Two years back if you were to ask me how I’d feel about a sequel to Arkham Asylum I’d tell you that though I’d be up for it, I’m not sure if it’d be necessary. Along with other Bat fans, I had been waiting for Rocksteady’s madhouse romp for what seems like forever – a game that accurately portrays the Caped Crusader and his unforgiving world of vigilante justice. So when I say that I didn’t think it was necessary, I meant that I didn’t think there was any way they could top it. Fortunately, I was wrong.
Batman: Arkham City takes place around a year after the events of the first game. True to his word, Warden Quincy Sharp campaigned and is elected the new mayor of Gotham, the first stage in his relentless mission to cleanse the city of its ‘filthy degenerates’. Evacuating and isolating a portion of Gotham, Sharp creates the pinnacle of his legacy: Arkham City. As intended, the super prison quickly becomes the dumping grounds of all criminal scum, from Arkham to Blackgate.
As inmates try to survive the harsh conditions and one another, three of Batman’s greatest adversaries stake territory within the mad walls, all the while being casually monitored by the mysterious Hugo Strange, warden of the mega jail. This may all seem like the unexpected resolution to his quandary, but like moth to flame, the Dark Knight becomes fixated with Arkham City. It’s not so much that the world’s greatest detective suspects ulterior motives to the uber pen’s conception, but Strange has deduced the Batman’s secret identity and threatens to exploit the knowledge for his own gains. Bruce has no choice but to play ball.
At first glance, Arkham City may have one giving slight pause. The prison is indeed larger in comparison to its sister asylum, but its clustered visage of cold, huddled buildings induces a paralyzing optical illusion of urban acres that stretch on forever. Courtesy of Lucius Fox, our Dark Knight is more equipped to cross distances, most notably with a new momentum collecting cape for making all the necessary swoops and dive bombs. A few landmarks – turned Arkham territory – will be recognized by hardcore fans including the Iceberg Lounge, Ace Chemicals, and a certain alley that jump started Bruce’s life changing decision.
Assisting navigation, the screen is now fitted with a horizontal compass. Along with markers adorning your travel guide, a Bat Signal illuminates the sky over your destination, ensuring that getting around the institutionalized town is not as chaotic as it seems. To make things more invigorating, Detective Mode now also picks up sound traces, like ringing payphones, screams for help, or the disgruntled chatter of inmates. Even more so, the detective side of the Caped Crusader is better realized this time around through frequent particle analysis, following bullet trajectories and solving puzzles.
Asylum nuts will find themselves comfortably fitting back into the same kevlar digs and utility belt. The free flow combat is still as engaging as ever, only now you can counter multiple thugs at once and forced takedowns no longer have a tendency of abruptly ending your combos. The Caped Crusader still retains the gadgets from his previous exploit, with expanded functionalities, and gains new ones such as smoke pellets for obscuring enemy sight, and a remote electrical charge just to name a few.
With more toys and special moves, the once thick line between hand-to-hand and predator combat has drawn thin. Despite the enemy acquiring the use of heat vision goggles, land mines, and signal jammers (to disorient your Detective vision), the added convenience tends to dwarf the importance of stealth, but not completely. If anything, this provides a well spring of creativity where the smiting of evildoers is concerned.
While the gameplay is half the magic, Arkham City is the answer to all the “what ifs” and “how woulds” aroused by Arkham Asylum. Since the first game, Bat fans have desired to see Rocksteady’s take on the rest of Gotham’s finest and vilest. This was delivered. Concept-wise, if you thought Arkham Asylum spread it thick with the dark and gritty butter, Rocksteady had tubs more of it saved – the beer bottle “monocle” embedded in Penguin’s skull, the Jigsaw inspired antics of Riddler, and more.
Although the introduction of brighter colors and Two-Face’s henchmen attire may cause one to recount the overly eccentric visuals of Schumacher’s films, a degree of subtlety is still in place to convey the guise of comic book pages brought to life. Nourishing this appreciation is the excellent soundtrack. The previous title provided a fusion of Nolan and Burton’s Batman scores, a combination that I also found difficult to top. But this new score is unbelievably delicious – leveled up and familiar to the ears of those who’ve enjoyed the current Batman animated films.
Arkham City is certainly a package that bursts at the seams and as much as this fact serves as its greatest strength, it can be perceived as a weakness by those of a certain mindset. When you consider the prison’s immense size, filled with secrets and trophies, the plethora of gadget commands, and sidequests, it’s just overwhelming. Just keep in mind that as much as you shouldn’t feel any shame in taking time to take it all in, the same applies if you don’t get to complete everything in one go.
While some may argue that the side missions don’t correlate well with the main story, fellow comic book fans will share the perception that these are akin to the micro stories etched into the last few pages of a comic book – the interludes between issues, or reading material saved for later. Compared to the adventure at the asylum, Arkham City’s primary tale doesn’t carry a Saturday morning cartoon aftertaste. On the contrary, it’s greatly matured, ending with what can only be described as an impressionable experience.
Though the overload of features and the hit-the-ground-running pace can be dizzying for some players, this approach is a smart move on Rocksteady’s part. There is no better way for gamers to truly understand the Dark Knight unless we’re placed in his boots and have the world hoisted on our shoulders. Batman: Arkham City is the definitive Batman game. If you think surviving the asylum warrants you the right to don the cowl, the true test has yet to come.