For: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros.
When? 21 October 2011
What’s it all about? The Caped Crusader swoops in once more, this time to restore some kind of order to Arkham City – a section of Gotham City sectioned off for the ne’er-do-well escapees of Arhham Asylum, following the Joker’s hijinks in the first game.
With Arkham City essentially representing a kind of buffer-zone, in which former inmates are free to go about their business unhindered by the law, so long as they remain within its boundaries, Batman is understandably a little concerned. Not least because Joker is but one of his problems these days, with Two-Face, Catwoman, Hugo Strange and the Riddler all revealed to be wreaking their own brand of chaos within the city limits.
Assuming that almost every right-minded games player partook of the original, let’s begin with a description of what has changed this time around. Well, the city for one looms much larger than the asylum ever did, providing an area some five times the size as before and, most importantly, providing Batman with unlimited access. With ascent of even the highest skyscrapers possible thanks to Batman’s new grapple-boost ability and streets and sewers fully explorable there’s much more feel of the open world here.
Combat has been polished further too, close-quarters fighting even more ballet-like than before as our hero counters, dodges and strikes with all the grace you’d expect of the Dark Knight. The grapple can now be used to pull thugs in closer and the new ‘beat down’ attack unleashes a combo of sufficient force that even armoured foes will feel the heat. Bolstered visual finesse also sees Batman catching items thrown at him before returning them with interest – nice.
Numbers of simultaneously onscreen bad guys have also been ratcheted up as, in one scene, Two-Face lectures more than 40 of his henchman before attempting to off Catwoman (a scenario which aims as you might expect given the felinesapien’s surplus of lives). While the enemies do scatter when Batman makes his appearance Dax Ginn of developer, Rocksteady, did intimate that his studio hadn’t taken the trouble to advance the engine to that capacity for no reason.
Meanwhile ‘invisible predator’ and ‘detective’ modes of play make a return too, themselves benefitting from a few enhancements. Double-takedowns for example are now possible if enemies make the mistake of standing too close (a cracking together of heads doing the job) and Batman can now smash through weak walls without the assistance of explosives. The cryptographic sequencer, essential for Batman’s sleuthing, is much more empowered too – able to listen in on local radio broadcasts for example.
Worth the wait? Without doubt. Arkham Asylum remains one of gaming’s marquee titles, suffering only through a disappointing end of game boss encounter (I think we’re all agreed there), and an overly linear structure. While Arkham City is by no means the fully open world gamers were clamouring for early indications suggest it’s a worthy compromise – let us just hope that it also benefits by more subtle clashes with its super-villain denizens.