With high expectations behind it, it wouldn’t be difficult for the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum to fall short. If anything, it would be easier for Rocksteady to fall short with the sequel than it would be to equal or surpass the original. Arkham Asylum was a fantastic (and arguably revolutionary) game for its time. To this day, I’ll still gush over how amazing that game was (and still is).
Now that the groundwork is set, let’s talk about what people really want to know. Riddle me this, riddle me that, is Batman: Arkham City really all that?
Batman: Arkham City takes place six months after the original. For whatever reason, someone thought it’d be a good idea to section off an entire portion of the city and turn it into a prison. It also doesn’t help that someone put Hugo Strange in charge of the whole thing. It’s not long before you find yourself in the thick of the mess inside this twisted world riddled with street thugs and super villains.
The change of scenery isn’t just a story device; it drives the fundamental approach to the game. Unlike Arkham Asylum, which felt like you traveled between different zones on the same island, this entire game takes place within one large and open world. While the world isn’t to the scale of say, Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto IV, having the entire game exist in that one area and having the ability to travel anywhere you want at any time makes the experience feel a lot less restrictive than the original.
Arkham City also feels a lot more dense than Arkham Asylum thanks to the sheer number of things you can do to occupy your time in this part of Gotham. Outside of following the main story, there are a number of side missions and collectibles to keep you busy. For one, the Riddler still plays an important part of the extra curricular activities, as he’s associated with a number of side missions and 400 trophies (!) for you to collect. Two, you can take part in Victor Zsasz’s twisted telephone game in hopes of tracing his location to stop him from murdering people. On top of that, there are still dozens of other side things you can take part in pretty much at any point in the game.
Before I get carried away talking about the side stuff, let’s go back to the main story line. Without going too deep into spoiler territory, the game takes you through a crazy tale that involves Batman facing off against (and in some cases, fighting with) many of the super-villains you’ve come to know and love. Playing through the main story was very entertaining and engaging all the way through, though I don’t think at its apex it reaches the same heights as Arkham Asylum’s story. The story could have been stronger if they didn’t try to jam so many super-villains into the main plot and I don’t think Arkham City’s best moments fall a bit short of Arkham Asylum’s best moments.
Playing as Batman is still quite the exhilarating experience. In combat, the game builds on its signature fighting mechanics to add a bit more skill to the mix. Everything still feels as fluid as ever, but they now give you more offensive and defensive options while promoting skillful button presses rather than straight-up button mashing. I never got tired of stringing together 20x combos where I punched a guy in the face, then slammed two guys into the ground at the same time, hopped behind a guy with a machine gun and then snapped a guy’s leg all in one smooth sequence. Moving around the world as Batman feels a lot better now that you have one consistent world to travel within. The ‘predator’ sequences where Batman is required to stalk and systematically take out his enemies feel like they’ve been better thought out in terms of level design and flow. When it comes to catering an experience around a specific character, Rocksteady continues to nail the Batman formula.
If you buy the game new, you also get the download code to access the four Catwoman sequences that happen within the main storyline. After playing them, it’s clear to see why they’re not technically part of the main game. Catwoman plays like a nerfed Batman, and her story arc isn’t all that interesting. If I bought this game used and didn’t have access to this content, I wouldn’t miss it.
Batman: Arkham City lives up to and surpasses its predecessor in almost every way. When you pick this up, you’re getting an awesome third person action game that is wildly fun to play whether you’re into Batman or not. It’s also got no shortage of things for you to do, from playing through the main storyline, playing through the “new game plus” mode, challenge mode, and the hundreds of side quests, as well as finding all of the game’s Riddler trophies and Easter eggs. Do not be surprised to hear this game come up in game of the year discussions, as Batman: Arkham City overall is a fantastic package.