I admit, I’m not a huge Batman fan but I do appreciate a good licensed game when I see one because it’s such a rarity in the gaming industry. 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum showed us that games based on comic book superheroes can be uber awesome as long as the driving force behind them is passionate about the matter at hand. And developer Rocksteady games was nothing but passionate as they packed in a well rounded, highly polished experience allowing gamers to explore the psyche of the Dark Knight, something no game has done to date. In doing so they not only won over the affections of gamers but of die-hard Batman fans as well. With Arkham City, they’ve taken fan service to the next level expanding upon what was already a very kickass action game. Batman fan or not, Arkham City is one game you cannot afford to miss out on.

Everyone needs a hero

Everyone needs a hero

In Arkham City, the action has moved out of the confines of the Asylum into well Arkham City, a super prison of sorts that’s now the breeding ground for Gotham’s scum as well as some of Batman’s most dangerous adversaries. Dr. Hugo Strange, someone who I’m not too familiar with is now in charge of this place and it’s up to Batman to find out what his end game is. At the same time, his arch nemesis, The Joker has a few tricks up his sleeve making life even tougher for The Dark Knight. Along the way he’ll encounter a ton of bad dudes from the Batman universe, some of which will probably only be familiar to hardcore fans. Thankfully the story unfolds in a manner that can be enjoyed by those who don’t know the difference between Cobblepot and Solomon Grundy.

On video: Batman: Arkham City

With the move to Arkham City, gamers definitely have more freedom than before. This isn’t an open world game like GTA IV but there is a stupendous amount of content to play through. Besides the story itself, you have a ton of side quests scattered all over the map. Some could be as simple as rescuing an unfortunate soul from a beating while in the other, you could team up with a certain recurring villain to destroy an ‘X’ amount of Titan containers strewn all over the city. Side quests don’t feel like they’re thrown in forcibly to increase the game’s length as they tie in to the Batman lore in some way or another introducing quite a few surprises along the way. You also have The Riddler making his return with way more puzzles, some of which are actually quite deadly. And finally, you have the Challenge Rooms that will test your skill at both stealth and combat. Based on various maps inspired by the campaign itself, Challenge Rooms will push your skills to the limit as you take on waves of enemies to attain high scores or knock out a roomful of enemies silently in a stipulated amount of time.

Detective mode in the house

Detective mode in the house

While I definitely appreciate the change in scenery, I had a minor gripe with the game’s navigation system. Now that the game’s far bigger in scope, I found myself circling an objective for minutes before I realised an entry point. I’m not saying I want a Fable-esque bread crumb trail but keeping the quasi open world structure in mind, a mini map would have really helped. Another aspect of gameplay I didn’t particularly care for was the game’s unlock system. In Arkham Asylum you revisited parts of the island with newer gadgets and improved abilities so you could access areas you previously couldn’t. This aspect is significantly reduced in Arkham City as you begin the game with pretty much all your abilities from the first game making the unlock system pretty redundant. Nearly an hour into the game and I had most if not all the upgrades I wished to own. This made the whole aspect of levelling up less appealing to me.

Besides these two minor niggles, Arkham City delivers the perfect Batman experience. If you’ve played Arkham Asylum (which you really should have), you’ll be right at home with this game since gameplay mechanics largely remain unchanged. Both stealth and combat return as the two core pillars of gameplay and are more refined than before. The fluid and highly responsive FreeFlow combat system is back with the addition of newer moves and counter attacks that make going through a large group of enemies feel like violent poetry in motion. Another part of the combat that always gets to me is its raw physicality driven home by some stellar sound effects and wicked camera angles.

Dive bomber

Dive bomber

No matter how badass Batman is, he still is very much human so a shot to the face can well, kill him. Sure, you can now go up against these guys as you have the ability to deploy smoke bombs to disorient them but it’s way more satisfying to outwit and outflank them, picking them off one by one. Crawl through vents, climb up on the many gargoyle statues present in the game or just sneak up behind an enemy and take him down silently. It’s familiar territory for anyone who’s played the first game and it feels awesome.

Arkham Asylum was a gorgeous game and its successor is no different. Built on the same Unreal 3 engine, Rocksteady has managed to churn out some mighty fine visuals both indoors and outdoors. As you set foot in Arkham City for the first time, the staggering scope of the city hits you as you gaze upon the skyline ripe for exploration. The city itself is packed with so much detail, it will take you a few minutes just to soak it all in. Batman’s animations have also been heavily worked upon and the act of jumping or gliding from building to building looks extremely fluid and natural. Character design as always is top notch and everyone from Batman himself, the villains or their grunts are very well designed. This is one game that screams of high production values and an immaculate attention to detail.

Double takedowns FTW

Double takedowns FTW

If you’re still reading this review and haven’t made a beeline for your store to pick up a copy yet, it’s a given that this is a must buy action game. Apart from a few minor issues, Arkham City delivers the perfect Batman experience in spades. It looks good, plays real well and offers a stupendous amount of content that will keep you within Arkham City for days on end. This game is a shining example of licensing done right and I really hope other developers sit up and take notice.

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