Title: Batman: Arkham City
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
For many years, if a game had the word "Batman" in the title, it was a sure sign to steer clear. A decade or more of awful video games getting fancy movie licenses slapped on them taught gamers a hard lesson about how marketing works. Rocksteady Studios landed a solid blow against this long standing stereotype when they released Batman: Arkham Asylum back in 2009. Full of great writing, top notch voice acting and hours of awesome gameplay, the title showed what a big name license could do in the hands of talented developers. Those same developers have polished and reworked an already great game into something really outstanding with the sequel, Batman: Arkham City.
Everything from the menus and music to the writing and gameplay style shows that the people that made this game clearly understand the concept of Batman inside and out. He's not just a guy in a rubber suit who beats up thugs. He's got tons of cool gadgets, a great cast of supporting characters (Alfred, Robin, etc.) and he's a thinking man's tough guy. Beating down a group of thugs is great, but sometimes it's just as satisfying to solve one of the many Riddler puzzles hidden throughout the game. Batman's detective skills also come into play fairly often, requiring you to discover bits of forensic evidence or other data to figure out what your next move should be.
Unlike the rigid and static storytelling system in Arkham Asylum, the sequel gives its players a lot more freedom to choose what they want to do. Batman ends up trapped inside Gotham's newest high security prison at the beginning of the game, and you're mostly free to wander around as you please. It's almost always quite clear where to go next to move the story forward, but side missions can sometimes pop up along the way, creating a temporary diversion if you're in the mood. Just getting around is a ton of fun though, as you get to use all those cool toys you've seen Batman use in the movies but never got to play with yourself. Gliding with your cape and getting around instantly with your grappling hook really never gets old. It's even more fun when you're using those tools to set up attacks on groups of baddies, choosing the perfect time and place to strike.
And when you finally do strike, it's oh so much fun. Arkham Asylum's hand-to-hand combat had a smooth, rhythmic flow to it that really made you feel like a martial arts wielding superhero. That's only been improved upon here. The attack/counter-attack system returns, but with even more options for executing counterstrikes, as well as going on the offensive. If it's possible to convey what it's like to really be Batman through a controller, the developers seem to have done it here.
Batman's gadgets play a larger role in combat this time around, too. All the old gadgets return, many with some nice upgrades. New toys like the Remote Electrical Charge and ice grenades are flexible, being useable against enemies or to solve various puzzles. The extra equipment comes in handy as many more of the bad guys are armed this time around and Batman is far from bulletproof. Effectively positioning yourself to take out these bigger threats is a major consideration at times.
While the storytelling throughout Arkham City is mostly solid, there are a few strange, gaping holes that never seem to be explained. Sometimes things just seem to conveniently happen to Batman, occasionally without any logical explanation. Maybe it's just because I haven't picked up a comic book since I was a teenager, but I sometimes felt like I was missing a fact or two.
Luckily the voice acting is so amazing you won't even care when you hit the few speed bumps in the narrative. Kevin Conroy (from Batman: The Animated Series) reprises his role as Batman, while Mark Hamil turns in yet another incredible performance as the Joker. Tons of respected voice talent was poured into Arkham City and it really shows. It's as close as I've ever felt to being able to step inside and be a part of the coolest Batman movie ever made.
Whether you're into comic books or not, Batman: Arkham City is a top notch action title. There's just the right amount of story, puzzling and combat paired with interesting characters and locations to keep you wanting more the entire way through. Sequels aren't often this good.