Batman has a lot of things going for him. He saves and protects people. He’s a millionaire with a ton of awesome gadgets. He’s got a catchy name. But most importantly, Batman is pretty badass. Developer Rocksteady recognizes and celebrates all these things in “Batman: Arkham City.” What makes “Arkham City” stand out is how much it embraces the Batman fiction and incorporates it thoroughly into both the gameplay and story.
Batman: Arkham City
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
“Arkham City” takes place in a sectioned-off neighborhood of Gotham that functions as a mega-prison for criminals. As Batman, the player uncovers a number of mysteries being caused by a wide range of villains. One of the most impressive aspects of the game is how many major characters from the Batman universe it weaves into the story while still having a cohesive narrative: “Arkham City” includes face-offs with Joker, Hugo Strange, Two-Face, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, the Penguin and many more.
Getting around Arkham City is made simple through the Batclaw grappling hook and Batman’s cape, which let the player attach to any building and glide through the air. While getting from place to place is easy, the city itself is so big that it’s still a little tedious moving all the way across the map to the next objective. Batman is free to go anywhere in the city, but the game is still fairly linear. There’s always a primary area for Batman to go to advance the story, and a couple side missions along the way to take part in, which are usually better than expected. Outside of these missions, though, all there is in the city are random thugs to beat up and scattered collectible trophies hidden by the Riddler.
Once the player reaches a destination, be it a dilapidated police building or Joker’s hideout, getting from place to place becomes more of a puzzle. One might use detective vision to track down footprints, take a zip line across a chasm or use a remote-controlled Batarang to trigger a switch. Batman has a wide variety of gadgets, and it’s impressive how the game requires the use of almost all of them. Defeating enemies will net experience and let the player unlock abilities, which allows access to previously unreachable areas as well.
When Batman isn’t busy figuring out where to go, he’s busy taking people down. The melee portions pit him against a group of thugs that the player can take down primarily through a series of punches and counters. While it can be a little button-mashy, the animation in the fights makes the combat visceral and satisfying. Taking down 20 thugs feels a little too easy in the beginning, but the enemy types becomes more difficult, which makes for a fair challenge.
Stealth combat happens when Batman runs into a room full of thugs armed with guns. Guns can rip up Batman pretty badly, which is a refreshing change of pace from most games, where bullet damage hardly matters. Thus, the player has to sneakily pick off enemies in strategic ways: Throw a Batarang to distract other guards while silently taking out an isolated one, or use an electronic disruptor to make the enemies’ guns go haywire for a short time. Batman’s large arsenal of gadgets and moves mean these armed enemies can be taken down a different way every time, providing much leeway for creativity.
“Batman: Arkham City” can be seen as a perfect example of how to integrate a beloved fiction into a new medium. The story has great twists, the music stands out (with a very “Dark Knight” inspired score), it looks sharp, the boss fights are creative and over-the-top and there’s more gameplay variation than expected. Some of the combat scenarios can feel contrived, and getting around the city can drag a little. But at the end of the day, it’s nearly everything one would want from at Batman game.