I made a video a while back about the Top 5 Surprises of 2009 and Batman: Arkham Asylum was #2 on the list. Some people didn’t understand why until I made the point that a game based on a comic book was up for GOTY. It was simply unprecedented as licensed games usually tend to crap out in various ways. The developer, Rocksteady Studios, went the extra mile to give an experience unlike no other comic book game. It captured the essence of a superhero with a plot that was worthy of being in a graphic novel in a game that was fun to play. Rocksteady is looking to repeat that success with Batman: Arkham City.
Arkham City takes place a year after the events in Arkham Asylum. Former Arkham Asylum warden, Quincy Sharp, has become mayor after riding the notoriety of claiming to be the one responsible to taking down the Joker during the Arkham Asylum event. As mayor, Sharp decided to take a portion of the Gotham City slums, and convert it into a giant prison called Arkham City. With a big part of the city harboring the most psychotic of villains, it was only a matter of time before Batman swooped in to investigate the matter.
LOVING THIS CITY
A Beautiful Bat - Batman has always been a stylish comic. Gotham City, being so gothic, has always made for a great backdrop as the style of the city is so noticeable. When you swing around the city, the buildings all have that feel of that same Gotham City that you see in the movies and in the comics. It doesn’t feel like you’re in New York City under a different name. No, you are in Gotham City and it’s incredible to look at. The characters look amazingly detailed that all you want to do is look at them from all the angles. Rocksteady has taken the characters from the comics and gave them a look like no other media has done before, making them unique and iconic. Everything about the game looks gritty, stylish, and most importantly, in line with what we’ve associated and expected their designs to be.
The Sounds of Gotham City - It seems that everything involving Batman has always had great musical scores. The movies, animated series, and Arkham Asylum all share such great music that it’s seemingly become a requirement for anything featuring the Dark Knight. Arkham City is no slouch, the composers of Arkham Asylum, Ron Fish and Nick Arunde, have returned. Not only is the music good, but it sets the mood so perfectly. It doesn’t take over the moment, but instead enhances the moments as a good score should. When that music hits, it gives you that little chill making you feel that everything you did was exactly as Batman would have handled it.
Plenty of Tasks For The Bat To Do - Being that Batman has a city to travel through in this game, naturally there would be far more for tasks for him to complete. The Riddler trophies have returned, and require a bit more brainpower to collect than the previous game. Several of Batman’s notable enemies have their own sidequests that require Batman to do various tasks that will usually reap some kind of reward. Throughout the city you’ll also come across tasks from those needing help or training missions that will also reward you for completing them. Completing the story itself will take about 10-12 hours and that’s not including the segment of the game that’s dedicated to Catwoman if you purchased the game new. DLC quests for Robin and Nightwing are also on the way for those gamers that don’t want their time in Arkham City to end.
His Voice Makes Me Tingle - I can’t say enough how awesome it is to hear the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and The Joker again. They’ve become so tied to the characters for me that I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather hear in those roles. The actors as a whole do a spectacular job of playing their characters just right without any of the awkwardness that comes with shoddy voice performances these days. That is with one exception, the Penguin, who I’m still wondering why they changed his voice so dramatically. What they did with the Penguin was the equivalent of the X-men: Pryde of the X-men where Wolverine had an Australian accent. It simply doesn’t fit with what we’ve come to know about the Penguin after all these years, however it is the one flaw in a remarkable ensemble.
Where Does He Get Such Wonderful Toys? - All the moves and equipment from Arkham Asylum are in Arkham City, with a few new additions. The additions are mainly used to get past obstacles in the later parts of the game, but can be used during combat. Batman also has a few new moves such as a slide to get under low openings, a dive bomb that can be used while gliding to take out enemies as well as extend the length of your flight, and quick use of certain equipment through specific button combinations to make them more accessible during a fight rather than having to select them one at a time. Batman also is upgradable with armor, moves, and upgraded equipment available when you level up. Xp is gained by taking down the bad guys, finding Riddler trophies, and completing tasks. This was an area that didn’t need much of an upgrade from Arkham Asylum, but has received an upgrade nonetheless, adding more substance to it.
DRIVES ME BATTY
Not Much Detecting - A new concept in Arkham Asylum was the use of Detective mode where Batman could gain clues on where to go next. I remember this blew me away as the one thing that was hardly used in any Batman game was his detective skills. Batman is considered the world’s greatest detective, and with Detective mode, you got to see how he works with the evidence that’s available. Rocksteady decided to change up how they used Detective mode in Arkham City. There are occasions where Batman does breakdown an area like he did in Arkham Asylum, but not nearly as many. Instead, Detective mode is more about giving you info about your surroundings. It’s incredibly useful yet I still would have wanted more of the CSI-type evidence searching that made it clear why Batman is the world’s greatest detective.
What’s With The Plot? - The second half of Arkham City really does go everywhere in regards to the narrative. While I won’t be giving out any spoilers here, unlike that bunch of assholes at Kotaku, I can say there were times that I simply had to wonder how feasible this plot would be, even for a comic. Arkham Asylum has a clear and succinct plot to it that made perfect sense while Arkham City had me questioning certain points to it. This seems to be another example of when a game tries to do a bit too much at once, creating a convoluted plot that I found difficult to explain to those that demanded that I spoil the game for them.
Batman: Arkham City has everything you want in a sequel to Arkham Asylum. It’s longer, has more characters from the comics, a bigger world to explore and feels like it’s far better than the original. My hat goes off to Rocksteady Studios for rising to the task again and showing that a developer can create a game based on licensed franchise that is as true to the source material as it is fun to play.
*This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game with a review copy provided by the publisher.*