Oct 26, 2011

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Batman: Arkham City Review

Batman: Arkham City Review

Prior to Batman’s recent console outings, it would easily be justifiable to sneer at a game starring the Dark Knight.  In late August of ’09, Batman: Arkham Asylum released and completely took the world by surprise.  The combat was fluid, the plot fit the bill, the atmosphere was sublime, and the game succeeded in truly making you feel like Batman.  Arkham Asylum was such a success that it won multiple game-of-the-year awards and holds the Guinness World Record for “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever.”  Obviously, expectations were high for the sequel, but how could Rocksteady possibly top the greatest superhero game of all time?

The answer is simple: expand upon everything Arkham Asylum did right.  From the first 30 minutes of gameplay (sans Catwoman bonus stages) we learn that the psychiatrist Hugo Strange knows Batman’s secret identity, Batman is thrown into Arkham City, confronted by numerous amounts of criminals and the Penguin himself, and still somehow escapes and dons his iconic outfit.  It’s revealed that the former warden of Arkham Asylum, Quincy Sharp, has taken credit for thwarting Joker’s plans from the previous gameUsing the notoriety he gained from stopping Joker, Sharp has become mayor of Gotham City and has sectioned off a portion of it to house the many criminals of Blackgate and Arkham.  Sharp has appointed Strange in charge of Arkham City, and has been incarcerating anyone who opposes him (i.e., Batman).  Batman discovers that this is all according to Strange’s plan, dubbed “Protocol 10,” and he must uncover its secrets in time to save Gotham City.

From this point, players are given free reign to explore Arkham City, and Rocksteady has pulled no punches in creating a perfect compliment to Batman’s dark world.  Though the city doesn’t near Grand Theft Auto proportions, it’s incredibly vast and detailed, with nearly every area just asking to be explored.  You can spend hours simply gliding around the city, preventing random acts of violence, or just uncovering more of those returning Riddler trophies, which Rocksteady has expanded to the absurd amount of over 400!  It’s not entirely necessary to explore the city, but not doing so will prevent players from uncovering all its little secrets, as well as seeing the numerous amounts of villains the game has to offer.

Speaking of villains, Arkham Asylum had a decent amount of baddies, including the Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and the monstrosity known as Bane.  In Arkham City, you will meet The Penguin, Two-Face, Catwoman, and Hugo Strange within the first 30 minutes.  So as not to reveal any spoilers, there are countless other villains littered across Arkham City that all seem to play a major role in one way or another.  Whereas Arkham Asylum somewhat teased you with the many enemies left out, Arkham City has fully fleshed out Batman’s world, and around every corner is some psychopath waiting to take a shot.  If you’ve downloaded the Catwoman bundle pack you even get the chance to play as the theiving vixen.  Make no mistake, though, this game is about putting you in the boots of the Batman, and it does a superb job at doing so.

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Much like the first game, Batman is armed to the teeth, with gadgets both odd yet perfectly practical given the dark world he lives in.  Many of the tools used in Arkham Asylum make their return, along with a few new ones that compliment Batman’s arsenal.  Inarguably, the most useful gadget of Arkham Asylum was Batman’s detective vision, and while it’s still utilized in Arkham City, the developers have taken some measures to dissuade players from constantly using it.  Above all, though, what many fans of the original title loved was how Rocksteady nailed the fighting system with their free-flow combat.  Controls haven’t changed, but have been improved upon, which is a blessing considering enemies often attack in enormous numbers.  They’ve added the ability to counter multiple enemies at once, confuse and disorient with Batman’s new smoke pellets, and even stop enemies in their tracks with another new item.  What results is a combat system that is very simple to use and quite rewarding when timed correctly.

Enemies become wise to the presence of Batman in Arkham City, so they inevitably wield firearms and a plethora of other foreign objects.  This is where Batman’s objects play a crucial role in how situations are approached.  As beautiful as it is to watch Batman flow from enemy to enemy, it’s often wiser to employ a stealthy strategy, because enemy A.I. has also been beefed up.  Frequently, they’ll throw grenades in obvious hiding spots, shoot out statues Batman would perch on, and even drop proximity mines to cover their tracks.  The basic unarmed thugs can easily be dispatched with tapping only one button, but the smarter enemies and their bosses take a little more thinking to defeat.