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Batman Arkham City Review

Developed by Rocksteady Studios, Batman: Arkham City builds upon the atmospheric foundation of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and sends you into the dark world of Arkham City, the new maximum security "home" for all of Gotham City's thugs, gangsters and insane criminal masterminds.

Set inside the heavily fortified walls of a sprawling district in the heart of Gotham City, Batman Arkham City introduces a brand-new story with a new all-star cast of classic characters and murderous villains from the Batman universe, as well as a vast range of new and enhanced gameplay features.

Was it good?

Well after being a late fan of the original Batman Arkham Asylum game, I have to admit that the sequel is better in every way apart from possibly the main mission structure.

Not that it’s bad, it’s just that the game does depend on the varying side missions and riddler trophies to keep your interest going and I possibly completed the main missions too quickly and wished I had dabbled more with the side missions first.

Even so on a positive note this does highlight one of the great things I love about Batman Arkham City in that there is so many ways to play the game, and without giving too much away if you do ever complete the main missions you will be able to unlock a new plus mode which allows you to replay the game with all your Bat EQ availble to you from the start.

Additionally re-playing the game in plus mode won’t affect the riddler trophies that you have already collected, so this does provide more background entertainment whilst trying to work out the new and deceivingly difficult riddler challenges (there are 440 trophies/challenges to collect).

Play it on Hard

Personally I would also recommend that you stick Batman Arkham City on Hard difficulty from the start (especially if you have played the original). I will admit that at first it was a real challenge, but when I switched to Normal mode I simply found it was too easy. As a result I quickly switched back to hard difficulty and persevered - it was well worth it in the end!

The developers have done a great job of taking the action out of Arkham Asylum and placed this inside a playing area roughly 5 times bigger than the original. Now you have an entire city prison to explore and within the confines lies new dangers, tougher enemies and improved gadgets/combos to thwart them.

Also for the first time you get to play as Catwoman with her own side-missions that run in parallel to Batman’s. For example in the opening mission you have to steal a data card from Two-Face and this results in her unforeseen capture. It then skips back to Batman whose mission is to rescue her. While Catwoman's missions are short it does provide a different style of gameplay/combat to that of Batman. However here’s the snag, certain riddler trophies can't be collected unless you play (or switch) to Catwomen and the DLC for the character is supplied with new copies of Batman Arkham City only, so if you rent or buy it second hand you won’t be able to redeem the code.

Not to worry though as you can buy the DLC separately (800 Microsoft points I believe), and you can then re-play her 4 specific missions from the main menu. Since I started reviewing the game you can also buy Nightwing and Robin DLC to, which allows you to use the characters to compete in the various combat challenge maps (these are unlocked by completing tasks or collecting Riddler trophies - again more on this latter).

Grace

With such a sprawling city laid before you, the feeling of being Batman has never been stronger. The artists have done a great job of replicating a dark and desolate city prison (along with added weather effects) which adds to the atmosphere immensely.

The large city also means there is more emphasis on gliding now, and with several gadget upgrades at your disposal (after earning enough XP) you can use your grapple launcher to accelerate high above buildings to continue the flight – thus you get a real sense of flying.

Additionally when you glide you can also leap off walls and dive bomb into the ground (create shockwaves using upgrades). It’s all immense stuff and also something you are going to need to learn how to do fast.

Certain riddler trophies for example can’t be completed without using the above techniques. But we will let you discover these for yourself, because it’s not just a case of picking up easy to reach trophies anymore. Oh no it’s a lot harder than this and it’s going to frustrate the living daylights out of you, but in the end it’s really satisfying to claim them when you have tried countless times to reach your goal.

Luckily the game does provide some help, in the form of various AI training exercises that you can attempt mid-game to hone your skills.

Additionally, like the original game, you need to be in detective mode to spot some trophies (also useful at identifying which bad guys are the most lethal), yet the developers have designed the game so that some of the riddler clues are only visible when you have the mode turned off. This was implemented because, like me, most people spent 90% of the last game in detective mode and missed out on all the lovely visuals!

Upgrades

In terms of upgrades the developers have also upped the stakes. As well as your standard array of grapple guns, batarangs and the like, you now have a magnitude of other juicy gadgets to get hold of, some of which don’t come into play unless you have tackled certain elements of the main mission, such as the remote charge weapon (which can be fired at doors - lacking power - to open them, or used to convulse thugs into hitting each other), a fragment freeze grenade and weapon disrupters.

The latter gadget is used to disable the fire arms of up to two thugs at a time, which opens up a whole new element of tactics.

However gadgets on the whole have a lot more properties than just taking out thugs, for example the remote batarang is required to open up areas of the map that would be inaccessible otherwise.

Either way tactics in Batman Arkham City are especially important because the criminals of the world (including the mid and special end of level bosses, i.e The Penguin) now have more ways of taking you down and detecting your presence, so it’s not just a case of hiding in the shadows anymore.

Combat

Once again the combat revolves around button bashing, which does sound simple, but what makes the combat so good is the timing and knowing when to block and when to attack. Eventually when you get good enough you can get to a point where the more attacks/blocks you perform, the more combos you generate. These combos create additional points and will also help you finish off the thugs a bit quicker.

To help you with your timing there is an on-screen tutorial which tells you when to press the buttons to block or when to perform various take down moves, however once mastered you can turn this tutorial off.

The fluid motion when taking enemies down is brilliant, but more importantly it looks really cool! Unlike the original game, you can now block up to two thugs at a time and use your gadgets to more devastating effect. So for example, the batclaw not only drags the thug to you, if you time it right you can then slam dunk them back to the floor.

Bad guys can also be taken by surprise and if they get to nervous, it will effect how they fight against you.

Voice acting

Mixed in with all of the combat is some excellent voice acting, from the likes of Mark Hamil (who plays the Joker) and along with the cinematic feel that the game provides, this really helps push the story-line along.

I don’t really want to talk about the game anymore because it’s too easy to give away spoilers - all I can say is that if you loved the original you will love this. The combat is ultra cool, the gadgets now have a far greater purpose than simply taking down enemies, the graphics are stunning, voice acting is brilliant, and it’s single player (there is no multiplayer) lasting appeal should far excel any of the other games to come out recently.

For example if you do complete the main mission on hard, you can re-play the game on a newer difficulty level, compete in various Challenge modes, (including stealth and combat). Attempt to collect all 440 riddler trophies (which reward you with more challenge maps, artwork and character animations) and view a host of useful info about the characters that reside in the Batman universe.

You can also compete in riddler campaign modes (using various modifiers, i.e. beat the clock) which combine a mixture of stealth and combat challenges or create your own challenges if you prefer and of course tap into all the new DLC that is currently available!

Summary

Though the game is awesome to the highest degree, if there was one criticism with Batman Arkham City it would have to be that the outcome of the main mission – in my opinion – was not as good to that of Batman Arkham Asylum (due to it's dependency on side missions I feel).

However as games go the combat, environment and more challenging riddler trophies, all add up to several weeks, if not months, of entertainment. Amazingly after two weeks of solid play, I have only completed 60% of the whole game, so it's going to last fans of the series a respectable time! (especially for a modern single player title)

Written on iPad 2