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Batman: Arkham City review

AT A GLANCE
  • One of the best Batman stories ever told
  • Gotham setting that’s stunning in both size and detail
  • Enough content to keep you busy for 25, even 50 hours
  • Catwoman could be handled better
  • Two-Face is a little one-note
  • Worrying that this can never be topped

Arkham Asylum had only one major flaw – the game was so painstakingly, overwhelmingly, wonderfully thorough in its depiction of the Batman universe, we couldn’t imagine what was left to cover or accomplish in a sequel. The developers at Rocksteady got every element of the character right, from his combat to his gadgets to his previously neglected detective skills. They featured half a dozen of Gotham’s greatest villains, then included hidden references to nearly 30 more just as fan service. They created a setting with enough macabre detail to capture the comics’ horror, but with enough epic scope to somehow fit a Batcave, Batmobile and Batwing.

This was it. This was the perfect Batman game.

Yet from the moment we started Arkham City, all we could think was: Arkham Asylum was practice. Compared to its sequel, the “best superhero game ever” and our choice for Game of the Year 2009 seems like a tech demo, a first draft, merely a blueprint for what the perfect Batman game can actually be. This is it.

Escalation

For an immediate idea of how much bigger and better Arkham City is than its already incredible predecessor, take a look at this list of the Batman villains mentioned in Arkham Asylum, but never seen. Half of those now play major roles in the sequel, in addition to return appearances by all except one of the rogue’s gallery introduced in the original. Throw in new heroes like Robin, Alfred, Vicki Vale and Talia al Ghul, as well as a bunch of surprise cameos we wouldn’t dare spoil here, and you have a cast numbering in the “holy cow, did Joel Schumacher direct this?!” range. That fear is unnecessary, however, because the game’s writers and developers have succeeded in fully developing and fully justifying every character’s place in a narrative that makes complete logical and dramatic sense. It’s really rather miraculous.

Seriously, this story is special, combining the humanity of the best Animated Series episodes, the brutal darkness of a Frank Miller comic and the confident risk-taking of a Christopher Nolan film. There are no moments as subversive as the fourth-wall break in Arkham Asylum, but there are countless moments of awe, shock and squealing fanboy glee – hell, you’ll be overpowered by all of those emotions within the first 15 minutes of the game alone. By the last 15 minutes, you may honestly choke back some tears, and not for a reason you’d ever predict or ever expect a superhero game to deliver.

Grand Theft Gotham

Of course, the most obvious upgrade in Arkham City is, well, Arkham City. At the time the original game released, a small island asylum seemed like the only possible setting for a properly done Batman experience – attempt to render the sprawling streets and skyscrapers of Gotham itself and you’d sacrifice BioShock-level detail for GTA-style size, and might as well be developing a Superman or Spider-Man game. The sequel, though, proves that assumption wrong. The asylum remains on an island of sorts – a bordered, quarantined section of Gotham City – but is at least four to five times as large as before, and if anything, more detailed.

Stand still at any point and the magnitude of both Arkham City’s epic scale and atmospheric intricacy will floor you. Endless rooftops stretching into the horizon, each with a different neon sign (Ace Chemicals, where Joker was born) or peeling billboard (“The Terror”, Clayface’s famous movie role) or deadly booby trap (left by the Riddler, no doubt). An apartment building that can be instantly recognized, not only because Selina Kyle’s cats are outside one of the windows, but because every building in the environment is unique. A gigantic carnival Ferris wheel that, when scanned with Detective mode, reveals a hidden body in each compartment. Snow falling as helicopter spotlights crisscross through the night sky and fire burns in the distant background, leftover from a battle that – at some point in the game – you fought.

Who are we kidding? You won’t stand still. While Rocksteady hasn’t given players the keys to the Batmobile yet, gliding and leaping and diving and climbing and rappelling across this expansive playground with the use of Batman’s cape and tools offers just as much exhilarating freedom as tearing across Liberty City on a motorcycle. An example Achievement / Trophy: “Jump off the tallest building and glide for one minute without touching the ground.” Yesssss.

Next page: 50 hours of gameplay!

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

We’ve tried to describe as much of Batman: Arkham City’s awesomeness in this review as possible, but there’s so little space and so much more to admire. The epic, soaring music. The arguably greatest graphics of the year. The predictably stellar voice acting, but with a particularly perverse performance by Mark Hamill as the Joker and especially enjoyable take by Nolan North on the Penguin. The menus filled with bonus short stories that address any questions you might have assumed were left unanswered. The Riddler’s Revenge mode that challenges you to clear a room of enemies using specific equipment or strategy. The clever little choices, like having the Bat signal be your custom waypoint marker. Even the bosses are cool this time.

The worst part of Arkham City, then, is wondering and worrying - once more - what Rocksteady can possibly do to top it for a third game. We can’t wait to find out.

Is it better than…

Batman: Arkham Asylum? Yes. Yes. Yes. Anything and everything you loved about Arkham Asylum has been preserved, then improved beyond your wildest imagination, for the sequel. What seemed like a revelation in 2009 now seems like practice in comparison. We just pray Rocksteady can make this giant a leap for the third entry. Batman: Gotham City, please?




Spider-Man: Web of Shadows? Yes. We’re highlighting this particular Spidey because it also starred a staggeringly large cast of characters and, if that turned you off, you might be concerned about Arkham City. Don’t be. The heroes and villains appear here for legitimate, logical reasons, and behave exactly as you’d expect them to – unlike the Wolverine in Web of Shadows, they won’t randomly quiz you on obscure comic book history. Also, with the Caped Crusader swinging between buildings and Catwoman sticking to ceilings, this Batman game is kind of a good Spider-Man game, too.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Depends. Each title boasts amazing stealth, diverse combat, stunningly imagined settings and a gravelly-voiced, no-nonsense badass of a hero. We’re only comparing them here in the hope that you’ll realize their similarities and want to play both Game of the Year 2011 contenders. Go on. Do it.





For those who skipped straight to the end

Batman: Arkham Asylum was the greatest superhero game of all time. The sequel, Batman: Arkham City, is five times bigger and about a billion times better. You do the math.

Oct 14, 2011

More Info

Release date: Oct 18 2011 - Xbox 360, PC, PS3 (US)
Oct 21 2011 - Xbox 360, PC, PS3 (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, PS3
Genre: Action
Published by: WB Interactive
Developed by: Rocksteady Studios
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Alcohol Reference, Blood, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence, Mild Language
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending

118 comments

  • e1337prodigy - January 23, 2012 2:50 p.m.

    Just got this game for £19.95 :). Still £40 on steam. Can't wait until I get it... cmon on postman pat.
  • Darkhawk - November 27, 2011 10:57 a.m.

    Sweet. I'm halfway through Deus Ex, and Arkham is in the mail. Can't wait to dive in!
  • rob619 - November 2, 2011 7:16 a.m.

    Noticed a few complaints on short gameplay? Your all wrong been playing for like 40 hours exploring the vast world, ridders trophies and main. Still aint finished!
  • goro_khan - November 4, 2011 7:09 a.m.

    *Thumbs Up*
  • TartanSpartan01 - November 2, 2011 6:02 a.m.

    Agree with the review and score except from the game length,the main story is about 13 hours approx maybe less but it is brilliant, just wish it had been longer ended too quick.
  • guybrush_threepwood - November 1, 2011 10:23 a.m.

    I've just witnessed my younger brother complete this and there's no way it took him 20-25 hours. Neither of us could believe the end to the main story came around as quickly as it did. It really is a criminally short main plot and, whilst the game is undoubtedly brilliant, being so short should bring the score down by a point at least. Very disappointing.
  • goro_khan - November 3, 2011 9:01 a.m.

    You and your brother are a bunch of retarded gluteus maximus holes. Nothing less! This is one amazing game from start to finish and you dare call it very disappointing? Take whatever consoles you have at home and shove it up your asses please. Do the same with your computers as well, cos' you are disgracing Grim Fandango!
  • Greenman - January 12, 2012 8:28 p.m.

    Oh yes it indeed was an amazing story it really tied everything up so perfectly...not. What's this? Robin's in the game and he looks awesome? Sweet!..Wait no, no all Robin freaking did was be Alfred's little courier for Batman, even Batman's pissed at Robin. And all that talk about Harley being in charge after Joker dies? Well let's see after finding her tied up for no honest adequate reason, the next we see her is at the end of the storyline, and then..nothing. And for all the talk of Riddler trophies extending gameplay, if the only way you can persuade gamers to come back to a game is fruitless chases for stupid little trophies, look at all the assassin creed games (their flags) and the countless other games that employed this stupid tactic. Face it, as mesmerizingly perfect the combat was (maybe a few more combos but still A+ work) and how gratifying it was to true Batman fans, it was an admittedly short experience in a videogame genre where at the very least maybe 20-30 hours is expected, and the writing in and designing someone in so awesome and badass that it changes (at least mine) people's views on that character, then give him around what ten or twelve sentences in the game? You don't have to be a game industry expert to see that is a pretty stupid move. But hey thank god the game wasn't sexist, here comes lame CatpunWoman. To conclude on why this flawed game honestly doesn't deserve all this crying over and high praise: A. Plot holes B. Predictably lame attempts to shoehorn the gamer back into the game (So after I've incapacitated 5000 of these thugs, now you want me to get some more as an insecure fetishist who enjoys awkwardly rubbing herself against dudes she knocks out? Yeah cute try Rocksteady, really adorable)and C. because I should be studying for exams and need something so I can procrastinate. Thank you for your time, I've hoped I made a lasting impression. Blessings of Mara upon all of us. Jk. I hated those pamphlets. Good. Bye.
  • Dixon - October 23, 2011 8:53 a.m.

    I know Batmans been getting Rave Reviews but has anyone seen that the new Zelda Skyward Sword has been getting better reviews? http://www.game-modo.com/2011/10/best-zelda-game-yet.html
  • garnsr - October 21, 2011 4:47 p.m.

    I got a message on PS3 that my data had been corrupted, and needed to be deleted, but after restarting I was able to play like normal a couple of times, and never got the message again, but it still makes me nervous. Other people are saying their data has gone missing on them, I'd hate to have to wait for a patch to play this game, it's great so far.
  • PopeTackler - October 21, 2011 3:28 p.m.

    I'm a good 15 hours into the storyline with a few sidequests done and my "Main Story Progress" is 85%. I'm not sure where the 20-25 hours for the core game is coming from, but unless the next 15% of the main story takes substantially longer than the rest of it I won't be coming close. I'm loving the game but I feel like the story has gone by maybe a bit too quickly.
  • Katlu - October 21, 2011 6:07 a.m.

    Well I'm sold! :D
  • Shinn - October 20, 2011 3:53 p.m.

    Thanks for helping me realize I cannot wait to buy this game.
  • IAmARobotWhoTurnsIntoATruckAnd - October 20, 2011 10:46 a.m.

    I'm thinking of getting this game, but i'm just wondering whether or not I, as someone who's not weighed down by D.C. nostalgia, will find it fun.
  • sternparez - October 21, 2011 5:18 a.m.

    yeh, trust me. I don't know the first thing about comics and Arkham Asylum is one of my favourite games and this may be even better.
  • gallatincarhartt - October 20, 2011 5:06 a.m.

    Is it possible to play the game in the Sinestro skin or the other Catwoman outfits or just the Challenge maps? Anyone know this. I am ape s**t for this game . . . love every moment of it!
  • Xerxes667 - October 26, 2011 10:05 p.m.

    beat the game first, then you can go in on any skin... but you probably figured that out by now
  • TODDRICKDAL15 - October 17, 2011 11:41 a.m.

    i just think F**k is just wants to be batman penis envy
  • inkyspot - October 17, 2011 10:05 a.m.

    Best Buy is screwing with my order... and I'm getting really pissed.
  • Joco84 - October 17, 2011 7:44 a.m.

    so, if i want to share this game with my friend and play his game on my console - I will need to pay money to unlock a vital part of the main story mode? can someone confirm/deny my fears?

Showing 1-20 of 118 comments

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