“Don’t fix what ain’t broken,” so the saying goes. Like any good sequel, Batman: Arkham City takes what made the first instalment great (the brilliant Batman: Arkham Asylum which we reviewed in Issue No. 10), and then builds upon that – adding to and improving what made the first game so much fun to play.
Following on from the events in Arkham Asylum, a corrupt regime has walled off a large portion of Gotham city and turned it into a super-prison – the titular Arkham City. With no prison guards or law enforcement, the prison has segmented into different factions controlled by different super-villains, ranging from Two-Face, the Riddler and Penguin, to the Joker. However, it’s not just the worst of human scum that end up here, but also anyone who’s managed to get on the wrong side of the regime. It’s into this man-made hell-hole that Bruce Wayne get thrown, after his arrest for daring to criticise the creation of the super-prison. However, it’s more than just a prison, and a dark secret festers at the (literal) heart of the city.
So how does Arkham City improve on it’s predecessor? Basically by having more. More of everything: environments, enemies, playable characters, gadgets, combat options – just more. Gone is the confined, largely linear design of Arkham Asylum (in fact, you can see the island that holds the asylum just off the coast). In its place is a sprawling cityscape – albeit one confined by massive, unpassable walls. Not only is the landscape larger and more varied, but getting around it is also way more fun. While the Bat’s cape lets you glide around the Asylum and get to hard to reach areas in the previous game, in Arkham City, it’s your main mode of transport. While you still basically glide, you can now dive to gain speed, and use your grapnel gun to latch onto the ledge of a building and accelerate you ‘up and away’ for more height – this basically means that, with a bit of care, you can fly around the entire city.
Your gadgets also get an upgrade, and along with staples like batarangs, you’ll eventually get to play with a whole range of goodies including freeze grenades (yes, Mr Freeze makes an appearance), and a remote electrical charge launcher (handy for starting out-of-reach pieces of equipment, as well as zapping enemies mid combat). New enemy types make their appearance (not just bosses like Solomon Grundy – now there’s an intense fight – new foes including armoured opponents, weapon wielding thugs, and, of course, mystical ninja assassins), and the fantastic, intuitive Freeflow combat system [see the review of the original Batman: Arkham Asylum for a detailed breakdown] is expanded with more combat options, including the ability to disarm opponents and destroy the weapon they’re wielding, permanently removing it from the encounter (weapons simply dropped will be picked up by another opponent). Also, multiple foes may attack you at the same time – leading to some incredibly cool animations where you counter several foes at once.
To cap it all off, there are more playable characters. Alongside Bats, you’ll also be able to control Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn. While Batman and Catwoman are the only playable characters in the main campaign, and Robin is playable in the DLC Harlely Quinn’s Revenge, all are available in the bonus maps (challenges such as an infinite combat arena, and stealth take-down). While the basic concepts of the combat system stays the same, the different animations, skill sets and gadgets (such as Robin’s staff or Catwoman’s whip) mean that each feels quite distinct and present their own unique challenge. There’s also a ton of different skins for each character to choose from – so your Batman can look like he waltzed out of the cartoon series, a particular movie, or even the futuristic Batman Beyond if you so wish.
Of course, all of this is supported by what made the original game so compelling: the stellar voice cast (Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil are back), brilliant story, intuitive controls and wonderfully fleshed-out gothic world full of challenges, puzzles and collectible goodies to explore. A true classic, Batman: Arkham City builds upon and improves on the already brilliant original game in every way possible. If you want a game which lets you play out the fantasy of being Batman, then this is the game for you. ■