Batman: Arkham City Review (PS3/360)

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.

[drop2] 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.

[drop] 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. Am I missing something? Are the trophies for catwoman not in a seperate list labeled DLC? I know there is a section there, don’t know if there are trophies in the main list too though.

    Also RE your comment on feeling like you get dropped in. Even after playing Arkham Asylum recently, I still felt totally overwhelmed at first. Especially with the Catwoman instant fight section.

    Still, great game, great review. I don’t mind the AI, but I did find the world map slightly daunting when I first went into it!

    • They are in a separate list (as are the Robin and Nightwing DLC trophies) if you sort them that way but they all count towards the same game percentage, as far as I can tell.

      • I suppose that will be an interesting one to find out. Sure someone will let us know soon enough, but not me. I keep getting my ass kicked.

  2. I agree with the verdict. I think this game is amazing everything just works in it. The ending is a bit of a like it or not but it is the kind of you did not see that coming kind of ending and i liked it

  3. fantastic review and wow a 10/10 :) I must seriously consider getting this.

  4. Great Review Peter
    I am loving this game I just completed last night and was blown away when I got to the highest point and saw Gotham City, the veiws was spectacular dark and gritty.
    I am currently hunting Riddles and the trophies, as you all know me I hate collectibles well not Batman: Arkham City, the riddles are challenging and they do appear on the map once you interrogate thugs and start collecting these collectibles have a Bio on characters and their strenght and weakness aswell as Environments etc…. absolutely a bonus even for a Batman fan =D
    Can’t wait to try out Challenge Rooms after I find all 400 riddler’s trophies (so far 190 found)

  5. Excellent review Peter. Even though i am p*ssed off about the Batpass(seriously, why didn’t they call it that?) for Batman AC, i plan on getting it as a reward when i get a job. :)

    To be honest, i thought the thugs in the DC universe were always thick hence the AI. ;)

  6. Really looking forward to Bats. It’s my birthday on Wednesday, so hopefully something bat-shaped will be winging its way to me then :)

  7. Very happy to stick to my principles and deny myself ‘one of the best games of the year’.

    • Same here, another games company or hobby of mine can have the 40 quid I’d long ago earmarked for this. Not to mention the DLC I’d likely have bought if Asylum was anything to go by. It’s a drop in the ocean, but I’m sticking to my guns.

    • Uh-huh, me too. Though it helps that I hated the first one so it’s not really much of a test of willpower to avoid this one.

  8. Is the review spoiler free CB? I’m not getting the game until christmas so am keen to avoid any further spoilers (thanks Kotaku you kents)

  9. Woah 10/10! We don’t usually get these scores, looks like I’m gonna trust your judgement and purchase this!

  10. God damn it Peter!

    I’ve had this pre-ordered for a while but have to wait until later today to get it! You’ve written such a nice review my excitement is now crippling me, and I’ll have to wait until after college (read: around 11 PM) to play it.

    *Grumble, grumble*…

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