Two years ago Warner Bros. and DC comics allowed Rocksteady Games, a relatively small development company when compared to many of the industry heavy hitters, the opportunity to make a new game starring DC’s flagship superhero, Batman. The end result was Batman: Arkham Asylum, an action adventure romp through the deadly insane asylum of Gotham City. The game was expected to do well, but few predicted it would explode into the must-have status that has made it one of the better games of the current generartion.
Batman has had a history of hits and misses when it comes to comic books, television shows, video games and the like, but it seems these days that The Caped Crusader can do no wrong, and this continues with Batman’s newest video game adventure, Arkham City.
Arkham Asylum took on the terrifying story of the inmates literally running the asylum and the hell that Batman would go through in order to restore order to the nutsy nest.Arkham City has upped the ante, taking the inmates out of Arkham and dropping them all into a walled city within Gotham where the inmates are left to essentially fend for themselves.
The story of a prison city is familiar to fans of Escape from L.A., and as much of a horrible idea as it would be, it certainly creates a fantastical environment for Bats to explore. The prison city has been divided into multiple boroughs, all run by iconic villains of Batman’s rogue galleries. The Penguin, Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Two Face and of course, The Joker, all have seized power over there own respective areas, while other villains such as Black Mask, Clayface, Killer Croc and more also all have their agendas.
Where Arkham Asylum featured The Joker as the primary villain pulling the strings, Arkham City has fallen under control of Hugo Strange, a villain really only iconic to fans of the comic books; this is a very bold move by Rocksteady to feature a main antagonist being a villain who’s not completely familiar to all who may be familiar with Batman, but it pays off as it serves more dread and concern in the gamer.
Without disclosing any spoilers as to why, Batman, joined by allies in Catwoman, Robin and potentially Nightwing (if the DLC rumours are true) is trapped inside the prison city and is forced to sift through the mystery if Strange’s plans and uncover his scheme before time runs out.
The old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has been taken to heart by Rocksteady, and the game mechanics at their core don’t wander far from Arkham Asylum. The combat has been touched up just a bit to streamline the gameplay, but anyone who has spent some time with Arkham Asylum will be ready to jump right in to Arkham City.
Some elements have changed as Batman uncovers new gadgets and abilities while traversin the city of psychos, but the game remains true to the source material while having welcome additions such as the improved gliding mechanic that gets Batman around from place to place; a very wise addition if the developers were going to have Batman travelling a lot of great distances.
Built on the very familiar Unreal Engine, the game looks just as good as Asylum while creating a dreary and tense atmosphere. Environments fit the gimmick of their lead villain well while maintaining a grungy, slum-like image that really makes the player feel like they have plunged into a world of anarchy.
Character models also look quite nice. Some of the more unproportioned villains like The Penguin look a little on the plastic side, but many characters such as Two Face and Catwoman have a very polished look to them.
Returning is Detective Mode from the previous title, which again takes away from the visuals of this beautifully made game; it’s an incredibly handy tool but it takes away from the look of the game and feels like it dismesses the hard work that the designers put into this world, so I try to use Detective Mode as sparingly as possible.
First thing that must be addressed is the fantastic voice acting. The writers of Batman: The Animated Series are back for the narrative in this story, and they’ve brought back many of the voice actors of the show to deliver the lines that build the dread, tension and comic relief. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill return to their roles as Batman and The Joker as well as many other veterans from the show, kicking my nostalgia meter into full gear. The voice cast that aren’t familiar from previous outings stand right up there with the voices Bat-fans have grown to love; the voice of Wolverine from the animated Xmen series even makes a few appearances as minor thugs and it puts a smile on my face.
The music and environmental sounds are also quite stellar as Arkham City feels like a rusted-up old slum and the sounds of steel whining while it bends in the wintery winds and the noisy distance voices and sounds of fights gives a very creepy atmosphere. Likewise the ambience music is right up there with what one would expect if watching an episode of Batman: The Animated Series. At times the brilliantly done orchsrta pices suddenly vanish while heavy and poppy rock songs suddenly storm in, it’s actually a little jarring when you’re allowing yourself to be enveloped in haunting string number and suddenly Panic at the Disco starts playing; I can appreciate the developers wanting to appeal to a wider demographic by doing away with the usual creepy orchstras, but at the ame time the music selection in the soundtrack just wasn’t Batman.
What I liked
I know it’s a little campy, but I actually kind of like the hired goons of the villains having a uniform that stuis the gimmick of their boss. It’s completely unreasonable and makes no sense as these are people locked into a slum-like underworld, but it harkens back to the old Adam West Batman series and it puts a smile on my face.
The improved abilities for gliding and getting around Arkham City can be a lot of fun, I never thought I’d have so much enjoyment dive-bombing through the air, firing out a grappling hook and launching up to a safe perch somewhere dozens of yards away.
The story is nothing new, but it’s handled in a refreshing manner that creates a treacherous but exciting world for gamers to explore while aligning it with a narrative that keeps the player wanting to delve deeper into the plot.
What I would change
Some of the characters, specifically the villains, just feel a little over the top in their presentations. Two Face specifically felt a little too severely written; fans get it, he suffers from schizophrenia but it can be handled a little more subtley than what we get in this story. The Penguin also seems a little off, where the character has always been someone trying to have a more aristocratic air about them, he feels more like a character you’d seein a dirty Irish mob movie. Batman also is kind of a dick, I know he’s in a very tense situation but he seems at times more like a Frank Miller Batman than one written by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski. The hero flipflops between personalities a little too suddenly at times; it’s a minor character inconsistency but one that fans will notice.
The bar was set very high for this title, and though many can put out the argument that Arkham Asylum was better, Arkham City is still a homerun for Rocksteady. With a larger world to traverse and a wider gallery of rogues to battle with, not even mentioning the plethora of side missions and collectables, this is a game that will keep the player busy and entertained for a very long time. Pick it up.