Batman: Arkham City Takes Fanatical Flight

Gotham City’s skyline glows warmly, showing decades of progress and prosperity in each of its majestic towers. On this night, the impressive view is obstructed by the massive concrete walls of Arkham City, Gotham’s new home for its lunatics and murderers. Behind these barriers, a section of the city has been transformed into a prison with no rules. The inmates govern themselves. Anarchy reigns in the streets as they vie for territory control. No sane person would dare enter this dangerous penitentiary. For Batman and the gamer controlling him in “Batman: Arkham City,” however, it is the ultimate hunting grounds and a place where one of gaming’s most remarkable adventures unfolds.

Within this sprawling world, developer Rocksteady Studios has crafted a monster of a sequel, expanding on the size and scope of every facet presented in the series’ first entry, “Arkham Asylum.” A bombshell of a plot twist is revealed in the introductory moments: Hugo Strange knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman. From this point on, exceptional writing leads the way through a mystery-laden plot that races along with fantastic character-based moments.

“Arkham Asylum” accurately depicted Batman as a character, brilliantly playing off of his ability to shift from combatant to detective to predator. But the sequel reveals that Rocksteady showed us only the tip of his pointy ears. Players now have the ability to experience Batman as Gotham City’s guardian and the creature who most enemies fear is lurking in the shadows. A beautifully designed gliding mechanic makes city navigation a breeze. The thrill of gliding undetected and descending like a hawk onto one’s prey is an immensely satisfying action that often gives way to the game’s expanded combat tactics, which are quite impressive.

Detailing exactly how the combat has changed would reveal villains and spoil sections of the game. But the base tactics are identical to the first game, and the new elements allow Batman to approach different enemy types in new ways and also stun or down foes with a larger arsenal of moves. The biggest difference between the game play of “Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City” is the structure of the world. “Arkham Asylum” is a linear game with “Metroid”-esque backtracking and secret finding. “Arkham City” is an open world littered with difficult missions and events.

When the game begins, Batman stands on a rooftop facing his objective. It’s at this point players can veer off of the critical path and explore to their heart’s content. The side content offers more game play than the critical path and is spread across a variety of avenues ranging from standard side missions to tasks that specific villains want fulfilled. The Riddler is up to his old tricks, offering a whopping 440 challenges, some of which can actually kill Batman.

All of the side content is nicely designed, giving players plenty of reason to invest significant time. At one point I had six side missions to complete, five canisters to blow up, a political prisoner screaming for help, an unknown masked vigilante watching me from a distant rooftop, a major villain initiating a deadly game through a ringing cellphone, and a handful of Riddler challenges staring me in the face. It was a bit more than a daunting exercise in multi-tasking.

When I completed the game, I found that I went through only 42 percent of the content. At this point, I also unlocked a mode that gives the player all of the weapons and upgrades he or she ended with and offers a more difficult challenge through altered enemy types. Did I mention that Catwoman is a fully playable character? Her arc intertwines with Batman’s, but only accounts for roughly 5 to 10 percent of the story… which is a bit disappointing.

The size of the game is daunting. I still have a long journey ahead to reach 100 percent, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I have invested more than 60 hours so far. Throw in the new game mode and a dizzying number of combat challenges for Batman and his feline friend, and the game could be one of the biggest and most enjoyable time sinks of the year. “Arkham City” not only lives up to the standards set by “Arkham Asylum,” it bests its predecessor in every way and stands tall as one of Batman’s greatest moments. This is a 5 out of 5 star game!

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~ by upbeatmag on October 30, 2011.

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