“Wait’ll they get a load of me…”
Comic book fans are easily some of the most rabid fans out there. Maybe it’s because of the history, maybe it’s the appeal of the characters, maybe it’s because of a lack of social skills developed in their mom’s basement, but whatever the reason, whenever something features comic book characters, the fans tear it apart. Well, good luck finding fault with this one. And trust me, being a fan myself, I tried.
Batman: Arkham City is easily the greatest fan service a comic book game could ever possibly be. Fans who had concerns over how the story line tied together or whether too many villains might be featured, need not concern themselves anymore. The way the story flows and introduces you to Hugo Strange, the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, Deadshot, Zsasz, and all the other villains in Arkham City, could only be described as water it flows so smooth. The game has such a natural plot progression that your biggest problem may be just finding the time to finish it because if you do even a portion of the side quests like where you team up with Bane or simply wish to hunt for a few Riddler trophies then you’re going to be looking at a 40-50 hour experience. That’s almost unheard of for an action/adventure game, but somehow Batman: Arkham City finds a way to keep surprising you to the point where you might just start sitting on the floor so that when you keep dropping your controller it won’t fall as far. The guys at Rocksteady should be applauded for this new Batman universe they have created while also making it still feel like Batman.
Really though the biggest reason why the game is so great comes down to the variety and execution in the game play. There are a plethora of problems for Batman to solve using all of his different gadgets and abilities and unlike in Arkham Asylum where some gadgets were favored more than others, every gadget will get a workout here. Whether expertly trying to pilot your remote-controlled batarang through air ducts too small for Batman to fit through to hit a switch on the other side of a locked gate, to using your grappling hook to pull together platforms to solve tricky Penguin puzzles, every gadget will be pushed to the limit, and not to spoil anything, but there are a lot more gadgets this time around.
The gadgets are also a huge part of combat now, which is another feature that has seen a facelift. Now, via some hot key combos, Batman can whip out his grappling hook, batarangs, and other goodies on the fly and throw them in the face of unsuspecting foes to pull off some really stunning combos like using the grappling hook to pull distant thugs in for a devastating clothesline. Also, aside from the standard punches and counters and these new gadget moves, Batman has new special moves that can take foes out of the fight instantly when his combo gets high enough, catch items thrown at him and throw them back with a well-timed counter, capitalize on the tremendous environment physics to put walls and railings more to his advantage, and even unlock special crowd control moves that can even up the odds on those 30 on 1 fights that you’ll occasionally run into. Basically, if we’ve seen Batman do it in a movie or comic book before, he can do it in the game and few things feel as good as quick grappling an enemy over a banister and hearing him scream for his mommy before being knocked out.
Another aspect of the first game that has been tweaked is the leveling up, RPG elements. You start the game off with a good amount of gadgets and moves, but like in the first game, the further you progress and more stuff you do, the more gadgets and combos you unlock as it goes with the story and then upgrade as you see fit. In the end, most people should have many, if not all of the upgrades, but it does give you some options in just how you would play as Batman in order to help craft a more personal experience.
Now, for many people, the only real negatives from the first game were the linearity and Detective Mode being used as a crutch. I’m happy to say that both problems have been solved. In order to counter people wanting to stay in Detective Mode, things away from where your focus should be have become more blurred, forcing players to only use it when examining a crime scene, following a blood trail, or when scoping out a room full of thugs. The bright neon lights of Gotham also wreak havoc with Detective Mode really making sure that when you’re outdoors, you take in Gotham in all it’s downtrodden glory. The linearity has also been fixed with the bevy of previously mentioned side missions and having several objectives open at once so that you can solve cases at your own leisure, go explore for Riddler trophies, or just do what I did for the first half-hour I played the game, glide around on my cape and just take in Gotham staples like the Monarch Theater, Ace Chemicals, and Park Row.
Now, one knock might be that there is no co-op multiplayer since if you squint really tightly you might see potential for it, but the character really isn’t built for that, especially in this story. You can already play as other characters to mix things up, which the Catwoman levels are just as fun as the main game and give you a whole new look to Arkham City for the short sections you play as her by the way. But, honestly, Batman is at his best when he is the center of attention and Robin, Nightwing, Oracle, and the rest of the Bat-family are just on the sides providing occasional support from the wings. And Batman and his rogues are the biggest reason why anyone plays this game. Would anyone really play a Nightwing game with him taking on Professor Pyg? The challenge maps return, of course, and trying to work your way up the leaderboards and build the best combo is still fun and choosing different characters there works, but Batman is a loner and so the main vein of this game, which is the campaign, is in all its glory with you just focusing in and playing as Batman.
When all is said and done, throw in the amazing voice acting from Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, Maurice LaMarche, Tara Strong, and the rest of the cast, and without giving away the brilliantly written plot (thank you Paul Dini), all I can say is that this is the single greatest comic book game I’ve ever played. It plays so well that I can easily recommend this to anyone without even thinking about it.
SUMMARY: Batman: Arkham City is easily the greatest fan service a comic book game could ever possibly be.
- THE GOOD: The most comprehensive comic book game I’ve ever played
- THE BAD: So many “Oh my God!” moments you keep dropping your controller
- THE UGLY: The seedy underbelly of Gotham all in one spot
Batman: Arkham City is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.