Batman: Arkham City Review

Posted: November 1, 2011 in Review
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Batman: Arkham City Review

This is the game of the year. Perhaps it’s unprofessional to open a review with such a bold statement, but in the case of Arkham City, it’s true. This is – somehow – better than the year’s other great games, Dead Space 2 and Portal 2 and bigger, better and more intense than the first Arkham title. You knew it was going to be good. But you had no idea how good.

Picking up a year or so after the first game ended, Arkham Asylum has grown to be the only prison in Gotham City, a sprawling metropolis at the city’s edge, surrounded by vast walls and overseen from a huge tower by Professor Hugo Strange. A cunning adversary, Strange has deduced the true identity of Batman and now the titular hero is in a race against time to discover Strange’s true objective – for this is the night that his plans finally come to fruition.

Straight away, the game feels like a vast improvement on the first one. The bleak prison feels rundown, ruin and staggering in scope. The first time you mount a tower and see the entirety of the city spread before you is one of the most powerful moments in gaming this year. You are Batman and you can go everywhere, do everything. The next improvement you’ll notice is the ability to deliver a Takedown or a Counter to two guys at once. This makes your combos so much easier to keep going, and combined with the huge variety of new special attacks and gadgets that can be brought into combat, Batman has never felt so unstoppable.

Happily, the combat and location aren’t the only upgrades – the story has also undergone a Hush-style makeover to make this one of the cleverly plotted, tightly focussed and best written games for the last five years or so. The plot twists and turns, bringing Batman into confrontations with several of his most fearsome supervillains in a few cracking boss fights. While they won’t be remembered as classics, the boss battles are far more intelligent than before, forcing you to use different gadgets each time, with bigger and grander villains throwing everything they have at you. The exception is the outstanding Mr Freeze encounter, where you must use all of your cunning to outsmart him.

Another villain who makes a welcome return is the Riddler. Instead of simply mocking your intelligence from afar, this time Edward Nigma kidnaps a group of people, forcing you to uncover his clues before you can get the location to save them, one by one. There are four hundred Riddler challenges for Batman to overcome, ranging from simply finding a hidden question mark to manipulating your gadgets in an intelligent new way. Finding all of them will add on a minimum of four to five hours on the game, and the payoff – getting your hands on Riddler – is more than worth it.

In addition to improving dramatically on what has gone before, developers Rocksteady have also created entirely new sections just for Catwoman. Occupying roughly an extra hour or two of game time, the sections feel delightfully different. Catwoman is more graceful in combat, with her whip combos, caltrops and bolas attacks and feline agility, but she is also more cumbersome to get around the city with. Whereas Batman can grapnel boost to the top of a building and keep gliding, Catwoman must whip to a point and use her claws to scale the towers. Catwoman also has forty five additional Riddler challenges to complete, adding to the scale of an already enormous game.

Completing the Riddler’s challenges also unlocks a vast amount of content. Bonus character trophies and concept art are a given, but this time you gain access to new levels in the Riddler’s Revenge challenge mode. Like before, the levels are divided into Predator and Combat, with medals being awarded for completion of specific tasks – Takedown an enemy through glass, etc. The difference this time is a new addition, Campaign mode, where you must take on three set levels in order, each of which demands you get as many medals as possible while manipulating a series of level modifiers – time limit, recharging health, etc. You can also play as Catwoman for these sections, making this supposed additional mode at least as long as the game itself, if not longer.

Alongside the Riddler’s Revenge, there’s another unlockable bonus – New Game Plus. Essentially a harder mode, you can replay the entire game again with all your stats carrying over and all your gadgets, trophies and collectables. The game ups the difficulty by throwing tougher enemies in from the off, having only half your health recharge at any one time and by removing the on-screen counter warning, making this a far more intense experience.

Are there any criticisms to level at Arkham City? Maybe the fact that it eventually comes to an end, or that hints are laid down at what will come in the next game, or the fact that players will have to wait a couple of years for Arkham 3. Aside from that, there are no major problems with this game – it’s damn near flawless.

Improving upon its predecessor’s faults until they shine is quite one thing, but Arkham City makes Asylum look like a demo. A startling achievement and a game that will take a hell of a lot of work to beat – but what else would you expect from the game of the year?

98%

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