Batman Arkham City: The Bat is Back.

Arkham Asylum was one of the sleeper hits of 2009. It definitely wasn’t your traditional AAA title combining elements of several different genres of games into one well thought out experience. I have to admit I was sceptical of it at first, games based off comic or movie IP are traditionally quite bad, but it pleasantly surprised me. I was then quite excited when I heard about the sequel Arkham City which apparently had been hinted at in Arkham Asylum. Unfortunately I was torn between getting the collector’s edition on console or playing it on the PC, a decision that took me far too long to make. In the end I decided to play it on PC again and I’m glad I did.

Arkham City starts out with you as Bruce Wayne who’s campaigning for Arkham City, in essence a prison camp, to be shut down. Things take a turn for the worse when Hugo Strange’s mercenaries show up and throw him into city where Strange reveals that he knows that Bruce is Batman and should he try to stop his “Protocol 10” solution he will reveal that to the world. After a short altercation with the Penguin and some of his goons Bruce calls in a drop for his bat suit and begins his journey to stop Strange’s plan.

Both the visuals and the art direction of Arkham City are vastly improved from its predecessor. To Rocksteady’s credit they’ve done a pretty good job with the optimization too as even at the highest settings I was still able to run the game at high frame rates. Still there were occasions where it would slow down inexplicably as it wasn’t consistent with being inside/outside nor with heavy action. Still the graphics are great, the interactions between characters are no longer stilted affairs and the overall ambition for Arkham City is much greater than it was for Arkham Asylum and they’ve managed to achieve it well.

The core mechanics of Arkham City haven’t changed that much from Arkham Asylum but there have been some notable additions.  Due to the sheer scale of Arkham city the glide mechanic has been reworked considerably now enabling batman to, in essence, fly around the entire city almost unaided. This mechanic is made good use of as well by many of the quests and mini-games with things like flying to a certain point with limited time or giving you augmented reality challenges that unlock additional equipment and upgrades. Flying around like this was probably one of my favourite things to do in Arkham City considering you couldn’t do anything like this in its predecessor.

Combat has stayed relatively the same with most of the kinks that I complained about in Arkham Asylum being worked out. There are numerous additional gadgets available, different enemy types and new take down manoeuvres that serve to make the combat experience much more varied but at its heart its still very much the same as its predecessor. This isn’t a bad thing though as the combat in Arkham Asylum was done very well and the added variation in Arkham City keeps it faithful whilst making it stand on its own.

Whilst the combat is good it does tend to get a little samey as the game progresses but this is thankfully broken up well by the unique boss encounters. Each of them will make use of Batman’s array of gadgets in a particular way, forcing you of the regular hack ‘n’ slashy combat and into a real tactical challenge. Don’t get me wrong its’ a pretty awesome feeling when you pull of a 70+ hit combo on legions of foes but nothing got my adrenaline going as much as the boss fights did. None of them felt like a complete cock block either, something which can be hard if you’re trying to hit that fine line between satisfying challenge and impassable obstacle.

The Riddler puzzles were usually interesting but I didn’t really feel the compulsion to seek them out. Whilst its pretty easy to come across them as you’re flying around Arkham City I only ever really went after one if my health was low. Talking this over with my brother he said that the challenges felt somewhat dumbed down from the predecessor and this is probably why most people (outside those hunting for achievements) don’t really want to bother with them. I can’t for the life of me remember what the challenges were like back in Arkham Asylum but the vast majority of the puzzles in Arkham City did feel quite easy.

Just like Arkham Asylum Arkham City sets out an environment where almost the entire back catalogue of Batman super villains can make an appearance without having to having to have a back story to explain why they hell they’re there. It’s a kind of cheap way of getting them all together in the same area but it works well as it leads you to have many unique encounters based around those particular villain’s modus operandi. The screenshot above from the Mad Hatter encounter was a great example of this, putting you in a surreal world in which  you have to fight your way through to get back to reality. I liken it to the Scarecrow encounters of Arkham Asylum, unique encounters that break away from the main game in order to mix things up a bit.

The way in which you come across these kinds of unique encounters though is one of the more common complaints I’ve heard about Arkham City. Indeed Arkham Asylum was far more linear in its game play owing to its comparatively closed environment. Arkham City on the other hand is a true sandbox style game, pushing you to follow the main plot line whilst also throwing up dozens of side quests that can be done at your leisure. Truthfully this can get a little overwhelming at times as you can’t go too far without triggering one of these quests and after you’ve done a few of them you don’t feel the compulsion to seek them out as often. It is definitely is one of the weaker aspects of Arkham City.

The sections where you play as Catwoman are interesting although I must admin they weren’t my favourite part of Arkham City. The different Riddler trophies for example seem to be a cheap way to reuse the same assets, forcing you to go back to somewhere you’ve already explored in order to collect them. Since the differences between Catwoman and Batman is limited to the lack of gadgets, lack of detective mode and no glide ability it’s not different enough to make for a break from the core Batman play. I like that Rocksteady are experimenting with things like this, it shows they have confidence in their abilities to make AAA titles like Arkham City, but they’d need to work on differentiating the playable characters a bit more ion order for them to really shine.

Overall Arkham City improves greatly on its predecessor in technical terms with the graphics being improved, the glitches being ironed out and amping up the ambition of the game significantly. It’s not without its faults however owing to the transition to true sandbox style play and some compromises made to appeal to a wider audience. Still unlike many sequels Arkham City stands very well on its own as an unique game that draws well on its rich IP heritage. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to both fans and new comers to the Arkham series.

Rating: 8.75/10

Batman: Arkham City is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $89.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC on Normal difficulty with 11 hours of total play time and 33% of the achievements unlocked.

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