The walls of Arkham City rise high above the criminals of Gotham. Smoke rises while the sounds of distant gunshots pervade the atmosphere. The super prison itself seems to breathe with life. Everywhere you look, crime and evil fill the alleys of this sinister city.
With the plethora of mediocre Batman games on the market, it was a breath of fresh air when Rocksteady Studios released “Arkham Asylum” back in 2009. With tight controls, a compelling storyline and an abundance of Batman characters sewn seamlessly into the game, it was finally the game fans had been waiting for. With the new release of the sequel, “Batman: Arkham City,” gamers will receive all of this and much, much more.
The game presents the player with an interesting twist right at the exposition, revealing that a scientist named Hugo Strange knows the true identity of Batman. This imparts a feeling of suspense throughout the game as players seek to rid Arkham of its villains and uncover the true purpose of the project Strange has begun. The main storyline missions unfold as a gang war erupts in the streets of Gotham. While many of the classic Batman villains such as Mr. Freeze and Penguin were alluded to in the 2009 game, they now appear as bosses along with several other supporting characters in a massive dispute over control of the prison. Being the world’s greatest detective, Batman follows lead after lead, attempting to unravel the mysteries of this harsh underworld.
While the main missions keep the player hooked until the jaw-dropping conclusion, it is the side missions that make this game shine. With open world games such as the original “Assassin’s Creed” and “Crackdown,” the gameplay can be repetitive. However, “Arkham City” delivers optional missions on the scale of “Grand Theft Auto,” “Elder Scrolls,” or the more recent “Assassin’s Creeds.” From tracking down a deadly sniper using his detective skills to helping an unlikely ally destroy Titan containers (carried over from the previous storyline), Batman has a constant checklist of quests to complete. The Riddler challenges return in a huge way, with 400 riddles to solve with the inclusion of puzzle rooms that rival the likes of Zelda dungeons. Riddler informants are littered throughout the city, putting a new twist on combat scenarios as you must leave some foes conscious while incapacitating all other criminals in the area before interrogating the informants for trophy and riddle locations.
The combat controls are tight as ever with the addition of triple counters, bat swarms and beat downs. The enemy varieties are also expanded, with knife wielding criminals and heavily armored foes that must be struck repeatedly in order to remove them from the fight. The addition of Catwoman as a playable character to those who have a Live or PSN account gives a refreshing new perspective on combat and navigation, swapping Batman’s gliding with animal-like climbing and clawing.
Navigation is always important in open world games, and the gliding mechanics Rocksteady implemented are easy to learn and feel natural once mastered. It is a breeze to glide over the depths of “Arkham City” as you listen to local radio frequencies, searching for ringing telephones (another side mission available to the player) and assaults taking place.
Try as I may, I could not find any mistakes with “Arkham City.” While the facial animations of nonplayable characters were still lacking (although much better than the first game) and the amount of villains spaced throughout the story sometimes seemed to be stretched, these are minor annoyances in a perfect game. Batman fans and video game fans alike will rejoice as they pour countless hours into this new classic.