World’s Greatest Multi-Tasker
Arkham City is such a spectacularly realized setting, you’ll want to spend a lot of time there. And thanks to the generous amount of side missions and ridiculous number of collectables Rocksteady has packed into the game, you can. Remember the 240 Riddler challenges in Arkham Asylum? The sequel has over 400, and they’re much, much more complex. Even when you’ve tracked down a particular puzzle (now accomplished by isolating and interrogating the right thugs for information, not merely picking up a map), and even when you’ve figured out which series of gadgets to use, pulling off the “solution” requires a surprising amount of physical intelligence: aim, reflex, timing and pure platforming skill.
But while those trophies and trivia were all the extras the first game offered, they’re just the tip of the iceberg in Arkham City. Interwoven throughout the main story mode are optional, yet extremely substantial and satisfying mini quests starring their own characters and featuring their own angles on the Batman persona. While traveling from a big Joker showdown to a bigger Penguin showdown, you might randomly decide to answer a ringing payphone and – after listening to the eerie voice on the other end – need to race across the city in order to prevent Zsasz from murdering someone. On a whim, you might enter a rundown toy factory and suddenly find yourself teaming up with Bane to destroy weapons of mass destruction. You might notice a mysterious figure watching you from the shadows, approach him or her, and be left with a series of symbols to decipher. You might scan bullet trails to track down a sniper, or trace blood trails to track down a serial killer.
Or you might do none of these things, if you choose to ignore the cues and clues. How long Batman: Arkham City takes to finish can vary wildly, but we’d estimate the core game at about 20-25 hours. Go for everything extra and it could easily keep you busy for a quality, mostly non-repetitive 40-50 hours.
All those wonderful toys
Rocksteady has upped their game with Arkham City, and they expect you to do the same. We described the increased difficulty in Riddler puzzles – that carries over to combat and stealth. Previously, a simple counter move or quick escape to a gargoyle could get Batman out of any sticky situation, but now enemies carry shields, wear armor and swipe at you with knives or electric rods. They scan the shadows with infrared sensors, block your Detective vision with signal-jamming backpacks and intuitively know when to destroy your safe spots.
Luckily, you’ve got the new gadgets and new moves to match. A gun that freezes thugs in their tracks. A smoke bomb that enables you to perform silent takedowns in the middle of a brawl. A remote electrical charge that zaps a henchman directly or, fired at a generator, shocks a whole room at once. A disruptor that blocks bullets without the carrier of the weapon even realizing he’s been disarmed. Best of all, most of these – including the gadgets carried over from Arkham Asylum, which you start the sequel already equipped with, and many more we haven’t mentioned – can be integrated seamlessly in the freeform flow of combos. Excuse the clumsy metaphor, but if the original’s combat played a bit like a musical rhythm game, Arkham City adds explosions, electrocutions and double head slams to every other note.
Cat vs Bat
Oh yeah, and you get to play as Catwoman, too. She’s not as fun to control as Batman, but her segments are a refreshing change of pace and her animations – whether swan-diving off a rooftop, cartwheeling through a fight, crawling upside-down beneath a catwalk or furiously whipping an enemy into submission – are mesmerizing to watch. She’s also important to the overall story, so it’s unfortunate that new buyers are asked to enter a code to unlock her, while used buyers have to spend an extra $10 for the privilege. Also sad? That Two-Face and pretty much every thug Catwoman encounters immediately refer to her as a “bitch” or fantasize about what they’d like to do to her. It’s the only lazy writing in the game.
Next page: The verdict