Review – Batman: Arkham City

Version Played : Xbox 360
Also available on : PC, PS3
Publishers :  Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Developers : Rocksteady Studios
Released : 2011
Time played by reviewer : To date, in excess of 40 hours

There are a lot of gamers I know that think it would be a bit strange or back to front to play Batman Arkham City before playing any other Batman titles, specifically Batman Arkham Asylum. But that is the way I did it. I had not seen or played any of Batman Arkham Asylum but as an avid comic book fan I did have a good understanding of the Batman universe. And after catching a glimpse at 2011 Eurogamer last September, I knew I had to play this.

Ever since I have been gaming I have always enjoyed games such as Batman Arkham City in the sense that I enjoyed games that provoked me to use my brain and not just button bash my way through a game. Batman Arkham City is a worthy addition to any gaming household as it really holds its own in a multi-dimension of aspects that I believe could appeal to any gamer.

Bruce Wayne - Might need a new suit???Batman Arkham City starts with the infamous Bruce Wayne holding a press conference to publicly show his opposition to the development of Arkham City. He is rudely interrupted by being arrested by Hugo Strange who tells Wayne he knows his secret identity before releasing him into his prison. Of course, Wayne escapes and manages to contact Alfred and have his Batsuit delivered to him. Personally one of my favourite moments of the game was when you walk up to the package and it flashes up with “A – Suit Up” I loved this as it is a quote frequently used in my favourite TV programme but also because it just sounds, and as a lame as this is, cool! Unfortunately there is no more appropriate word than ‘cool’ to describe many of Batman’s attributes!

This is where the fun begins, as Batman is immediately thrown into action and has to save Catwoman from Two Face. I won’t give any spoilers away and I want people to play the game for themselves to find out the story as that is the beauty of the game. But I have to say the main story line is brilliant. There were points in the game that I found myself genuinely shocked by what was unfolding in the story. Although scripted by comic book author Paul Dini, one aspect to Arkham City I adored was although there were elements of a typical comic book style and prose, it’s not what it was all about. I really loved it as it shows a real talent to script a game such as this one that is based around a massive comic book legacy yet keep it so surprising and in places unpredictable. I think the boundary between an action-adventure game and the actual character and comic book history has been teasingly overlapped in all the right places and never over stepped.

Gotham City has gone to hell. You gonna clean it up?Another aspect of Arkham City that I developed a quick love/hate relationship is the side missions. I love the inclusion of side missions in a game; it gives it that extra depth and substance. Perhaps this is me as an individual but there were times I found it stressful, for want of a better word. There were times when a side mission would ‘pop’ during the completion of a main story line and I was often stuck as to whether I should continue on my main story line or complete the side missions. I know it sounds silly but decision making is personally not my forte so I have to admit after I made the decisions I always panicked and wondered if I was doing the right thing! That of course was at the time of playing the game but when I came to think about my review, on reflection, I wonder if this is intentional.  As I mentioned earlier, this game is incredibly thought provoking and I have since wondered if this is a deliberate task put to you in order for you to put yourself in the position of Batman and weigh up the reasons you may have for following your main mission or moving to the side mission. Because in this game, the more I played it, the more I immersed myself in the role of Batman.

The side missions are just as brilliant as the game. In fact some of the side missions I enjoyed completing more than parts of the main story – not to say either were not up to high standard. One side mission in particular I really enjoyed was the Identity Thief. You could be anywhere in the game, whether it may be beating Penguin’s henchmen to a pulp on the street or gliding through the skyline of Arkham City, and suddenly you would be alerted to, or see yourself, a dead body. It gave you the opportunity to examine the body and the crime scene in Detective Mode and gather evidence. But it wasn’t as straight forward as I have explained, in some crime scenes -for this mission and others – there may be bullet residue for you to examine or bloodied footprints to follow. And you really had to look and employ logical thinking to examine both the body and the crime scene. One brilliant aspect to this is if you did happen to wander off track and the answer just wasn’t jumping out at you, Batman would tell you. To us, it would seem Batman is speaking to himself, which in game terms of course he is. But in reality it is the creators of the game giving Batman the opportunity to voice internal dialogue for the player to hear and give us clues to get us back on track. I think this is so clever the way it is integrated into the game but also a basis of interaction between the game and its player. What I also liked about this is the fact that it wouldn’t happen easily so it is almost a last resort having Batman speak aloud to give you a hint, which gives you the time to think and solve it on your own – in comparison to other games where this hint could sometimes be immediately which almost underestimates your ability to play the game, in my opinion.

Batman decrypts a lock, whats wrong with keys?There are parts that the side missions and main story line integrate together which I also like, and The Riddler missions are by far the most though provoking. It is made clear throughout the game, in case you didn’t already know, that The Riddler is extremely intelligent and believes he can out smart anyone, especially Batman. So his missions are trickier than the others but so well thought out and created you can’t help but appreciate the level of genius behind it, even if you struggle with them. It’s not only the missions that The Riddler has in this game. There are Riddler Trophies to collect, which can vary from something as simple as punching in a wall to grab it, to working out how to press 4 different pressure switches at one time. There are a lot to collect and my advice would be to grab them as you see them. As well as the trophies, there are riddles too where a riddle will flash up in green writing to indicate you are in the area the riddle is in. It is up to you to solve the riddle, find the place and scan it in Detective Mode to solve them. There are around 4-15 riddles in each section of the map.

There is so much to complete in Batman and the fact that it is such a vast game could easily lead to resentment to play or let it sit untouched for months. But the beauty I found in Batman is it just is so addictive. I normally struggle to play games to their full capacity, often complete the main story line and leave the rest. But with Batman I have felt compelled to complete all the side missions and trophies etc. The game grabs you and the graphics make it hard for you to not want to look at it. The detail in Arkham City is immense. You could easily spend hours just gliding through the buildings and skyline, taking in the entire city. You approach the border of the map and you can see further landscape that isn’t playable in the game yet included. And you are continually surprised by the detail, as you fly down to the streets and see poster after poster plastered across walls and buildings and they are all so detailed. Just when you think you can’t see anymore, you stumble across something else and it doesn’t fail to blow your mind.

"Talk, or I'll squeeze till ya head pops like a tomato!"Batman does get into a lot of fights with the henchmen on the streets and in the buildings and the combat sections are beautiful to watch. It encourages you to hit at the right times to gain a critical strike, and the sheer power behind Batman is felt by you as you play. It was during these combat scenes that I did start to develop a bit of ‘I am Batman’ fever and really want to give it some to the enemies! Not to mention the further you get in the game, the more gadgets you can work in to your fighting to make it more interesting which in turn also gains you completion on some of The Riddler’s challenges. The actual ‘bosses’ themselves are harder to defeat than the henchmen. The boss scenes require more than just the element of button bashing that can be hard to ignore in combat. The bosses that Batman comes up against are often matched to Batman on strength or intellect or sometimes both. It is up to you to figure out what sequence you need, or what gadget you need, or open your mind to the possibility that perhaps you need Detective Mode on to complete the boss. I found the bosses challenging but not to the extent I felt I could not complete them or had to use the internet. What I also liked was that they were all different so each time you were being challenged.

In conclusion, the critics loved Batman and so did I. I cannot comment on if you should play Arkham Asylum first, but for anyone who is thinking of doing that, all I can say is I played Arkham City without playing Asylum and I loved it and did not feel like I was missing out. There is downloadable content available for Batman and I bought a game with Catwoman included which I found brilliant to play in contrast to Batman. I have yet to download the other content but do believe this is something I will do once it has been fully completed. I think it is great how you can play the game with different characters, abilities and perspectives so you can really see Arkham City in all its glory. I did have a background knowledge that came in handy when it came to the characters involved but if you don’t, it is not a reason to avoid the game, in fact I would encourage you do play it. Each character you discover you are able to read their ‘case file’ and gain an understanding of them. And I would even go as far to challenge anyone to play the game and not fall in love with the Batman universe. My only advice would be to do things as you see them for example collecting Riddler Trophies or popping Joker’s balloons – only because I am now revisiting the entire map to do these parts and there is a part of me that wishes I had done it at the time. It was how I intended to play the game, however I don’t think it was the best action to take. The soundtrack is great, too, and most certainly worth a download.

To summarise – Batman is not just a game, it is an investment. You will sink in a lot of hours and not even realise it. You will get lost in Batman’s world and I honestly believe you will start to think you are Batman as you have to think like him for so much of the game. You will never get bored in this game, as the main story and side missions just pull you into an unbreakable spell. You will never tire of the world of the do-good vigilante detective, fighting for justice and seriously kicking arse whilst he does it. I don’t think there are many games such as Batman that can completely plunge you into not just a game, but a world, and Batman Arkham City does just that. Prepare to be submerged, gamers.


Additional from Chris
I was asked to contribute to this review but I think Holly has covered everything nicely. The game is epic and you do feel like you’re becoming Batman. This is one of the few titles/series that I now place on my ‘day one purchase’ list. For Gotham’s sake I pray for another. 10/10

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