Format: Xbox 360 (tested), PS3
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bothers Games
Batman, the shadowy, unflinchingly ruthless and ever brutal scourge of Gotham City’s criminal underworld should make the ideal translation into videogames. So it proved with Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady’s first venture with the Caped Crusader, a claustrophobic tour which saw Batman taking on worst of the hospital’s criminally insane. Critically acclamined, commercially successful and, most importantly, praised by the public; the only faults most found was that the last boss fight was distinctly underwhelming and it would have been nice to escape the asylum’s confines. Well folks, it seems that Rocksteady listened.
By taking the roof off of the asylum and creating Arkham City – a barricaded section of Gotham left to the wiles of the gangs, crooks and insane – Rocksteady have solved the latter issue in a stroke. The Dark Knight now free to patrol the streets and rooftops as he sees fit, thanks to his batclaw grapple and aerodynamic cape. What Rocksteady haven’t done is open up all of Gotham (probably for the benefit of the game as it happens), so while Arkham City is a decent-sized playground, it won’t take too long to glide across. Never fear however, as there’s enough content crammed in that you’ll barely notice the constraints.
There is, of course, a central narrative to follow that finds Joker up to his old tricks having been returned to his usually gaunt frame following his titanic transformation in Arkham Asylum. Thing is, in the cfity, Joker’s but just one of Batman’s headaches, with Mr Freeze, Two-Face, Hugo Strange and more all working to their own nefarious agenda. Adding to that is a genuinely must-play series of optional extras which you can pursue at your leisure. From tracking down sociopath Victor Zsasz, to solving the returning Riddler’s puzzles, there’s always something to distract in Arkham City.
With Batman being the king of the gadget, he’s always privy to radio chatter too, meaning you’re kept constantly abreast of the ranting and ravings of the city’s criminally insane; even down to the lowliest thug. It makes for an absorbing microcosm of Gotham which is impossible to resist for fans of the Bat, and should prove just as consuming for those who simply want an absorbing adventure.
Then there’s Catwoman, who’s campaign is available via optional paid for content – a little cynical but we’ll forgive them that. Walking the tightrope between villain and heroine as ever, she’ll happily take on the gangs of Arkham with as much panache as Batman, but won’t think anything of robbing a bank once she’s through. Her move set is impressively diverse from that of the Dark Knight; scaling walls where Batman uses a grapple and sporting her own assortment of ad hoc gadgets. Her story is interspersed throughout Batman’s in episodic format and is worth the scant investment to get the full experience.
What’s most impressive about Arkham City is that is really does simulate what ‘being’ Batman would be like. From the last minute getaways, thanks to the use of a smoke pellet, through to the feeling of invulnerability when taking on the grunts of the underworld everything is there. Then, when you think you’ve seen it all, Rocksteady give you something new to tinker with, or else let you upgrade one of your existing gadgets to new levels of usage. Yes, it’s a system tramped out time-and-again since Metroid pioneered the format, but here it’s remarkably expansive.
Faults? Well, the controls can at times feel a tad clumsy; largely down to their being a lot of gadgets and combos available to you and partly because the city’s spaces can be tight, so leaving our hero ungracefully rebounding from walls. That said, I don’t think I could name a game that doesn’t have its share of such gaming inevitabilities. A lack of multiplayer doesn’t bother us (but it might you), the argument going that multiplayer would have interfered with the solo campaign… Finally, on a personal note, it’s at times annoying that the stealth approach gets blown rather easily; I’d have liked a few more stealth moves in Batman’s arsenal, or else something to say scare lowly villains into flight.
None of the above in anyway distract from Arkham City’s spectacle however; a constantly evolving and rewarding adventure which anyone who enjoyed Arkham Asylum, likes Batman (or just adventures) really can’t afford to be without. What an end to the year huh? It’s only November and we’re already wondering exactly how to do the game’s we’ve got justice! Sure we’ll cope…