|The Dark Knight Rises.....to gaming perfection!|
Three years ago the world saw the release of Batman Arkham Asylum from Rocksteady studios, while not being perfect, the game was indeed a shining example of what licensed games are capable of being. The same cannot be said for the sequel Batman Arkham City as it is indeed perfect in every way. Not only is this game the best licensed game of all time, it is also arguably one of the best GAMES of all time. It is everything that a sequel should be in that it expands on its predecessor's gameplay, and eliminates the few flaws Asylum had. Honestly I could dote on the game for several pages but then we would never get into the actual review so lets not delay any further!
Taking place some time after the events of Arkham Asylum, Quincy Sharp; the previous warden of Arkham Asylum has become the new mayor of Gotham and for his first order of business as mayor, has created a new super-prison called Arkham City which is made up of the old run-down part of Gotham. In this new prison all criminals are tossed inside and expected to fend for themselves with very little guards, and medical personnel to assist them.
The story begins with Bruce Wayne holding a press conference to protest Arkham City and the danger it presents to both Gotham and the criminals within, Bruce is then knocked out and awakens in an interrogation room with the head of the prison Dr. Hugo Strange who reveals to Bruce that he knows his secret identity as Batman and that if he interferes with Strange's mysterious plan known as Protocol 10 he will publicly reveal Wayne's secret identity. He is then thrown into Arkham City where he is promptly confronted by the Penguin and his lackeys whom Bruce easily beats to a pulp while breaking out of his bonds. Bruce then suits up as Batman and begins his mission to discover what Protocol 10 is, as well as foil the plans of the various super-villains incarcerated in the prison such as Two-Face, The Riddler, and of course The Joker.
There is more to the story than my brief synopsis but I cannot reveal it to you as I do not wish to spoil even a small amount of the main story. Playing through the story is a great experience almost for the narrative alone and in order to get the full experience it is imperative to not read a spoiler. I will say that the story is perhaps former Batman the Animated Series writer Paul Dini's greatest work to date as it is thrilling, engaging, and dark which is exactly how a good Batman story should be. And at last I say the Paul Dini may now be forgiven for the god-awful event comic series Countdown. The one shortcoming of this story is that you absolutely MUST have played Arkham Asylum in order to know what is going on in a lot of places.
Like Asylum before it, Arkham City looks incredible! This is the type of game that absolutely must be played on an HD TV in order to get the full visually orgasmic experience of Arkham City. Each area of the city is masterfully created with great detail and it is quite easy to tell which super-villains run that particular part of the city, for example when you cross into Joker's territory the backgrounds becomes brighter and more colorful like a circus, while the Penguin runs the more regal, fancy areas of Arkham City (well as fancy as a crumbling old city can get). There are also several nice little easter eggs hidden in the detail such as finding the spot where Thomas and Martha Wayne were gunned down and even being able to have Batman pay his respects to his fallen parents in a silent but truly heart wrenching scene.
Unlike its predecessor Arkham City's has an amazing soundtrack that varies from quiet and subtle to intense and heart-pounding as you fight your way through the prison. Sounds are also still incredible and add much satisfaction to pounding the various inmates of Arkham City. And finally the voice acting is AMAZING!! Arkham City has probably the best casting of any video game I have ever played and consists of voice actors such as Grey DeLiesle (Mandy from The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy and Vicky from The Fairly Oddparents) as Catwoman, Tara Strong (Timmy Turner from The Fairly Oddparents and Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls) taking over Arleen Sorkin's role as Joker's lover Harley Quinn, Dee Bradley Baker (too many voice credits to list) as Ra's Al Ghul, and various others. However the real stars of the show are Kevin Conroy as Batman and of course Mark Hamill (for the last time sadly) as the Joker; both of which deliver truly powerful performances to rival any live-action actor portrayal of the Caped Crusader and the Clown Prince of Crime. (Hope you're reading this Mr. Nicholson)
Like Asylum before it, Arkham City is a action-adventure/stealth game that consists of three main gameplay focuses; fighting, sneaking, and exploring. Other optional modes return such as the challenge arena in which you partake in multiple predator and combat challenges to earn the highest score, unlike in the last game though there are not one, not two, but FOUR playable characters (2 DLC)! In addition to Batman we also get Catwoman, Robin, and Nightwing available for play and all of which play incredibly different from each other and come with their own share of really cool combat animations. We also get the Riddler's Revenge mode in which you are forced to play by the Riddler's limitations and rules throughout multiple challenges. Unlike last time this challenge mode is definitely worth playing and not just if you couldn't get enough fighting and sneaking around.
Combat remains relatively simple, but fluid and awesome! You still play with your main 3 buttons stun, attack, and counter with some gadget use, but this time gadgets are far easier to integrate into your combos thanks to the much welcomed quickfire feature which allows you to fire off a gadget without selecting it on the gadget mini-menu allowing you to play more strategically without breaking your combos to do so. Counters remain an exercise in timing, but with an added twist; you can now perform up to three counters at once provided three enemies are swinging at you and results in a very cool animation that floors the enemies. And in addition to the standard take-down and throw moves we now have individual special-attacks that differ between characters; for example Batman throws down a sonic emitter that summons bats to stun all enemies in a radius while Catwoman swings her whip wildly striking multiple foes and giving her some room. Basically everything that we loved about combat in the first game has been retouched and made even more addicting.
Predator mode has also been revamped a little bit to make things a bit more interesting. The locations are far more varied this time as opposed to just dank gargoyle filled rooms, so a little more creativity must be put into your silent take-downs especially since you can interact with the environment way more than you could previously. Enemies have guns? No problem, just use your remote electrical charger on a nearby console to create a make-shift magnet to distract your prey, pop out of vents and snag your foe, smash them through a window, create a booby trap on a weak floor, the options are NUMEROUS! The enemies are a little bit smarter this time, now employing new technology in the later parts of the game to make your job more difficult, now they came with heat seeking visors which can spot you in the darkness, and disruptors that will render your detective mode useless. While the least revamped of the three main aspects its is still all welcome changes that elevate predator mode to higher levels of fun.
I hope you like exploration and a sense of discovery because Arkham City has that in spades! The prison/city is HUGE, and littered with several side-quests and findables that will satisfy the most hardcore completionists for weeks. Arkham City is at least three times the size of the asylum and the developers certainly made sure to let you know that; there are numerous places to explore and no two locations look the same. The side-quests don't really feel like side-quests but in fact genuine sub-plots to the game, for example one side-quest involves tracking down the assassain Deadshot through a series of crime scenes, another involves tracking down and destroying the remaining titan containers from the previous game to prevent more giant monstrosities from being born. And once again Detective mode makes a return and works very similar to Asylum helping Batman figure out where to go next, and help identify and isolate different enemies.
I went in to this game just trying to find something wrong with it on a larger scale than a nitpick, and happily I failed in doing so. Even if you are not a fan of the comics you NEED to get this game, and with the newly released Game of the Year edition and the announcement of a Wii-U port you have no excuse not to do so. I loved this game so much, and I hope to see many more hits from Rocksteady in the future.
Buy this game and get ready for an amazing, unforgetable experience. And after that go out and buy Scott Snyder's entire current run on The New 52 Batman comics, and of course go see The Dark Knight Rises this July for maximum Batman fan satisfaction.
I will review the Harley's Revenge DLC pack at a later date when I actually play it.