Published: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Genre: 3rd-person stealth-action, beat 'em up
Platform: 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Like Portal, I thought that Batman: Arkham Asylum was a game that was impossible to improve upon. For the first time since Sunsoft's NES Batman game, I felt like I was really playing as Batman. Of course, Arkham Asylum was quite the upgrade from Sunsoft's game by including just about every element of what makes Batman so awesome. If featured well done stealth segments, a simple but challenging combat system where you could fight room fulls of enemies at once, and gadgets. Lots and lots of gadgets.
Then Arkham City came out and made Asylum look like an early beta. Arkham City takes all the elements of Arkham Asylum and increases the playable area to cover an entire section of Gotham City. There were more gadgets, more ablities, and best of all, more villains.
In Batman: Arkham City, a section of Gotham City is evacuated of civilians, walled off, and every criminal and super villain is rounded up and thrown in. Bruce Wayne is also somehow arrested and finds himself tied to a chair with Hugo Strange staring him in the face. Strange tells him that he knows he is Batman and leaves him in the dark room. This is where the gameplay starts.
|IMPORTANT PLOT DEVELOPMENTS|
Back with Bruce, he soon breaks the chair he is bound to but his arms and legs are still shackled. A guard runs in and throws him to the inmate processing line where he is ambushed by the Penguin (Voiced in a cockney accent by Nolan North) and his gang. The Penguin has Bruce on his knees and prepares to beat him with a pair of brass knuckles but in probably the coolest tutorial ever, the game tells you to press Y to counterattack which makes Bruce, who is still in shackles mind you, break the Penguin's hand. He then proceeds to beat the crap out of his gang, and finally manages to break his shackles mid-fight.
Batman sneaks in on a mock trial that Two-Face is holding for Catwoman who was trying to steal from him in that unnecessary scene earlier.This whole scene is kind of a mess from a film making point of view. Two-Face has Catwoman tied up, dangling over a vat of comically bright green acid or whatever. There's so much green gas coming out of the stuff that it looks like it should be suffocating everyone in the room, especially Catwoman, whose head is hanging right above it.
So Batman jumps down from the ceiling and beats up the courtroom full of thugs but right as the fight ends, the view zooms in on Two-Face who shoots Batman off screen. He then prepares to shoot Catwoman in the head rather than dropping her in the acid for whatever reason but she breaks free and knocks his gun away. He pulls out another gun, but before he can shoot her, Batman, who has climbed on top of the gallows that Catwoman was hanging from, pulls Two-Face up to him with his grappling gun and ties him up with thick rope in like half a second and hangs him above the acid in Catwoman's place. This is how NOT to edit a scene, prospective filmmakers and game developers.
Anyway, Batman asks Catwoman about protocol 10 and of course she knows nothing about it. A sniper's laser sight appears on Catwoman's head, but Batman pulls her out of the way just in time. Batman immediately sets up a crime scene with his magic detective vision and is able to locate exactly where the bullet came from in a matter of seconds. Catwoman traipses off to steal more shit or whatever and Batman heads to the church that the sniper shot was fired from.
He finds Harley Quinn and the Joker's gang inside and disappears into a cloud of smoke before they can shoot him. Harley leaves and Batman takes care of the rest of the thugs silently in a fairly well done tutorial for Arkham City's stealth system. Batman checks the church's bell tower to find the sniper but instead finds a remote controlled sniper rifle, a video of the Joker, and a ridiculous amount of explosives packed into the room. He jumps out just in time and tracks the Joker's signal to a nearby steel mill and finds a seemingly dead Joker.
Surprise! Another Joker jumps from behind Batman and knocks him out with some sort of gas while saying "You fell for the old fake Joker gag;" something that is relevant to the last boss fight. God, we're doing this AGAIN? Not that I dislike foreshadowing but do we really need to wait until the end of the story like a freakin' M. Night Shyamalan movie? At least it's not necessary information to get the best ending like in Persona 4...
|OH MY GAWD!... WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR FACE?!|
We switch to Catwoman for a bit, and she wants to break into Hugo Strange's vault to steal something but she needs a way to tunnel through the sewers to get into it. She heads to Poison Ivy to ask for her help but Ivy immediately attacks her. After Catwoman beats up waves of mind controlled thugs, Ivy remembers that she can control plants and grabs Catwoman with a bunch of vines. Annnnnnd... scene!
Back with Batman, the Joker calls him on a cellphone that he duct taped to his chest and tells him that Mr. Freeze was working on the cure but disappeared on him. Batman sets his magic detective gear to track temperatures and finds the coldest point in Arkham City. He arrives at an old police building but only finds the Penguin's gang who he beats up again and learns that Mr. Freeze is in a museum on the opposite side of the map, so he heads there.
After a kind of annoying gameplay segment where Batman travels around Arkham City and destroy a bunch of electronic jammers so he can use his computer hacking gadget to get into the museum, he finds that the Penguin has taken Mr. Freeze hostage and is using his freeze gun. Batman saves Mr. Freeze, along with a bunch of police officers, and coaxes Mr. Freeze to give him a device that can jam his freeze gun.
Then the craziest thing in the game happens. Batman crosses a water-filled room on the way to the Penguin and is attacked by a shark which he PUNCHES IN THE FACE. I never say this but I honestly could not believe what I was seeing the first time I played this part.
|Yep. That's Batman punching out a shark. "What is this I don't even" doesn't even begin to do this justice.|
Back in the museum's entrance hall, Batman talks with Mr. Freeze about the cure to his poisoned blood. Freeze tells him that the cure he created works, but without a self replicating enzyme that has adapted to human blood or something like that, it won't work. Batman says that he knows of someone who has been exposed to just such an enzyme for centuries: Ra's al Ghul.
This is the cue for some ridiculous plot convenience when a member of Ra's al Ghul's league of assassins, who was held prisoner by the penguin in a glass case in the museum's entrance hall, breaks out of the case and make a run for it. Batman manages to track her down and puts a tracking device on her. Then Robin makes his only appearance in the game when he shows up to save Batman from the assassin who almost manages to kill him. Batman immediately tells Robin to GTFO for whatever reason and follows the assassin back to Ra's al Ghul's lair.
Batman once again finds himself at the mercy of the assassins but Ra's al Ghul's daughter, Talia, shows up and calls the assassins off. Talia, who is one of Batman's love interests for those who don't know, slaps him and asks why he suddenly showed up. He lies and says that he wants to join the league of assassins so Talia takes him to perform the "demon trials" which consists of him drinking some strange liquid that immediately makes him hallucinate like crazy.
A ghostly Ra's al Ghul guides him through a desolate wasteland and talks about a bunch of emo BS about how the world is is full of evil and its up to them to remove all the baddies and blah blah blah... Go write a live journal, you hippie. Batman eventually completes the trials and Talia takes him to go meet Ra's.
His final trial is to kill Ra's and replace him as the leader of the assassins but Batman remembers that he doesn't kill and refuses. Ra's jumps into his Lazarus pit and emerges rejuvenated, then attacks which is Batman's cue to start tripping balls again. He hallucinates that he is fighting a huge group of warriors made of dirt or clay or whatever, then a gigantic version of Ra's al Ghul that shoots swords and shurikens at him. This game is zany as shit. Batman soon finds the real Ra's and defeats him with probably the coolest beat down in the game (well, aside from the shark):
Batman leaves Sharp be and meets Mr. Freeze in his lab. He gives him the sample of Ra's al Ghul's blood and Mr. Freeze makes the cure in like 5 seconds. I guess he had all the calculations done already. Whatever. He puts one vial of the cure in a wall safe and holds the other out as if to hand it to Batman but he smashes it, saying that the Joker has kidnapped his wife and he wants Batman to find her. When Batman refuses Mr. Freeze attacks and my favorite boss fight in the game starts.
What I really love about this fight is its similarity to boss fights in the Metal Gear series. He's too powerful to attack head on so you have to use stealth and gadgets to surprise him and whittle away at his health a little at a time. Each time you stun him with a gadget or stealth attack, he changes his strategy so that you can't attack him the same way twice. He's really the only boss in the game that allows for multiple approaches like that. All the others have a specific tactic you use to defeat them.
He eventually goes down and Batman immediately opens the wall safe only to find the back missing, along with the other vial of the cure. In its place is a Joker playing card, along with a paper copy of the card next to it. This is yet another hint for the last boss fight. Being the nice guy that he is, Batman promises Mr. Freeze that he'll find his wife after he cures himself and heads for the Joker's hideout at the steel mill.
After fighting through an army of thugs, Batman finds a much healthier looking Joker who he beats fairly easily but a huge group of thugs shows up that he has to take care of too. I won't say what it is but there's ANOTHER big hint for the last boss fight here. I'll explain later. Explosions ring out after all the thugs are taken care of and Batman is knocked out by rubble from the collapsing ceiling.
The Joker prepares to shoot Batman but Talia suddenly shows up and stops him, telling him to join the league of assassins. He accepts and Talia conspicuously places Batman's tracker on her jacket so he can follow her. Batman falls unconscious and we switch back to Catwoman who is still tied up by Poison Ivy's vines.
Ivy is apparently pissed at her for not watering some kind of special plants or whatever and says that the last one is in Hugo Strange's vault. Since they have the same goal, Ivy lets her go and agrees to help break into it. Catwoman heads to the sewers where she finds that Ivy's plants have cleared a path for her and soon after she enters the security room outside the vault, Hugo Strange is heard over the radio telling his men to commence protocol 10, which causes explosions to begin ringing out in the distance.
After a pretty fun stealth segment, Catwoman breaks into the vault where she finds a couple of briefcases and opens one, which reveals a bright light. I guess she's stealing Marsellus Wallace's soul. After beating up some guards, she prepares to leave, but a conveniently placed monitor that somehow shows an image of Batman trapped under the rubble of the collapsed roof causes her to rethink things. She drops the briefcases and rushes off to save him. There's too much plot convenience in this game.
Catwoman helps Batman get out from under the rubble and runs off, telling him that he probably knows what protocol 10 is now. Back outside, we see Strange's men are killing every inmate of Arkham City that they can find. Batman has lost his freaking mind and thinks that following Talia is a better idea than stopping protocol 10 but Alfred shuts off his tracker and reminds him that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Batman reluctantly agrees and for whatever reason, thinks that one of the helicopters attacking the inmates must be carrying the "master control program" that he can use to get into Hugo Strange's lair.
His shot in the dark is apparently accurate and he soon finds what he needs to get to Strange. After climbing Strange's tower and fighting through an army of guards, he finally comes face to face with Hugo Strange and defeats him with one headbutt. He puts a device of some sort which allows Oracle to shut down protocol 10. I guess shutting it down orders the soldiers to stop bombing the shit out of Arkham City. Whatever.
Strange tells Batman that he still hasn't won but Ra's al Ghul stabs him from behind, telling him that he's failed. Yep. Ra's al Ghul is the "powerful friend" that the Mayor mentioned earlier. Protocol 10 is apparently the first attempt at Ra's al Ghul's plan to purge the world of evil. Strange even mentions future plans to do the same thing in Metropolis and other cities earlier in the game. I find this part to be really hard to believe. Couldn't Strange just quickly tell the soldiers to keep attacking? Ra's gives up too easily. Meh.
Regardless, Strange tells his computer to activate protocol 11 which starts a short countdown. Batman quickly grabs Ra's and jumps out the window just in time to escape the subsequent explosion. These protocol plans seem to be quite varying in severity. Protocol 10 is designed to kill every criminal in Gotham but 11 is just to destroy one room?
Anyhow, as they plummet to the ground, Batman grabs Ra's to try and save him but Ra's stabs his sword through his own chest in one last attempt to kill Batman. Batman pushes him away just in time to avoid the blade and Ra's lands violently on a metal fence.
|How is this game not rated M?|
We see several flashbacks of the Joker and a few revealing things that have been said throughout the game, the last being the Joker's line early in the game about "the fake joker gag." Talia is suddenly shot from behind and we see the sick looking Joker from earlier on a balcony. The healthy looking Joker that Talia stabbed suddenly wakes up and BAM. It was Clayface all along.
By the way, the big hint I mentioned earlier during the fight in the Joker's hideout is actually a fairly subtle one, though I noticed it the first time I played. Whenever you switch to detective vision, you see information about enemies, like which ones are carrying firearms or wearing armor. The one thing you always see though is the enemies skeletons. However, if you use detective vision during the fight in the Joker's hideout, you can see that he doesn't have a skeleton, so yeah, it was Clayface in that fight too.
The Joker yells from part of the Lazarus pit's machinery which Batman throws the sword at and knocks down, along with the Joker. The machine swings downward, knocking Clayface into the pit, but nothing more develops from this so I guess we'll be fighting super Clayface in the third game. The Joker decides that ambushing Batman from the shadows and stabbing him in the arm that he's carrying the cure in is a good idea but of course Batman drops the vial, causing it to shatter on the ground.
The Joker desperately tries to scoop the liquid off the floor and the sound effects seem to indicate that he's eating pieces of the broken vial. Ouch. Batman asks him if he wants to hear "something funny," and tells the Joker that even after everything he's done, he would have given him the cure. The Joker laughs and says "That actually is... pretty funny..." as he collapses and begins to gasp for air. He soon stops breathing and dies with his signature smile across his face.
Oh and the game is over by the way. After the credits though, there's one more Catwoman mission where she tries to get her things from her apartment so she can leave Arkham City but a bomb destroys it. Two-Face's gang attacks her and she fights them off. She tracks Two-Face to the museum and gets revenge. And during the boss fight, Two-Face and his thugs call Catwoman a bitch more times than I can count. This game really likes that word.
|I already said it once in my top 15 list of 2011: this is the best screenshot ever.|
I should probably get my three gripes out of the way. First, that mother flippin' online pass. For those unfamiliar with the term, an online pass is a code that you put in the first time you play a game (if it has one that is) to unlock content. It's meant to combat piracy and the used games market but I highly doubt it does anything on either of those fronts. Seriously. Game publishers. If you're going to lock out content behind an online pass, MAKE SURE YOU ACTUALLY INCLUDE THE GOD DAMN THING WITH NEW COPIES OF THE GAME.
As I mentioned at the very beginning of the article, all the Catwoman parts of the main story are locked behind an online pass which is supposed to be included with new copies of the game, and I had this game pre-ordered, but tough shit. There was no online pass to be found in my brand spankin' new copy of the game so I was locked out of part of the main story the first time I played through the game. It took WB Games well over a week to send me a replacement code (And I had to email them photographic proof that I owned the game. What are you, WB, a crazy boyfriend or something?), but by then I had already gotten a code from a kind soul on the game's official forums who was handing them out for free. That is absolutely unacceptable WB. I know you are capable of doing better than this.
Anyway, as for the game itself, I have two problems with the game's writing. There's plot convenience up to Batman's pointy ears that really gets in the way of my suspension of disbelief. Batman seems to know a lot of things that he shouldn't at several points in the game. Let me rip off another one of Red Letter Media's running gags and ask, did Batman have a copy of the game's script? Is it in his utility belt. "Don't worry, Robin! I'll save us from this plot hole with my Batscript!"
The other problem with the writing is the dialogue, which can get downright awful and insipid at times. I could understand the dialogue being simple if they were marketing this game to kids, but with the number of times the word "bitch" is said in this game, and a few scenes of violence that I'm amazed didn't bump the game up to an M rating, I can't imagine that's what they were going for. Either way, I HATE when works of fiction made for children talk down to them. Kids are smarter than you think, writers.
Anyhow, those are my only real problems with the game. From a gameplay, story, music, acting, sound design and graphical standpoint, Arkham City is amazing. Since I was just talking about dialogue, I guess now is as good a time as any to mention the voice acting.
Like in Arkham Asylum, there are a number of voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series who reprise their roles. Kevin Conroy is still the best Batman in my opinion and Mark Hamill is as amazing as ever as the Joker. Unfortunately, Hamill has stated that this is the last time he plans on playing the character, so I guess the Joker's death at the end of the game is kind of symbolic of that.
Arleen Sorkin did not return to voice Harley Quinn but Tara Strong did a fantastic job as her replacement and on that note, Maurice LaMarche also does an admirable job imitating Mr. Freeze's Batman: TAS voice actor, Michael Ansara.
The biggest surprise to me, as far as the voice cast is concerned, was when they revealed that Nolan North would be voicing the Penguin. My gut reaction was, "Great. Now the Penguin is gonna sound like Nathan Drake." Man was I wrong. North does a fantastic job and I'd never have guessed it was him if I didn't know ahead of time. The only problem I have with the voice acting is that the generic thugs' voices can get repetitive. I swear half of them are voiced by Steven Blum and John DiMaggio.
The music is absolutely marvelous. There are hints of songs from the Burton Batman films, Batman: The Animated Series, the Nolan Batman films, and dare I say it, the Schumacher Batman films. I especially love the music that plays during stealth segments, especially the song that plays right after protocol 10 starts.
GAMEPLAY! Finally. Arkham City is all about gameplay. As I said in the first paragraph of this article, Arkham Asylum was the first game since Sunsoft's NES Batman game to truly make me feel like I was playing as Batman. The stealth, combat, and gadgets were all implemented so well that I thought the game was too perfect to get a sequel. Arkham City proved my dumb ass wrong by improving everything.
And not only is the game fun to play, it's also very well paced and easy to get into. You have access to tons of abilities and gadgets right from the start but the game teaches you to use everything at a steady rate. Gameplay is divided pretty evenly into three areas: exploration/puzzle solving, stealth, and combat.
Puzzles mostly consist of figuring out which gadgets to use to progress through a given area, with some side missions requiring a bit more exploration to really figure out. The Riddler's many puzzles scattered around Arkham City are probably the best example of this. There are literally hundreds of Riddler puzzles to solve and trophies to collect and after certain increments, the Riddler gives you the location of a puzzle room with victims bound in Saw style traps.
It's kind of funny actually because ever since I saw Batman Begins, I thought it would be a cool idea to reboot the Riddler as a Jigsaw style serial killer in one of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies but Rocksteady read my mind and beat him to the punch. NOTE to hardcore comic book fans: I haven't read every DC book ever so if the Riddler has already been portrayed like this before, I haven't seen it.
The stealth gameplay is so fun that it rivals my love of the Metal Gear series' signature gameplay. It's much more simple than Metal Gear however. All you really have to do is stay on the conveniently placed vantage points near the ceilings of every stealth room, wait for an enemy to be out of sight of the others, then quickly jump down and take him out. Grapple back up and repeat.
Melee combat is another area where you have a ton of options. Against most enemies, you can win with two buttons: X/square to attack and Y/triangle to counterattack. As long as you keep attacking and countering quickly, you build up a combo meter which allows you to perform instant KO attacks as it gets higher. Just as in the stealth area of gameplay, gadgets play as big a role as the player wants in melee combat. You could go through the whole game and never use a gadget in combat or you can use them constantly; it's all up to your play style.
That's what I truly love about this game, and the reason it's number 2 on my list. You can play as the Goddamn Batman the way YOU want to. One final thing I should mention is the boss fights. In Arkham Asylum, the boss fights were fairly disappointing, with many of them being copies of each other. Arkham City abandons that idea and makes every boss fight unique. The fights against Mr. Freeze, Ra's al Ghul, and Clayface's second form are the standouts in my mind.
Batman: Arkham City is a game that I love almost everything about. The three areas of gameplay; exploration, stealth, and combat; are all fun, well paced, and allow for an amazing amount of freedom. Audibly and visually, the game is top notch. My only real complaints (aside from the online pass bullshit) are about the sometimes childish writing and dialogue. Other than that, Batman: Arkham City is a game that I can recommend to just about anyone.
You can get it for $30-$50 depending on where you look and I think it's money well spent. I barely touched on anything outside the main story, but if you add up all the side missions, Riddler trophies, and the various challenge modes, you're looking at TONS of replay value.
In closing, ROCKSTEADY FOR THE LOVE ALL THAT'S HOLY PLEASE MAKE A SUPERMAN GAME!!! We need a good one of those.
|That's what they should have called the game!: "Batman is Kicking All Kinds of Ass Down There"|
My game of the year 2011!
An absolutely perfect action-horror thrill ride that never relents and never disappoints.
I'll leave you with three great songs from Batman: Arkham City. The first is Kitten with a Whip, Catwoman's theme, which is fairly subdued but I really like it because it does a good job of reflecting the more lighthearted tone of Catwoman's gameplay segments, while still sounding foreboding. It gets good at about 1:30 into the song.
The second song is Streets of Fire, the song that plays as Batman hunts down the control program he needs to get to Hugo Strange right after protocol 10 starts. This one is probably my favorite song in the game. It sounds a lot like some of the music from Christopher Nolan's Batman films to me.
The third is You Should Have Listened To My Warning, one of the songs that plays after enemies in a stealth room are aware of your presence and are searching for you. It's a good example of some of the more action packed songs in the game and the dynamic music that changes in a style similar to Metal Gear.
The first two videos are brought to us by YouTube user HoundForHire16Bit and the third by YouTube user TheDufase19089: