Batman: Arkham City Xbox 360 Review

Before Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum pounced from the shadows to wow fans and receive critical acclaim, licensed superhero games weren’t considered good. In fact, most of them stank. They stank proudly and without a single whiff of shame.

Arkham Asylum kicked the negative stigma out the door. It was a game so absorbing that players of all sorts could finally don a cape and cowl, and love doing so. Rocksteady mixed the Batman clichés with their own creative directions, subsequently delivering a unique take on the Dark Knight’s adventures. The dark, mature story was tightly woven with excellent pacing, and a stellar cast of characters, both good and bad, complimented the plot.

With the second game, Rocksteady made a sizeable song and dance about the new level of scope, and in most aspects they weren’t kidding. Everything that was great about Arkham Asylum has been expanded and improved upon. More infamous villains inhabit an incredible new open world, gameplay remains similar but massively expanded upon, and the presentation is at a constant high. More importantly, the entire experience feels special. It’s not without its flaws, but from its enrapturing introduction to an epic finale, Arkham City is an unforgettable joyride in the black boots of The Bat.

Thugs line the streets of the dangerous Arkham City; a section of north Gotham that has been cordoned off in order to house the plethora of criminally insane monsters once contained in Arkham Asylum. It’s essentially a super prison, designed to keep the bad firmly locked away from the good. Danger hides down every dark street, and the piercing blue glow of the prison floodlights are a constant reminder that, despite the fact you’re in an open world, this is still a prison environment.

The story revolves around the secret plans of Hugo Strange, as well as the seemingly never-ending struggle between the Joker and yourself. It’s enticing from the start, constantly forwarding you on to the next plot point as it weaves itself throughout the prison city and its interiors, and introducing new characters here, there and everywhere. It isn’t as tightly told as Arkham Asylum, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Arkham City is built like an open-world game, and it feels perfect for it.

Along your way you’ll also meet Two Face, Penguin, Mr. Freeze and a host of other nasty cretins, all of who are vying for dominance in the titular Arkham City. The list really is endless. There were concerns that having so many strong characters fill supporting roles could cramp the experience, leaving personalities feeling unexplored, however put these worries to rest. Arkham City feels wonderfully packed to the brim with horrible people, and I loved that new, disfigured faces kept showing up to the crime-infested party.

If you buy the game new, you also get the ability to play as Catwoman. The saucy minx has her own missions dotted around the main campaign, giving an insight into what she gets up to when she’s not busy trying to seduce The Bat. She also has her own challenge maps, Riddler trophies and achievements. It’s a shame there aren’t more Catwoman missions included within the main story, but the content is still excellent.

Aside from the long list of wonderfully voiced, expertly crafted characters, Arkham City itself is arguably the most notable spectacle. The couple of city blocks you explore are some of the most intricately detailed you’ll ever have the pleasure of inhabiting. Despite not being particularly daunting in terms of physical landmass, Arkham City never feels small. It’s packed with endless activities, ensuring you’re never without something to do. An intoxicating atmosphere constantly engulfs the entire locale. Flurries of snow accentuate the freezing winter that has fallen upon the city, lighting effects are superb, and the distant green hue of Gotham city is something that won’t ever grow old.

Rushes of intrigue and excitement are both constant as you zip from gargoyle to gargoyle, admiring the sights with every swift flick of your batarang. If you’re not being distracted by a side mission, or being puzzled and quizzed by one of the Riddler’s 400+ trophies, you’ll likely be staring across the cityscape in awe. Despite not being the best looking game up-close, Arkham City wins game of the year in my book for its setting, atmosphere, and incredible skyline. Underground and inside, the level of detail continues, with varied environments and unique lairs for each villain housed in the city.

On top of an incredible atmosphere, Arkham City plays amazingly well, too. Combat has been expanded, now offering faster combos, a larger array of moves, and the ability to use your gadgets in combat. You can quickly fire off an electric stun charge, watching as a shocked enemy eviscerates his own men, or spray the ground with explosive gel, blasting nearby foes to oblivion. Clotheslining thugs is a personal favourite of mine, and the enjoyment rarely decreases. New gadgets also make an appearance. Smoke grenades now give you ample opportunity to make quick escapes, while the line launcher becomes a far more useful tool in the open environment.

Despite essentially being a button masher, Arkham City’s combat system is one of the best in the business. I was constantly surprised with the diversity of Batman’s attacks. From countering three guys at once with an awesome acrobatic flip, to sliding around the battlefield like the guy from Vanquish, the system is anything but one-dimensional. Movement is also more open-ended, allowing you attack points of interest however you please. Flying across the skyline is swift, thrilling, and never-endingly enjoyable. If you’re stuck in a rut while trying to fend off 20 thugs, simply drop a smoke pellet and grapnel gun yourself to safety, find somewhere else to explore and continue the wonderful life of a superhero at work.

Thanks to the larger array of moves, it will now take longer to level Batman to the max. This is where New Game+ comes in. Once you’ve completed the main story, you can restart and keep the same skill set as your previous save. Enemies are slightly harder, and the counter indicators are removed, intensifying the game to suit your now-experienced level. Your Riddler trophies also transfer over, so you can seamlessly continue your quest to stop the nefarious Edward Nigma. This feature alone is worth the price of admission, and Arkham City is definitely a ‘play twice’ game.

To sum everything up, Arkham City is my favourite game of 2011 thus far. I loved Arkham Asylum, but I adore Arkham City. Even now, writing this, all I want to be doing is flying, swinging, punching, kicking, grabbing, whipping, and bashing my way through my second playthrough. I haven’t seen all the side missions, or come close to figuring out all of the Riddler trophies, but I’m glad because I don’t want the experience to end.

As with everything, there are issues. Namely the fact that the story could be longer, and the challenge is sometimes a little on the easy side, but neither of these niggles are even worth noting in detail. Arkham City is a case of ‘so much done right’ that the little complaints don’t affect the overall experience. Whether you loved the previous game, or have had no experience with Rocksteady’s Batman series up until now, Arkham City belongs on your shelf, in your console, and in your life.

9 out of 10
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