When it came out in 2009, Batman: Arkham Asylum was something special. It was a superhero/comic book game that was actually good. Possibly the best of its kind, but that wasn’t saying much at the time. There are now, at least, two good games of this kind. Batman: Arkham City is, somehow, even better than Asylum. All of the best parts of Asylum are here, and have been built upon and improved to near perfection. Batman: Arkham City rarely misses a step, and when it does you’ll likely be too busy enjoying everything else in the game to notice.
The first time you take control of Bruce Wayne in Batman: Arkham City is an enthralling entrance, but I won’t spoil it for you here. Granted you purchase the game new, and redeem the Catwoman code, you start off playing as the aforementioned antihero. Catwoman takes up about five-percent of the game in total, and playing as her is a change of pace, although it seems almost meaningless until late in the game. Her sections have little, if anything, to add to what you’re attempting to accomplish with Batman, and seem like they should be some sort of side-story, rather than mixed in with the main game. The button layout for Catwoman is the same as Batman, but she plays slightly differently, with more of a focus on stealth and faster combat. She also can’t take quite as much punishment as Batman, which forces you to alter your play-style, if only slightly. Her segments don’t add much to the overall game, but are fairly enjoyable and don’t detract anything either.
The most impressive thing about Batman: Arkham City is just that; Arkham City. It’s massive, brilliantly designed, and fantastically atmospheric. The city is loaded with nods to the Batman universe and mythology, and people who are familiar with those things will be in heaven. Even though I’m not personally familiar with them, the game does a very good job of explaining almost everything you stumble upon with a bit of back-story in your files. I found myself reading every little thing I came across, and learning about some of the Batman mythology as I played through Arkham City.
Batman: Arkham City is also beautiful. Both from a design perspective and in sheer graphical fidelity. The entire city is meticulously designed, with an incredible level of detail. The game looks gorgeous, with a gritty theme consistent throughout that truly makes it feel as if you were actually in Gotham City. Character models all look good and the voice acting ranges from acceptable, to brilliant. Batman sounds good, but the real star of the show is The Joker. Mark Hammill is fantastic, and his performance is one of the best I’ve heard in any game, ever. The majority of the major characters in Arkham City are also voiced well, apart from Catwoman, who I found slightly annoying. The typical goons roaming around the city have surprisingly varied dialogue and don’t sound offensively bad, but even so, it gets old hearing them as you glide through the city, or try to listen to more important dialogue, which they will occasionally talk over.
The free-flow combat system of Arkham City, and Asylum before it, is one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing in an action game. There, I said it. And I mean it. It’s fast, smooth, intuitive, and damn fun. Batman flies seamlessly between enemies, punching each of their faces in with ballet-like grace. You’re also given the option of adding several of your gadgets to your combos, which results in even more varied ways to defeat your enemies, and a great deal more fun. Once again, as in Asylum, there are several boss fights throughout Arkham City. But, this time around they aren’t horrible! They also aren’t all that spectacular, save for a few. One boss fight in particular is very well done, constantly forcing you to change tactics throughout the course of the battle.
As in Arkham Asylum, the story of Batman: Arkham City takes place over the course of a night. The pacing of the story in Arkham City isn’t quite as good as it was in Asylum, though. This is no doubt attributed to the open-world nature of Arkham City, whereas Asylum had a sort of Metroid feel, which allowed for a more direct and deliberately paced story. What the story lacks in urgency is made up for in sheer quality, though. Twists and turns aplenty, there’s never a dull moment story-wise. Arkham City also boasts one of the bravest and riskiest endings I’ve seen in a game in a while, and one of the best credit songs since Still Alive from the original Portal.
Aside from the main story, there are several side-quest lines that are all fairly fleshed out in their own right. They add hours of gameplay and interesting side plots to experience, and they all feel worthwhile, rather than a waste of time like so many other open-world games. And it’s actually worth it to collect all of the Riddler trophies this time around, as there’s an entire side quest built around them.
Apart from the story mode entirely are the challenge maps of Batman: Arkham City. These are largely the same as they where in Arkham Asylum. There are two different types of challenge map, predator, and combat maps. On the predator challenge maps you are the Batman in the purest sense. You do your best to take down enemies as silently and unnoticed as possible, and there are even certain bonuses on some maps for instilling fear in your enemies. The combat maps are very straightforward. They consist of defeating a group of enemies as quickly and stylishly as possible. The challenge maps are fun, but once you’ve done them all, and gotten as many points as possible on each map, there isn’t much reason to replay them. There are also Catwoman specific maps, which are very similar to the core challenge maps.
When all is said and done, Batman: Arkham City is one of the best games I’ve played in quite some time, and one of my favorites of this generation. It isn’t perfect, and has a few faults, but not nearly enough to overwhelm the obscene amount of things it does well. It creates an atmosphere and setting where you feel like Batman, and feel like you are actually in Arkham City. The beauty of the city, seamless and fun combat, top-notch character performances, entertaining story, and Batman mythology all combine in Batman: Arkham City to create a fantastic game that everyone should experience. It left me asking why there haven’t been games of this type done even half as well before. What Rocksteady started in this genre with Batman: Arkham Asylum, they’ve finished with Batman: Arkham City.