Alongside Spider-Man, Batman is one of the most recognisable comic book characters in history. Established in 1939, the Caped Crusader has fought hundreds of villains, starred in thousands of comics and has captured the imagination and love of millions of people all around the globe. With a successful, albeit cheesy, TV show and a fantastic series of films from directors such as Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, it was only a matter of time before the Dark Knight took to the world of video games. In 2009 exactly that happened and Arkham Asylum, even now, remains proof that not all comic book tie-in titles have to suck, and is still considered to be one of the best games of the last few years. Since then, fans have been clamouring to get little tidbits of information regarding a sequel. That very game titled Arkham City is finally here and a question must be asked: can this new title stand tall with its pointy ears held up high, or should it shrink back into the darkest corners of the Batcave and remain there forever? It's time to find out.
Arkham City takes place a year after the inmates took over the asylum, and begins with Bruce Wayne trying to shut down a closed-off part of Gotham that now houses all of the prisoners from both Arkham and Blackgate. After a rally goes slightly wrong, Wayne finds himself at the hands of Hugo Strange, a crazed individual who now leads Arkham City and who also knows the identity of Batman. It's from here that it all begins: after a genuinely jaw-dropping beginning that rivals the pretty amazing opening sequence of Arkham Asylum, Batman finds himself trapped in a make-shift prison that now houses new villains such as Two-Face, Mr Freeze, Penguin and a whole plethora more. Catwoman even rears her pointy feline ears every now and then.
When the tale is written by Paul Dini (an actual author for the Batman comics), you immediately know that the story is going to be pretty good and it doesn't disappoint. Over the course of the game, Batman finds himself in some tricky situations that will have you on the edge of your seat and when two villains come together and fight, it genuinely is mesmerizing, coupled with brilliant dialogue that develops the characters considerably well and Arkham City is a treasure chest full of gold for anyone who at least has an interest in the Batman world. Special recognition should go to the scene between Two-Face and Catwoman close to the start: it's easily one of the best moments of the whole game.
But it doesn't matter how good the story is if the title isn't fun. Gameplay was one of the many areas that Arkham Asylum shone in and Arkham City is no different. There aren't any game-changing additions to the new title but there's just enough for it to remain fun, engrossing and, most of all, fresh for the duration of the game. The brilliant stealth portions from Arkham Asylum return in the sequel and are as amazing as they have ever been. Stalking enemies in the shadows, waiting for them to make a move, and then swooping down to take them out before disappearing back into the shadows whilst the others check the area: these parts are just so satisfying. Surprisingly, these moments remain fun all the way through the game and crop up enough to stop the game from becoming repetitive, but don't occur too often that they become unwelcome and annoying.
Alongside stealth, Batman is also very good with his fists. The fluid hand-to-hand combat system of Arkham Asylum returns once more and has a few new additions to it that make it feel brand new. Gadgets are now better integrated with the system and using Batarangs, explosives and the Batclaw, is easier than it has ever been thanks to the fact that all of these apparatus have hotkeys assigned so you can take them out and use it on the fly. The fact that combat consists of a grand total of four buttons (attack, counter, stun and jump/evade) is brilliant and allows new players to take down foes with ease. Like most games, Arkham City is not perfect and the enemies you fight are one of the games very, very few negatives: sometimes it's not exactly fair. Enemies with riot shields and knives do spice it up a bit and require you to use tactics to win but it can become frustrating when you're trying to take down one enemy but a guard with a massive crate decides to throw it at you at the same time. I understand that it's meant to be fast but a little breathing time every now and then would be very welcome in my opinion.
Fans of Arkham Asylum will remember that the game was semi-open-world: Arkham Island was there to explore but it was more one big courtyard with a few buildings you could explore. In the sequel, this has been expanded: Arkham City is a fully open world to explore and explore it you will want to. The world feels very believable and lived in and is highly atmospheric. Debris blows around the streets, destruction caused by the prisoners is everywhere and shouting in the distance all contributes to make this game as immersive as it is: you will be drawn into this world and will not want to leave for a very long time. Swooping between buildings and gliding from great heights makes you feel like Batman, and a force to be reckoned with, as you watch the ground from the vantage points above like the watchmen and protector you are meant to be. The world of Arkham City is huge at about five times the size of the area in the first game so there's a lot to explore, see and do.
Graphically Batman: Arkham City is pitch perfect. Characters look fantastic and the city looks stunning even as you see it over and over again. The way Batman's suit gets rougher and rougher as the game moves along is genius and the draw distance is phenomenal with the skyline of Gotham City providing the backdrop. Surprisingly, there are very, very few graphical hiccups. There's screen tearing here and there and texture pop-in is a little too frequent but it doesn't matter. When the whole game looks this beautiful, small problems like these can be completely forgiven.
At first, it seems like the sequel is very similar to Mafia 2: a linear game of sorts set in a huge open world but it quickly becomes apparent that this is not the case. Yes, Arkham City does have a linear storyline as you travel from one area to the next completing objectives but there is so much more to do. Side quests, random encounters, hundreds of hidden collectibles: Arkham City is a game that is meant to stay in your console for a very long time indeed. And you'll want to explore every single nook and cranny that the world has to offer. Stray off the beaten path and you'll find Crime Alley, the alleyway where Batman's parents were killed. Veer in another direction and you may encounter a cameo from a villain like Killer Croc or Calendar Man. This all contributes to the fact that Arkham City is very believable and actually feels like it could exist (not that we'd want it to, of course).
The main story itself isn't huge at about twelve hours but that's perfect. It's not so short that it's over and done with in a flash and it isn't so long that it's filled with moments that are boring and do nothing but drag the length out and diminish your interest in what happens next. Of course, with all the side quests, collectibles and exploring to do, you could spend a hundred and twelve hours finishing it all off. I agree in huge game times but sometimes I would spend an hour doing the side missions then return to the main story and don't have a clue what's going on because my mind has been on other things. Thankfully, Rocksteady have included a story synopsis option on the main menu and this describes Arkham City perfectly. The developers have really thought about what makes a good game and have just gone and done it. Thankfully, I can say it works brilliantly.
And if the main campaign wasn't enough there's the Challenge Rooms from Arkham Asylum thrown in too, just to make sure you don't trade in your copy just yet. Like most of the game, these have been expanded and are as addictive as ever. Combat Rooms will have you playing for ages and are good practice for the most difficult parts of the campaign, and the Predator sections will have you smiling with delight as you realise just how much you feel like Batman. Alongside more Challenge Rooms to unlock, there's also Concept Art and 3D Character Trophies to get. Even if you only play the campaign once, you'll be visiting these parts of the game for many, many weeks to come.
But I assure you, you won't want to play the campaign just once, mainly because of how awesome it is, but also because of the addition of New Game Plus. Finishing the story once will unlock this, allowing you to replay the whole campaign but with all of the upgrades you already have. It's here that the game comes alive as you can perform exciting manoeuvres early in the game, as you already have the fancy equipment unlocked. Even though the story is only twelve hours, you'll be spending a lot longer in New Game Plus as it's just so much fun.
For anyone who buys the game brand new, you receive a code that allows you to download four extra missions starring everyones favourite feminine feline, Catwoman. These aren't just thrown in for the sake of it, they genuinely change the game. At the start, you see how Catwoman is kidnapped by Two-Face and you get to play it. That's exactly what these missions are. They allow you to see similar events that tie into the main game but from different perspectives. Catwoman handles very much like Batman in regards to the combat but the way she moves around the city is a little different: she climbs the walls instead of swooping along. This is brilliant as it allows you to get a breather from the main game and it adds a little diversity into a game that in fact was pretty diverse to begin with. It's a welcome addition. I recommend downloading them before you start the main game as they are then integrated seamlessly with the main story whereas you would have to play them separately from the main menu if you finish the game then download them. They're brilliant.
I'm on the third page of writing this review and I feel I should be wrapping up now, but I don't want to. There's so much I want to tell you, so many more reasons that need to be told as to why this is the Game of the Year so far. I haven't even mentioned the exciting encounter with Mr Freeze towards the end, the awesome side quest that has you tracking an assassin and how fantastic the voice acting in the game is. I've reviewed many games in my time here at GameGrin, like Gears of War 3, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and LA Noire, but I have never ever given out a 10. Giving a game that score generally means that it's perfect but that's not what Arkham City is; it's just so good that it's as close to perfect as you can get. Batman: Arkham City is this generation's defining title: a game that all other games will want to be. Rocksteady are now the developers all other developers will look up to. If this doesn't win Game of the Year then something is seriously wrong with the world. Just play this and lose yourself in what is, without a doubt, one of the greatest gaming achievements of not just the past few years, but in history. Simply put, Batman: Arkham City is a masterpiece.
Batman: Arkham City (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?
If this doesn't win Game of the Year then something is seriously wrong with the world. Just play this and lose yourself in what is, without a doubt, one of the greatest gaming achievements of not just the past few years, but in history. Simply put, Batman: Arkham City is a masterpiece.