Batman: Arkham City: The Dark Knight’s still got it

October 26, 2011

Two years ago, Batman: Arkham Asylum redefined superhero games, licensed games, and even action games. We haven’t seen anyone attempt to recreate what Arkham Asylum did and pull it off as successfully. Thankfully, a new Batman game is here to bring us back into the bone-breaking world of the Dark Knight, complete with a new open-world and a bag full of new tricks.

How does Batman get himself involved in yet another predicament like this? The actual detailed answer is pretty cool, but to avoid spoilers we’ll just say that Batman is once again stuck in Arkham, and Hugo Strange is running the show. On top of that, he has to deal with a multitude of other villains including Two-Face, The Riddler, The Joker, and a few more. (Once you get to the last third of the game, you’re in for some real surprises.) Most of the voice actors reprise their roles here as well, with a long list of excellent performances all throughout.

You start out in Arkham City, able to roam wherever you please, almost overwhelmed by things to do right from the start. There is plenty to do outside of the main story, including a large number of side quests (most of which involve a number of different Batman villains), plenty of prisoners to beat down, Riddler challenges to solve, and more. Every single side quest littered throughout the rather-large city is fun. You will never run out of things to do in Arkham City, and Rocksteady has managed to squeeze in just the right number of villains without it feeling too crowded.

To get around the city, you’ll have to rely on Batman’s glide ability, which will allow you to traverse the different sections of the city pretty quickly. Combine that with the always-handy Batclaw, and you’ll be zooming through the different districts in no time. The glide-and-Batclaw combo is one of the most satisfying ways to travel in an open world game we’ve seen in a while, and if you complete some optional AR challenges, you’ll earn another ability that will reduce the down time even more. With the game’s map and menus being very easy to navigate, you’ll never have a problem managing your different tasks.

Outside of roaming around the city, you’ll find yourself going to a few different major buildings in the main story, each of which is essentially like the different buildings you would find scattered around Arkham Asylum. You will probably spend most of your time in these areas, but you’ll never really get bored of them.

Like with Arkham City, combat and stealth are the two major components of the game. The combat is as fast and fluid as ever, providing yet another example of how to do an action game right. As before, you attack by pressing the main attack button in tandem with a direction on the stick, allowing you to move between enemies effortlessly, as well the ability to counter and use your cape to stun enemies. And while Arkham Asylum let you use your Batarangs in combat, you have a much wider array of gadgets at your disposal this time.

This all blends together seamlessly, allowing you to pull of multiple hit combos without too much effort. It does get difficult later on, of course, but as you learn new moves and get new gadgets, the different encounters won’t pose too much of a threat. If you continue on with New Game+, the enemy patterns will change up, offering you more difficult opponents sooner; you’ll also have to deal with the lack of a counter icon, making you rely more on the enemy animations more than ever before.

The stealth mechanics are relatively unchanged, as Batman will still Batclaw from gargoyle to gargoyle to avoid being detected (except there are now also gargoyle-like structures). The mechanics still work perfectly, with a few new surprising elements brought in to mix things up. While there are the standard stealth sections, there are also plenty that are sprawled out throughout the city. You’ll find lots of enemies with guns that have taken over rooftops and other locations, which will keep you on your toes while you glide around, exploring and taking on side quests.

The boss battles were a major problem the original had, with a lot of the bigger boss battles (including the final boss) becoming rather tedious. While the fights are still relatively easy, the boss battles are way more creative in Arkham City and, with more villains, you have more fights with them. None of them feel similar and they all stand-out on their own, with the final fight in particular truly delivering in a way the fights in Arkham Asylum should have.

Detective vision returns as well. When you use it, some of the HUD elements are removed, but you will probably find yourself relying on it just as much as you did in Arkham Asylum as it continues to be pretty helpful. There are a couple of specific boss battles that rely heavily on this mode and use it to fairly amazing effect, showing that it’s more than just a handy hint system.

On top of the wealth of Batman content, there are also four Catwoman-specific missions that are spread throughout the game. Catwoman plays pretty much exactly like Batman minus some abilities here and there, but traversing the city as her isn’t as fun as gliding with Batman, and her sections of the game tend to drag a bit. She’s a lot of fun to play as overall, but her sections are easily the weakest parts of the game.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better action game than Batman: Arkham City. Everything comes together so perfectly and the new open world lends itself well to the Batman universe. It’s essentially more of the same, but it’s expanded upon and improved in a ton of little ways that makes the overall package even more appealing than Arkham Asylum was. You don’t need to be a Batman fan to enjoy one of the finest action games of this console generation.

Pros: Combat continues to be fast, intuitive, and brutal; excellent story; plenty of side quests to do; lots of content that will please any fan of Batman
Cons: Catwoman content isn’t as strong as the rest of the game

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.