If you like Batman and you like video games you should buy Arkham City as soon as you can. If you missed out on the first game, Arkham Asylum, then definitely get that one first. I thought the original was so awesome that I was actually really worried that this game might suck. I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Rocksteady.
Arkham City is everything from the first game only bigger, more difficult and much longer. Rocksteady pretty much assumes that if you’re playing Arkham City, you played Arkham Asylum. Very little of the early part of the game explains any mechanics or plot points. I like it this way, because I played the hell out of the first game and didn’t need any coddling. You can get a refresher course in the menus, but since I was up to speed on everything Batman, I just started with the face-punching.
Arkham City itself is a walled-off portion of Gotham City that has been converted to a prison. It consists of a huge sprawling, dilapidated metropolis full of almost every thug, criminal or supervillain from the Batman comics. You are free to roam around the city engaging in 1-against-20 street brawls or simply glide overhead, avoiding confrontation. Getting around the city is a challenge itself as gangs roam the streets and armed thugs frequently patrol the rooftops. Random encounters and side missions also crop up as you travel, and you will find that a simple trip from point A to point B took half an hour because you ran into something that needed investigating.
Once again I’m going to suggest that if you thought about just skipping the first game and starting with this one, don’t. Arkham City, graphically, is amazing, but really only looks just as good as the first one. The first one looked amazing too, so great that after two years these graphics are still breathtaking. What makes Arkham City such a stunning design is the scale and the detail. You are no longer confined to a single courtyard, or small zone. When you stand on the rooftop of a tall building and survey the city, you feel like you’re seeing something straight out of a Batman graphic novel. You are Batman and someone far below you is about to learn how to eat through a straw.
The massive scale of the game can also be highlighted another way, in which villains make an appearance. Arkham City is a comic book fan’s dream come true. Look forward to meeting up with this menagerie of fiends: Hugo Strange, Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, Joker, Harley Quinn, Black Mask, Bane, Poison Ivy, Riddler, Vicktor Fries (a.k.a. Mr. Freeze), Killer Croc, Calendar Man, Victor Zsasz, Solomon Grundy, Deadshot, Mad Hatter, Ra’s al Ghul and Talia al Ghul.
While you would think that with such an intimidating roster of baddies to watch out for, the game would become unfocused and have little plot or tension, but Rocksteady delivers on this as well. Strange knows Batman’s true identity and throws Bruce Wayne into the prison without any of his gear, which takes him about five minutes to get access to. Batman then hunts down Joker for information and is poisoned with the same ailment the Joker is suffering from. Batman is forced to try and find a cure while also punching enough people in the face to figure out what Strange is up to. The other villains may have their own plots, but you stay focused on Joker and Strange through the entire game.
While I know Batman is the modern-day definition of stoic, there were enough humanizing moments through dialogue and exchanges that he felt like a more dynamic character than I’ve seen from him in a while. Batman expresses very real doubts that he will survive the night. Robin and Oracle/Batgirl recognize the legitimate threat he is up against and drive the point home. Another scene with Talia al Ghul shows Batman weak and facing death but still completely determined. I wouldn’t say his character is as dynamic as in the graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns but he’s still fairly developed.
I also found that Rocksteady has a wonderful sense of humor about Batman, among other things. My favorite scene in the entire game is when you are trying to wander across a massive frozen indoor aquarium to rescue a police officer from Penguin. Hanging ominously overhead is a giant model of an octopus. As I made my way across the ice, I kept wondering if it was going to explode. I guess I was a little too focused on the potential hilarity of the octopus exploding when the ice broke and a giant shark began to devour Batman! I screamed, “Use the shark-repellent Bat-spray, Batman!” Unfortunately, Batman stopped carrying shark-repellent Bat-spray after the end of the Cold War and was devoured by Penguin’s shark. Then I was disappointed, because as far as I’ve seen, neither the shark or the octopus actually explodes. Maybe that happens after I complete the hundreds of Riddler challenges.
And here we are, my first major problem with the game: Riddler challenges. In Arkham Asylum, Riddler challenges were scattered throughout the island. With a little hunting and some thought, they could be collected, for the most part, along the way. This time, since Arkham City is so massive, there are hundreds of Riddler challenges. There are some little annoying test on nearly every rooftop and in almost every back alley in the game. Most of them are really just tests of my ability to guide the batarang through a maze of air ducts or press giant buttons in a specific order and timely manner. The challenges are annoying. Even the riddle-solving challenges, which are like a scavenger hunt to find what thing Riddler is describing, are exercises in wandering around and flashing detective vision on and off. After a while, your map of the city is so full of little indicator marks that you’ll want to complete the challenges just because they make the map hard to read. The game has about twice as many challenges as I think it really should.
Another issue I have with Arkham City involves the combat system. With Rocksteady clearly wanting you to start with much of what you had at the end of Arkham Asylum, a few things got confusing. Just let me start with all the moves you end with in Arkham Asylum. Don’t make me upgrade a few to get them all. It was annoying to be in the middle of a fight and forget that I don’t have my takedown ability yet. Also, Arkham Asylum had a decent amount of fighting moves without throwing a bunch more in. It was a good balance of a few simple commands executing a variety of moves. Now I have so many moves that I don’t really care about gaining a level. I don’t need another move that I’m not going to use. I don’t need five different gadgets to use while in a fistfight. I also fail to understand why I have to counter differently for bladed weapons like knives and swords. Enemies with knives are different than in the first game and they are also different than all the other enemies in this game. Just give them extra damage if they stab you and let me counter them like everyone else.
My last issue is part of a broader topic that may require an entire article itself, but I would like to scratch it here. The Catwoman pack is not actually part of the game. Officially it’s DLC, and if you bought the game new, then the game came with a code to get the DLC free. If you installed the DLC before you even started your game, then you realize that the game actually opens with Catwoman. I had heard this and was prepared. So, I bought my game and I eagerly rushed home, only to spend a few minutes typing in a 25-digit code with my Xbox controller. If I was one of the lucky ones whose code did work, (which I’m really sorry for you if your code doesn’t work) I then get to wait a while for my DLC to download before I can start my game. I also had to download the Robin DLC too, which was extra fun. There are so many things wrong with this situation that I’ll try to stay brief. The game shouldn’t open with DLC. Let me play for a while before I need to worry about downloading something. Catwoman is loads of fun to play as in Arkham City. She plays differently enough from Batman to be incredibly fun, while still being similar enough that it doesn’t throw me off. She is clearly meant to be in the game. Her sections were done in time for launch, and as much as I appreciate the free DLC, whoever thought it up wasted my time with this process when I most wanted to play the game. Free DLC for buying the game new is a good move, but this is DLC that should have been in the game, on the disc. If not, it should be free without a code or at the very least, like $5 not $10.
All the issues I have with Arkham City are quickly outweighed by the sheer amount of enjoyment I’ve had while playing it. This game encapsulates both the child in me who loves Batman and the adult in me who wants a wonderful gaming experience. I’ve heard that a few people didn’t like how they could just make it through the game while button mashing. To those people I’d point out that there are the combat challenges, too; the point of the game is to be Batman. Batman wouldn’t button mash. He would take down those 20 thugs without being touched, use every cool move in the book and make it all look awesome. Yes, you can complete the game, but you’re supposed to become Batman, one of the coolest superheroes ever, and this game gives you the opportunity to do that. So go be the night and feel free to say, “I’m Batman,” whenever you feel compelled to.
The Good: I’m Batman!
The Bad: Day 1 DLC is irritating. Just put it in the game!
The Ugly: The Penguin has a monocle instead of an eye. He also has a British accent. Since when did the Penguin come from England? That’s ridiculous! I mean the British thing, not the monocle thing. The monocle thing looks classy.