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Batman: Arkham City Review

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On 10/24/2011 at 10:36 PM by Jon Lewis

One of the best games this year, period.

For all gamers. This is one of 2011's best, and shouldn't be missed.

Seldom is there a licensed game as good as Batman: Arkham City. It succeeds in all of the areas that Arkham Asylum failed, while also keeping the fantastic ambiance, gameplay, and loyalty to the Batman franchise that we came to expect from the original. Pretty much every time I picked it up I easily ended up dropping at least three hours into the game and had no desire to put it down. I will go as far to say that Batman: Arkham City is not only the best comic based game ever, but a contender for game of the year.

For those who don’t know, Batman: Arkham City picks up about a year after the previous game ends. Since then, the previous warden of Arkham Asylum, Quincy Sharp, has become the mayor and has sectioned off a part of Gotham City in order to hold Gotham’s deadliest and most cynical criminals within its confines. He dubs it Arkham City (hence the title) and lets the inmates roam freely within its walls. Involved in this is Hugo Strange, a doctor who has a dark history with the Dark Knight, and is one of the few who hold the truth to Batman’s darkest secret: his identity. This is only the backdrop of an incredibly epic tale, involving a great amount of Batman’s foes, allies, and other mysterious characters from the Batman lore.

Gameplay overall is simple; you press a button to deploy your grapple launcher, and another to glide. Using these tools, getting around has never been easier. The newly added “grapnel” booster, an upgrade to the grapple launcher, is one of my favorite additions, making it so Batman almost has the ability to fly across Arkham’s dark, cold skies. This especially comes in handy because of the shift from the dungeon-to-dungeon formula of Arkham Asylum to an open world format. This means that even though you always have your story mission at hand, there are always side missions popping up on the map that can be tackled at any time, pre-mission or post game.

The Metroid-like item collection also makes a return, yet in a bit less predictable fashion. Players gain new items as they progress and defeat bosses, gaining items like the grapnel boost and the new freeze grenades along the way. Combat also has seen great improvements, with new combo attacks, animations, and more access to gadgets within combat. Batman’s all about melee combat, but utilizes his cape, batarangs, and grapple hook, as well as many of the other items that Batman gets his hands on over the course of his adventure, such as the previously mentioned freeze grenades.

I will admit that one of my gripes with the game is that while you do have access to many of your gadgets in combat through the “quickfire” system, using them all seamlessly is very complicated and often breaks the flow of combat. “Quickfire” is this game's version of hotkeys, which basically gives players quick and easy access to Batman’s equipment during battle. Of course the hassles of quickfire are relative, and players will probably be able to master the system with enough effort, but using more than three “quickfire” gadgets at once can become pretty hectic. Items like batarangs, the grapple hook, and freeze grenades are pretty useful in combat, but using the explosive gel always led to combo-breaking results and isn’t as easy to use as some of the other items. Other than that, the free flow combat provided by this gameplay system is incredibly fun and in my opinion, one of the best in gaming.

Stealth combat is also integral to the Batman experience and this game adds to that formula as well. Batman can still use stealth takedowns as well as his various gadgets to vanquish the typically well armed enemies. This time around, he has more options than before. One addition in particular is the double takedown, which allows Batman to take down multiple foes at once, which makes stealth sequences a lot more bearable. Detective vision comes in handy once again during these sequences, providing ample viewing around corners and through walls so you can plan your attacks carefully. Of course, detective vision was one thing that brought down the Arkham Asylum experience as players became too reliant on its usefulness. Thankfully, it’s been tweaked to obscure mostly everything else that isn’t an enemy, so players will only want to activate it when necessary.

Another area where Arkham City shines are the boss fights. These encounters are never similar and always require a bit of thought in how to go about taking down the enemy. The boss fight against Ra’s Al Ghul was particularly stunning and satisfying, as Ra’s uses mystical powers during the fight which create pretty impressive visual effects. My personal favorite was the Mister Freeze boss fight which tested my knowledge of the stealth combat. You can’t take him on hand to hand, so stealth is the only option. He is strong and will punish you with his ice gun, so staying hidden and finding different strategies to hit him become a challenge. For example, try a silent takedown from behind, and while it may work at first, he will then activate a barrier which prevents you from using that attack again. This changes the way you think about the fight, and encourages you to use your different items as well as the environment to deal out damage. That battle in particular was one of the most innovative bosses that I’ve ever fought, for you must always change up your tactics and can’t attack him the same way twice.

It’s easy to get completely invested in Arkham City’s story. This is because between the core story missions, there are TONS of side missions to take part in, much of them so beautifully developed that it’s amazing to believe they're just a side mission. For example, Victor Zsasz who was a minor criminal in the first game, has a side quest that really develops him in a way that illuminates how truly psychotic he is. By its climax, there is not only a sense of accomplishment, but you walk away remembering his character in a way that even Arkham Asylum didn’t manage. Of course, it’s all optional. The main story segments are just as gripping as they were in the first game, but to a much more intense degree. The brilliant introduction and jaw-dropping conclusion are only some of what makes the story so gripping. The overarching story ranges from Batman’s investigation into Hugo Strange’s “Protocol 10,” to his relationship with Talia al’ Ghul, to his fight to cure a disease plagued upon him by the Joker. The amazing cast of characters, ranging from allies such as the playable Catwoman, to villains like Mr. Freeze, and especially the Joker will never leave you bored.

The soundtrack sets a traditional “Batman-like” tone that is dark, heroic, and epic all at the same time. Voice actors Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (Joker) reprise their roles and knock the production values out of the park. They've done justice to their respective characters to an almost scary degree. Newcomers also do a fine job as well, with Tara Strong taking on the role of Harley Quinn. To the untrained ear, one could barely tell the difference between her and the original voice actor, Arleen Sorkin. Other little details sprung out at me, like the constant chatter of Arkham City’s inmates. Their conversations were not only relevant to the story but interesting to listen to, conveying a sense that you are indeed in a criminal infested area.

Batman: Arkham City is an achievement on all levels. Providing a deep, fast paced story, a vast open world full of sidequests and collectibles to explore, and more of the gameplay that we loved from its predecessor, Arkham City again rises to greatness. Batman fan or not, nobody should miss this fantastic game, and with Nightwing and Robin DLCs on the way, there's even more incentive to pick it up.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.




10/25/2011 at 01:48 AM

The Mr. Freeze boss battle was great, one of the best I've seen.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/25/2011 at 02:27 AM

I'm having a hard time getting into this one. It's very bloated, like it is trying way too hard to be bigger, better, more badass. I really dislike the open world bits, but when the game focuses down to the indoor levels it's great.

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

10/25/2011 at 10:58 AM

I suppose open world isnt exactly for everyone, but personally I like the sense of freedom and option provided by open world games. This game does it correctly i believe, because while it is open world, the indoor sections are just as good as Arkham Asylum's.

Jesse Miller Staff Writer

10/25/2011 at 11:15 AM

I'd love to play this, but I still need to play through the original - and I likely won't get to that till after the holiday rush. Seriously, December can't get here fast enough.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/25/2011 at 02:25 PM

I like open world games, but there's a right and a wrong way to do them. I feel like there are constant distractions popping up on my screen every few seconds. And there's more pointless collectibles than a Rare N64 game. I think it's a great game, but I wanted less distractions and more focused gameplay.


10/25/2011 at 02:43 PM

I thought the open world was balanced very well. Closer in style to a 3D Zelda than something overwhelming like Oblivion or GTA.

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