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Review: Batman Arkham City
by Joey Núñez

Batman: Arkham City
Rocksteady Studios
Warner Bros. Interactive
Square Enix (Japan)
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC, OnLive, WiiU (2012)
Reviewed on
PlayStation 3
Action-adventure, beat 'em up, stealth
Best price we found in GBP:
on PC, from
As comic book characters go, few have proven to be as captivating as the Caped Crusader, Batman. Be it his tragic origin story, his unparalleled fighting and detective skills or the sheer amount of kickassness that exudes from a man with no superpowers that can take on Superman, there’s just something about this character that has made him a staple of the comic book community for decades.

As tends to happen, the extreme popularity of the comic character has led to movies, animated series, tonnes of merchandise and - of course - videogames. In 2009, Rocksteady broke the licensed game curse, and created a Batman videogame unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. The boys and girls at Rocksteady care for the character, and poured attention and love into every single detail of the project, crafting more than just a game, but rather an experience. Batman: Arkham Asylum was more than just the best Batman game ever, or the best comic book game ever; it was one of the best games of 2009, full stop. This left this year’s sequel, Batman: Arkham City, with a rather unprecedented predicament: it ended up a licensed game with a large quantity of valid expectation for greatness weighing it down. Comic geeks and gamers the world over were wondering if Rocksteady would be able to strike gold twice.

The answer? Yes. God, yes.

You know the way that every sequel promises to be bigger and better, and then hardly ever is? That, luckily, didn't happen this time. Rocksteady hit the bullseye, and somehow managed to make the already pefect Batman experience even better, delivering a massive follow up to Arkham Asylum that is truly bigger and better in every way, giving you more of what you loved from the original and doing away with anything you hated. Fan expectations were more than met; they were surpassed entirely. This was clearly Rocksteady’s objective.

So how does a developer go about beating itself at its own game? Well, Rocksteady’s first order of business was giving players a larger playground to play in. Enter Arkham City, the mega-prison after which the game is named. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid spoiling the story for yourself already, I won’t spoil it for you here. All you need to know is that Quincy Sharp, former warden of Arkham Asylum, is now mayor of Gotham City, and he has somehow convinced the bigwigs of Gotham to let him wall off a complete section of the city and turn it into a prison. The result: a literal city prison, populated by every low-life thug, criminal and super-criminal in Gotham City. With appearances from almost every major nemesis in Batman’s rogue gallery (and a few not so major ones), veteran comic book writer Paul Dini has written a meaty, intense and suspenseful story that evokes a true sense of urgency in the player as the plot develops. The pacing of the narrative is pitch-perfect, and the game is filled with unexpected twists and reveals that will have you nerdgasming well into the night.

The game’s narrative is made that much greater by the excellent gameplay through which you experience it. Gameplay is divided into three basic elements: exploration, combat and stealth. Playing as the Dark Knight himself, Arkham City is yours to explore. As a gamer, jumping, gliding and grappling from rooftop to rooftop in an environment as vibrant and layered as Arkham City is a treat. As a Batman fan, the experience is just indescribable, and must be experienced to be understood. When you’re not mindlessly gliding around the city skies and freaking out at just how awesome Batman’s cape looks billowing in the wind, you’ll probably be meticulously scouring the environments for secrets or clues related to your current mission. Rocksteady has not forgotten that Batman is first and foremost a detective, and has made sure to feature Batman’s crime solving deductive skills prominently in the game, both in the main story missions and side missions, which I’ll get on to later.

As you can probably imagine, based on the fact that the whole game takes place in a megaprison filled to the brim with people that want our hero dead, you will get into a fair amount of scuffles. You will deal with your opponents either via direct mêlée combat or stealth. For the mêlée combat, Rocksteady has refined the amazing combat system they created for Arkham Asylum, the Freeflow Combat System. Freeflow combat sounds simple on paper: attack enemies with one button, stun them with another, dodge with a third and press a fourth button at the right time to counter. The truth of the matter, though, is that although the system is simple enough that a beginner can pull off some nice moves, this by no makes the game a button masher. If you’re going to call the Freeflow combat button-mashing, you might as well call Guitar Hero a button masher, and no, that is not an exaggeration. The key to successful combat in Arkham City is timing; you have to time each move to perfectly follow your previous move, counter just at the right moment, dodge exactly when required, all in an effort to boost your combo count and, consequently, the experience you gain from a fight. Perfecting Freeflow combat requires real skill. Add in enemies which require specific attack approaches, special moves and quickfire gadget moves – which allow you to incorporate Batman’s nifty arsenal into his combos – and you’ve got yourself an extremely robust combat system which will probably provide you with some of the most rewarding combat in any action title, ever.

Once you perfect the freeflow combat I guarantee you will feel like a ninja. But, alas, Batman - like all heroes - has a lethal weakness. For Superman, it's kryptonite; for Batman, it's guns - guns will kill the guy. Charge into a room filled with gun-toting goons, and you'll find yourself walking into the light faster than you can say "holy fatal wound, Batman". Armed henchmen require a more tactical approach; namely, stealth. Stealth (or predator) sections will require you to patiently wait in the shadows and use your wits and your gadgets to take out your opponents. Fear not, though, because the game arms you to the teeth, with everything from the must-have batarangs to explosive gel, freeze bombs, smoke grenades and zip lines. These stealth situations are also where you’ll make use Batman’s 'Detective Vision', which allows you to see through walls, in order to identify enemies and the weapons they're carrying. Each predator room is basically a puzzle that needs solving, with the answer always ending up as you doing a triumphant Batoosie dance over a heap of unconscious bodies.

Once you’ve explored, fought and ninja’d your way through the main story there’s still loads - and I mean loads - of things to do in Arkham City. The side missions prepared are just awe-inspiring, with most side quests featuring deep plots and their own villains. These optional quests will have you scouring the city solving The Riddler’s riddles, as lives hang in the balance; investigating a series of grisly murders; chasing down ringing phones in an effort to track down a psychopathic murderer, and so much more. With no hint of a joke, the side missions in Arkham City could be their own stand-alone game, they are that good. You also have the challenge rooms to occupy your time; these are Riddler Challenges, that either see you taking out waves of enemies with Freeflow combat, or clearing rooms of armed thugs in stealth missions. All missions are ranked online, with leaderboards and such, so you always have incentive to come back to these challenges and increase your scores. Add to the mix the addition of the newly re-vogued 'New Game Plus', which lets you play through the main story with all your experience and gadgets whilst considerably ramping up the difficulty, and it's easy to see that replay value is the name of the game. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned Catwoman yet, have I?

Every new copy of Arkham City includes a download code, which will let you access the Catwoman missions. These missions are interwoven with the game's main narrative, so they seamlessly integrate with the main story. It’s true that you could play the entire game without experiencing the Catwoman missions and not feel like you’re missing out on anything, but trust me, you would be. Catwoman moves and fights completely differently to Batman, and playing as the famed femme fatale was probably one of my favourite experiences of Arkham City. Not only will these missions reveal more about what’s going on in Arkham City, but they will also reward you with some of the best gameplay the title has to offer. Long story short, download, and play now.

Rocksteady has also been generous with its offering of DLC. Already the company has released two DLC character packs, featuring Nightwing and Robin respectively. These packs allow you to play as these two members of the Batman family in all of the game's challenge rooms, as well as in additional challenge rooms included in the DLC. These characters can’t be used in the main game, which has disappointed more than a few fans; however, I can guarantee that each character is worth trying out. Both have a very distinct feel to them, in combat and in stealth missions, and they are more than just palette swaps, with distinct moves, gadgets and combat styles. At the end of the day, though, I’d say that you should only really get these packs if you have the cash to spare, or if you’re a huge fan of the characters, like me. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

Lastly, I just have to mention how spectacular this game looks. The art style is spot on, and the game is brought to life with stunning graphics and vibrant music, every bit as epic as anything you’d expect to hear in Christopher Nolan’s Batman flicks. It’s the gaming equivalent of awesome sauce, and you know just how awesome awesome sauce is.

I read somewhere that Arkham City was more of a Batman simulator than a game, and I couldn’t agree more. Rocksteady has successfully, and fully, recreated the 'Batman experience' in gaming form, and if you know anything about Batman then you'll know just how much of an impressive feat this is. Batman: Arkham City is easily my favourite game of 2011, and a solid contender for Game of the Year. You owe it to yourself to play this game.

10/10 [?]

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- Joey Núñez

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