hard pressed to tell them apart from primary story missions, alleviating a problem that has so plagued open-world games in the past.

The story is well deserving of the license, and opens with such production value that you wonder if you should rent out a local theater just for the experience. With regard to performance, Batman: Arkham City has brought together possibly the single finest voice acting ensemble in the history of gaming. Mark Hamill, of course, is a ludicrously talented standout as the Joker, but every voice of every villain brings with it gravitas and panache.

Batman: Arkham City

Said villains intimidate and cackle with unfettered glee in boss encounters notably improved from the game’s predecessor. Batman, of course, voiced by Kevin Conroy, carries the role as well as any on-screen talent ever has, and this installment’s primary antagonist, Hugo Strange, booms through Arkham’s loudspeakers with devastating confidence.

Everything from the user interface, to sound production, to character design is simply dripping with that nebulous concept, “polish”, ever difficult to define but so easy to recognize. From the opening second, Batman: Arkham City delivers.

Batman: Arkham City

Knight on the Town

While the primary campaign is more than enough, there are dozens of distractions to keep you otherwise occupied during your stay in Arkham City. There are, of course, Riddler’s brainteasers and trophies making a return from Asylum, as well a pseudo-achievement system that rewards the player well with experience, which is then used to upgrade any number of devices from Mr. Wayne’s arsenal. There are dozens upon dozens of character dossiers, stories, and various other items of bonus content unlocked constantly throughout the game.

There are 36 challenge maps, which test the player’s combat prowess, as well as “campaigns”, which allow you to select up to three modifiers that make these tests of stealth and speed more difficult, in exchange for a higher point total. There’s a New Game Plus option. There are the aforementioned side missions, so robust that the player might confuse them for those required to advance the plot. There are augmented reality training courses scattered throughout the city, designed to hone your gliding skill…be sure, everyone, to complete the first set of them as soon as possible.

Batman: Arkham City

There is also an admittedly confusing labyrinth of DLC, bonus costumes, and alternate playable characters gummed up in the gears of retail. I only had an opportunity to play as Catwoman, whose missions are interspersed well throughout the game. She plays surprisingly similarly to Batman…minus the gadgets, of course…but Ms. Kyle’s lithe combat animations are something to behold. All players may play as Catwoman after the completion of the game, regardless of DLC access, though the four bonus missions will not be available.

I do think Rocksteady’s claim of “25 hours in the campaign, 15 hours afterward” is a bit unfounded, having completed the campaign (with Catwoman’s additional content) in about 16 hours. But with the insane wealth of activity, you’ll hardly notice. The cries for help seem never ending, and you’ll be all too happy to assist.

Batman: Arkham City

A New King is Crowned

I wrote, earlier this year, that inFAMOUS 2 was the best superhero game ever made. It seems so sad to hold the title for so short-lived a time, but I’m afraid I have no choice but to wrest the crown from its bearer. Batman: Arkham City is a game so good that I’m not fully convinced it wasn’t programmed by alien wizards. Despite my best efforts to prove otherwise, it deserves every accolade it is so sure to receive, every perfect mark it is so sure to tally.

Including, of course, my own.