Publisher: WB Games
by: Jason "OrigamiPanther" Love
Two years ago, Rocksteady broke out into the gaming scene with Batman: Arkham Asylum – a game that successfully integrated stealth mechanics, hand-to-hand gameplay, and a superhero license into an overall package that had folks asking for more. Happy to oblige, everyone’s favorite Dark Knight returns to further clean up the streets in Batman: Arkham City.
Whereas Arkham Asylum confined the Caped Crusade to the island of the city’s most famed institution for the criminally insane, Arkham City has opened up the landscape. Dr. Hugo Strange has cordoned off a portion of Gotham to be the new home for the criminals and supervillains that continue to plague the World’s Greatest Detective, and all is not as it seems in this little “experiment.” After his less than grand entrance into the den of sin, and some refreshers on how to take down an attacking felon, Batman’s ready to glide through the streets of the city and put an end to Strange’s plan.
The largest appeal to this sequel is the step taken from a confined space crime-solving adventure into a more open-world format, though it’s a moniker that is mostly “in name only.” While Batman is able to go about the city from rooftop to rooftop as he moves from objective to objective, once he arrives at one of those objectives, he’ll be tossed right back in to a confined space that feels a little more confined after all that fresh air. What’s more, outside of the various side missions, there’s little detective work involved with discovering where to go next. Batman finds himself being told precisely where he ought to be, either by the latest villain he’s facing or by the constant voice in the ear, Alfred. The same “just keep moving forward” line of thinking tends to apply to the indoor scenes, too, as most areas present fewer of the stealth/scare tactics employed in the first game.
Fortunately, those two aspects are truly the game’s biggest (relatively, speaking) flaws. The “freeflow” combat introduced in Arkham City has become even more refined this time around, better integrating Batman’s ingenious gadgets and combat moves into a system that should be used in any game with a melee fighting aspect. Taking down unsuspecting foes and scaring those who remain is just as satisfying, and Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill turn in stellar performances as Batman and the Joker, respectively, even if Batman does come off as a bit surlier than usual. Perhaps the greatest improvement has been to the boss fights. After Arkham Asylum’s tedious repetition and slight variation on an early encounter, Arkham City’s criminal elite provide a different experience each time they square off against the Dark Knight; one fight in particular forces the player to make full use of the arsenal of gadgets and stealthy takedown moves.
Upon completion of the first game, I felt like Batman – pitting my intellect, strength, and mastery of stealth against an insane clown to retake a mad house gone mad. Upon completion of Arkham City, I felt like some of that intellect and powers of deduction had been taken away in favor of brute force plodding, yet that didn’t make the journey any less satisfying.