Batman: Arkham City Review (Xbox360)

Well, one thing’s for sure about Batman: Arkham City - it’s a game I will never, ever stop playing. It’s full of surprises, gigantically better than the already superb Arkham Asylum, packed with content, and almost certainly my game of the year. When I think about things wrong with it all I can muster up are minor quibbles. It’s everything a Batman fan could possibly want, or gaming fans in general for that matter. It’s also impossible to talk about.

Seriously, I want to scream all the great moments from on high, so I’ll just sum up my favourite bits in single non-descriptive words: Sword. Ears. Bear. Trials. Tracker. Identity. Watcher. Respects. Beginning. Middle. End. When you play the game you’ll be able to work out my cryptic clues… maybe. Of course you’ll need to find everything first, and that’ll take you weeks. Seriously, I’ve seen Elder Scrolls games less full of content.

I could do this until I die

Regarding story (that I can actually reveal), it’s about six months after the events of Arkham Asylum. Former Warden Quincy Sharp, promising massive anti-crime reforms, has become mayor of Gotham City and has created a massive open prison to house every criminal in the city. Arkham City, the brainchild of mysterious psychiatrist Dr Hugo Strange, has quickly devolved into gang warfare with the major villains like Penguin and Two-Face vying for control. But Strange has his own plans, and is the Joker dying?

If you’re thinking “I know all that from the trailers” you’re not alone, but that’s really all I can give away. I can’t even tell you about the beginning, which is so cool, and I felt so much joy just because I never expected the game to start like that. Seriously, I know you’re looking forward to playing the game but for god’s sake DO NOT LOOK UP THE BEGINNING ON YOUTUBE. It’s the very definition of “spoiler”, in that you’ll do nothing but spoil the experience for yourself.

The rest of the game’s like that too. I just want to tell you about that rooftop “rescue”, or discovering a surprise character (who admittedly doesn’t really make sense in canon), or a secret buried deep under Gotham City, or the proper detective missions, or the bit after the helicopter bit with the ears… and now I’m just jibbering, but it all makes sense honest. Arkham City’s stuffed with amazing twists and surprises, so do yourself a favour – don’t spoil yourself.

Arkham City itself is pretty damn big, although it might not seem bigger than Arkham Asylum since you had to traipse pretty slowly around that. Here you can run, glide and grapple from one end to the other in about 2-3 minutes, which you’ll probably have to do at some point. The detail though is amazing, as the City is packed with side-streets, subways, platforms, and secrets – it is a proper open-world, and has received a lot of attention to make it feel a real slice of Batman’s Gotham. While you can soar across the city quite quickly you’ll spend days exploring every nook and cranny, and I will guarantee that even if you plan to just get to your next objective something will distract you. It might be an innocent getting assaulted, a side-mission popping up, or a Riddler question mark catching your eye, but curiosity will inevitably kick in.

Oh yes, the Riddler’s back, and now solving his puzzles and collecting his trophies actually makes sense because there are lives on the line. Trophies are scattered all over Arkham City and most require either feats of dexterity or have a puzzle to work out. Get enough of them and you’ll have to solve a proper riddle (albeit with the answer available in minigame form) which will lead you to one of Edward Nygma’s death-trap rooms. The first few are easy to get through, but the difficulty soon ramps up – although you’ll have spent hours in the game before that happens. Hell, you’ll probably have clocked it already.

You’ll need absolute control over Batman, his gadgets and his moves to beat the Riddler’s challenges, so it’s a good thing that the controls are utterly perfect. They’re mostly the same as Arkham Asylum’s with a few tweaks and upgrades, like a new Slide move which can get you under small gaps and a lot more combat moves. It’s amazing how much extra Rocksteady have put in without overcomplicating the last game’s already superb control set.

This is the last time we’ll hear Mark Hamill, but is it the last time we’ll see Joker?

There are a few new gadgets which are all available from the D-pad, with several having quick-fire moves for use in combat. This is the only bit that skirts closest to over-complication. Left Trigger + Y for Batclaw is fair enough, but double-tapping Right Trigger for Freeze Grenades? Luckily there are only a small number of combat gadgets and none of them have to be used in battle, so it’s merely something to master rather than an annoyance – so it’s the good side of complicated.

Catwoman’s also playable in the game of course, although you’ll need to buy the game new to use her in the Challenge maps and campaigns (yes, campaigns). She’s not as strong as Batman but is more agile, and can grip to the ceiling. She can get places he can’t and has her own set of Riddler trophies to find scattered over the entire City. Her animation for swinging between buildings is impressive, as she seems to take joy in diving off rooftops in a way Batman just casually does. She isn’t in it as much as you might expect, although she has a definite presence and will face enemies you’ll never see as Batman. You can upgrade both her and Batman to get extra moves, armour (for both melee and firearms), and gadgets, just like in the first game – just with a lot more.

Getting back to the story, which is really the lynchpin of the Arkham City experience, you can tell that an expert comic book writer was behind it. Paul Dini has crafted a masterpiece on par with some of the best Batman graphic novels, and that’s not hyperbole. You thought Arkham Asylum was a little predictable? Prepare to be blown away. His dialogue and plotting are superb, but the realisation of these decades-old characters is even better.

I’m not going to spend time on the reappearances from the first game (you know Mark Hamill’s Joker is great, don’t you?), but the new appearances are spot-on. Mr Freeze is tragic, intelligent, reasonable, yet powerful when riled. Two-Face is divided, obsessed with justice, and isn’t nearly in it enough. Hugo Strange oversees all and is arguably the most frightening, as he is the one with the master-plan. My favourite though, and the one who’s undergone the most radical reinvention, is easily The Penguin, who’s a nasty piece of work.

The voicework is excellent, particularly Maurice LaMarche’s sad Orson Welles-esque Mr Freeze, Nolan North’s sadistic cockney Penguin and Corey Burton’s Christopher Lee imitation on Hugo Strange. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy of course slip back into their definitive Joker and Batman voices with ease, and although it’s upsetting to think that this'll be the last time we hear the ex-Skywalker as the Clown Prince of Crime at least he’s going out on a high note. Sticking with audio the music’s certainly worth a mention, referencing both Danny Elfman’s and Hans Zimmer’s scores, and it quite put me off in the middle of combat when an epic choir kicked in.

We’re nearly at the end now, so is there anything bad to be said about the game? Yes, but nothing more than quibbles really. I’ll name the two worst. Firstly, the game does a poor job of introducing a few important moves such as the Slide, which I quickly forgot about and became essential several hours later. Secondly, it’s hard to keep track of the proper location-scan riddles – they appear on the map after tracking down Riddler Informants (which you can intimidate after combat, so leaving them until last adds an extra layer of strategy to fighting), but you can’t find out what riddle applies to where as easily as you could in Arkham Asylum. Also, one particular major surprise character has a bit of a poor voice.

The guy on the left is me, and the right is my editor. He earned the score, honest

So, nothing that will stop the game getting the highest possible score then. This is the first 10/10 I’ve ever given and, frankly, it’s nerve-wracking. What if another player finds a major fault I didn’t notice? What if my love of Batman has blinded me to a load of obvious flaws? You have to be very confident in a game’s excellence to give it such a high score though – and I am. Batman: Arkham City is stuffed to the edge of the disc with content and replay value (in addition to the gigantic campaign there’s an expanded Challenge Mode and New Game Plus), is incredible amounts of fun, is polished to perfection, has had real love poured into every aspect, and most importantly, it makes you feel like Batman. In this age of same-again sequels this outshines and improves on Arkham Asylum in every way, and it’s quite possible even if you didn’t like that one you might still like this. Buy it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve spent far too long writing about Arkham City, I’m going back in to finish The Riddler’s riddles off once and for all. Then play the whole thing again.

Top Game Moment: You’re kidding, aren’t you? How about pressing ‘Start New Game’ for the first time?



By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Oct 14, 2011

Wow...has this happened before?

Nevermind that, not important. All that matters is where I left my money.
By JonahFalcon (SI Elite) on Oct 15, 2011
I played it at NYCC. Can't wait to pick it up for PC.
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Oct 15, 2011
Seriously, is the game this friggin good? Nice :)

I haven't played Asylum even though i heard it's great but I'll make sure to play this one, i love open world games.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Oct 15, 2011
Oh dear God, 10 hehe. Well congrats. Damn I only play PES on my 360. I'll wait for PC anyways...
By JonahFalcon (SI Elite) on Oct 15, 2011
@nocutius: Pick up Arkham Asylum for $20 new (or $10 used).
By Jasca_Ducato (SI Core) on Oct 16, 2011
I just thought you'd like to know, I had absolutely no intention of buying the game on release day, what with my restricted pre-christmas fund n all that.

Yer, that went out the window once I read this review...
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Oct 19, 2011
I am looking forward to the PC release (DX11 and PhysX effects should be brilliant). The review you've given here Chris is the best I've seen and read, not that I'm biased. Just enough information, wiith a good dollop of excitation to get the blood pumping.
Judging by this, and naturally the replay value I have no doubt the game deserves the perfect score. Some reviewers may not agree with a 10, but I'll bet us grubby gamers will endorse it.
The "thugs-in-a-circle" has been refined by the looks of things as well, and I do like the new gadget for....sorry, *spoilers*.
By noobst3R (SI Core) on Oct 23, 2011
Good review for a game that hopefully is even better than AA. (Well, if only it was larger than AA it would be good, but seems to have some cool new stuff and tech!)
By Jasca_Ducato (SI Core) on Oct 24, 2011
It's a good game, though I was a little disappointed with Strange's presence, or lack thereof, in-game. Also, some character decisions annoyed me, but besides that, it's a solid title.