Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham City

When Batman: Arkham Asylum was announced, it was met with almost unanimous groans in pain. Superhero games up to that point had been almost unanimously awful and why would this one be any different? Over the next few months, everyone quickly realized that this game was not only going to be better than almost every other superhero game, but that it was going to be genuinely good. When Arkham Asylum was released, it was met with rave reviews and numerous game of the year nominations. So when Arkham City was announced in 2009, people had unrealistically high expectations for the sequel. Luckily, those unrealistic expectations were actually met. Batman: Arkham City is a better game in every conceivable way than Arkham Asylum but manages to not make the predecessor not look absolutely terrible (unlike the jump from Assassin’s Creed to Assassin’s Creed II)

Arkham City occurs a number of months after the events of Arkham Asylum when former Arkham Warden now mayor of Gotham Quincy Sharp shuts down the old asylum and walls off a section of Gotham and throws all of the criminals (and people who dare to oppose his new police state) inside a world with no order or security. A world where supervillians run homicidal gangs and are forever engulfed in massive, bloody turf wars all under the supervision of the new warden, Hugo Strange, and his TYGER Guards.

Bruce Wayne is highly opposed to this sudden and horrifying change to his city, so he gets political, which leads to him being thrown into Arkham City as a political prisoner (this is actually only half true, Hugo Strange knows Batman’s secret identity and he wanted Batman inside the walls of the prison). Wayne is immediately captured by Oswald Cobblepot, also known as the Penguin, over a feud that the Cobblepot family has had with the Waynes for a few generations, but old Bruce-y is able to fight off the goons and escape to a rooftop where Alfred dropped off the batsuit and the game really starts. Batman must get information from various super villains about the prison and Strange’s secretive Protocol 10 all over the course of one night in Arkham City.

There is another major plot arc that I won’t speak about, as it is spoilers for Arkham Asylum, and that is a game that everyone should play despite Arkham City being a better game.

Arkham City is much more of an open world game than it’s predecessor. The prison is huge, but that’s not a problem for Batman, as he can glide, grapple, or zip line across buildings with ease and speed. The larger size of the world increases the Riddler trophies and challenges, though. The Riddler scattered 400 trophies, riddles, and challenges throughout the city and unlike the previous game where you could just find maps that would show you the approximate location of each item, you now have to find the henchmen working for Riddler and interrogate them to get the locations added to the map. This adds a level of added strategy to the game as the henchmen are interspersed throughout the various gangs and you can’t interrogate them unless they are the last ones standing. The need to keep one of the goons conscious adds a new level to the thought process behind how you fight.

Combat got a massive overhaul in Arkham City. The game continues with the timing and counter based combat, but adds a lot more options to the fighting through the new quick select items. You can be punching one bad guy, counter one of his associates, knock him out, fire your Batclaw at another guy to pull him towards your fist, shock another one with a pipe to make him swing it around and hit everyone around you, and then finish the combo with a flurry of bats that surround you. The combat possibilities are almost endless with enough practice and it makes the combat honestly one of the most fun parts of the game. Luckily for this game, you start with almost every item you had in the previous game, so you start with the remote explosives, remote controlled Batarang, Batclaw, but there are plenty of new items like smoke bombs (which honestly should have been in the original game) and the remote electrical charge, which is essentially a taser that shoots out balls of electricity. It’s just a shame that I kind of suck at the combat (as my friends will tell you with much enthusiasm), but that skill will come from playing through the Riddler Challenge Maps.

The story is better, the world is bigger, the combat is more varied, and even side quests are more interesting. Really the only side quest in Arkham Asylum was the Riddler challenges, but now there are additional ones that have Batman team up with Bane to destroy TITAN canisters, or have you track down Deadshot or a serial killer who surgically removes people’s faces. These really help to make the gameplay longer, but keep it interesting to play. A New Game + feature (which guarantees a second playthrough for me) helps expand the single player experience and makes it considerably harder with more difficult enemies appearing from the beginning and Batman’s counter Spider-Sense going away.

Kevin Conroy returns as Batman and Mark Hamill gives his last performance as the Joker, and while the rest of the Batman: the Animated Series voice cast didn’t return, the new voice actors do a fantastic job. The most surprising one was Nolan North’s Penguin, as he doesn’t just do his normal “I’m Nathan Drake” voice. The always amazing Corey Burton’s Hugo Strange is made to be very calm and calculating, but also menacing through Burton’s very deep voice.

Batman: Arkham City is one of the best games of the year and everyone should play it, you don’t even need to be a big Batman fan to enjoy it, either.

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