Monday, 31 October 2011

Batman: Arkham City - Review

In 2009, Rocksteady Games gave us Arkham Asylum. It was the first decent stab at a Batman game ever and it was the first chance gamers had to actually be Batman. Any previous attempts to capture the dark knight had focused solely on the caped crusader's fighting prowess. This usually ended up in sub par beat em ups and rubbish tie ins of poor movies (Batman Forever).

Arkham Asylum not only gave Batman the combat skills, but also the stealth and detective skills that were missing from other takes of the Bat.

Fast Forward to 2011, present day and Rocksteady have released the sequel, Arkham City. Arkham City takes place two years after the Asylum incident. The warden of Arkham is now the Mayor of Gotham. His first act of office was to turn the slums of Gotham into a massive city prison, housing both the inmates from asylum and Blackgate Prison. In charge of this chaos, Hugo Strange, a man with a dark past and a secret. With his Tyger Security force guarding the perimeter wall, no one gets in or out unless Strange wants it.

So sets the scene for one the biggest games of the year and easily a contender for my personal game of the year. Rocksteady have really upped their game for this title. Batman now can glide through the sky, dive bombing down onto unsuspecting thugs below. He can also grapple from rooftop to rooftop with more ease than Spider-man. Traversing the city is incredible. It was the one thing missing from the previous game and its addition completes the experience. This isn't a beat em up, adventure game, third person puzzler. It's a Bruce Wayne simulator!

Freeflow combat is back again. This system made a reflex challenged, no coordination monkey like me, look pretty cool in a fight. This time the animations are beyond incredible. There is a new multiple counter system in place, so that you can counter two or three thugs at a time. Gadgets are now easily accessed in combat, from batarangs to explosive gel. The blending system is the real star, making for fights with ten or twenty goons, some of them very stunning sequences not only in gaming, but films also.

Bat has access to lots of new gadgets, some of them enhancements from the previous game. The one I have a soft spot for is the simple smoke pellet. To be able to drop smoke into a crowd, glide in, take down as many hoods as you can and then grapple out to leave one terrified thug as the smoke clears is pure Batman.

The improvements don't stop there, but not for our hero's best interest. Thugs now have access to thermal imaging googles, so that they can see you hiding in the shadows above them. They have jamming packs to prevent you from using your detective mode. Once panicked though, armed thugs will start shooting out of the vantage points to prevent you from attacking from above. All of these additions improve the stealth sections of the game and provide a new challenge for the player.

In Arkham City, the Cryptograph scanner returns and has seen changes to the way it is used. These changes are subtle and don't really change this aspect of the game as it already worked so well. Detective mode is also back and has seen an overhaul, not only in what it can do, but additionally, in the way it can be used. Some people have commented in the past that there wasn't an incentive to set it off in the first game. This has been taken into consideration for this game. When in detective mode, it is now a lot harder to see the environment around you. The people show up clearly, but the buildings and alleys are blurred out. Plus as this is an open world game, you lose all of the navigation display, making it impossible to get to waypoints on the map (shown as Batsignals, Cool!).

The Rogue's gallery has increased and most of Batman'greatest adversaries are present in the city. Joker and Harley Quinn are there, but Mr J. has hit upon hard times since his massive Titan overdose at the end of the last game. Joining him in the never ending turf war in the city prison is Two-Face, Penguin and Poison Ivy. Also, Mr. Freeze, Bane, Zsazz, Killer Croc, Deadshot and Solomon Grundy are but a few of the others who pop in up in some capacity. The Riddler returns and is seeking revenge for Batman solving his Asylum. Riddler has taken several hostages and placed them in the middle of lethal traps. The only way to save the hostages is for Batman to solve the challenges left all over the city.

The main story can be interrupted with a number of side missions. A pay phone rings and if you find the phone, you end up talking to Zsazz who threatens to murder one of the political prisoners if you don't track him down in time. There are also Augmented Reality challenges that take the form of Pilotwings-esque flight challenges. So there is definitely plenty of things to occupy the Caped Crusaders time in the city.

The game looks gorgeous, with the true star of the game being Arkham City itself. Each section of the city shows elements of the villain in charge. Ivy's buildings are covered in her vines, whilst Jokers has turned a steel mill into a twisted carnival funhouse. In the midst of all this, the events take place during a cold winter in Gotham. Snow falls through the sky constantly adding such an amazing atmosphere to the world.

I cannot write this review without mentioning the superb work of the voice cast. Another fantastic performance from Mark Hamill as The Joker. Kevin Conroy is the definitive Batman and Nolan North moves away from Mr Drake and voiced The Penguin with a cockney menace.

Challenge maps return, this time with more options built into them. Additional characters Catwoman and Robin also have their own objectives and stealth maps. Nightwing has been announced for release too and there maybe also be more characters coming? (please?)

To put it simply, this is the best Batman game ever made. In fact, it is the best super hero game ever made. It sure was worth the wait, and here's hoping a third title will start development soon.

Verdict: 10 out of 10 (My Game of the Year)

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