I absolutely adored the original Batman Arkham Asylum, going so far as to 100% the game twice on both normal and hard difficulty, doing every online challenge, and playing it to the point I was once 42nd in the world on the leaderboards for one challenge. To say it was going to be a difficult act to follow up would be an understatement, something the gaming press agreed with unanimously.
The game starts out with Bruce Wayne at a press conference outside the portion of the city sanctioned off for prison use (hence the name, Arkham City), making the argument that the prison is a disgrace to the citizens of Gotham. He’s arrested by police guards, and chucked straight into the pit with all the inmates he helped arrest breathing down his neck, waiting to pounce. You’re soon introduced to Penguin, and upon escaping and reaching higher ground, don your suit and begin your journey through the streets of Arkham as Batman, trying to get to the bottom of this corrupt and evil place. It’s a good start to the game, one that sets the premise relatively quick, and allows freedom to explore the intricacies as soon as possible.
Intricacies are what Batman: Arkham City has plenty of. The City is brimming with thugs, side objectives and Easter eggs that I’m sure any Batman fan would recognise in a heartbeat, and continues to offer hours of gameplay even after its final moments. It’s not the biggest gaming environment to explore, with Batman able to glide from one side to the other in a few minutes, but it’s filled to the brim with content, so you’re never more than 5 minutes away from discovering something new. It’s a lovely environment, one that allows you to take many different approaches to different situations. For example, if you want to take on a gang of bandits, you could be stealthy, intelligent with gadgets laid as traps, or go all out and brute force your way through. The city itself is more of a hub world, with key story moments happening within the confines of the buildings. It allows for the level designers to make a more unique environment for each villain, but could also annoy fans who would just want to get through the campaign, as the travelling between locations just wastes time.
Combat is a pleasure, becoming a bit tighter since the original, with Batman swinging from foe to foe effortlessly. If it weren’t for you pressing the buttons to make Batman punch and kick, you’d think every fight scene was scripted or an FMV. Enemies offer more variety than the plain orange inmates of the original Arkham Asylum, with designs changing depending on which leader they follow, but most can be put into the category of cannon fodder. They appear around every corner of the game, allowing the player to not go more than 5 minutes without fighting, just in case you’re getting bored of the city. It’s strange considering how beautifully the city is constructed, but is understandable when you consider who this games target market is.
Multiple villains make their first appearance in Arkham City, alongside many familiar faces from the first Arkham. From Penguin to Mr Freeze, each villain is lovingly crafted, both in personality and aesthetics. They have a big impact on the main campaign, and the look and feel of the city itself, with Jokers part being themed like a circus and his gang members clowns, to penguin enjoying more sophisticated locations like museums and having his gang members dress up in black and white. Most of the campaign is centred around the Joker, just like the original, but other characters play a big part in the story. Other villains are tossed to the side quests, like Riddler and Bane, whilst others just have a nod, like when you accidentally come across Croc in the sewers.
Playing as Catwoman was a welcome addition to the game, with all of her actions an exact duplicate of Batmans, except his ability to glide. She plays an essential part in the campaign, but was strangely missing from the original version of the game if you didn’t buy it brand new. This was a pretty douchey thing to do by any standards, and would be like missing out Agent Smith from The Matrix unless you purchased the box set brand new. Saying that, the only way to buy Batman Arkham City these days is digitally, with Warner Brothers giving out game of the year editions left right and centre.
In conclusion, it took me a while to get into Arkham City, having tried to play it for many years. Once I got over the first few hours and the game started to make sense to me, I couldn’t stop playing until 25+ hours had been lost to the streets of Arkham and the campaign finished. Batman isn’t going to be for everyone, especially if you want a more linear experience with less exploration, but for those of you that enjoyed the original and wanted more on a grander scale, Arkham City is just for you.