When it comes to the wide pantheon of comic book superheroes, I don’t think there is anyone more compelling, complex, or awesome than the nocturnal guardian of Gotham City. The young man who saw his parents taken from him in a hailstorm of pearls and blood decided, through his trauma, that he would use his vast wealth and resources to travel the world and gain the skills necessary to hone his body and mind to the peak of human perfection. Learning that criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, he knew that in addition to all of his skill, fear would be his best weapon against the bold criminals that dare do wrong in his domain. He promised that what happened to him would never happen to anyone else ever again. It’s these unique and defining character traits that give us the immortal and unforgettable Dark Knight: Batman.
Batman may be the most popular superhero with his name on some of the most unforgettable television series, feature films, comic books, and radio shows. For some reason, though, like most superheroes, the definitive video game based on the character was always an elusive goal, that was never quite reached. That all changed at the end of summer 2009 when Rocksteady Studios developed, hands down, the best Batman gaming experience ever in Batman: Arkham Asylum
. The success of that game immediately brought up speculation about a sequel, hopes that were confirmed in December of 2009 with an ominous teaser trailer featuring a sick and decrepit Joker laughing maniacally at chaos running rampant through the streets of Gotham. Whatever this sequel was going to be, it definitely moved away from the confines of Arkham Island and at least into a portion of Batman’s home, Gotham City.
But now, all the curiosity and speculation can be put to rest as this past October 18th, Batman: Arkham City
finally saw release to a gaming community clamoring for a new bat-adventure. To say that this game is ambitious is an understatement. The criticisms of Arkham Asylum
were mostly limited to aesthetic aspects, such as the lip-synching and some minor clipping issues. There wasn’t a whole lot to fix per se, so if you manage to pick up the controller completely unaware of the massive hype machine preceding the game’s release, you might ask: what’s left to explore? Well, the answer is apparently a lot. While Arkham City
doesn’t really fix anything from the first game, it does is expand on virtually every aspect of gameplay that was present in the first outing, and maintains the relatively simple control scheme that made the first game so fun. It also does what every good sequel should do, and allows you to, quite simply, do a whole lot more with the Dark Knight’s ability to thrash either an unsuspecting purse snatcher, or a Venom-doped supervillain.
One of the most defining and unforgettable aspects of the first game is the actual story. As with the first game, the story was written by renowned Batman writer Paul Dini, who wrote some of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series
as well as a very memorable run on DC’s Detective Comics
. With him, Dini brings back two very notable Animated Series
alumni in Kevin Conroy as the definitive voice of Batman as well as Mark Hamill’s final hurrah as one of the most unforgettable iterations of Batman’s arch nemesis, the Joker. The story of Arkham City
picks up approximately one year after the events on Arkham Island in the first game, and deals with the construction of a new facility within the borders of Gotham City cordoned off from the remainder of the beleaguered metropolis. This is brought about by the mind of the villainous Professor Hugo Strange, whose greatest weapon in his ongoing plot is the knowledge that Bruce Wayne is Batman.
In Arkham Asylum
, you had to travel around Arkham Island into different sections of the map, where in Arkham City
you can travel with relative ease into every situation and area that you need to, all while still managing to increase the overall size of the gameplay area. Transit in-game is one of the most efficient and innovative changes made since Arkham Asylum
. Instead of the minimal gliding time present in the first game, Arkham City
allows for longer periods of gliding, while also invoking Batman’s famous grapple gun in enhancing the range of the grapple in attaching to structures around Arkham City
. An upgrade you receive by completing one of the training mode side missions also allows you to implement the grapple during gliding, so that at a certain point, you don’t even need to touch the ground during your entire travel time.
Most of the gadgets present on Batman’s utility belt in the first game make their return here. From the definitive and ever-reliable Batarang, to the Explosive Gel, down to the Cryptographic Sequencer and the Line Launcher, much of what you’ve come to expect from the first game makes its return. There are a few notable additions to Batman’s arsenal this time though, and if you’re as big of a Batman fan as I am, then you should be happy to find that the singular Smoke Pellet is finally available allowing you to make quick, mysterious escapes in addition to confusing the hell out of your enemies. A broadcast disruptor is also a new addition, and with the proper upgrade you can remotely jam up to 2 enemies’ firearms so that they become far less of a threat. The new Remote Electrical Charge (REC) allows you to either temporarily shock enemies or open devices which would normally be closed off to you. Mr. Freeze also makes his presence known on your utility belt, as you can make use of his freezing technology at a certain point in the campaign to immobilize and devastate scores of enemies who then become helpless to your onslaught.
One of the most distinctive and defining parts of the last game was the fact that it forced you to tactically think as the Dark Knight might in certain situations. Unlike many other superhero games, both this game and its predecessor simply don’t throw wave upon wave of enemy at you, forcing you to simply button mash your way to the end of a level. Instead, the Arkham
games make you approach every enemy type differently. For example, in this game, you cannot fight a Titan-powered henchman and Solomon Grundy the same way. You have to adapt your tactics to the enemy in front of you and look around the environment or your target to locate weaknesses that may give you the advantage you’re looking for.
This is a slight spoiler alert, but in order to demonstrate my point, take the battle against Mr. Freeze. While he wears his suit, his strength is enhanced tenfold, and it also protects him from most basic melee attacks. The advantage that you have is in Batman’s extensive capabilities as a stealth combatant. Freeze uses thermal imaging to track your footsteps, and there are portions of the environment that are dangerous to him. What does this mean for your battle against him? Simple: you can lead him into traps. Send him toward a power coupling, and when he pauses there, fire your Remote Electrical Charge at the coupling and temporarily disable him, allowing you to beat on him for a few seconds and work down his health before his suit cycles back up forcing you to hide. It’s the thinking involved in boss battles like this that automatically separate Arkham
from most other superhero games around.
The singular Freeflow combat system also makes it’s triumphant return in Arkham City
, largely unaltered, but definitely enhanced. In addition to the devastating attacks granted by receiving a combo flow of 8x or more, now you can implement more of Batman’s gadgets in combat flows like the famous sonar Bat-summoner in addition to an attack that allows you to destroy an enemy’s firearms, stun guns, or riot shields. The combat system, definitely one of the most celebrated parts of the original game, remains one of the most innovative and well-rounded combat systems in any action-adventure game.
One very notable addition to this game is the ability to play through parts of the campaign as an entirely new character. That character should be no stranger to most people as one of the definitive and interesting members of both Batman’s rogues gallery and allies, that of the Feline Fatale herself, Catwoman. Over the course of the campaign, there are four separate episodes that you can play as Catwoman that dovetail through the main story’s narrative, and as is appropriate, Catwoman’s gameplay mechanics are decidedly different from that of the Dark Knight’s. For instance, Catwoman is noticeably faster on her feet, but lacks the capabilty that Batman’s brute strength provides. Catwoman has different abilities and gadgets as well, and while not nearly as extensive as that of the Batman’s, she uses her famous whip, disorienting caltrops, and disabling bolas to take out a myriad of enemies. When using the Freeflow system with Catwoman, her mechanics are basically the same as Batman, although you have to focus a little bit more with her on each enemy than you do with Batman.
The challenge maps make their return with this game, and allow you to hone your abilities with the Freeflow combat system and with your stealth capabilities. As with the last game, there are two basic types of maps to the challenge modes: combat maps, giving you four rounds of enemies to defeat with the Freeflow system and awarding medals based on your score, and Invisible Predator maps, making you rely on taking out your enemies from the shadows and warding medals based on your use of the environment and your gadgets. The challenge mode also adds a new component, that of “campaigns.” These are a series of both types of map while implementing specific modifiers to the requirements of each map. Winning combat medals allows you to contribute to your overall game completion percentage, and have to be something you play in if you’d like to try and reach full game completion and get the trophy or achievement for it. When you end up finishing the game’s main story, you may be surprised to see that your overall completion of the game will hover around the 30% mark. If anything, this shows the obvious replay value present if you want to mine this extensive game for everything that it’s worth.
The story brings about 12 unique side missions that can be accomplished at specific thresholds reached within the main story. One of them involves a mysterious figure watching you from the shadows as you beat down thugs, and speaking to him may give you clues to where the story goes beyond the confines of this game. Another involves a strange hallucination brought about by the mind control of Jervis Tetch, aka the Mad Hatter. You’ll also find yourself racing around the city answering random payphones in order to try and stop the insane murderer Victor Zsasz from his near-religious devotion to the “steel of his blade meeting warm flesh.” Several other side missions treat you to unexpected cameos from across the world of Batman in some very interesting situations.
One aspect that will keep Arkham City’s
community alive for the foreseeable future is that some interesting downloadable content is promised in the coming months. The Catwoman pack comes with any new purchase of the game, and a pack allowing you to play challenge maps as Batman’s original protégé Nightwing, adds more achievements and a very cool combat dynamic to the challenge mode. Nightwing’s use of escrima sticks and new gadgets such as wrist darts allow for some fun new exploitations and very acrobatic components to dishing out punishment for enemies. Robin’s DLC pack is also a sight to behold, with the use of the Boy Wonder’s bo staff making the deposition of enemies brutal and dynamic. You can also use new skins for the Dark Knight himself, with a large skin pack hitting the marketplaces featuring costumes form across Batman’s history, including ones from the classic Frank Miller Year One
and Dark Knight Returns
stories, as well as an Animated Series
skin. Others include skins featuring Batman in a Green Lantern
inspired Sinestro Corps uniform, and Batman’s awesome design from the upcoming Earth One
graphic novel.Batman Arkham City
is a massive achievement not only for superhero video games, but in showing other game developers that sticking to what people love about the first game is largely a winning formula, as long as you add to it. There’s an incredible story to be told, and this game definitely does what the first game did, but better: it makes you actually feel like Batman. For someone who’s admired the character for as long as he can remember, Arkham City
is just what a fan like me needs. Do yourself a favor and pick up the best game that I personally have played all year. Batman: Arkham City
is the new “best superhero game ever made,” and it’s entirely deserving of the torrent of accolades it’s sure to receive. Take the plunge and become the invisible predator. I’m sure that you not only won’t regret it, but that you’ll become involved in one of the most compelling Batman stories told in recent memory. We now have our Dark Knight
of video games. Don’t miss it.