Review: Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham Asylum was a veritable rarity of the comic book to video game trope. Following a rash of subpar releases, it prevailed as a gritty, modern look at the Dark Knight’s universe and the familiar villains many of us have grown up with. Rocksteady proved total and complete comprehension of what made the classic hero’s legacy such a memorable one, and 2011’s release of Batman: Arkham City only served to prove just how closely the team has paid attention to improving upon the original game and expanding into new territory. The result is a tumultuous journey through the broken psyche of everyone’s favorite playboy millionaire and a parade of nearly every prominent villain appearing in the comic book lore. It’s a brand new venue with brand new rules, and a ride every Batman fan will want to take.

Batman’s no longer traversing the mazelike Arkham Asylum. In fact, the spotlight has shifted to the titular Arkham City, a roped-off section of Gotham in which hardened criminals are free to roam. It’s a place full of broken dreams and insanity, and a place that shouldn’t have been allowed to come to fruition. Through a series of chilling events that unfold at the beginning of the game that I won’t spoil here, Batman infiltrates the city and embarks on a journey that continuously leads him down some of the darkest paths we’ve seen yet, including the fate of the Joker after the previous game.

Exploring Arkham City is nowhere near as impressive as being given free reign over Gotham, but still remains a sizeable wasteland in which you can zip, glide, and dive to reach any key location in a matter of minutes. While landmarks seem to exist in the distance and you’re left wondering how long it’s actually going to take to reach, you’re pleasantly surprised when it’s a cakewalk to reach the courthouse, or it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump away to find Poison Ivy’s lair. There’s a satisfying velocity to be felt while making good use of Batman’s gliding ability, and his zipline conjures some of the best Spider-Man moments. It feels fantastic, so while there’s a great deal of free-range exploration to be done, it never feels like a chore.

Combat still feels, for the most part, effortless. The freeflow system, however, doesn’t allow for a very large margin of error, especially when foes are armed with guns or knives. Combo moves can take a while to get into the groove, but well-timed hits are rewarded with extra power and punishing finishers, not to mention extra experience points. Additional tools such as electrical charges and quickfire explosive gel add an explosive punch to the equation as well.The infamous stealth segments of Arkham Asylum return as well, only this time thugs are quick to destroy the very pillars you’re hanging from, though it’s still easy and extremely satisfying to quick-Batarang a dim-witted foe who thought for some reason you disappeared in the span of three seconds. They’re really bright. At the end of each scuffle, a slow-motion look at the foe you just felled takes over, recharging your health gauge and assigning experience points, just like with Arkham Asylum. As soon as the fight is over you’re back to feeling indestructible, just like “being” Batman should.

If you’re content to never stray from the main campaign, that’s fine, but you’d be missing out on a plethora of different side quests. The numerous Riddler trophies (400 in all) are scattered throughout Arkham City, which will unlock access to new challenge maps, artwork, character trophies, and other niceties. They can be a real pain to sniff out, but finding them all is hugely satisfying and an undertaking in itself. If you’re not interested in treasure hunting, tracking down ringing phones all over the city in Zsasz’s side quests or sniffing out Deadshot are viable alternatives, ensuring that if and when the central plot line fails to entertain you, there’s always something else to do.

New copies of Arkham City are packaged with a single use code with which to download Catwoman. Though she doesn’t add any significant content to the main narrative, she feels quite different than Batman — whipping around the high-rises and using her claws to fell enemies is a welcome change when switching from gravelly Batman to the purring Selina Kyle. Still, she doesn’t add the host of content one would expect from an additional purchase used copy buyers would be forced to make. It’s an interesting diversion every now and then, but nothing I’d suggest paying any sort of extra sum for.

Batman: Arkham City is a triumph in many ways. It’s a testament to how the comic book tie-in has grown and continues to grow over the years. It’s a celebration of the Batman universe we have come to know and love, and it’s certainly an adventure you won’t soon forget. Now how long until Spidey, Superman, and the X-Men jump on the great game bandwagon? Rocksteady, I think you’ve got some proteges to tend to.

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