Review by vivalapolitik

"Rocksteady's Groundbreaking Series Gets Even Better"

When Batman: Arkham Asylum released in 2009, it surprised the gaming industry as the best licensed, superhero, and Batman game ever made. After unanimous praise for the game's twisting narrative, revolutionary combat system, and adherence to Batman lore, Rocksteady Studios announced work on a sequel to Asylum. Fast forward two years and we now have Batman: Arkham City, with the promise of a much more expansive, darker, and more refined Batman experience. Arkham City not only delivers on that promise, but goes above and beyond what fans imagined for Rocksteady's latest project.

Story

Arkham City takes place 18 months after the events of the first game, with the inmates of both Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison having been moved into a sectioned off area of Gotham City, appropriately dubbed Arkham City. The city is run by the inmates, for the inmates, as a land without rules, save for those set by the warden, Hugo Strange.

Arkham City's story is full of twists and turns you won't see coming due to a well paced and structured narrative. An intense opening, enthralling middle, and jaw-dropping ending only begin to describe Batman's latest adventure. Rocksteady is not afraid of permanency within the Batman universe as they interweave Batman's friends and foes in and out of the story with ease.

However, the main character of the story is arguably the city itself. Arkham City's atmosphere is palpable, and combines the grounded, character-driven approach of Christopher Nolan's Batman films with the superhero quality of the Tim Burton universe.

Politics are at the heart of the story, with The Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, and even the Riddler all vying for control of the city. You'll make alliances and enemies, later breaking those same alliances and becoming friends with your enemies. The point is, you'll constantly be kept on your toes when progressing throughout the story, as Rocksteady effortlessly connects the major players with one another.

All in all, Arkham City's story is one of the strongest in Batman's history, and is so cinematically well-done that the game becomes an immersive, thrilling experience. 10.0

Graphics + Sound

Rocksteady's latest Batman game uses Epic Games' Unreal Engine 3 technology to perfection. The city is beautiful, as are the pre-rendered cutscenes, most notably the character models and lighting. It's also lightly snowing at all times, which may seem like a small detail but really adds to the game's dark, morose sense of beauty. Textures do take a second every now and again to load in and can often look flat and uninspired. However, this is my only qualm with the game at a technical level.

The game's art style is also noteworthy, significantly stepping up the attention to detail seen in it's predecessor. While the city is certainly vast, it's also incredibly dense. Every area contains something significant, whether it be a plot point in a quest, propaganda from one of the game's villains, or even just a small allusion to Batman lore. No area of the city is left as an open, empty wasteland with nothing to do but travel.

As a moderately open world game, what it's achieved is very impressive. The game is very stable, boasting a consistent frame rate that never drops, even with up to 20 characters on the screen at one time. I'm most impressed with the load times, as you can fly throughout the entire city without having a single loading screen. When entering or exiting a building, load screens will total 3-5 seconds at most on an installed copy of the game.

Arkham City also boasts an impressive audio experience. The voice acting is top notch, with Mark Hamill's Joker stealing the show. The city itself has an ambient, atmospheric suite of sounds, making you feel as if it's you walking through the streets and alleys, not Batman. The score is fantastic, setting itself apart from the music of Nolan's films and making it instantly recognizable within the Rocksteady universe. For fans of soundtracks, I highly recommend the score, as it has some of the best video game music of the year.

Arkham City's presentation is so intricately tied into every factor of the game, it does nothing short of create an excellent foundation for the other components to stand. 9.5

Gameplay

Gameplay can best be described as easy jump into yet difficult to master.

The combat is smooth and fluid, with each combat scenario providing a different experience. Rocksteady has also brought in new combos and enemy types that play off of each other in combat. You'll start the game with most of your gadgets from Arkham Asylum and will gain more as you progress through the story. Nearly all of these gadgets have a quick fire combination, allowing you to utilize them in combat without breaking your combo.

Gadgets play a large role in the stealth portions of the game as well, creating a varied approach to every situation, from disabling enemy guns with your disruptor to crushing goons with manipulated objects using your remote electrical charge. You'll never feel more like Batman than when attempting these stealth sections.

Puzzle sections are present within the game as well and help strengthen it's superb pacing. These feel difficult enough to provide a challenge, but you won't be tearing your hair out trying to figure out how to progress.

Gameplay is refined and enhanced from Arkham Asylum's offering, and provides one of the best third person gameplay experiences in video games. 10.0

Lasting Appeal

Arkham City is an enormous game. The main campaign takes around 8-12 hours to beat depending on how quickly you move through the story. After completing the main game, you have the option of either continuing to play your current save or to start a New Game Plus save file.

New Game Plus allows you to play through the story a second time with all of your gadgets and abilities carrying over. Seeing as how this would make the game infinitely easier, enemies in New Game Plus are stronger, and counter symbols within combat are disabled.

Side missions are also strewn across the city to incorporate a number of characters from Batman lore. While these do provide a great amount of fan service, I do wish they were longer and more fleshed out, as each one will take 1-2 hours at most.

If you're still clamoring for things to do, there are a number of collectibles that will take hours to collect. In addition to security cameras, balloons, and joker teeth, there are an insane 440 Riddler challenges throughout the city, which range from physical trophies to riddles within the environment. These provide many hours of enjoyable hunting that lead to more fleshed-out and fully realized hostage challenges as you progress.

Challenge rooms and campaigns give the game legs as well. Challenge rooms pit you against enemies with the goal of achieving as high a score as possible, while campaigns are three combat or predator missions in a row. One of my few gripes with Arkham Asylum was how impossible some of the challenge rooms felt. Arkham City once again creates a solid balance between challenge and enjoyment, with challenge rooms and campaigns providing even more game time.

Arkham City is just about as big as a Batman game can get, with an incredibly diverse amount of things to do that will have you returning again and again. 10.0

Catwoman

Catwoman is also a playable character, and comes free with every new copy of the game. Used copies will require a $10 purchase in order to play as Catwoman. For those who value story, you won't be missing much. She does have some unique dialogue with certain characters within the city, but the story only follows her for a few hours, and her path rarely crosses with Batman. However, gameplay is where Catwoman shines.

Not only does she come complete with her own way of moving throughout the city and a unique set combat moves and animations, she can also be used in all the challenge rooms and campaigns included on the disk. Catwoman adds a great deal of replayability, but may not be worth the $10 if you're buying the game used. 9.0

Closing Comments

No game is or ever will be perfect, but Batman: Arkham City gets closer than most. Rocksteady Studios has created not only THE best Batman game ever made, but one of the best games of the year. With a brilliant story, engaging gameplay, and an incredible amount of content, Arkham City goes above and beyond what we could have imagined.

<strong>Overall : 10.0</strong>


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/26/12

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


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