Batman: Arkham City. It’s better, stronger, faster; the Bionic Man of video games. With an already incredible first installment like Batman: Arkham Asylum, the possibilities for this sequel were endless. The stealth mode is better, the gadgets are stronger, the fighting system is faster, the whole world is bigger; everything in Arkham City has been turned up to eleven.
Beginning one year after the events of 2009’s Arkham Asylum, both the asylum and Blackgate Prison have been deemed unsuitable at keeping their insane and criminal charges under lock and key. A section of Gotham is converted into a high security ghetto to contain the prisoners. This Arkham City becomes home to every super villain and common thug in Gotham, a powder keg of criminal activity overseen by the genius psychiatrist, Hugo Strange. It is into this prison city Bruce Wayne is captured and sent after Strange threatens him with revealing his true identity as Batman. Once inside Bruce retrieves his batsuit as well as a helpful collection of gadgets via an airdrop from Alfred. Properly equipped, Batman begins to investigate Strange’s eerie Protocol 10 as well as the rumors of the Joker’s near death status.
As you begin navigating your way through Arkham City much will feel familiar from Asylum, only on a grander scale. Where before you could only glide between the buildings and police towers of Arkham Island, now you can glide, dive and grapple your way from Amusement Mile all the way to the Bowery. Don’t fret, you’ve got a map and new gadgets to make travelling these distances a breeze.
The addition of all this extra space doesn’t just mean you’ll need to travel further between story points, but you’ll have your choice of several side missions. These can vary from rescuing a political prisoner under assault to hunting down Deadshot or facing off against the Mad Hatter. These side missions can also be completed after the main story because as you’ll come to realize, there’s a lot of filth in need of cleaning in Arkham City.
You can choose to fight groups of prisoners as you travel through Arkham City. They’re everywhere and the sooner eliminated the less problems they’ll cause you. It can also be beneficial to beat these dudes up in order to extract information. When you come across the Riddler he reveals he has moles in each of the other villains’ gangs. His informant will be highlighted in green when you confront these gangs. It is then up to you to leave him for last when you take on the prisoners. Once the green thug is the last one standing you can perform an interrogation move (picking them up off the ground by their neck, dangling them over a railing, etc.) to retrieve information about the location of Riddler trophies and clues.
Speaking of fighting, as you probably remember the fighting style from Arkham Asylum was amazing. The free-flow combat system was perfect for both button mashers and those looking to string together a beautiful ballet of beat downs. As with everything else, it’s even better in Arkham City. There’s the addition of counter moves capable of taking out multiple opponents as well as specific attacks for certain kinds of enemies. For example, some thugs will use a riot sheild and you need to jump and attack them from above, or others are heavily armored and require a tougher beating.
Rocksteady’s Batman games are outstanding not only because of their excellent fighting system, but the awesome stealth mode. It’s in this mode I always feel truly Batman-like. I also found it crazy harder this time around. In Asylum it was a piece of cake to hide on gargoyles and silently take out henchmen. When spotted, a few grapples between lookout points and they lost you in the darkness. Now many of these dudes are armed with heat vision goggles making you easy to spot, and shoot, in the dark. I welcomed the challenge as it requires you to plan out cleverer and more satisfying takedowns. To add even more difficulty to your stealthiness, when you’re spotted using the gargoyles the henchmen will begin blasting them with grenades, eliminating some of your quickest escapes.
The redesigned detective mode is not nearly as different as I expected it to be. In fact, I think less information is offered in detective mode and there are times you’ll need to exit detective mode in order to notice something, which I’m guessing is what the developers had in mind.
As missions are completed you’ll get to upgrade your arsenal of gadgets. You started out with everything acquired in Asylum but as you continue you’ll add smoke bombs, an electrical charge gun as well as some awesome freeze tech from, well, you can guess. Don’t be alarmed, but at first you might find your list of available gadgets a little daunting, but each one is necessary to complete your mission.
And, just what is your overall mission in Arkham City? Hugo Strange has some sinister plan for the City and you’re trying to figure out what. Throughout story mode you’ll hear announcements counting down the hours till Protocol 10 is deployed. But that’s not the only ticking clock you need to contend with, Batman has been infected by Joker with the same toxin that is slowly killing him, a left over side effect of the Titan formula. Batman only has hours to live unless you can retrieve the cure from Mr. Freeze, whose being held captive by the Penguin. You’ll also need to rescue Catwoman from Two-Face, save police officers and medical personnel from Riddler’s traps and figure out why the League of Assassins are in Arkham City. Believe me, you’ll be busy.
With only the story mode completed, no challenge maps, side missions or Riddler trophies, you’ll be at about 25% completion. Meaning this game is massive, it’s no surprise they claim 65+ hours of gameplay! Clearly, it’s well worth the $60 bucks. And I’ve only scratched the surface! I’ve been playing as often as I can for the passed week and I’m only 43% through the game. I haven’t spent much time with the challenge modes, where you can hone your fighting and stealth skills, or really anything involving the Riddler. There are 12 side missions and I’ve completed four. This isn’t even taking into account the soon to be available Robin and Nightwing DLCs which will open up more challenge map opportunities.
Batman: Arkham City is one hell of an achievement in video games. For one, it’s better than Arkham Asylum which I wasn’t even sure was possible. The cast of villains is huge, with just about everyone making an appearance. You don’t have as many allies, particularly in the main story with only Catwoman offering real assistance, but I don’t see why this game couldn’t grow through more DLCs. Your challenges are tougher, but your skills and gadgets are greater. The whole world looks even better; the in game and cut scene animation is beautiful.
I don’t know why you’re still sitting here reading this review. You should be out at the store right now picking up this game! I don’t think it’s possible to be disapointed in the second installment. Unless, I guess, you hated the first but then I don’t why you’re here. Batman: Arkham City is much of what Arkham Asylum offered, bigger and better.