Batman: Arkham City
PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to 2009's critically-acclaimed Batman: Arkham Asylum. The original is widely considered one of the best superhero video games of all time, so where does Rocksteady Studios go from here? Turns out, there was opportunity to make an even better game, and Rocksteady does just that.
Former Arkham Asylum warden Quincy Sharp, now mayor of Gotham City, closes Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Penitentiary and buys the slums of Gotham and converts it all into a huge prison facility, aptly named Arkham City. Professor Hugo Strange is put in charge of this facility, who has Bruce Wayne arrested when he publicly opposes it. Thrown in amongst criminals, Bruce manages to escape the Penguin and retrieve his Batman gear, and is soon tracking down the very (physically) sick Joker and Strange while discovering the truth of a plan called "Protocol 10". Along the way, he will encounter almost every major villain he has ever faced. The story, perhaps in virtue of involving so many characters, certainly feels very epic. Though there are references to the previous game, all you really have to know is that the Joker has become sick, so you can jump into this game even if (for some bizarre reason) you haven't played Arkham Asylum.
The city setting of Arkham City is naturally much less claustrophobic than being confined to Arkham Asylum. Besides having more opportunity to grapple and glide around, you really feel like Batman when you're on the rooftops of the city and then swoop in on unsuspecting thugs.
The combat is similar to the original game, again with an emphasis on stealth. You can carefully take out thugs one at a time with the use of plenty of Batman-esque tactics like silent takedowns from behind or above. Even so, there will be many necessary encounters with multiple enemies at once in melee combat. Knowing how to counter is key, and there are many fighting skills to deploy, and some can be learned or improved on during the course of levelling up in the game. And of course, there's the use of bat-themed gadgets. I was able to dispatch crowds of thugs smoothly and easily, though playing with a mouse and keyboard, it wasn't always easy to fluidly pull off combos involving particular gadgets (mapped to the number keys above the alphabet, not the number pad), but that's a minor complaint. In the end, showing criminals who's boss is satisfying, and the close-up/slow-motion final hit as each encounter ends never gets old.
Batman's arsenal of gadgets and "Detective Mode" are also used outside of combat as he solves mysteries relating to the main storyline, or in other missions, particularly when outsmarting the Riddler. The Riddler has scattered a number of Riddler Trophies, either hidden or in plain sight all over the city, though many require the creative use of gadgets to obtain. The Riddler also obviously has a number of riddles to solve, which are mostly puns or wordplay regarding elements of the Batman universe, that you have to find the item/answer and scan. Showing how much smarter you are than the Riddler is a fun change of pace when you do need a break from beating on bad guys, and with so much to do, completists will certainly feel some pride in doing it all. (While the sheer number of Trophies and answers to riddles and their potential to be hidden anywhere in the city, it can sound intimidating, but it's made considerably easier once Batman is able to identify known accomplices of the Riddler. If Batman can avoid knocking them out until dispatching the rest of a group of enemies, he can interrogate them and then the locations of a number of Trophies and riddle answers appear on the map.) Besides these intellectual pursuits, there are also the Riddler's Challenges, physical challenges like gliding a certain distance or pulling off a lengthy combo or defeating enemies in certain ways. Finding enough of these Trophies/answers and doing Challenges reveal death traps set up by the Riddler around the city, where Batman must rescue hostages, again using his brains and gadgets to disable traps and avoid danger, ultimately finding where the elusive Edward Nigma is hiding.
The various villains of Batman make up one of the most well-known and diverse "rogues' galleries" of any superhero, and any major villain that I can think of has a part in this game. (However, there are two villains who appear very briefly and one who doesn't even appear at all - except as an answer to one of Riddler's riddles - but these very few notable exceptions all appeared in the previous game.) Even a few of the lesser-known characters appear here in some way, especially in the secondary missions, whether villains like Zsasz and Calendar Man or heroes like Azrael and Jack Ryder. Some of the minor parts may be cameo-like roles, but are certainly more than a mere reference, like someone's distinct prison cell or a trademark item as an answer to one of Riddler's riddles, which is as much as even some major villains only got in the first game.
Unlockable audio recordings provide more background on certain villains, and character profiles for everyone unlocked during the course of the game become a handy in-game reference for all of Batman's friends and foes. Catwoman, often portrayed as a heroic character besides just a villain, is also playable (if you access the DLC), with her own concurrent storyline and different play mechanics, as well as her own (though smaller) set of Riddler Trophies/Challenges to obtain and do.
Each boss battle is unique, and I won't spoil them here, but they are appropriate considering the personalities and traits for each villain. Battles with characters that shouldn't be a match for Batman physically (like the Mad Hatter and the Penguin) still present particular challenges. In one particular boss battle, you will be told that you can attack the villain in any of a dozen ways, but he adapts after each attack so you can't use that same method again, so you have to use five different ways of taking him down. You will enjoy every boss battle, and none of them are frustratingly difficult.
After finishing the game, even if you've solved every one of the Riddler's riddles and did all the side missions, your file will only say it has 71% completion. To get 100%, you must also play Riddler's Revenge, where you can play as not only Batman and Catwoman, but Robin and Nightwing as well, in combat situations that get increasingly difficult.
If you bought the game at a particular store chain, you can access certain alternate costumes. You can play as versions of Batman from particular storylines, or wear the very blue 1970s suit. I particularly enjoyed playing as Animated Batman and Animated Catwoman, as they appear in the 1990s animated series. It's a sharp and amusing juxtaposition to see these cartoon characters in this gritty city beating up comparatively realistic-looking thugs.
All in all, it is a very solid game. If you are a Batman fan - and really, who isn't - you will enjoy the epic story likely featuring your favourite villains. And it's fairly lengthy, easily a few dozen hours, especially if you do all there is to do, especially thanks to the Riddler. The combat is engaging, the gadgets are fun to use, and the secondary missions allow more of the villains to shine. If there's ever a game that makes you feel like Batman, this is it. Well, Arkham Asylum does too. But Arkham City takes everything from the original and just makes it all bigger and better. If you like Batman or video games at all, this is one action/stealth title you can't miss.