Review by AK_the_Twilight

"He's a City Boy"

It's become a running joke that superhero games are generally underwhelming and mediocre, hindered by a lack of discipline in their representation of the source material. Or should I say, it used to be a running joke…before Batman: Arkham Asylum blew every other superhero game out of the water. Development house Rocksteady wowed comic enthusiasts and jaded gamers alike by introducing a captivating world where players could truly feel like they're Batman. A great assortment of items to use, an easy-to-learn combat system, and a refined focus on stealth all came together into one of 2009's finest titles. Serving up a sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum is no easy task, but the folks at Rocksteady have taken up the challenge and brought Batman to the urban asylum, Arkham City. Batman: Arkham City dodges the sophomore slump by offering a bigger world to explore, more objectives to complete and an even higher respect for the poignant Batman universe.

Batman: Arkham City begins with Batman's alter-ego Bruce Wayne presenting a speech outside the newly designed Arkham City, a prison region of Gotham for inmates and psychopaths. During the press conference, Bruce is ambushed by minions of the mad genius Dr. Hugo Strange and all hell breaks loose, forcing the mild-mannered playboy billionaire to take on Arkham City's dangers as the caped crusader himself. Things turn from bad to worse when Batman is tricked by the clown prince of crime, The Joker. It turns out that after the events of Arkham Asylum, The Joker is infected with the superpower Titan formula, leaving his body in critical condition. The Joker then injects Batman with the Titan formula, forcing the Dark Knight to find a cure for both The Joker and himself. With the clock counting down, Batman travels throughout Arkham City, encountering some familiar faces from the Batman universe. Aside from The Joker and Hugo Strange, Batman crosses paths with Two-Face, Catwoman, and Mr. Freeze just to name a few. Once again, the Batman universe is represented flawlessly. The amount of fan service is unquestionably high, especially when even the lesser villains make important marks throughout Arkham City. If you're looking for a licensed game that commits to its mythology without any trace of irreverence, Batman: Arkham City is the perfect example.

Unlike its predecessor, Batman: Arkham City takes place in a fully open-ended world not unlike that which is seen in games like Grand Theft Auto or Assassin's Creed. Batman can jump off rooftops and glide to safety, while also scaling skyscrapers with his grappling abilities. Though it takes a little getting used to, the grapple-glide exploration is remarkably smooth and you'll find yourself leaping across rooftops without much complication. The camera can get confused in the more confined areas of Arkham City, but it rarely becomes troublesome. The navigation of Arkham City merges well with the many different mission types to complete. Anything from saving citizens from a criminal to refining your gliding skills are available and will definitely keep you interested. As a full open-world to explore, Arkham City is a small bit confined when it comes to actual scope, but when it comes to having engaging mission types, it really couldn't be much better.

Batman's repertoire of skills remains incredibly diverse. In addition to grappling, Batman's skillset includes gadgetry that would make James Bond step back in respect. Many of the skills introduced in Arkham Asylum are available for Batman to use from the start, like the Batclaw for grabbing items and the Explosive Gel for breaking down barriers. The newer items don't have the inventiveness seen in Arkham Asylum, but they still provide creative functions when exploring Arkham City. Batman can shoot electric pulses to power up generators or even find items that can use enemies' own weapons against them. These gadgets are all essential in progressing, and earning a new weapon can offer new secrets to find. Many of the gadgets can even be used as combat tools, which make the combat all the more varied. The gadgets are integrated into the Metroid-esque skill gathering, so revisiting older areas with new skills offers plenty of fun times and just rewards. Though it doesn't revolutionize the formula the way Arkham Asylum did, Batman's latest offers a great collection of gadgets and skills to keep gameplay fresh and fluid.

The actual storyline is disappointingly brief and it ends on a note that will definitely stir up controversy. However, Rocksteady simply packed the game with content. Once the story is complete, there's still plenty to do. Side-missions introduce many other Batman villains like Bane, each one solidifying the respect that Rocksteady obviously has for the Batman series. Arkham City also marks the return of The Riddler, whose trophies and challenges flood the city. If you're looking for inventive ways to use Batman's many skills, The Riddler will deliver that without holding anything back. Challenge maps and unlockable concept art extend the lifespan of the game for Batman enthusiasts and combat fans alike. Those who buy Batman: Arkham City new (or those who purchase the downloadable content) will also find Catwoman thrown into the mix. Her unique skills and character-specific trophies offer a new dimension to Arkham City. There really is no superhero game that offers this much diversity and this much content. Batman: Arkham City stands as an expansive action game that broadens the scope generated by its predecessor without holding anything back.

Batman: Arkham Asylum was a grim and atmospheric game. Its aesthetic emphasized the Dark Knight's skill in the shadows while also creating some surprisingly intricate architecture and great-looking cutscenes. Arkham City, from a technical standpoint, doesn't do too much new. However, that's hardly a bad thing. The lighting is still pristine, the animations are diverse and well-choreographed, and the tone is just as somber and mysterious as Arkham Asylum. One major note is the design of Arkham City, which is simply outstanding. The distinctive landmarks like Joker's lair or The Wonder Tower ooze personality. The Arkham City design favors unique architecture over copy-pasted skyscrapers, making it so each building has purpose and character. The game's phenomenal voice acting continues the trend Arkham Asylum set. Kevin Conroy's role as Batman is much more human than his role in Arkham Asylum; the Dark Knight's loyalties are strained and Conroy's integration of Batman's internal struggle with his character is second to none. But it's Mark Hamill's performance as the clown prince of crime that seals the deal. Hamill has mastered the cackle of The Joker, bringing the character's own sense of madness and chaotic whimsy into the field of Arkham City. Arkham City's cast gives their respective roles their absolute all. Overall, the presentation in Batman: Arkham City is phenomenal. From the graphic design to the sound, no other superhero game has ever presented itself this well.

Pros
+ Superb representation of the Batman mythology
+ Open-world is fun to explore with plenty of engaging distractions
+ Plenty of Riddler puzzles, side-missions, and challenges to complete
+ Tremendously varied gameplay always offers something new

Cons
- Brief story with an anticlimactic resolution
- Camera can be troublesome in the iron jungle of Arkham City

Anticipation and expectations for Batman: Arkham City have climbed to ridiculous levels, but it's safe to say that Rocksteady's newest tribute to Bob Kane's masterful universe does not disappoint. The integration of an open-world design compliments the cleverly constructed missions of Arkham City; there's just so much to do and explore throughout the course of the game. The excellent use of the gadgets, both in puzzles and combat, exhumes the very essence of being Batman and no other game with the license has taken it to the level seen in Arkham City. The stellar voice acting and enticing visual design couldn't be any better. Though a few camera issues and a shockingly short storyline are minor nuisances, they don't even come close to bringing down the game's overall quality. If you're a Batman fan and you don't own Batman: Arkham City at this point, you have my sympathies, because it is the finest video game representation of the Batman license ever seen. For any other video game fan, Batman: Arkham City has a tremendous gameplay variety, fantastic presentation, and enough content to keep you in the city for a good long while. Batman: Arkham City is the definitive superhero game and sets the bar extremely high for future game adaptations of licensed material, Batman or otherwise. Consider it one of the best of 2011.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/02/11

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


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