“Shut it down? By the end of tonight, I will be a hero, just like you … Batman.” These are the words spoken by Hugo Strange during the title screen of Batman: Arkham City, but it isn’t Batman he’s speaking to — it’s Bruce Wayne, who is handcuffed to a chair and about to be thrown into the eponymous prison.
Rocksteady Studio’s Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to 2009’s smash hit Batman: Arkham Asylum, and, like its predecessor, this game is written by Paul Dini, one of the leading minds behind Batman: The Animated Series, and has Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil once again reprising their roles as Batman and the Joker.
In the aftermath of the attempted breakout in Arkham Asylum, Warden Quincy Sharp has now become mayor of Gotham and has turned a whole chunk of Gotham into a new supermax prison, Arkham City, with Professor Hugo Strange overseeing it. While leading a public campaign to shut the facility down, Bruce Wayne is arrested and thrown in as well. Strange warns him to stay out of his way or he will reveal Wayne’s secret. Of course, a few minutes later you’re suited up in the Batsuit, smack dab in the middle of a turf war between Two-Face, the Penguin, and the Joker, while trying to unravel what Strange has planned, something he calls “Protocol 10.”
For fans of the previous game, as well as the Batman mythos, this game is a masterwork. Arkham City is a massive wide open playground, letting you go where you want, as you want. Yet you never lose the sense of urgency in the game’s main campaign, even as you’re zip-lining and gliding around, saving political prisoners, dealing with other members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery such as Deadshot, Mr. Freeze, and Bane. Batman, however, can’t handle this alone; there are brief portions of the game where control shifts over to Catwoman, letting you try new ways of navigating, stalking, and fighting the multitude of thugs roaming around. Her segments run a bit harder due to her inability to glide and her lower health bar.
The combat has been streamlined even further than with the previous game; with the upgraded ability to counter multiple incoming attacks at once, it becomes much easier to manage the oncoming crowds. Once you get a nice string going, your combat range increases, letting you leap across the screen to hit the next thug rather than losing your chain because he was too far away. It is also much easier to string Batman’s gadgets into the combat combos as well, with refined shortcuts and better reaction time.
Predator mode is just as fun, with old methods and new gadgets. The outdoor segments provide an additional challenge, with fewer places to perch from, forcing you to slink in the shadows and keep moving rather than just lurking and waiting up above. The Enemy AI catches on better now, destroying any gargoyles they see you slinging up to for example.
Gliding around the city takes some getting used to, especially when trying to solve some of the side quests, which require some precision motions, but the skill comes with time and practice and is very enjoyable in its own right. Here’s a tip: Do the first four AR training side quests to upgrade your grappling hook – it helps nicely.
The Riddler’s puzzles and fetch quests return in full force, with 400 individual tasks, most of which are picking up the trophies he’s left around, though now require some sort of physical feat or precise batarang throwing to retrieve. Even gamers who are reluctant to do collectible quests like this may find themselves wanting to do it for one simple reason: The Riddler doesn’t think you can.
Arkham City is a joy to play, and a treasure trove of Batman fandom candy. Everything can be completed in a single play-through at your own pace without the fear of missing anything, save for one single achievement: “Catch” can only be completed while the Watcher in the Wings side quest is active. There is now a “New Game + mode” as a separate menu option, which allows you to start the game over with all your gadgets and with stronger and smarter enemies, without losing access to your postgame playground.
Arkham City is currently out for PS3, XBox 360, and PC. The lead-up graphic novel can be requested at your local Queens Library, and the game can be found at select branches. So go on, suit up, and enjoy what is certainly one of the best comic book games ever made.