Batman: Arkham City

Arkham Asylum has been destroyed, the men in charge have moved all the criminally insane from Arkham into an area of the city, then topped it up with all the insanely criminal types in Gotham’s other prison, Blackgate. Then they put a fence around it and left it out in the sun to go rotten.

There is obviously more to it than that, and when Batman finds himself inside the Arkham City limits he gets right to sorting out all the mess. I say gets right to it, that’s not really true of my time with the game. I got right to running about the streets and gliding between rooftops, kicking in gangs of thugs and following blood trails because you can do whatever you want – sure there is a story, and those key quests will be marked on your map, but so will all sorts of other things. Unidentified murder victims, VR Training modules, ringing phones and what seems like an unending series of collectables left for you by The Riddler are all there for the Dark Knight to check out.

You have access to more or less the whole city from the get go, although there is some degree of Metroid style ‘Gadget Gating’ in place, for example, you can’t get past a dangerous steam pipe until you’ve found a gadget that will let you freeze up the ends of pipes. I wonder who you get that from? For all my initial exploration I soon realised that I had a review to write for a deadline and jumped back into the story, although the second this review is finished I’m going right back into my game, those thugs aren’t going to knock themselves out, you know. For the record my initial run through the story took me about 15 hours, and at that point my save was showing a measly 32% completion. I have a huge amount left to do, not just collectables but also some long chaining side quests that I have since gone back to but still not come to the end of. If you’re not playing on a timer I would recommend you pick these up wherever you see them, as they have a lot of back story to them and are well worth your time. I’d love to talk more about the story but that just wouldn’t be fair, I’ll say it’s engaging, well written and does an excellent job of leading you through encounters with all your favourite Gotham residents. It doesn’t feel contrived or forced, and while it doesn’t end with a bang, potentially catching the player unawares, it does end how it should. The rest I’ll leave for you to discover.

It’s worth noting that I died quite a lot playing this game, I was playing on the default difficulty and perhaps not playing with as much care as I should have been at times. Combat situations break down in to two types: group combat and room clearance. Group combat is normally either in an enclosed space or out in the streets of the city and pits you against a selection of enemies all at once. This is where the combat system comes alive, get your timing and reactions down and you’ll find yourself dancing around the screen cracking heads, just how it should be. You’ll need to pay attention though, there are three types of basic counter to get to grips with, and a whole host of combos and special attacks to master. I only really died in group combat when I wasn’t paying attention. Room clearance is another matter, usually set in a multi-level environment with a number of armed, patrolling guards that need to be taken out before you can proceed. Although you can try and handle this kind of combat in the same was as when fighting groups you will quickly find yourself dead, as Batman is not fond of bullets. Stealth, and the correct use of gadgets, is the order of the day here. It took me some time to get used to this and I died many times along the way, the real key is staying hidden for as long as you can and keeping on the move when you are spotted. Take your time and you’ll find these sections far less frustrating than I initially did.

Part of what makes Arkham City a great game, and make no mistake it is a great game, is the obvious commitment to high quality presentation. Loading screens recap the last few moments of dialogue from the story so you’re never lost and your map, status and upgrade screens are crammed with information while managing to remain clean and clear. Missions are often dished out via Batman’s equivalent of a police radio scanner, so you’ll hear the call go out for, let’s say, a stranded medical crew, all fully voiced in a convincing manner. Voice acting is another high point, it comes as no surprise that much of the voice cast is taken from some of the excellent Batman cartoons in the Warner Bros back catalogue, and the voices of The Joker, Harley and The Penguin really stand out for me. Visually the city is stunning to behold, a twisted mess, each district proudly showing the unique scars left upon it by the villain that inhabits it. This is the worst Gotham has, distilled into a confined area and left to tear itself apart, horrific perfection.

Much has been made during the promotion of Arkham City of the inclusion of Catwoman. While she features throughout the main story as much as any other character, if you have entered the code for the Catwoman Bundle (that you should find in your new game box) you will find yourself taken away from Batman from time to time to play parts of the story from her point of view. It’s a refreshing change as she plays quite differently, using faster combat and more agile level traversal at the cost of having considerably lower health and armor. Catwoman is also playable throughout the excellent challenge modes. These take the form of staged combat scenarios, both group and room clearance, that you can complete at various levels of difficulty and reward. There is a tonne of replayability here that speaks to the quality of the combat engine. It’s not all Batman and Catwoman though, those pre-ordering the game from GAME in the UK will also have Robin (Tim Drake) available for these challenges. The Robin Bundle will be available to everyone as a paid download at some point in the future along with another bundle featuring the original Boy Wonder, Dick Grayson, as the mighty Nightwing. I adore the character of Nightwing so all I can say about these DLC packs is, here, take my money, all of it.

Yet again we have another game that I enjoyed every moment of that I can’t seem to find fault with, a wise man once said that Batman: Arkham City is rad as balls, it is.







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