Review: Arkham City is Bold and Brilliant

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It’s over.

The Joker’s latest diabolical scheme has been stopped, Two Face is out of the picture and Hugo Strange’s iron like grip on Arkham City is no more. Without a figurehead to follow the inmates are scattered and ready to be rounded up and this strange chapter in Gotham’s history can be closed.

So how have I only completed 36% of the game?

It’s because Batman: Arkham City is huge. Absolutely huge.

Taking the ‘more is more’ approach, rocksteady studios have taken their incredible Arkham Asylum and multiplied it by ten, creating what is, undoubtably, the best superhero game ever, and arguably one of the best action games of all time full stop.

After the events of the last game, former Arkham Asylum warden Quincey Sharpe has become Mayor and set up Arkham City, a nightmarish walled off section of Gotham that houses all the former inmates of Arham Asylum and Blackgate Prison. In charge of the madness is Hugo Strange, a mysterious individual who has a secret agenda of his own and a worrying interest in Bruce Wayne. Notice I said Bruce Wayne and not Batman. After a thrilling intro Batman finds himself on the wrong side of the facility’s walls trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

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I’ll get my one bugbear out of the way first because in the grand scheme its quite minor. Rocksteady’s ambition and desire to create the biggest and most definitive Batman experience has yielded a game of enormous scope and scale. That’s clear three minutes in as you stare out into the city’s vast horizon from the top of the ACE Chemical plant. The problem is that that scale removes that laser focus that Arkham Asylum had. Major (and I mean major) characters from the Batman Canon appear fleetingly then disappear entirely and the main story is so full of The Dark Knight’s rogue gallery that no one main threat emerges. This lack of focus muddies the narrative somewhat rendering the campaign less of a story and more of a series of brief, albeit brilliant, encounters. It’s a small complaint but the story starts so well that it disappoints slightly when it goes off the rails a bit and the keeps the game out of masterpiece territory.

The upside is that you’ll be far too busy dispensing fist shaped justice to care.

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Yes, arkham City IS the definitive Batman experience. Everything that worked so well in Arkham Asylum is back and turned up to eleven.

The simple to pick up difficult to master combat system has returned and been amped up. All your BatGadgets can be deployed mid combo to satisfying effect and the enemies have a few toys o their own. This really is rocksteadys trump card, they’ve developed a game mechanic so simple but so fun, that you can beat on the same anonymous heavies over and over again and it just never gets old. Throw in Arkham City’s new armoured, shielded and sledgehammer wielding grunts and you’ve got possibly the most well rounded combat in modern gaming.

When not pummelling goons into mush, you can stalk them in Predator mode. Rocksteady have ramped up the difficulty here noticeably. Gone are the days when you disappear into the ceiling and be instantly forgotten about. If you choose to show your face to a room full of armed henchmen make sure you have exit strategy better than just grappling up onto a gargoyle.

The playground that Rocksteady have created is a triumph. Two parts Burton to one part Nolan the city is gorgeous, dark and detailed. It is a disgusting, living, breathing city bursting at the seams with thugs to kick, side missions to discover and collectibles to collect. There are Four HUNDRED Riddler challenges. This is where the real meat of Arkham City lies. It’s clear when it’s over that Rocksteady were interested in the replay. Complete the campaign and you can jump straight back in but with the gadgets and gizmos you have accumulated opening the city up further. Arkham City isn’t as big as say Liberty City, not by a long shot, but it is dense and bursting at the seams with nooks and crannies to explore, and if you have even a passing interest in Batman you’ll find some Easter Egg to grin at (see: ACE Chemical Plant) and it’s that level of detail that shows just how much effort Rocksteady put into delivering something really special for the fans.

But towering above all of the games successes is, once again, Mark Hamill. I’m going to furrow some brows here and say that Mark Hamill is the best Joker we’ve ever had. Heath Ledger created his own unique spin on the character playing him as a self confessed ‘Agent of Chaos’, Caesar Romero was camp as Christmas and Jack Nicholson was just Jack Nicholson. Hamill however is The Clown Prince of Crime incarnate, ripped straight from the comics and here he gives his greatest performance yet. Dangerous, funny but sort of vulnerable the temptation was clearly too much for RockSteady

Arkham City isn’t a masterpiece, few games are, but as an adaptation of a pop culture icon it is peerles.

The best that could have been said of Arkham Asylum was that it was a legitimately great that just happened to star The Caped Crusader. Rocksteady have (just about) perfected their formula and delivered on the promise of the first.

Being the Bat has never been this good.

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Posted on November 3, 2011, in Games and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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