Review by RadioGamma

"The Dark Knight Rises Again"

Everyone (well, most everyone) knows who Batman is. The Caped Crusader has been fighting crime since 1939, and has continued to be a household name ever since. Once the 80's rolled around, Batman got his first video game appearance on the NES console, based on the Tim Burton original film. Most Batman games have been left-to-right beat-'em ups, and were decent games at best. Then, Rocksteady Studios hit a grand slam with Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009, bringing the superhero game genre to a whole new level. With its innovative take on the exploits of Gotham City's guardian hero, Arkham Asylum brought incredible gameplay, graphics, storytelling, and an epic score to an action game! Arkham City continues this feat by taking these aspects to an entire city, and then turning players loose as the Dark Knight once more. This game did not fail to deliver on any fronts, and is the new gold standard by which any superhero based game (and open world action games in general) should be measured by. In this review will be a detailed breakdown of the flawless design of this amazing title.

Graphics - Excellent

Arkham City is a rich environment full of eye candy. The sheer amount of detail is staggering. Buildings, various surfaces, overturned vehicles, and the few plants hanging around that don't belong to Poison Ivy are richly detailed, with great textures that pop well. Edging is solid, and the layering is spot on for debris lying in the streets all over the city. Character models are very well detailed from the various face paint and costume details that distinguish the many gang factions from one another, to the sweet costumes of the various super villains occupying the city. Batman's suit is updated from his last outing, and is still well designed for form, function, and style. All character movements are fluid and well animated both in and out of combat and nothing seems jerky or stiff looking in execution. The gadgets are also well detailed for how small they appear on-screen in Batman's hands. Lines being launched from the grapple gun are easily picked out even when surrounded by a cluster of buildings. The lighting is also fantastic. Street lights cause a nice gleam on damp pavement and rooftops as you traverse the city, and shadow details are distinguishable enough that they don't become lost in a blob of dark hues, giving the game a fantastic amount of depth in its many environments. The gothic metropolis of Gotham City is also an incredible sight to behold off in the distance, and feels just within reach of an equally gothic city of criminals and political prisoners. The overall art style is a dark, noire interwoven with modern technology and Batman motifs. There is no shortage of visual fan service in this game at all. Truly a work of art.

Gameplay - Excellent

Using the same control layout as its predecessor, Arkham City takes the combo and gadget system of Arkham Asylum and adds even more variety. The controls are straight-forward enough for beginners, and are very intuitive to use. This helps make playing the game more fluid, as players will rarely find themselves struggling to execute Batman's many, yet simple combat moves and quick-fire gadgets. Combat utilizes the same strike button system from before, with the addition of rewarding players for using variation in physical strikes and good timing, as well as a gadget variation bonus for using the many tools Batman has access to. Players who find themselves forgetting moves can enable tutorials to help them remember how to execute the many attacks at their disposal. The gadget system has also been widely expanded, as Batman now has access to two different types of armor upgrades, and enhancements to the Batsuit that have a variety of effects. The gadgets themselves have upgrades that can enhance their versatility in combat, and in exploring the city. No gadget becomes obsolete, and has many uses throughout the entire game from the time it is made available. Returning gadgets received a nice refresh that finds them able to do more than in the previous game, further enabling players to refine their own unique play styles through the sheer number of options in traveling the city, and taking down thugs. Traversing this large city is no small task, and a few of Batman's new gadgets enable him to cover great distances without slowing down, making exploration feel less like a tedious chore, especially when backtracking. With such a large number of gameplay options available, playing the game almost never becomes stale, or feels routine. While the game consists of an overall story, it has smaller sub-plots that are explored through side quests. These side-quests pit Batman in a one-on-one story with Batman working to thwart the schemes of villains like Deadshot or Riddler as they try to outwit and outmaneuver the World's Greatest detective. These side quests are a nice distraction for players who are stuck in the main quest, or would just like a breather from it. Sometimes these quests are bit hit or miss in execution, as the story events seem to randomly advance themselves regardless of a player's actions. This was the only hiccup I noticed in the progression of gameplay, and it is nothing that'll hamper the playing experience.

Story - Excellent

Arkham City has an incredible main campaign story with fantastic writing. The story itself was written by Paul Dini, a long time script writer for comic books. He also was a main writer for the Emmy winning Batman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond, so the story itself is written with a very consistent style from a Batman veteran that knows the Batman family of villains, and the man who keeps them in prison, quite well. The main story pits Batman against Professor Hugo Strange in a complex series of events that are well laid out, but still leave player's guessing as to what will happen next. There are no dead giveaways to the plot, but no details are thrown needlessly at the player either, helping to create a wonderful sense of immersion in the latest mission of Batman. The writing is well spread out, and not jarring, so players will never be starved of details or progression which allows for more mysteries to speculate on that could unfold in any number of ways, rather than a predictable series of events. The relationships between Batman and his foes and allies are all well written, and even explore the origins of certain character's conflicts with both Bruce Wayne, and his alter ego, Batman. No villain was included just to enhance the roster, and every major character has a part to play in the events of the game, giving the story a very grand scale to what will culminate in an incredible ending that will leave players stunned.

Audio - Excellent

This category will be examined in detail through three different components.

Sound: The sounds of Arkham City are spot on and fit very well. From the sound of the wind when gliding across the city, to the thud of Batman's fist being rammed into the stomach of one the many goons found throughout the game, everything just meshes and is true to what it is simulating. Metal, stone and wood surfaces all have unique sound qualities when being struck or walked on, and the elements (fire, wind, electricity, water) all sound true to life. Nothing seems out of synch with its real world counterpart, as far as sound is concerned. The differentiation of sound by distance was also very well done.

Music: The score to this game is nothing short of epic, as all the orchestral pieces just ooze Batman from every note. All tracks are appropriate for the emotions they convey, whether it is a moment of great intensity, anger surprise, or even tragedy. No track feels out of place when being played, and the themes for combat/boss battles just add to the epic feeling of fighting criminals both ordinary and supernatural as Batman himself. The variety in compositions keeps any one piece of music from becoming tiresome or overplayed during the adventure, and sometimes the score drops out to allow for breaks from the audio when not advancing the story or viewing a cut-scene.

Voice: The greatest voice work I have ever heard in the many, many games I have played was in Arkham City. The quality of work is award worthy, and portrays the characters to their fullest. Every actor does a fantastic job of embodying the many facets of the complex and twisted personalities of Arkham City's denizens. The anger, hatred, humor, and overall craziness of the many super villains can be heard in each actor's performance, bringing the characters to life, and making them truly seem alive. Many actors returned to their roles from the previous titles, and the many newcomers do an amazing job of adding depth and personality to this game. No character felt flat, lifeless, or forgettable whatsoever. This game also marks a major moment in Batman history as being the final performance of Mark Hamill as the Joker. He goes out with an absolute bang, and will not disappoint anyone with what may well be a bravura performance for certain.

Replay Value - Very High

Once the main campaign is complete, players have many options to continue to enjoy being the Bat. Story mode can be replayed on a higher difficulty that sports tougher, faster, stronger enemies, and different thug compositions to increase the games challenge. There are also plenty of Riddler trophies to collect, and tricky riddles to solve. Then there's Riddler's Revenge. This mode puts players in control of either Batman or Catwoman in a series of challenge maps with unique objectives to complete, each with their own difficulties. Standard combat challenges, and silent predator maps are also available to test and hone your skills, and compete for top scores on the leaderboards to see how you stack up against players worldwide. Additional DLC also allows for further enjoyment by granting players access to Batman's trusty side-kick, Robin. With a lot of options for continued enjoyment, this game has great staying power, and can be enjoyed for many more hours after being beaten.

Conclusion

Arkham City is a masterpiece of game design and storytelling. The game is built rock solid, and has very few weaknesses at all. It easily eclipses Arkham Asylum in scale and design, and has plenty to offer gamers in replay value. With intuitive controls gameplay is smooth, never frustrating, and can be picked up by novices with its modest learning curve. The visual and audible art will keep players immersed during the entire experience, and stands on its own as high quality work. This game is definitely worth the price of admission, and will not disappoint fans of Batman, or the open world action game genre. This title deserves Game of the Year in my opinion.

Final Score - 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/29/11

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


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