The release of Arkham Asylum achieved something that most people had started to doubt was possible. It proved that with enough affection you can, in fact, make a superhero game that is not only worth playing but is perfectly capable of blowing everyone away in the process. But with a great game comes great responsibility (crap random superhero reference number 1) and with the release of Arkham City the pressure was on to not only match the success of Arkham Asylum, but somehow improve on it. It was a challenge that Rocksteady clearly took extremely seriously, and what they’ve come up with is not only the finest superhero experience you’ve ever played, but also one of the best games of the year.
Arkham City isn’t alone in its gameplay mechanics. Roaming around a large city while following a main quest that’s bolstered by random fights, clever side quests and other mini-tasks, it’s been done before. You only need to take a look at the Infamous titles to see that. But there’s something undeniably cool about being Batman, about all the toys and gadgets at his disposal and they characters you meet along the way. Arkham is a dark, cold and dangerous place after all, a walled sub-city in Gotham where all the worst criminals have been put to get on with their lives alongside other criminals, so you need all the help you can get to stay ahead of the game and keep out of trouble.
But the strangest thing is I found myself actively looking for trouble, hunting down huge groups of bad guys to take on single handedly. Weird? Yeah a bit, but only until you actually realise just how good the fighting is. Initially it appears that the fighting is just a case of mashing the attack button until everyone’s out cold, with the occasional tap of the counter attack for good measure. But when you get the hang of the combos and experience the cool stuff that these combos will bring, everything becomes far more measured. Timing your button presses is essential to get the more powerful critical hits, and juggling this with counter attacks, well times leaps and dodges as well as treating certain attackers with a little more care (you don’t want to go steaming into an armoured guy wielding a huge knife for example) makes it a robust, challenging but ultimately fun part of the game. Of course, this is Batman, so if you’d rather be a bit more subtle then you can sneak up on your prey and take them out silently if you prefer which is also immensely satisfying.
But random fighting doesn’t make a good game of this style, that’s down to stuff like storylines, missions and the other characters you come across. Again, there’s very little to criticise when looking at these other elements. The story that’s told throughout the game (written by the same guy who wrote the Animated Series) is brilliant, and very much worthy of the Batman label. I’m not going to go into details, after all you guys won’t be too impressed if I ruin the surprises, but it twists and turns throughout and keeps you guessing the whole time. You’ll also be interacting with many of the key figures from the Batman world such as Mr Freeze (or Mr Fries as the subtitles call him on one strange occasion), Penguin and the Joker (voiced quite brilliantly by Mark Hamill) amongst others, all of which contribute to the hell that’s breaking loose in Arkham. Other characters are set up well too, with guards, prisoners and all manner of others talking between themselves and having conversations about what’s going on in the game. It’s so well set up and presented it makes other games look lazy and badly thought out.
As for the missions themselves, there’s the standard mix of main tasks and side missions which are delivered in numerous ways around the city, be it from a phone call, a cry in the street, that sort of thing. These will take you a huge amount of time to complete, and when you add in the Riddler’s challenges as well you’ll easily be able to spend well over 20 hours in a single play through. But a single play through won’t do the game full justice; starting the game for a second time after completing it gives you a greater challenge. Your kit is still with you, but the bad guys are tougher and the little hints you get at various points won’t be appearing. That means you won’t get told when someone’s about to attack you, giving a much trickier edge to combat and forcing you to keep your eyes open even more.
And this, I think, is the key between whether to award Arkham City a 9 or a 10. It’s without doubt a fantastic game with a flawless combat system, huge array of missions and tasks and brilliant storyline, and goes beyond any other game of its type currently available. And it’s Batman, which always helps. But it’s the fact that even after a 20 hour play through, there’s every reason to start again and do it all for a second time without getting bored. That’s what pushes Arkham City away from being ‘just’ an excellent game and makes it one of the finest games you can lay your hands on. If you’ve got any interest in Batman, any love for open world games or any kind of common sense then you’ll love Arkham City. It is, quite simply, breath-taking.
Reviewed on PS3