Batman: Arkham City was a watershed experience when it arrived on consoles back in October, as Rocksteady’s inaugural entry into the open-world genre left a huge impact on those who were fortunate enough to get wrapped up in Batman’s perilous excursion into Arkham City. A little over a month later, Batman soars and grapples his way to the PC with every ounce of his swagger intact, as this latest version of Arkham City turns out to be every bit as stunning and unforgettable as it was on consoles. With an enormous and sprawling playground, exhilarating combat, outstanding freedom of movement and an engrossing narrative, Batman Arkham City stakes its claim as one of the best action/adventure games of this generation, as you’ll be bewitched during your stay in Arkham City and desperate to come back once you leave it. If you remember how wonderfully inhospitable Arkham Asylum was, then Arkham City will seem downright imposing. It seems like the crime levels in Gotham are constantly on the rise so in order to keep the indigenous population safe, Gotham officials decide to seal off a large chunk of the city and throw every inmate, petty criminal and gang leader in there--not exactly the best plan in the world, right?
Whilst trying to make a public statement on the matter at hand, Bruce Wayne himself gets incarcerated inArkham City and uncovers that Hugo Strange is the puppet master of it all and that he’s only ten hours away from executing a diabolical plan simply called “Protocol 10”. Bruce Wayne must then don his iconic Batman outfit fast, in a race to stop Strange and also deal with a wide range of iconic Batman characters and villains, including The Joker, Mister Freeze, The Penguin and even The Riddler, who returns with a sum of 400(!) trophies and challenges for you to get caught up with. The narrative In Batman: Arkham City will immediately engross diehard fans of the universe and newcomers alike, since the plot is easy to understand and every objective and side mission is given enough context and exposition to seem worthwhile. To top it off, the voice-acting, dialogue and the level of characterization is superb and there is also a ton of fan service and interesting cameos that are bound to be appreciated. It should also be noted that Catwoman is given her own gameplay sequences and story snippets that dramatically change certain portions in the game. Not only is she fun to play, but her missions are every bit as interesting and captivating as Batman’s, so I highly recommend you buy the game in a manner where she is playable.
Batman: Arkham City’s gameplay rotates itself through combat, stealth and exploration mechanics that along with the nuanced, open-world structure creates the fabric of the experience. You can almost think of the game as a cross between Metroid--in the sense that some areas can only be explored when you acquire a certain item or gadget-- and Zelda--with Arkham City acting as an overworld that’s riddled with secrets and side missions to take on-- and with the gritty atmosphere and action of a top-shelf Batman game.
For starters, the combat system is some of the best in the business, as it truly lets you unleash every move and gadget that Batman could possibly have in his arsenal. The basic concept of attacking and countering is carried over from the precursor, Arkham Asylum, but when you’re forced to chain together enormous combos, employ gadgets and pull off special attacks, the combat quickly becomes much more taxing and challenging, especially when you’re going up against thugs who are armed with stun sticks and riot shields. But the real stand out is the hard-hitting animations and the slow-motion close-ups whenever you pull off a deadly takedown. This makes the combat imminently more satisfying and dispatching a large number of foes with kicks, punches, counters and gadgets never, never gets old.
The stealth is also extremely well done in Arkham City; you can still use the detective mode this go-around which highlights extremely important information in the environment, including what weapons the enemies are using, alternate routes you may want to consider and much more. Grappling up to gargoyles and surveying the area before planning a cunning attack is every bit as fun as it was in Arkham Asylum and the enemy AI is also incredibly smart--investigating your last position, shooting blindly around the room to trip you up and lunging grenades into hiding areas.
This makes it all the more fun to sneak behind thugs and take them out with a silent takedown before finally dropping a smoke pellet and vanishing into hiding as enemies dabble in confusion. Arkham City truly makes you feel like you’re Batman, so much that only one can speculate just how to exactly improve upon this formula in upcoming installments. However, even on the easiest difficulty setting, Arkham Citywill mercilessly punish a hasty approach, as just a tiny bit of gunfire is enough to send you back to the latest checkpoint.
Well, it’s called Arkham City after all, so don’t expect to be traversing linear environments all the time. The city itself acts more like a hub area of sorts since this is where all the missions are accessible by entering buildings where the game transforms into an action/adventure game, leaving the open-world-esque elements outside. The city is still one of ArkhamCity’s greatest strengths, as it’s an absolute blast to soar around in the city and grapple onto ledges for a boost. This is also where you can solve many of the Riddler challenges and access flight training simulations, where you must glide, dive bomb and fly through rings.
But the biggest draw is the side missions, which often involves many iconic villains. A string of strange murders might lead you to take on the world’s greatest assassin whereas the Riddler might force you complete his devious trials before you can rescue a bunch of hostages. These are just as varied and entertaining as the main missions, though they have an irritating habit of being locked out if you ignore them in favor of the main story, meaning you might have to play the game once or twice before you can experience everything the game has to offer, but since all of your unlocked gadgets and skill sets are carried over, that’s not really a chore. Arkham City also features a leveling meta-game where playing the game lets you accumulate experience points, level up and unlock more moves gadgets which gives the game a great sense of progression and reward.
While the game plays like a charm most of the time the PC controls could have been handled better. They suffer a bit from the “console port” mentality where it seems like the developers want to translate the functions and buttons of a controller onto a keyboard. The result is far from bad, but it makes certain combat scenarios a bit cumbersome at times, so heed my advice and rebind a few keys to your liking for the best possible experience.
Batman: Arkham City is absolutely stunning and incredible looking. The city is extremely atmospheric and rich with details and the superb movement and facial animations give edge to the combat, exploration and dialogue sequences, and I’m firmly talking about DirectX 10 here. 11 seems to be working good, but there are quite a few frame rate issues when cranking up the settings and irrespective of what resolution, mode and graphical options you tweak, you’re likely to run in to texture pop-in issues. None of this squanders the insanely detailed environments though, who have a tendency to invade your mind even when the game is turned off.
Then there is the sound design, which is even better. The soundtrack is extremely cinematic and stirring, and helps set the tone during both quiet and subdued moments as well as high-pitched battles and set-pieces. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill also reprise their roles as The Batman and Joker respectively, and their work is nothing short of amazing. When you take all of this into consideration, Arkham City is a huge assault on your senses, and you’ll never want to leave the engrossing world that Rocksteady has crafted.
Batman: Arkham City’s main story took me around 15 hours to complete, but I only did a handful of side missions and I only collected about a fourth of the Riddler trophies. The game also comes laden with separate challenge maps and campaigns that test your wit and skills in combat and stealth scenarios, and these even grade you by way of a medal system. When you couple this with the New Game + option and some pretty concept art and 3D models to ogle at, and it’s clear that Batman:ArkhamCityoffers a ton of content to keep you busy and games this good simply can’t be played once and then put away for good.
Batman: Arkham City isn’t just one of the best games of the year; it’s one of the best action games I’ve played this entire generation of consoles. Rocksteady nailed the combat, exploration, structure, atmosphere, and story in this game and it pulls everything off almost flawlessly. Few games are as this polished and deep and when you revel in all your memories and experiences with the game as the end credits roll, you know you’ve played a superior piece of entertainment. This isn’t a game that you’ll play now and forget about a week later, nor isn’t something that should be excluded from every conceivable game of the year list. To make a long story short: go and get this game.