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Review

Batman: Arkham City Review (PS3/360)

Batmania.

Batman is about duality: intimidation and compassion; violence and justice; intelligence and physicality; stealth and combat. The surface trappings of the situation are ridiculous if viewed from a certain angle. But look at it from another angle and you have a young, intelligent boy who suffers a psychotic break when he witnesses his beloved parents murdered at the hand of a criminal made desperate by the social problems and deep-rooted corruption in Gotham. He has limitless resources with which to avenge – or commemorate – his parents and the situations that led to their demise.

So we have Batman: Arkham City, similarly dichotomous in its approach. This game also requires a similar degree of willing acceptance for its premise to work.


Batman's zombie impression didn't go down well.
There are two main areas in which we’re asked to suspend our disbelief. That Arkham City, a walled-off area of Gotham given over to any and all criminal elements, was allowed at all and that the area assigned was the part of town that contained so many desirable amenities. Within Arkham City’s walls we have a museum, a courthouse, a funfair, a steel mill, the Gotham City Police Department headquarters and a major bank, among various other buildings. It makes for a much more interesting and expansive game area but seems unlikely outside of this fictional environment.

On top of this, we also have to allow for the wholly necessary conceit that enemies don’t have the greatest levels of intelligence. The artificial intelligence in Arkham Asylum was oft-bemoaned as too simplistic and Arkham City, although much improved, still suffers noticeably from dumb AI. Regardless of how unplayable this game (or any game) would become with all-seeing, all-knowing opponents, this will be what some detractors choose to criticise the game for, so it’s worth noting here.

Those small infractions aside, Arkham City is as robust a world and as enjoyable an experience as you could ever hope to find in a videogame.

It all starts a little suddenly, almost dropping you in at the deep end. The feeling that you’re expected to have played through Arkham Asylum is overwhelming in the early stages. Controls are explained but usually alongside their requirement rather than before it. Prior knowledge of the first Rocksteady Batman game is not entirely necessary to the enjoyment of this one, at least once the control nuances have settled, but it would give you something of an advantage in the first thirty minutes or so.

From here on in, the game sets a fantastic pace. Plot lines are developed naturally, without feeling too rushed, and the action comes at a pace that will ensure you’re never left wanting more to do. This is all the more accomplished given the fact that you are free to explore the city-within-a-city at your leisure, taking on side missions and incidental combat.

The writing is as fantastic as we should expect with famed Batman veteran, Paul Dini, at the helm and the voice work never fails to do it justice. The detail in the incidental voice work is a nice touch too. Overheard goons can be found talking about current in-game events rather than just spouting canned lines. With vocals from talent like Mark Hamill (Star Wars, Batman: The Animated Series), Stana Katic (Castle) and the ubiquitous Nolan North (Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, everything else) we have a wonderfully talented cast who show that voice over work is a special talent in and of itself. One particular highlight is Nolan North doing the voice of a goon who was impersonating Mark Hamill’s Joker.

Much has been made of the downloadable Catwoman content and, although it could certainly have been handled with greater tact, those sections are very much dropped into the game. They provide a bit of variation, some extra cinematic credentials and a superfluous, though welcome, sub plot. Nothing that you couldn’t live without, although they are entertaining enough and provide a nice gameplay variation once the story is finished and you’re allowed back into the world to mop up side missions and explore. It is egregious that a game’s single player mode and trophies or achievements are affected by downloadable content, if only for those first purchasers who don’t connect their consoles to the internet. That said, there’s nothing missing that’s essential to the game.

Missing Catwoman content might be more noticeable in the game modes outside of the main story mode. Certainly the fast fluid nature of her combat, along with her different set of gadgets, is a great variation on the exceptionally good free-flowing combat, which is again an improvement over Arkham Asylum’s previously unrivalled combat system.


Batman doesn't do hugs.
The challenge rooms return with new mini campaigns which are unlocked upon discovery of Riddler Trophies in the main story mode. These consist of little triplets of grouped missions with a mix of combat and “Predator” style rooms. There are 72 ranked challenges with leaderboards to feed your competitive urges and 108 other missions in mini-campaigns, each playable with any of the characters you have available (Batman, Catwoman or the pre-order bonus, Robin).

The side mission content is perhaps the biggest upgrade from Arkham Asylum, with a plethora of extra little missions to do, which will earn you experience points to level up your equipment and abilities as well as give clever little nods to Batman fans. On top of the Riddler trophies, which now have lots of little mini puzzles and dexterity tricks required to gain access, there are incidental missions and tasks which can be picked up around the expansive map.

You get plenty to spend your gathered XP on too, there are several new additions to Batman’s gadget stash and some new abilities to unlock as you progress. As in Arkham Asylum, you can gain access to previously unreachable areas once you have the right gadgets. In Arkham City, you begin the game with a decent selection already in your arsenal and it rapidly expands, especially if you choose to upgrade gadgets when you level up rather than upgrading combat skills or batsuit abilities.

The main story mode doesn’t present enough opportunity to fully upgrade all areas but with the addition of side missions and the free roam which becomes available at the end of the story, you shouldn’t have to wait too long to see Batman’s entire range of abilities. New Game Plus mode only unlocks once you’ve completed the main story on normal or hard difficulty but if you do repeat your play through you should be fully stocked before you hit the halfway point.

Pros:

  • Best group combat system.
  • City is expansive and easily traversed with plenty to do.
  • Lots of gadgets to upgrade and play with.
  • So much to explore, discover and experience.
  • Batman fan service is rife.

Cons:

  • The bold ending will either delight or disappoint.
  • It is very contrived in certain areas – the AI being the most noticeable.

Rocksteady has managed to do something nobody else has in the two years since Arkham Asylum: they’ve improved on that combat system. Add to that the larger, more free-roaming play area as well as the masses of extra content and Arkham City is an exceptional achievement.

Allow a few of its necessary contrivances to go unquestioned (or even embrace them) and this is one of the most joyful videogame experiences money can buy. It is possible to focus on the negatives, particularly in the way the game’s launch was handled with regards to downloadable content and first-purchaser codes, but to do so would be to deny yourself one of the best games of this year.

Score: 10/10

Note: This game was reviewed from the PS3 version.

56 Comments
  1. Jim H [Teabags]
    Member
    Since: Nov 2009

    For me, Batman would probably get a high 8 or a 9. The story was interesting at first and there are plenty of characters to interactive with, though it felt a bit sloppy in the closing section.

    Stealth sections also felt a hell of a lot weaker this time around. That said, the freeflow combat is still masterful and there well over 30 hours of content to be had.

    Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 09:06.
    • bacon_nuts
      Member
      Since: Mar 2011

      The free flow combat really is masterful, since AA, I’ve always thought that assassins creed would benefit hugely from the batman fighting system. I always hated the style in AC, it’s slow and boring, in my opinion anyway..

      Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 17:22.
      • jikomanzoku
        Member
        Since: Jan 2010

        Certainly agree on the AC vs Batman models there bacon, the flow of Rocksteadys model is superb.

        Would love to see it in a samurai game.

        Comment posted on 25/10/2011 at 09:15.
      • SYY2127
        Member
        Since: Forever

        You obviously didn’t get the Platinum. haha. If you do all the tutorials in AC, it shows you how to chain fatal blows and not focus on countering. Plus a shiny trophy.

        Comment posted on 27/10/2011 at 00:22.
    • DrNate86
      Member
      Since: Apr 2010

      I’d say a nine, it has some flaws but is an amazing game. In a way, I miss the more enclosed areas. I find the exploration in the city a little bewildering.

      Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 20:42.
      • psychobudgie
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        Completely agree with the comment on the city areas. Also felt stealth was less needed this time around which kind of defeats the idea of batman.

        Comment posted on 25/10/2011 at 14:06.
  2. cc_star
    Team TSA: Writer
    Since: Forever

    Finding an AI sweetspot somewhere between FarCry2′s seeing you even in cover from great distance to Batman AA’s I’m standing right beside you taking down your parter, must be difficult so it’s great they’ve improved on that & made a whole awesome playground for Batman on top.

    Cool beans.
    Bf3, MW3 & Uncharted3 are my next purchases though, please wait for me Batman.

    Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 09:09.
  3. Mick939
    Member
    Since: Forever

    Well deserved

    Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 09:09.
  4. R4U Eldave0
    andUandU
    Since: Aug 2008

    Nice review, though I can’t say I agree with the final score. The terrible platforming controls seen in the Mr Freeze/Penguin sections are enough to bring it down to an 8 for me. Great game overall though and one even my sister-in-law was glued to all weekend lol.

    Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 09:15.
  5. tonycawley
    Pint! Pint!
    Since: Feb 2009

    I have this on my lovefilm list and was quite happy to wait for them to send it out, but I think you’ve just bumped it up to a buy it now. Still not totally sure, I did enjoy aa but bf3 on Friday, I’ve only recently bought FIFA and there’s cod, skyrim and uc3 also coming up very soon, can’t justify them all and I think Batman has to be the one to suffer.

    Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 09:22.
    • 3shirts
      Member
      Since: Aug 2008

      Switch to BoomerangRentals mate. They are much quicker and you can switch your priorities around at any time (only one of my top 3, top 5 or anything in my list) which is handy when you have a list like mine with 3 or 4 I really want and a load in which I’m moderately interested.

      Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 09:29.
      • tonycawley
        Pint! Pint!
        Since: Feb 2009

        I’m happy with lovefilm though!

        Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 09:45.
  6. Delriach
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Most of my complaints are very nitpicky in the grand scheme of things.

    There’s too much text on screen at times. There’s no playtime counter. You can’t restore the original costumes after completing the game. When you continue on with the free roam section both Batman and Catwoman look like they’ve been through hell. It also would have been nice if there was an option to replay certain sections of the game.

    Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 09:24.
  7. 3shirts
    Member
    Since: Aug 2008

    Typo alert: “Rocksteady has managed to do something nobody else has in the two years since Arkham City: they’ve improved on that combat system.” – Shouldn’t that be Arkham Asylum?

    Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 09:27.
    • colossalblue
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      oops, yes. Thanks :)

      Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 09:38.
  8. bunimomike
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Lovely review, Peter. Not sure I’ll be leaping aboard the latex-clad bandwagon soon but I know there’s enormous fun to be had with both Batman games so will see how my free time goes in the near future.

    Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 09:53.
    • moshi
      Member
      Since: Jun 2009

      I’m sure ive seen you in latex already.

      Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 10:15.
      • nemesisND1derboy
        Member
        Since: Apr 2010

        You don’t know the half of it ;)

        Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 11:37.
      • moshi
        Member
        Since: Jun 2009

        The 30 second preview clip was enough for my eyes.

        Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 11:54.
  9. Forrest_01
    Member
    Since: Jun 2009

    This game is brilliant. It took a little longer for me to find my feet than it did in Arkham Asylum, but i think that was because i was trying to make things happen before they were supposed to (i saw some stuff done in the developer talk at egx & naturally tried to do this first!).

    An absolute wealth of things to do & the game world is wonderfully realised. Could potentially be one of the best games i have played this year (i will let you know when i finish it!).

    Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 09:58.
  10. Porcupine_I
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    *possible spoiler*

    i love the game, but story-wise i was a bit disappointed. it didn’t make too much sense, and i hate stories that make me chasing after stuff that i already know i won’t get until the end.

    Comment posted on 24/10/2011 at 10:00.

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