When it comes to video games, Batman hasn’t been very successful. Game developers have tried to recreate the exciting feeling of being the Dark Knight but to no avail. Batman: Arkham Asylum, developed by Rocksteady Studios and released in 2009, changed all of that. The game was lauded for its smooth fighting system, unique story and capturing Batman like no other game could. With its acclaim, there was bound to be a sequel and “Batman: Arkham City” has arrived.
The sequel takes place one year after the events of “Asylum.” The inmates and Batman’s rogues gallery formerly confined to Arkham Asylum now have free reign over a specific area of Gotham City designed to keep them in, all being controlled by Dr. Hugo Strange. The Joker is still Batman’s main target, as he has infected Batman with a disease he has and Batman must fight to find the cure. This is no easy task. since there are many obstacles and villains trying to stop him along the way. All the usual suspects make an appearance whether through combat encounters or various side stories. Regulars like The Penguin, Mr. Freeze and Two-Face are expected, but there are also some guests that may surprise fans. Fortunately, Batman is more than capable of handling his many foes with his new equipment and fighting prowess.
Rocksteady took what wasn’t broken in the first game and made it better. The FreeFlow combat system returns and is better than ever. Seamlessly transitioning between techniques and gadgets to bring down multiple foes is always exciting and the combat feels accessible without being too easy. Steady timing is required to build up a multiplier that allows for better attacks and awards more experience after the battle. Besides cracking skulls and breaking bones with his body, Batman also utilizes a plethora of gadgets to even the odds. Favorites like the Batarang and Batclaw return in addition to new ones like the Grapnel Gun, which is perhaps the most useful. This essential item allows players to quickly zipline onto things mid-flight, gaining a height boost. Combining it with Batman’s famous gliding ability, players can traverse through the massive city, which is five times larger than Arkham Asylum. Scaling a large building and then swooping down throughout the environment onto an unsuspecting foe is a feeling that never gets old. The larger size allows more of an open-world structure compared to the previous entry. Because of this, it is tempting to diverge from the story missions and take part in any of the numerous side quests, go exploring for collectibles or just bring justice upon a random group of thugs. No matter what players decide to spend their time with though, “Arkham City” looks and sounds amazing.
Voice actors from “Batman: The Animated Series” including Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill (“Star Wars”) as the Joker return to add authenticity to the game. There are no mediocre attempts here as even lesser known actors deliver solid performances for their respective roles. The sound also accentuates the atmosphere with a fitting score and satisfying combat and gadget effects. It is clear that this is a Batman game. The graphics are stunning, and expand on the setting from “Arkham Asylum.” From the dank, dreary sewers and the bright city lights to the colorful Joker’s carnival and cool tones of The Penguin and Mister Freeze locales, there are plenty of nice environments to fight evil in.
There is no question that gamers will get their money’s worth in “Arkham City.” Hidden throughout the city are a number of Riddler trophies to collect, many of which require clever use of Batman’s various gadgets. For example, while one might be a simple pick up item, another may need certain switches to be hit in a specific order. There is a nice variety with these and some will really test the player’s wits. There are 400 of them and each one helps toward solving puzzles to rescue hostages that The Riddler has hidden. Besides these challenges, there are security cameras to destroy, Joker balloons to pop, political prisoners to save and mysteries to solve. The variety in the different side quests is a refreshing alternative to the main plot. There is even a “New Game +” mode that increases the challenge with fiercer foes and less helping features like counter icons. Players can even assume the role of Catwoman at certain points in the story and after completing the game. She brings her own style and equipment and feels different enough to warrant her inclusion. Batman and Catwoman can both be used with different costumes in the Riddler Challenge mode where players must complete certain tasks in the quickest time possible. There is just so much content packed on the disc that completing it 100 percent is quite a feat.
Arkham City is not without its flaws, however. While Batman does encounter many characters, not enough are used in big battles and the game resorts to throwing tons of enemies at you. The few boss battles are interesting but there could be more.
With the enormous amount of content, a unique story and smooth mechanics, “Batman: Arkham City” will provide hours of fun to gamers and Batman fans alike. Hopefully the Arkham storyline will continue but this shouldn’t be the last time fans get to be the Dark Knight.