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Why Batman: Arkham City is one of the greatest games ever made

The word “blockbuster” is bandied about a lot in relation to games. So is the word “epic”. In most cases neither is really applicable. Mostly, they’re used simply to refer to any game with a triple-A budget and a high profile marketing campaign. Most of the time they’re just cheap go-to plaudits for a big games, with little thought to real cultural or narrative impact.

Batman: Arkham City however, is the real thing. Right from the first, as the pounding urgency of that opening title score starkly highlights the dynamic, brutally moody initial imagery, Arkham City feels like an event. This is a game in which the title screen alone is an immaculately directed work, and as a statement of intent it’s as affecting as it is prophetic.

Arkham City outdoes its predecessor in every way. Where the first game transcended its licensed roots to repeatedly earn the now hackneyed praise of “The best superhero game and a great game in its own right”, Arkham City goes one further. It’s not just the best Batman game ever made. It’s one of the best adaptations of Batman in any medium.

Rocksteady weren’t just content with making a great game about Batman. Instead, Rocksteady did what every great writer, artist or director of chiroptera-obsessed psycho vigilantes does. They decided to make a great game about their Batman. You see Batman isn’t an endlessly resonant character simply because he has a cool suit and is harder than a thousand diamond-crusted moons. He’s vital because he and his world are imbued with unfathomable depth, psychology and affecting themes which can be interpreted and reinterpreted in any way a particular creator wishes.

The best and most memorable Batman stories are the ones that take that content in a tonally unique or narratively powerful direction. Arkham City is one of those. If Arkham Asylum was about Rocksteady making a few grimly creative hints about the shape of their own personalised Bat-verse, then its sequel is them hosing down an entire city with the thick black goo that pumps through the dark hearts that envisioned it. If Christopher Nolan’s Batman films answer the question “What would Gotham be like if it really existed?” Arkham City is more concerned with “What would Gotham be like if it grew out of your worst cheese-fuelled nightmares?”.

For every spectacular, exhausting combat sequence and every immaculately structured stealth sandbox (and there are many of both), it’s the consistency and dense richness of world that really puts Arkham City on an entirely different plateau to its predecessor. Both believably gritty and fantastically grotesque, Rocksteady’s take on Batman is exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure, using a grandiose aesthetic dancing on the edges of the horrific and the operatic in order to heighten and highlight very real moments of human trauma.

23 comments

  • MaxMcCormick - April 28, 2014 2:40 p.m.

    Arkham City was an amazing game. I'm glad I paid $60 for it. The ending was amazing. Hopefully, Arkham Knight will be even better
  • jackthemenace - December 8, 2012 2:02 p.m.

    I'm incensed at myself for not having played Arkham City yet. I absolutely loved Asylum when i bought it last summer, and I was intent on buyingCity on day one. Unfortunately, I found myself financially lacking, and then just sorta... Forgot. After this, I'm reminded just how good Asylum was, and how much I really need to get onto buying City and playing through it, especially with The Dark Knight Rises having just come out, and I'm sure watching that with my sister will be more than enough to get my enjoyment of Batman up to the point where no matter how much I pay Arkham City will be worth buying.
  • crazor89 - November 29, 2012 4:20 a.m.

    For me Arkham City just about shades it over Asylum. Asylum had better collectibles (I ignored most of the Riddler trophies in City) but the boss fights were awful. City's main story is more interesting (the side missions are a bit hit and miss tbh) and I felt you had more freedom to explore the fantastic combat system. Definitely one of the best games I've played this gen, but I'm not sure how high it would rank in my greatest games ever made.
  • AuthorityFigure - November 29, 2012 1:52 a.m.

    No ‘greatest game ever made’ can have the fundamental issue that this (and many other) games have. It should be disqualified for having these extra advantages: it relies on the purchase of DLC to complete the experience, and the game relies on pre-written material too heavily. You might say that you ‘don’t have to but the DLC’, but it is woven deeply into the game and is far too pervasive to be ignored. Any ‘best game ever’ has to be a whole unit, accessible for everyone, and not reliant on special purchases. Also, if Batman really is as great as the article describes, it seems Rocksteady had half of their work done for them. This too is an unfair advantage to other, ground-up games and ideas.
  • Marcunio88 - November 28, 2012 12:01 p.m.

    Damn, this game came out while I was poor and unemployed. Had to borrow it from a friend and rush through. Still loved it, but this reminds me I need to actually buy it and get the full experience. As far as the game being overrated, I think it's easy to say that any highly acclaimed game, or film for that matter, is overrated. With such praise heaped upon it at every turn of course some people are going to be disappointed. My only problem was that the freshness the first game brought was lacking. Arkham Asylum came out of nowhere and ended up being one of the best games of this generation. I feel that Arkham City improved on the first game in pretty much every area, but it was never going to have that unique feel of the original. Technically, though, I believe it's the better game.
  • Darkhawk - November 28, 2012 11:32 a.m.

    Easily one of the best stealth games ever made. Also high marks in my book for the excellent "Watcher in the Dark" and "Serial Killer" sidequests.
  • SpootCaz - November 28, 2012 10:15 a.m.

    To me Asylum and City combine to become the best game of this generation. I agree with a lot of people here that Asylum had the better story, location, and set pieces, but City definitely has far FAR better combat and locomotion. I feel like anyone who really hated the City's layout or Riddler trophies though probably didn't get good enough with the gliding system to transcend just using it in the most basic way possible to get from point A to point B. Once you get REALLY good with the gliding, where you're diving through cramped alleyways, changing direction during dives, and skimming the water under the bridges near the GCPD, the city becomes and absolute JOY to navigate. Try applying that skill gliding to getting certain trophies that you're not really supposed to be able to get until you get the line launcher, the freeze grenades, or the long range sequencer, and then tell me that the Riddler trophies are less fun in City. All in all, while I like the story aspects of Asylum more, I find it really tough to go back and play that game sometimes because I find the combat and traversal to be very limiting.
  • shawksta - November 28, 2012 9:05 a.m.

    Arkham Asylum had its better moments but Arkham City was far superior in being a Batman game, Batman needs freedom, Breaking and entering almost everything and the side missions were great.
  • winner2 - November 28, 2012 9 a.m.

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks this game is overrated. Asylum was amazing, this was not. One of the best games ever? Maybe for the year, but not ever. Here's how I judge it: I played asylum and got engrossed in it from start to finish. I played city until the point where Alfred tells you you have to ditch talia and save the city, because I was too bored to ever finish it.
  • Burty - November 28, 2012 8:59 a.m.

    Thought it was a load of crap. Didn't even bother to finish it as it was just to tedius and labour intensive. Fly here , fly there and have non stop interference to do boring side mission's on your way. The riddler thophies were nowhere near as fun as they were in the 1st game and having half of them there for catwoman who a lot of people wont even play as, was a terrible idea. Being made play out most of the game on rooftops made you feel very dissconnected from the world beneath you. If you wanted to land down and look around , thugs just swarm you so you fly away again. Cramming every villian into the game isnt good, its bad. To claim this is one of the Greatest game ever made is an insult to other great games.
  • deadstar - November 28, 2012 8:31 a.m.

    I have no idea why City gets so much praise and Asylum gets ignored, sure it's a great game but Asylum was better in pretty much every way. The story was better and less convoluted in Asylym, they took great care in choosing which villains to include in Asylum and give them a decent story and reason to be there whereas in City they just threw as many villains as possible into the game for no good reason, Two-Face was absolutely wasted in what, two scenes? and villains like the Mad Hatter showing up for what is basically a cameo appearance. Then there's the location, I can safely say I explored every detailed corner of the world in Asylum and found every riddler trophy, I ignored 50% of City as I just glided over everything to get to the next location and there were so many riddler trophies and they were so tedious to find that I gave up pretty early on.
  • MercurialForce - November 28, 2012 8:50 a.m.

    I completely agree. Arkham City may have given you more to do, but it lost focus, which I felt really harmed the game.
  • NOGIRLSIWANNAJETPACK - November 28, 2012 7:44 a.m.

    Thank you for actually writing an article instead of just giving us a bunch of screenshots with a few captions on them
  • Gravyc - November 28, 2012 7:40 a.m.

    I just don't know what to say about this... Batman Arkham City is surely one of the most OVERRATED games ever? - Compare it to the original and it's just not on the same level of brilliance. Arkham Asylum was fantastic. A susinct storyline, the feeling of Batman being trapped on an island overrun by dangerous criminals. Fantastic combat and a whole array of great Batman villians to fight. - Arkham City just tried to repeat this process, but on a larger scale. However, the story was ridiculous. The amount of 'plot' twists that kept coming about was insane - and most of them didn't even lead anywhere. Like when the Joker pretended to heal himself. But oh, wait he didn't. You fight Mr Freeze to get the antidote, but oh wait, someones just stolen it. It just felt like one massive fetch quest. Most of the villians felt like they had been thrown in and had absolutely no relevance to the story or what was going on. The Catwoman side story was kind of fun. Though short lived. The combat really started to drag through the game too. ALSO the idea of having an open world sounds fantastic in Batman. But the world we were given was actually smaller in scale than that of Arkham City. And the comment made in the post about the city: "Unlike in most freely roamable video game cities, every location in Arkham really matters" - NO they didn't. Most of the city was there for collectables. Yes it had some fun Batman-related scenery dotted around, but most of it was pointless crap. AND all the funking side missions! I felt like I had jumped back 10 years and was playing Spider-Man 2 again. Repetitive side missions were fine back then, but I swear I saved the same civilian/employee about 10 times in Batman. Is Batman Arkham City a bad game? No. That would be stupid to say. Graphically it's good. The gameplay mechanics are solid. The design is sound. But it falls flat on reptitive missions, a really crappy story that has you running round in circles before concluding - with a flat "Oh. That's it." Not a big bang. Is it one of the greatest games ever made? Hell no!
  • db1331 - November 28, 2012 8:02 a.m.

    I agree. City was a great game, but Asylum was even better. The only thing they could have done better in Asylum was the final boss fight, and maybe the Killer Croc area. Everything else was perfection, or as close as you can hope to get to it.
  • chazzy_chef - November 28, 2012 8:06 a.m.

    I've got to agree, it felt like a pretty big disappointment after Asylum. I just don't think it had as many stand-out moments, nothing in it will stay with me like taking down Killer Croc or Scarecrow. City had a better storyline in my opinion but the world was nowhere near as interesting or encouraging of side quest completion as the original for me. I just felt like Arkham City suffered massively from open-world bloat, and as a consequence found myself flying past most areas of the world as quickly as possible with nothing interesting to side track me. Lots of rooftops will just never be as interesting as the variety of the asylum, even if the place was faintly ridiculous. Fundamentally I think the first game did much more to mix up its core mechanics and as a result will be more memorable than City.
  • garnsr - November 28, 2012 8:20 a.m.

    I was blown away by Asylum, and I liked City, but what these guys are saying is mostly how I felt. Having to constantly go all the way around the map because they stuck a tower in the middle that you can't go through was a major hassle the entire game. I did all the Riddler stuff in Asylum, but there were just way too many in City to care about.

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