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Batman: Arkham City Review

Night.  Helicopters patrol the air overhead, their searchlights tracing a meandering path, no particular prey in mind, but keeping an eye out for any potential problems.  Someone in an empty alley screams for help while being held against a wall.  He’s done nothing wrong, just worked at the wrong place at the wrong time.  No one comes.  The only other people around laugh and continue on by, shaking their heads.  The knife-wielding thug calmly explains, “I told you to find food and bring it to me.  This is your own fault.”  He slowly begins to press the knife against the whimpering man’s throat.  Unbeknownst to both parties, a dark shape has dropped to the ground from the roof overhead, black wings slowing his fall.  The silent hero purposefully approaches from behind this gorilla of a man, quickly wraps one arm around the assailant’s neck, clamps the other hand over his mouth and nose, and holds him still until he passes out.  The political prisoner scuttles away and breathlessly calls a "thank you" behind him, but the Batman has already fired his grapnel gun into the air and launched himself away.  Arkham City is vast and there’s a lot of work to be done if it’s to be shut down.

Moments like this are what give Batman: Arkham City the feeling of a legitimate environment where other characters and people are going about their own business.  You’ll be gliding along and one of several moments will draw your attention: a lone gunshot in the night, a body missing its face on the street, a mysterious figure watching you from the rooftops, or a man calling out for help as he’s mercilessly beaten. All of these things and more, will happen as you traverse the world of Arkham City.

Set 18 months after the events of 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady’s sequel has come back full force and expanded the game in every imaginable way, including more than 400 Riddler challenges, more super villians, more combat moves, more gadgets, more playable characters, and several sidequests.

The story focuses on the eponymous Arkham City, a section of Gotham that has been cordoned off by walls and barbed wire to house the worst of the populace following the destruction of Blackgate Prison and Arkham Asylum.  This is all thanks to recently elected Mayor Quincy Sharp, previously the warden of Arkham Asylum, and he’s placed Dr. Hugo Strange in charge.  As Batman, you’re going to put a stop to it all.  The story itself takes some interesting turns and definitely surprised me more than once.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but it takes some bold liberties with its take on the Batman universe, particularly the spectacular ending, and I’m excited to see where Rocksteady goes from here.

The way in which you go about stopping the mad professor is largely the same as it was in Batman: Arkham Asylum, but expanded to a great degree.  The brawling, combo-driven combat is the same, rhythmic and fluid while also being quite brutal and satisfying.  As you upgrade your gadgets and obtain new ones, you’ll be able to add a good deal of variation to your combos.  You can zap a thug with electricity, making him swing and smack another with his bat, freeze one in place with an ice bomb, then shoot yet another with your grapnel gun, pull him close, and smash him into the ground for a knockout.  You are frequently pitted against large groups, giving you plenty of folk to experiment on and build crazy combos.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Batman if everything was hand-to-hand.  There are also numerous instances to strike terror into a crowd by picking them off one-by-one.  The enemy AI seems to have grown more robust, as well.  They will start checking gargoyles, floor grates, and over ledges as their terror grows.  In addition, they’ve got some of their own gadgets now, utilizing thermal goggles to check for you in the darkness and radar jamming backpacks, making your Detective Vision far less useful.

Assuming you’re buying a new copy, you’re also given the opportunity to play as Catwoman.  She ostensibly plays like Batman Light.  The combat is the same, except instead of Batman’s gadgets she has a handful of her own, as well as limited upgrades to be bought from the same pool of experience that Batman uses.  Her missions are interwoven in the main story, with you taking control of Ms. Kyle at key points, and her agenda mainly consists of getting her stolen loot back from Two-Face.  After completing the main storyline, at several points in the world you can switch back and forth so that you can collect the Catwoman-specific Riddler trophies and challenges.  It’s an interesting little addition that’s weirdly a DLC code that comes with new copies or used copies from Gamestop (which is its own can of worms).  But obviously what you’re here for is Batman.

The only complaint I have is the Riddler challenges, really.  It feels like a lot of hoops to jump through and kind of seems half-assed.  A lot of them are just stuck in the world so that they could tout the gross number of them.  That’s not to say all of them are easy; several are actually pretty tricky to get and require some puzzling and skill.  It just seems inflated for the sake of inflation.  But, that’s an extremely minor gripe and this is a truly great game that surpasses the “for a comic book licensed game” qualifier.


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