Batman: Arkham City is a single-player, stealth action-adventure game that was originally released in 2011. It was developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and is a direct sequel to the 2009 title, Batman: Arkham Asylum. I returned to this game nine years after its initial release for a second playthrough on the PC with the Game of the Year edition. After sinking about thirty hours into it (so far), I can safely say that this is probably one of my favourite video game sequels ever.
Batman: Arkham City takes place eighteen months after the events of Arkham Asylum in a partitioned off section of Gotham’s urban slums, in a brand-new city-sized super prison that was established by Dr Hugo Strange to house and rehabilitate Gotham’s worst criminals and corrupt officials. Bruce Wayne gets captured and incarcerated within Arkham City, where he will stealthily put on the mantle of Batman and work to unravel the machinations of this enigmatic institution from the inside out. However, unforeseen forces make The Dark Knight realise that there are more sinister ulterior motives at play.
Arkham City took almost everything that its predecessor lacked and refined it to make it grander. With new gadgets, fresh yet vintagely familiar villainy faces, the addition of some fantastic side quests, and an added playable character, there isn’t much in the game that one can complain about. If there’s anything that truly bothered me about the title, it would have to be the scope of the map, just a few changes to some of the technical aspects, and a couple quirks with the overall storyline.
One of my favourite things in Arkham Asylum was the combat. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t a supreme master at it, but I got by quite decently. The fluidity of transitioning from one baddy to the next made the beatings quite enjoyable and fierce. I only wish that the movement from one guy to another across the room was smoother with less resistance. In Arkham City, there’s virtually no resistance whatsoever, which helps the player to increase their combos quite drastically, which in turn helps to maximise the experience points during each altercation. Because of this I was able to unlock a decent bulk of combat and armour upgrades fairly early on in the campaign.
The new gadgets that Batman unlocks later on really helps to diversify the fights and prevents them from feeling stale or tedious as well. The variations it added to the takedowns and the strategical manoeuvrability when faced with baddies that had knives or guns helped created an immersive playing experience. After unlocking each new combat upgrade, I would spend about half an hour to an hour just testing them out by gliding around and taking down dudes. The escapism was rather excellent and is definitely one of the key elements that give Arkham City such great replay value.
Gliding is another aspect that’s pretty amazing. Since the map is about five times the size of Arkham Island, there is a lot of shit to explore and discover. Gliding around can give you an aerial idea of where most things are located; knowledge that becomes imperative with a couple of side quests later on. The ease of control is marvellously effortless. I only wish that the Bat Dives would provide higher elevations.
The size of Arkham City can be intimidating when you first start up the game. Unlike the previous title, everything is available to the player right from the start. While some buildings are only accessible after certain main story progress points, virtually everything else is fair game. If picked up right after finishing Asylum, it’s overwhelming. There are so many collectibles in the city as well that sometimes trying to hunt them all down can feel incredibly impossible. The more that you play, the less daunting it becomes; however, I still wish that chunks of the map were released at a time rather than instant availability, but that could just be my old-school habits and comfort levels.
Detective Mode in Arkham City was hit-and-miss for me. My concern was with how much darker it was than the original game. Rather than the bright blues of accessible night-vision, the surroundings became very dark. In specific areas of the city where there’s heavy smoke, it’s extremely difficult to see one’s surroundings through Detective Mode. All you see are the orange and blue skeletal outlines of people, most of which aren’t differentiated as baddy or victim. There are also fewer investigative elements in the main storyline with regard to scanning surroundings, however. Batman does get to interface with the Bat Computer with some assistance from a couple of awesome allies and that bit of techno-sleuthing makes up for the lack of scanning things. The side quests utilise this tactic much more, though.
The side quests are hand-down one of my favourite parts of the entire game. We essentially get to hunt down several of the antagonists that don’t typically get too much screen-time in Batman media. There is a quest for the Phone Booth Killer that I loved to bits. It consists of timed missions that take you completely across the entire city and the challenge of a couple of them were such tons of fun. Plus, learning about this individual as we hunt them down was like a walk-through Nostalgia Park as so much of their history is ripped straight out of the original comics (my favourites).
In a few other side quests, Batman actually has to work alongside the antiheroes that he has put behind bars and these are super intriguing because it allows the player to see the compassion that drives The Dark Knight to do what he does best. In one or two of them, there is the conflict that he has inside between doing what is right and doing what he knows would be the easier solution. Also, a lot of the Bat’s dialogues pretty much cement what The Joker has been screaming about for ages and seeing Bruce get in touch with his inner villain is just *chef’s kiss.*
The last thing I wanted to discuss is the main story. To be totally frank with y’all, I felt the narrative in Arkham City was average. It started off strong, but then by the middle to halfway point, I found myself shaking my head at it. When the main story kicks off, it’s about the city and the ulterior motives behind its establishment, which was superb. It revolves around a character that I’m dying to see on cinema screens one day (as a focal point) because this dude is such a fascinating individual. He holds power of knowledge over Batman in a way that no other antagonist does. Nevertheless, as his tale gets wrapped-up, the finishing concentration is back to Bat’s typical adversary.
Now, I understand that it’s a manner of tying this game to the first. Yet, I strongly feel that if the timeline of story revelations was switched between Ending Dude and Starting Dude, then the narrative would have been so much stronger and would have made the game feel more complete. By making the entire game about End Dude, for the most part, Arkham City loses sight of what it advertises within the first hour of gameplay, making it an ultimate let-down. The two main points also don’t overlap that much, maintaining their distance. It’s as if the writers couldn’t decide which main narrative to centre the game on, so they just went with both because they could. If these two stories were more interconnected, then that may have increased the completeness far more, but even then I’d say it’s a reach. As it stands, though, it was frustrating.
This is just my opinion. I’m sure there are folx out there who disagree and that’s totally cool. Everyone can have their own subjective say on the matter and none of us are wrong. I just wanted to voice my feelings on this because of how strongly I felt about it.
Other minor favourite aspects of Arkham City include the scenes where we get to play as Catwoman and the boss fights. Catwoman is my ultimate comic book crush. Selina Kyle is just such a badass woman who takes no shite and she’s also super sexy. (It’s not because she’s Catwoman; I actually didn’t like cats when I first fell in love with her, ironically.) We get to take the reigns on her about four times throughout them main storyline and what’s cool is that she can explore the city just as much as Bats. She even has her own set of trophies that she can snag.
The boss fights are really amazing because they’re all so different! I became bored with the boss fights in Arkham Asylum due to the repetitive nature of them, which were all set-ups for the final battle with The Joker. However, in Arkham City, each boss is tackled differently, usually with the help of a different gadget each time. I can’t even name my two favourite battles because they would be spoilers and I don’t want to share any in case if someone hasn’t played through the franchise yet. When the first of them popped up, the surprise and fanhuman glee that I felt was awesome and I wouldn’t want to deprive that sense of delight (and “oh shit” vibes) from anyone. So, yes, the boss fights are one of the absolute best parts of Arkham City. I’d say it’s worth picking it up just for that alone.
All in all, Batman: Arkham City was a joy of a game, despite the few minor irks that I had with it. If you really think about it, those issues are rather small in the whole scope of the title and doesn’t significantly take away from the all the brilliant parts within it. It’s a game that I’m beyond ecstatic that I own on multiple platforms (my PS3 Collector’s Edition and the PC GOTY edition) and is one that I shall play and re-play for many more years to come. If you’ve played Arkham Asylum, but have yet to check out the sequel, then I highly recommend that you do so. If you’ve never played these games, but are a fan of the Batman franchise, trust me when I say that it’s most-definitely worth the experience. The game is available on virtually all available platforms (links below).