Batman: Arkham Asylum was a surprise hit for 2009, by being both a great action game and the best superhero game made. Six months have passed since the events of Arkham Asylum and now Dr. Hugo Strange has been assigned to run Arkham City – which can’t be good. I can’t detail how it is you get into Arkham City, but it’s one of the strongest and engaging openings to a game. Batman now has to find and stop Hugo Strange all while deterring some of the great villains like The Joker, Two-Face, and the Penguin, even stopping random acts of violence within the confines of the prison. All of it seems daunting for even Batman to do alone.
The game can start out one of two ways, if you buy the game new for consoles – you can input a code for the Catwoman DLC which will intertwine her story with Batman’s and essentially start the game. If buying used on consoles, you’ll have to pay $10 for the DLC to see it. Catwoman controls pretty damn good, she’s lightweight and fast. Unfortunately, her navigation isn’t as a slick as Batman. She can use her whip to take herself places, but upon landing on a wall, is a timing game to get to the roof faster.
From the outset, you’re let loose into the prison known as Arkham City, a closed off section of what used to be a civilian inhabited section of Gotham City. But the events of Arkham Asylum with Joker’s Titan toxin and Poison Ivy’s plants having ravaged the place, everyone had to be moved to a new secure location. This section of Gotham is surrounded half by water with no nearby land, or extremely high walls topped with barbed wire guarded by TYGER, the security force. Batman at times is left to trust the very villains he sent to this prison in order to achieve his own success.
You’re given mission objectives from Oracle and Alfred, but at any time you can leave the main story path to start side missions like stopping random acts of violence and rescue “political prisoners”, collect riddler trophies, or just glide around without a care in the world. One of my favorite things you could do was climb the Asylum’s clocktower and then glide down for almost a minute. This is much improved here as now you have much taller buildings to jump off of, but now you can dive up and down to give yourself elevation and prolong your flight.
One of the funny things about diverging from the main path is that every single thing that happens is given a sense of urgency – yet here is Batman flying around, stopping other things, or collecting Riddler trophies. The Riddler, having been captured if you collected all of his trophies on Arkham Island has been busy decorating the closed off City awaiting for your eventual arrival. There are over 400 trophies to collect, insane number of riddles to solve, and people to save. It’s a much more expansive and somewhat frustrating endeavor this time.
Upgrades return, and you start out with most of the gadgets you left off with in Arkham Asylum. But you end up with a large repertoire of weapons before the game ends and even then, may not have them all. Though I did notice the Batclaw no longer could pull down walls. Not sure why it was removed. It is worth noting that if you have the Catwoman DLC installed, she’ll have a tab in the upgrades to upgrade her suit and abilities (though much reduced compared to the Bat). It’s a shared pool where you have to make decisions what should get upgraded or not. There won’t come a time in the game where you should have upgraded something, but didn’t and now you’re boned. It’s never like that, it’ll just be to your benefit if you do upgrade your Armor for resistance to combat, bullets, or to increase the range of your Crytographic Sequencer.
Combat is as good as it ever was, which certain upgrades to the core combat can yield some empowering fights and a sense of euphoria as you are fluidly taking down enemies, disarming them of their weapons, and taking down two guys at once. It’s hard not to just get caught up in Batman counter and cape stun enemies into submission. It’s a very timing focused game, and you are rewarded for timing your counters and attacks accordingly. Miss a timing, and you’ll reset your counter. If you button mash you’ll achieve some success, but learn to act accordingly and you won’t even take damage during a fight. At times during either the Challenge Rooms or in the campaign, the Titan enemies (seen in Arkham Asylum) must be taken down differently. It’s detailed as to how you do it, it’s almost easier this time around – just a modified from how you had to before.
Having played the entire game on PC, I can say this is the definitive version to get if you have a powerful computer and video card. I played most of the game in DX9, as (at the time of this writing) DX11 is experiencing some issues with FPS drops and uneven performance. The visuals are a treat, I did not play the PC version in any 3D form as my video card can display it – I consider it an extra, not a necessity to the gameplay experience. But everywhere I went I ranged from 50-60fps while outdoors and indoors. It’s worth noting that console versions are capped at 30fps.
One major complaint I have about the story, while being vague is that there are too many “stop-go” mission objectives. Every time Batman gets close to succeeding, an event stops him and he must derail from that objective and address a new issue before proceeding. It happens a bit too much for my liking – as it seems to artificially lengthen the story. There could have been another way to deal and address this without being so blatant. Which is why the story was bit better in Arkham Asylum as it felt “tighter” and “exact”. Here it’s a bit hap-hazard with the open-worldness.
A personal favorite for the game for me is the ability to set a custom waypoint, all waypoints are indicated by the Batsignal – just an amazingly clever touch by the guys at Rocksteady Studios who show that they gave the game every bit of love, care, and attention it needed.
When the (extremely) lengthy end credits are over, you unlock the ability to start New Game Plus which is like starting a new game on Hard, but it will share the Riddler trophies, upgrades, and gadgets you’ve unlocked with your regular save. New Game+ will allow you to play through the story again, while more difficult – removing counter indicators and giving you the opportunity to earn more XP to max out Batman and Catwoman’s abilities.
Batman: Arkham City is a bigger, badder, and better game. Arkham Asylum set an incredibly high bar, but the breadth of content and replability that Arkham City provides is unmatched as you’ll near 50 hours worth of game here. The bar has been definitely raised if not for a few fumbles in the story direction.