Batman: Arkham City Review
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360
Gotham City's infamous facilities Arkham Asylum and Blackgate prison have closed. The newly elected mayor, Quincy Sharp, has closed off the older, crime-ridden portions of Gotham to create a massive prison dubbed Arkham City. Placed under the stewardship of the mysterious psychiatrist, Dr. Strange, Arkham City is now home to petty criminals and supervillains alike – all subject to Dr. Strange's mysterious machinations. Unfortunately for the inmates, political prisoners aren't the only innocents stuck in Arkham City – Batman's here too, and he's determined to take down Arkham City.
Damn. Batman: Arkham City is easily the best game I've played this year. I didn't want that to be true, because I'm just not a comic book guy. Everything in Batman: Arkham City works, almost cartoonishly well. A big part of me wanted my fondest game memories of 2011 to involve high fantasy or high-tech warfare in powered armor, but no. The most fun I've had involves a man in a silly suit with a gravelly voice and exceptionally useful gadgets with exceptionally banal names.
Batman is gruff, equipped with every gadget under the moon and stuck in a huge expanse of city populated nearly exclusively by criminals who need to be roughed up. The Penguin, Two-Face and the Joker are fighting over territory inside Arkham City – at least the portions Hugo Strange's goons haven't claimed. I don't have the depth of comic book chops to comment on the gravity of the DC-inspired content, but I can promise that just about anyone with the slightest interest in games will be impressed. Batman: Arkham City polishes everything from 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum adding so much more – the most impressive of which is the vast, open, urban prison itself.
Batman: Arkham City is really three games, each of which nearly merits its own top-tier release. The main game is the primary story, in which Batman faces off against the signature villains from his past. With tons of side-stories, Batman is pulled in every direction as he attempts to save his own life, stop a serial killer, end an assasination spree and work as a tenuous ally with his former foes. As Batman, I got to do everything, but there was constant tension – I always felt pulled to every murder, assault and insane villain's latest scheme. There were usually several urgent evil plots to thwart, keeping me constantly busy, without even considering the Riddler's schemes.
The Riddler, that narcissistic madman with a penchant for riddles and poor dress sense, has filled Arkham City with collectibles (I mean... riddles), and rather than (I suppose I should say "in addition to") pointless unlockables, those collectibles have to be found to save the lives of innocent medical personnel. To do so, Batman has to explore every facet of Arkham City, stick his bat ears into every corner and solve every puzzle. Somehow, that justification makes a difference. Collectibles I might otherwise ignore are collectibles I'll hunt down with gusto to save the lives of (virtual and fictional) innocents. Plus, collectibles left as direct challenges by a madman somehow make more sense to me than artifcats hidden by ancient aliens or just lying around the landscape. It gave me a chance at every turn to distract myself with exploration and self-contained puzzle challenges.
I dearly loved the main story, the exploration, the riddles and the action, but the third game revolves entirely around Batman: Arkham City's combat. The combat in Batman: Arkham City is superb. An enormous variety of moves and gadgets can be linked together to form exciting combos in which Batman faces hordes of enemy thugs. It's a nice counterpoint to the exploration, acrobatics and plot, but I tremendously appreciate the ability to take a deliberate approach, terrorizing foes and picking them off stealthily, one-by-one, like the Batman.
Others may enjoy the combat challenge maps, in which Batman (or other unlockable and purchasable characters) face off against hordes of foes, but they weren't for me. The rest of the game was so excellent that I just looked on the challenge maps as an unwelcome side. They are a chance to test your twitch skills and perfect your combos against a slew of combatants, but only if what you really want is a brawler, rather than a chance for Batman to be the gruff detective that I enjoyed.
Batman: Arkham City is, simply, awesome. If you aren't one of the millions who have already picked up a copy of the game, you'll want to do so. If you're a PC gamer and haven't yet had a chance to play, get excited. Batman: Arkham City is for everyone, comic enthusiast or not.