The Average Gamer

Batman: Arkham City Review (PS3)

BatmanArkhamCity_LogoTo say I was looking forward to Batman: Arkham City is a bit of an understatement. From the very moment I finished Batman: Arkham Asylum I’d been waiting for the chance to fly as Batman once again.

With the first game set entirely within the modest confines of Gotham’s craziest lunatic asylum, the sprawling metropolis of the Arkham City prison gives Batman and his cast of villains vast amounts of space to stretch their legs. From the endlessly entertaining Joker and his completely mental side-kick Harley Quinn planning to take over Gotham; the grotesque Two-Face dealing out his version of justice via a coin toss; the slinky feline Catwoman sexing up Arkham, whilst at the same time robbing it blind and Dr Hugo Strange… well, you’ll have to play the game to find out what evil-doing he’s been up to. Arkham City is teeming with screwed-up personalities and crime.

At the start of the game, whilst playing as Bruce Wayne, I must have spent about 10 minutes simply marvelling at the cityscape which stretched effortlessly into the distance all around me. Then, after my batsuit had appeared in a delivery pod freshly jettisoned from my über-stealthy batwing as Barney Stinson fan I did laugh when the on-screen text said “press X to suit up.” Legen — wait for it — dary. And then it hit me. I could go anywhere in the city I wanted. I was Batman! Right, time to clean up Arkham.

The Arkham Asylum gameplay has been tweaked to make it appeal to a wider audience. It’s the same formula of explore, analyse using detective mode, collect items and fight gangs of villains and super criminals but now detective mode can now be jammed by certain enemies, Batman has way more fighting moves available and the whole game is a lot easier to play. Kicking the hell out of massive groups of enemies is simple and spectacular thanks to the fantastic free-flow combat system but doing it in style takes serious amounts of practice.

Experience points act as the in-game currency. I earned points by fighting, collecting Riddler trophies and completing bits of the main plot. I then used these points to unlock Batman’s extensive catalogue of cool skills and weapons like the incredible remote-controlled batarang which is possibly my favourite Batman weapon of all. This game mechanic worked really well as it pushed me to improve my fighting style to rack up the big combo and deliver lots of experience points so I could play with new toys.

Rocksteady Studios have created a wonderful hell hole of a prison. Scum and villainy lurk around every corner waiting for their chance to beat the crap out of Batman. Listening in on their harsh and frequently derogatory comments about women brutally emphasises that these people are truly the dregs of society. Even so, I was surprised to hear the word “bitch” used quite so often in their dialogue.

Due to the sheer size of Arkham City some of Batman’s skills and equipment have been specifically tailored for commuting. After finishing the first round of the impressively tough virtual training (precision gliding through giant airborne rings) I was then able to propel myself from any structure using a freshly upgraded grapple weapon. This gave me the ability to glide around the city without touching the ground. Ever. The sense of freedom was intoxicating. I would just throw myself from the roofs of giant buildings without a care in the world, safe in the knowledge that my cape and grapple weapon would keep me airborne. This is the game’s greatest achievement in making you feel like you’re actually Batman.

I don’t think Rocksteady’s community manager, Sarah Wellock was far wrong in claiming that every building in Arkham City is unique. From the intricate design of the streets to the distinctive zones of the city, including Crime Alley, everything has been designed to fulfil a specific role. There is a main plot, written by five-time Emmy-Award-winning writer Paul Dini which gives the game some structure and makes good use of the whole city. The plot also let me dip in and out of it at any point to complete other parts of the game.

Trying to collect the 400+ Riddler trophies and complete 12 different side quests meant that I’d scoured almost every part of the city and tested both my mental and physical agility. Trust me, that didn’t take very long, especially the mental part. Even the classic time-trial game mechanic has been made infinitely more exciting within Zsaz’s missions. These had me scrambling all over the city to answer a series of ringing telephones within a time limit or he would murder his hostages. No pressure then!

There were also 180 challenge maps for me to contend with. These maps put all my Batman skills under the microscope again from brawling for points to clearing a room of enemies as quickly as possible using a selection of gameplay modifiers (e.g. slowly diminishing health). It’s going to take me ages to finish all of them. Couple that with collecting the Riddler trophies and I’m easily looking at 40+ hours total game time from Arkham City.

Unfortunately, Rocksteady Studios are guilty of restricting access of special challenge maps to certain retailers with the Robin character only available if you pre-ordered the game. However, I’m sure you will be able to buy everything in DLC packs in the near future.

The impossibly shapely and sultry Catwoman crops up at various points during the main story. Unless you’ve entered the Catwoman DLC code you won’t be able to complete her mini-missions/episodes. I’d advise unlocking her at the start as the bits where these episodes crossover into the main plot make a lot more sense. Whilst her 4 episodes don’t take very long to complete there are Catwoman-only Riddler trophies and other objectives throughout the city which provide a bit more fun. I found that I had to change the way I played the game to make best use of Catwoman’s far more nimble abilities. She can’t glide for a start; instead she uses her whip to grab onto structures which you can then climb up. This made me realise just how much I relied on Batman’s gliding ability.

I’m not impressed with the way the Catwoman content has also been hived off as DLC specifically to combat the second-hand market. As I pointed out in my Catwoman debacle post not unlocking Catwoman does interfere with the flow of the game. The first thing the game does after loading is check for DLC, even when I’d unlocked the Catwoman content. Downloadable content packs should not have been given this much prominence in the game.

Whilst the Riddler puzzles are far more numerous and indeed more taxing than ever before, the main story has been hugely dumbed down in terms of difficulty. You really get mollycoddled through it. If Batman doesn’t immediately tell you how to solve a puzzle, he definitely will after a few failed attempts. This happened even after I’d turned the hints off in the options menu and quickly became very annoying. At one point Batman kept telling me to go back to the loading bay whilst I was hunting for the Riddler trophies in the opposite direction. The only way to shut him up was to comply and continue the main story. So much for Batman’s sense of adventure.

Rocksteady Studios have created a game which seamlessly blends open-world gameplay with the brilliance of Arkham Asylum and the whole Batman universe. The main plot is packed full of twists and turns, shocks and several memorable moments. However, the focus on DLC, Batman’s constant spoiling of many of the puzzles and general dumbing down of difficulty level takes some of the shine off what is an otherwise amazing game. You should buy it anyway.

Batman: Arkham City is out now on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and on PC from 25th Nov 2011.

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