Review by mawood333

"The sandbox is smaller, but has more toys to play with"

It is hard to neglect Batman. From comic books, cartoons, and movies, the Caped Crusader is pretty prevalent in our various sectors of entertainment. Even having watched “Batman: The Animated Series” and all the movies from Tim Burton's original “Batman” to Christopher Nolan's highly applauded “The Dark Knight”, (it was OK) I have never really been a dedicated fan until now. That in itself speaks to the greatness of Batman: Arkham City. Arkham City seizes a major victory for the videogame medium, bringing you into the grim world of Batman in a much more profound fashion than anything that has tried to do it before. This game will make you a Batman fan if you aren't already, and if you are already then go buy this game now.

Graphics - 10

This is the most gorgeous open world game I have ever laid eyes on. The Unreal engine really shines here. When you enter buildings, you will be stunned at the amount of detail. For instance, no two tables are exactly the same. There may be a random laptop just sitting on one and another might be broken down from gunfire. In the Penguin's museum you can venture around and see what diabolical exhibits he has setup for display. You will be implored to explore every nook and cranny of Arkham City. The inside levels are great but you will desire to return to the open world just so you can glide around and witness the beauty of city. Helicopters and police blimps fly around in search of Batman, the iconic spotlight bat symbol shines over Batman's next objective, and snow falls in the sky over the top of giant skyscrapers fixed with gargoyles. The city seems to sprawl on forever, it begs to be witnessed.

Character models are far more detailed than Arkham Asylum and some, like Harley Quinn have been given a more sinister, adult look. This infusion of dark realism makes the world of Batman come alive like never before and helps steer the mythos even further away from the deplored cartoonishness and campiness of the character's past. Close up facial animations are stunning and apply even more character to the iconic criminals and crime fighters of Gotham. The effects of the detective mode have been dramatically improved. You can see sound emitting from enemies and explosive walls far, far out into the distance. If you hold down the trigger then it almost feels like Batman is emitting sonar like a real bat to detect his surroundings. Effects like this add up in Arkham City to make the overall experience breathtaking. Detective mode really gives you more of a sense of power than the first game since the environs are so much bigger. You can quietly stalk everything from the shadows.

Sound – 9.5

The voices used by Batman and The Joker are the ones I naturally associate with the characters. I don't remember much from “Batman: The Animated Series” but Mark Hamill's portrayal of The Joker brings me back to watching cartoons on Saturday mornings. Even if you did not associate these voice actors with the characters, it is hard to believe anyone could suit them any better. Batman gets an angrier tone from voice actor Kevin Conroy that plays along with the overall darker theme set in Arkham City. The voice acting for all the other characters is superb and suit the characters to a tee. Long gone are the days of Resident Evil and horrendous voice acting. Videogames are big budget affairs these days and thankfully we do not need suffer anymore. The only issue I have is the incessant radio chatter Batman picks up on can get to be a little too much at times. It is hard to keep up with all the chatter and is distracting when you are on the prowl. Also, all the generic thugs sound like Bender from Futurama. It would have been nice to have a little more variety when they shout out insults to Batman as he dive kicks into their face.

Story - 10

There's tough, then there's Batman tough. Even when pushed to the brink of death, Batman is unrelenting and obsessed with stopping his adversaries. He does not fear death, but then again neither does anyone else. The setup is perfect allowing Batman to traverse the city and interact with various friends and foes to accomplish his goals. The villains are what make the Batman mythos so interesting and they are portrayed perfectly here through sight and sound. Many characters from Batman's world are to be found in this game and almost seem more real than they do in the movies. The story is even more dark this time around and everything seems to be falling apart. Bruce Wayne is kidnapped and beaten, political prisoners are held in Arkham City against their will, and even The Joker himself is dying. As the player, you will desire to push forward to help Batman make things right and see just who from Batman's world you will come across next.

Gameplay - 10

This is the most convincing and fun open world game created to date. I will never be able to go back to jumping from building to building with Ezio in Assassin's Creed or drive around with clunky controls in Grand Theft Auto ever again after playing this. The first time I played Assassin's Creed I told one of my friends I felt more like Batman than Batman. This is no longer the case. Moving around the city is effortless and amazing. Rocketing past a skyscraper then dive bombing to gain momentum and repeating with a grapple onto the next skyscraper never gets old. The city is large, but not too large to be daunting or inaccessible. Rocksteady has taken the quality over quantity approach here. Who needs the massive open world of GTA: San Andreas when every corner here is packed with things to find and see?

The first game's Riddler trophies have returned and given the Barry Bonds treatment in this game. I found myself hunting them down with fervor in Arkham Asylum despite the fact that I historically have hated the hidden package idea used in so many open world games. The first game supplied you with Riddler maps so you could get a general idea of where the trophy was. This made finding them without the help of an online map possible and fun. In this game you will need to hunt down enemies who work for Riddler and beat the trophy locations out of them. There are tons to find and a lot of them include using your gadgets in clever ways to obtain them. Most of the puzzles start out with you having to stand on a platform with a question mark on it and then develop from there. You might have to dive bomb from a great height or steer your remote batarang with precision. The remote batarang puzzles are a blast. There has obviously been a lot of thought put in here and finding them is rewarding and addicting. The more you find, the closer you get to saving Riddler's hostages and hunting him down. I hate that Riddler. There are many other sidequests to find as well. One may require you just to track a moving circle with your analog stick. All the while, it fleshes out the story of one of the villains and keeps you coming back just so you can hunt him down and bash his face. Astonishing is how quickly the gameplay will change from minute to minute. At one moment, you might be beating down on bad guys during your flight to your next objective but find a Riddler trophy on the way. A phone will ring in the distance and you might desire to answer it or continue trying to solve the conundrum in front of you.

The combat system is just as fluid as ever. You can get by many situations mashing the attack button but you will not gain as much experience for upgrades to Batman's moves, gadgets, or suit and will certainly fail to achieve the high score in the combat challenges. It is beneficial and fun to explore the nuances of the combat system. The game adds new moves and gadgets so you will have even more ways to approach enemy situations and you will constantly be on your toes thinking of the most efficient way to dispatch your enemies. A much needed smoke bomb gadget has been added. You can see your foes with detective vision and take them down while they panic in the smoke. In the first game Batman would just have to swing around like an idiot to escape gunfire. Thus in Arkham City, Batman feels much more powerful than in the first game but astonishingly, the difficulty has not suffered a hit since the enemies have been given new gadgets as well to stop Batman. They will don everything from shields, to body armor, to thermal vision goggles to stop you. If you die (which you will), you did not plan your strategy well or got too impatient. Boss fights are more plentiful and complex in Arkham City than they were in Arkham Asylum. You will still want to fight all the villains you come across but in a game that offers so much, it is hard to complain when you can't.

The combat and predator challenges have returned. Not much has changed here except the inclusion of Batman's new move set. If you have the Catwoman add-on then you can play as her in these challenges. Catwoman can crawl on the ceiling and use her whip to subdue foes. She will be given different objectives than Batman in her predator challenges so playing them again feels new and exciting. The point is, there is tons to be seen and done here and all of it is fun.

Conclusion - 10

So I am now a Batman fan. Rocksteady has proven Batman might be the most clad existing universe to adapt into a videogame ever. They are a development studio to watch out for in the future. The main reason I'm writing this review is express my admiration for their philosophy when developing this game. We have too many open world games these days that try to impress the player with just how big the world is. Rocksteady took a different approach and made a concentrated area for Batman to explore that is beautiful and has purpose in each individual area. The sandbox is smaller, but has more toys (gadgets) to play with. I would be disappointed if the next game features a much larger area and sacrifices the tightness of the gameplay related to the environment. The graphics, gameplay, and audio in Batman: Arkham City are the superlative while the story may be the best Batman adventure yet. This will and should be in the running for game of the year on many lists.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/21/11, Updated 11/23/11

Game Release: Batman: Arkham City (US, 10/18/11)


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