Back in 2009, Rocksteady’s brilliant Arkham Asylum reinvigorated my devotion to the Dark Knight. Jump ahead a bit and here we are at 2011 with its sequel, Arkham City, and a whole new level of Batman to explore. I’ve played through at least half of the total game experience and have quite a bit to say on the matter, but is it as good as its predecessor? Let’s grapple into this and review Batman: Arkham City for the Xbox 360.
I reviewed Arkham Asylum way back when it came out and loved everything about it, utterly devouring the game to the point that there isn’t a single thing left for me to do. However, I didn’t purchase the game. Rather, all of that love was feasible within a two-week period borrowing from my friend Other Chris. A whole new precedence has been set with Arkham City, causing a lot of firsts for me.
In the entire time I’ve owned an Xbox 360, I’ve never once purchased a game Day One. For that matter, I haven’t purchased an Xbox 360 game for full price and certainly haven’t pre-ordered any with the intent of snagging some pre-order bonuses. Arkham City made one heck of an exception as I not only pre-ordered the title (from Best Buy so that I could unlock Robin in the Challenge Maps), I went ahead and picked up my copy at a midnight release. For the past week I’ve been staying up at least two hours past when I should be asleep, all because I can’t get enough of it.
The plot is rather intriguing. Last time we saw Batman, he was on the receiving end of one of the Joker’s biggest schemes, resulting in an asylum-wide breakout that caused some pretty great twists. This time, Batman is thrown into another prison, the massive Arkham City, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear when you first start out. However, the most Batman-lore we really had the chance to experience from the previous game was through the Joker and Harley Quinn, Bane, Killer Croc, and The Scarecrow. The Riddler was there, somewhat, but other than that the most we got were little hints at the rest of the world.
Things are vastly different this time as Catwoman appears right away, along with Two-Face. The Big Bad orchestrating the overarching plot is Hugo Strange, a rather fascinating choice since I know nothing about the character despite reading my fair share of Batman. The Joker and Harley return, but the revolving door of standout characters is just wonderful. Mr. Freeze, The Penguin, heck, even Calendar Man, all show up and blow me away with their voice acting and character depth.
Before going all crazy for the combat (which I’m about to gush over to the point of having a Batgasm), I need to stop and address the quality of voice acting. Kevin Conroy reprises his role as The Caped Crusader, reminding me why he’s my favorite Batman in any form. Grey DeLisle’s Catwoman has been one of the best parts of the game for me, as is Danny Jacobs’ chilling performance as Zsasz and Wally Wingert’s ever-present Riddler, but we all know the star of the show is Mark Hamill in his (supposedly) very last performance as The Joker. Half the time The Joker isn’t even interacting with Batman directly- you’ll just get voicemails from him as he talks about how Batman never picks up when he calls- but it’s so good that you may begin to fear that some other part of the game has to be lacking with voice acting that’s so Top Shelf.
Thankfully, there isn’t a single area that’s feeling under appreciated. Rocksteady claims that the open area of Arkham City is 5 times larger than Arkham Asylum, and after Batmaning around for a while I can just about confirm this. It isn’t the largest overworld ever, but you’ll never feel claustrophobic and there are so many things to do in the space that you won’t have time to look around. Most of the time you’ll intend to quickly head from one side of the map to the other, only to get sidetracked a half-dozen times by Riddler Trophies, side missions, and the unquenchable urge to dive down in the middle of a crowd of thug and start brawling.
Batman returns with all his signature moves from Arkham Asylum’s combat system, probably my single favorite combat engine ever. When a fight starts, Batman transitions into freeflow combat with one button attacking and one button countering. Oh, and a jump button, a stun button, a Baterang button, a Bat Claw button, an electric shock button, an explosive gel button, a series of brutal takedown buttons, and I think a freeze grenade as well? I can’t remember; there’s just so much to keep track of.
The only downside to the combat system’s kitchen sink approach is that you will forget how to do half of the things the game teaches you, or just won’t find any use once you find some simple habits that get you through all altercations. Still, I greatly prefer the option to have more rather than less, so much so that I’ve been spending more time playing the Challenge Maps than the game’s story mode, though I have to continually go back when I’ve completed all available maps and need to unlock more in the story. Part of it helps that I have both Catwoman and Robin downloaded for Challenge Maps, but your mileage on bonus characters may vary.
To address the choice of Catwoman being unlocked in the game only if you either purchase new or pay $10 online, I’m more than happy she’s included. If you have the option to get Arkham City new, or used from Game Stop since they’ve been putting her codes in anyway, absolutely do it. She plays slightly differently from Batman, and so far I’ve only had a chance to play through two or her four story missions, but I’ve also found that this is my favorite version of Catwoman now, partly due to the costume and partly due to just wanting to play as Catwoman in a legitimately good game.
That phrase “my favorite” may be cropping up a lot, but it’s the best way to describe things here. Even the points where I have to slow down and go into Predator mode to silently take out a room full of armed thugs don’t bother me much, mostly because the further you go through the game, the more options you unlock to take criminals out. Bored of Silent Takedowns? Try locking a guard’s gun from firing and causally walk up to him as he panics. There’s just so much variety that it’s hard to get bored.
And that’s the overall theme of the game. There’s so much to do that it’s difficult to find a point where you’ll get cheated. Even if you don’t feel like advancing the game’s plot, there are Riddler Trophies, Joker Balloons, security cameras, interesting side quests, character bios, Challenge Maps, and a whole separate part of the game with Catwoman. Plus I hear that Nightwing is showing up on November 1st? I’m sold. Again.
I can’t say enough nice things about Arkham City. The game is as close to perfection as I feel it ever needs to strive for, proven by my giddy interest levels staying at their peak for over a week now even after playing every chance I get. There’s no need for a score here as the score is “Batman.” Go buy Arkham City– buy it new even- and you’ll thank me.
And oh snaps, I just got Dark Souls from Other Chris today! Looks like I’ve got a lot more torment in my future!