Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360) Review

When Batman: Arkham Asylum arrived on the scene a couple of years ago it managed to raise the bar for games based on comic book action heroes.  Arkham Asylum delivered in nearly every department creating an unforgettable experience and some even considered it the best Superhero game ever which seems like a mighty bold statement.  Yet, when I reflect back on the Superhero games I have played over the years, Batman: Arkham Asylum would definitely be in my top 5.  In any event, the sequel has arrived with some mighty big shoes to fill.  Batman: Arkham City arrives with a ton of hype and some lofty expectations to go along with the hoopla.  Does it manage to live up to the original Batman game and perhaps even surpass it?  Well you will just have to read on to find out.

Much like its predecessor, Batman: Arkham City is an action adventure game that is set in open world environment.  Much like other open world games such as LA Noire and Grand Theft Auto, the single player story progression is at the core of the gameplay.  It is a wonderfully told narrative written by Paul Dini who is also responsible for the writing of the previous Batman game.  There is a main plot and sub plot, but there is also glut of side missions and other add-ons to keep you busy for hours on end.  It is strictly a single player experience as Batman: Arkham City does not feature a multiplayer component or co-op mode.  Some of you may find this disappointing, but much like other large open world games you never feel like you getting ripped off or robbed of any experience you would get in say Modern Warfare 3.  Bottom line, Batman: Arkham City is a rich game featuring plenty of replay value.  Not to mention is a beautifully crafted game that is highly enjoyable.

Batman: Arkham City takes place one year after Arkham Asylum.  Quincy Sharp, the former Warden of Arkham Asylum, has become the Mayor of Gotham City.  Soon after taking over office, Sharp shuts down Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison as he no longer considers the institutions appropriate for its population.  Instead he relocates the prisoners to an area inside Arkham City.  Psychiatrist Hugo Strange is in charge of the open air prison and is manipulating Sharpe in order to become the supreme ruler of Gotham City.  Batman becomes concerned with what is going inside the prison and sets off on an adventure to foil Strange’s plans.  Meanwhile all of Gotham’s super villains are wreaking havoc, taking advantage of the weak and the chaos that has been ensuing.  Alas, Batman must set off on an adventure to foil their plans before it is too late.

All in all, Batman: Arkham City offers up one of the more clever and engaging storylines I have played in a video game to date recently.  There never seems to be a lull in the storyline and you are never at ease, as you never know which super villain you will run into next.  The story offers up a lot of surprises and some of the characters play more prominent roles than others.  Batman: Arkham City’s storyline never seems to take a back seat to the combat and gameplay, which is something, that cannot be said for many action adventure games on the market.  Far too often the story provides merely filler for games that are all about bashing and taking down enemy bosses.  Sure Batman: Arkham City has its share of bashing, and facing off with enemy bosses, but it also a game that provides so much more including a fantastic story.

For those fans of the previous Batman game, Batman: Arkham City plays out very much like its predecessor.  The combat system, for instance, involves your simple one button attacks and combos.  The game slowly introduces you to the games basic controls as you encounter street thugs and prisoners in the early going.  There are counter strikes and more elaborate combinations of attacks that when chained together can accomplish some devastating results.  The fighting mechanics are rock solid and are truly a joy to witness.  It is artistic yet brutal and a combat system that works so much better than games of the same ilk.

The enemies themselves offer up quite a challenge as well.  They come at you with machine guns, clubs, baseball bats, batons, and any other thing you may find laying around the city streets.  They also seem much smarter this time around as well as they defend themselves with ballistic vests and shields.  Sure there is a great deal of button mashing sequences, but there is also a high level of stealth sequences where you need to sneak up on enemies and take them down silently.  There are also other combat sequences where you need to take down enemies in a strategic manner.  Dropping a smoke pellet then performing stealthy aerial attacks is just one example of the creative ways the games forces you to take down enemies.  Needless to say, there is an abundance of ways and tools at your disposal to take down enemies.

In addition to the combat, Batman is often tasked with investigating much like a CSI investigator, solving riddles, and of course fighting epic boss battles.  All these aspects add up and make for a game that feels deep, varied and rewarding.  Batman’s gadgets also play a more significant role this time around.  In addition to new gadgets such as Cryptographic Sequencer V2 and Smoke Pellets, Batman has increased functionality for some of his existing gadgets that expand the range of combat.  You can quickly launch batarangs in the midst of a street brawl or you can shoot an electric charge into an electrical panel in order to open a door.  Batman is also equipped with some explosive gel which can be detonated.  The plethora of gadgets at your disposal is impressive and somewhat overwhelming in the early going.  Often I was confused as to which gadget would be the most appropriate in a given situation.  Yet the game does a decent job of steering you in the right direction and highlighting certain gadgets which should be used in certain situations.

Batman: Arkham City also features a slick upgrade system where you can upgrade Batman’s weapons, attacks, health and armour.  It is much like other upgrade systems in other hero games, but is much more simplified compared to those other games.

While there are many positives when it comes to Batman: Arkham City, there are some negatives.  For starters, the camera can, at times, have a mind of its own especially during some of the underground “crawling through a vent” sequences and also during some of the highrise gliding and zip lining sequences.  Also, being an open world game the pace can grind down to a halt if you are unsure which direction you should be headed.  There were many instances where I would be gliding and zip lining for what seemed like an eternity while I sought to trigger the next area in the single player campaign.  Not a major issue as it only happened a couple of times, but I guess it is par for the course when it comes to open world games.

In addition to the engaging combat, upgrade system, and the ability to just explore the massive open world, Batman: Arkham City also features some puzzles whereby you need to use every gadget at your disposal and not to mention it requires a considerable amount of thought.  The Riddler also places some trophies scattered throughout the game.  Some are easy to find but others require solving the Riddler’s riddles.  It is a clever little add-on that goes beyond merely searching for in-game collectibles.  It adds a new twist to searching for the items unlike we have seen before.

Overall, the visuals in Batman: Arkham City for the Xbox 360 are stunning and appear to be an upgrade over the previous Batman game.  The game is set in, as you would guess, Arkham City and the level of detail that went into the city landscape and environments are absolutely amazing.  Everything from the stylish art-deco buildings to the cracks in the pavement, the level of detail is truly impressive.  Batman: Arkham City is certainly a dark world, but it is perfectly suited for the game and sets the mood.  It is world you love to explore and is much more immersive than I could have ever imagined.  Needless to say, I was impressed.

Gone are the days of the Dark Night portrayed as a colourful comic book action hero.  Much like the recent Hollywood movies, Batman: Arkham City is raw, gritty, dark and geared towards the more serious side of the Caped Crusader.  As with the previous Batman games, the in-game characters steal the show.  The Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin, to name a few, look fantastic.  Yet it does not stop there as Batman: Arkham City hosts a massive cast of characters.  It is almost as if the development team wanted to put as much as possible into the game, not saving anything for a sequel.  The villains look menacing and it is hard to take your eyes off them.  As for Batman himself, he is also wonderfully detailed and his bat suit looks better than ever.  Sure, his look can seem a little over the top as his physique reflects more of a steroid using body builder than an action hero.  That said, he moves, fights, glides and struts about exactly as you would expect.

Batman: Arkham City does experience the odd technical glitch.  I noticed some screen tearing and clipping issues at times.  I also experienced the odd slow down when the action was chaotic on screen; however, for the most part Batman: Arkham City is a smooth running game that features a tremendous amount of eye candy, albeit dark and dirty eye candy.   All in all, Rocksteady has done the Batman franchise proud with its intreptation of the Batman world and all the characters you encounter throughout.

Much like the games visuals, Batman: Arkham City is a great sounding game.  The games soundtrack plays out very much like a Hollywood action film.  The game features swooping orchestral tunes and music that immerses you into the world of Batman.  The music is well-timed, sounds great in 5.1-surround sound, and will have you humming the tunes over and over in your head hours after you have put the controller down.

The games voice work is solid.  Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reprise their roles as the Joker and Batman respectively.  Having the same voice actor’s return brings some familiarity and authenticity to the experience.  There are times where they tend to take themselves a little too seriously; however, for the most part this well written story features some terrific dialogue that manages to suck you right in.  I found myself closely following the story and much of that has to do with the stellar voice work.

In-game sound effects sound as good they should and manage to pack a punch.  Every one of Batman’s blows are delivered with crisp sound and solid effects.  Kicks, punches, gunshots, glass breaking, and other in-game sound effects are nicely presented and nothing seemed to sound out of place.

Batman: Arkham City is one of the deepest and richest gaming experiences of 2011.  I am not sure I would go so far as it the greatest super hero game of all time, but it is sure damn close.  Fantastic visuals, immersive storyline, and the highly engaging gameplay make for a game Xbox 360 owners should strongly consider purchasing – right now.


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