Rocksteady Studio’s venerable Arkham Asylum took the gaming world by storm. Fun combat, immaculate presentation, fan service, and the motherfucking Batman at the helm? All in the one package? Who’d have thought such a thing was possible? The review scores were actually justified that time around.
Arkham City is more of the same, which may not sound terribly innovative, but it’s different enough to remain compelling to fans of The Dark Knight.
The memorable combat of Arkham Asylum makes a comeback in Arkham City. It is truly a joy to experience – flowing from enemy to enemy and countering attacks as they occur conveys the sense that you are indeed shifting your attention between multiple opponents, instead of just fighting enemies one at a time while the rest of them wait their turn (aka “gentlemen’s boxing”). This is what seperates Arkham City from Assassin’s Creed.
Using gadget shortcuts is also a great addition – why wouldn’t Batman use the tools at his disposal if the odds are tipped against him? Enemy scaling increases as the storyline progresses – criminals will gain access to rifles, thermal vision scopes, edge weapons and body armour. These necessitate the use of gadgets and special abilities to nullify any outstanding threats in the pack. It adds strategic depth to the combat; the more dangerous enemies can be dealt with using something more potent than a simple punch, and the surrounding minions can be whittled down. Rocksteady has done a fantastic job of implementing melee combat in the series.
The addition of Catwoman offers some respite from Batman’s play style. Catwoman has her own unique way of navigating the city and dealing with armed thugs – where Batman favours strength and gadgetry, Catwoman favours speed and quick reactions. Her whip trips up enemies and denies them of their weapons, and she can lead them into caltrops or disable them with bolas.
The voice acting is still top notch. All the previous voice actors reprise their roles and it feels like we never left Gotham City at all. From simple banter between inmates and the screams of innocent political prisoners to the cold determination of Batman and the raspy ramblings of The Joker – all of it works wonders on immersing players into the game world.
Side quests and distractions are plentiful in the sandbox of Arkham City. Riddler trophies for both Batman and Catwoman are scattered everywhere for the completionist. There are Riddler challenges that test a player’s stealth and combat prowess in a variety of levels, which all help to add a few more hours of playtime on top of the adequately timed campaign. DLC packs for Robin and Nightwing are available for use in the Riddler challenges. It would have been nice to be able to use these new characters in the sandbox as well; unfortunately, they are not.
It’s an incredibly strong title, but there are still some points that prevent it from a perfect score. The game, despite several new abilities, gadgets, and animations, still felt a little too familiar. Of course, it doesn’t make sense for any game producer to change up a winning formula for the sake of change, but there were times when I just needed to take a break from the monotony.
Furthermore, there is little incentive to return to this game after you’re well and truly done with it. Interaction with other players is limited to high-score leaderboards for the Riddler challenges. It will take some good quality DLC to keep players coming back.
Finally, I thought the plot of Arkham City was of an average standard. It sauntered along and threw in the odd cameo here and there, but the ending felt hastened and unsatisfying, leaving me with a distinct impression of, “What? That’s it?” Maybe I just didn’t want it to end so soon, even though I had sunk a good 15+ hours into the game. Perhaps that’s a testament to the game’s quality?
All in all, Arkham City is a great example of interactive entertainment. It’s a game that impresses players with its well-researched lore, excellent production values, and solid gameplay. It is simple enough to be accessible to most gamers, yet retains a depth and complexity that rewards those who choose to master the well-paced challenges. A great experience for Batman-fans and the Batman-curious.