Batman: Arkham City Review
Take me down to Arkham City where the skies are grey and the tone is gritty
Bizarrely, we feel a little sorry for Rocksteady. Thrown into the limelight thanks to 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, its ability to do what nobody thought was possible – make a good superhero game – meant it had to deal with newfound pressure, with everyone from angry keyboard warriors on internet forums to die-hard comic book fans watching its next move. And its next move? This. Batman: Arkham City.
If those same keyboard-clattering die-hards are to be believed, it’s ready to lynch the studio should it dare even think about messing this all up. Not the fairest way to treat any developer, but alas, this is the price of success.
Thankfully, the Dark Knight’s second entry under the Rocksteady banner is an utter triumph. Moving events away from the slightly claustrophobic prison designed for the insane into the much larger metropolis that still caters for those who are nuts, Arkham City’s main goal from the off is to make you feel like Batman – there’s a reason why one of the game’s earliest moments is our favourite superhero perched on the edge of a building, cape flapping in the wind as the music becomes suitably more epic. It’s how this has all been approached that makes it so damn enjoyable to play, though.
Aside from the overarching story, which works in a barrage of famous villains, the numerous side-quests in Arkham City’s monstrous open-world territory is where a strong role-playing element truly comes into effect. Gliding around the environment uncovers so many crimes in progress and random encounters, it’s hard not to suspend your disbelief and start thinking you’re actually Batman. Well, a Batman sitting on the couch playing PlayStation 3, bottle of Frijj by his side and checking Facebook during the loading screens, perhaps. But still! You’re Batman!
As well as the attention to detail and the clear understanding that Rocksteady has for the dense lore (it’s easily better than some comic book writers who have breached the subject), the developer has gone to town on everything that made the first entry so appealing. Combat has been tweaked and polished no end, becoming far more satisfying than it was before and adding in a host of new tricks that push it into contention of being the most satisfying fighting mechanic to ever come out of a videogame. Riddler Trophies have also taken on a life of their own (and they were no slouch previously), with the whole idea of the master criminal now taking a significant step forward.
You’ll still have to attempt to solve his puzzles, but the level they eventually reach, and the participation of the man himself, is much greater, and better thought out, than they ever were in the past. Be it becoming more comfortable and confident with the franchise or just a host of ideas that came out of making the first, the sequel improves in nearly every area that was deemed such a feat a few years ago.
It’s achingly close to perfect and only falters in one area. When entering many of the buildings dotted around the city, Arkham Asylum’s slightly formulaic gargoyle swinging attack pattern returns. It’s still very reminiscent of how you’d imagine Batman going about his business of kicking arse and taking names, with the addition of new gadgetry such as the Bat Claw and Remote Electrical Charge Gun adding a sense of diversity into how you do away with armed foes – we just feel it’s one of the few areas where Rocksteady could improve in the future.
With all that said, however, the good here raises the bar so high such minor quibbles never overly grate or even last long in the memory and, amazingly, it’s easy to forget that there’s even more content outside of the gigantic universe already created. The popular challenge maps return, revealing a whole new level of depth to each of the characters who can participate in them and even the addition of 3D, for those lucky enough to have a compatible TV, is genuinely remarkable.
We’re sure you’ve already seen plenty of quotes and sound bites that announce Arkham City as the best superhero game ever made but such statements sell the game short: Batman’s latest digital outing is probably one of the best games this year, if not the entire generation. People who dislike the DC creation may not understand the hype, but those who do will struggle to even be the least bit disappointed. New ground has been reached once more, and Rocksteady has easily cemented itself as one of the most important and untouchable developers currently around.