Monday, 14 November 2011

Batman Arkham City

Game review - Xbox 360, PS3, PC & Wii

When the conversation of best comic book to video game transition takes place, it’s hard not to point the finger at Batman as the best one to date. For generations now we have been beating up bad guys as the Caped Crusader – but no adventure has been as impressive as Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham Asylum. 2009 saw a reinvigorated Batman hit the video game industry by storm with a wealth of beautifully executed gameplay mechanics, strongly linked by a fantastic story and narrative.

Batman Arkham City expands upon the already award winning formula as the Dark Knight is let loose in North Gotham, a secure and sealed off super-prison for the franchises’ most well known criminals. Here your detective skills are put to the ultimate test with the likes of Joker, Penguin and Mr. Freeze all plotting to stop you from crushing their plans. Get ready for an action packed ride that will cater to all your adrenaline pumping needs.

Those of you who played the original Arkham Asylum will feel very much at home with Arkham City’s structure. Batman’s movement, the combat and enemies haven’t changed dramatically, but there was little need to tweak an already fantastic formula. A simple control scheme with one button used to attack, another to counter and the third to stun, help to choreograph satisfying combat. Batman stylishly takes down groups of enemies and as you become more accustomed to the timing and rhythm of battle you will find your combos become more deadly and devastating.

Arkham City puts a lot more emphasis on Batman’s gadgets in the melee combat this time around. Quick fire mechanics for all your weapons can now be used to change the flow of battle in your favour. Be that an electric charge from your stun gun or grasping an enemy’s weapon out of their hand with the Bat Claw – experimenting is part of the fun in Arkham City and all of Batman’s tools can be used to extend combos and perform a fantastic array of moves.

Taking time to explore North Gotham and find gangs of thugs will reward you with an abundance of experience points that can be used to upgrade Batman’s suit, skills and weapons. As you progress these enhancements play a large role in keeping combat fresh and exciting. Being able to unleash a swarm of bats to stun a group of enemies or generate a sonic blast by diving from a rooftop into the heart of battle can greatly increase your chance of success, especially on the harder difficulty settings where the game is definitely more challenging. You will find that Batman is especially frail against gun-wielding foes so increasing his bullet resistance might be a priority for some players, while more confident gamers could opt to increase critical strike ratios to ensure maximum damage is done as quickly as possible.

Of course not all your enemies are so easy to take down. Gun wielding thugs make a return to frustrate Batman and ensure Detective Mode is used once again for a tactical advantage. Planning is key as you move swiftly and silently, taking down unsuspecting guards. Arkham Asylum did a fantastic job with the sneaking segments of the game and they are certainly welcomed back here with open arms.

While there are many things here resembling Arkham Asylum, upon entering Arkham City you will immediately notice the major difference between the two games – environment. No longer are you captivated inside the walls of the asylum, instead you are given freedom (albeit slightly restricted) to explore the whole of North Gotham. This proves to be Arkham City’s biggest and most impressive attraction as the now super-prison brims with atmosphere, both sinister and seductive. Traversing the rooftops as Batman feels fantastic and exploring the world, completing side quests and progressing through the engrossing story is a huge thrill as you stumble upon iconic characters from the Batman universe and watch as they come to life through Rocksteady’s interpretation. The thrill of accidentally meeting Bane and opening a side quest with the giant or coming across a masked vigilante in North Gotham are just some of the terrific moments that get your adrenaline pumping and your desire to push further into the heart of Batman’s campaign.

Another terrific aspect of Arkham City is the ability to enjoy the expansive world without necessarily needing to get involved in physical combat. The Riddler makes a dramatic return to the series, offering perhaps his most sinister set of traps to date. Scattered across the world are hundreds of Riddler Trophies, some of which you can just walk up to and pick up, while others are cleverly sealed off in cages that require the use of your brain to unlock. To make matters even worse, The Riddler has also taken the time to trap hostages throughout North Gotham and it’s up to Batman to figure out riddles and secure the safety of the civilians left stranded by the mad genius.

Arkham City also introduces a nifty in-game tutorial mode that forces you to glide throughout rings in order to unlock new upgrades and perks. These AR training routines allow you to enjoy challenging courses and become a master of Batman’s aerial movements. These can be found scattered across the map and progressively get harder and harder, sometimes forcing multiple repeats to try and come out victorious.

You can also enjoy North Gotham as Batman’s feline counterpart Catwoman. If you purchased the game new you receive a download code for Selina Kyle but those of you grabbing a second-hand copy will need to purchase her content off the online store. This add-on pack allows the use of Catwoman and integrates her role into the main story, including literally the opening segment of the game. While her role is relatively minimal, Catwoman has enough skills and abilities to make her feel unique as a character, while completing the game will allow you to choose between the two playable characters to hunt for their own specific Riddler trophies and challenge modes.

A very important aspect for any game that’s so campaign driven, is the inclusion of a New Game + Mode. Once you have gone through the game, this content unlocks and allows you to re-immerse yourself in North Gotham with your prior equipment, tackling a more challenging version of the game. Challenge rooms also make a welcome return, offering a variety of interesting and diverse scenarios for you to test your wits against.

From a technical perspective Batman Arkham City is a sheer joy to behold. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and Joker in superb fashion alongside a terrific cast of voice actors. Both dialogue and the narrative itself are spot on, moving you elegantly through a dramatic tale. The graphics are a wonder to behold as well; the comic book feel of Batman is captured perfectly throughout the dark and ominous streets of North Gotham. The sense of desperation can be felt in the air as the winter freeze hits the streets relentlessly and gangs of prisoners fight for survival and shelter. The game itself is so smooth and the controls make you feel completely in control of our most iconic superhero.

Ultimately Rocksteady have built upon Arkham Asylum in the appropriate way possible. Fans were screaming for an expansive environment and that was brought in full effect. Batman Arkham City is a terrific experience that truly stands as one of the best adventure games you will ever have the pleasure of experiencing.

9.0 | Gameplay |
Stylish combat alongside thrilling exploration make Arkham City a thoroughly enjoyable game from all aspects.

9.0 | Presentation |
A beautiful and expansive world filled with vibrant and iconic characters. The story is dramatic and tribute is paid to Batman’s rich history.

9.0 | Replay Value |
A host of unlockables to find, plenty of challenge modes, New Game + and The Riddler will surely keep you busy after you get through your initial game.

9.0 | Final Thoughts |
Batman Arkham City is a joy from start to end. It is let down by staged boss fights that are simply too easy, but the core game itself is incredible. If you want to know what it feels like to be a superhero, this is pretty much as close as any of us will get.

Igor Kharin.
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