A little over two years ago, Arkham Asylum set the stage for what is now the greatest video game franchise based on a comic book. Or at least, that’s what I’ve deemed it. Arkham City takes the most logical step in every possible direction, making it an absolutely perfect sequel. If you played through Arkham Asylum, you will pick up Arkham City and feel right at home. New comers to this modern Batman franchise, will have their socks knocked off. Batman: Arkham City will without a doubt, be many people’s choice for Game of the Year in 2011.
Apparently, much has happened since the Asylum was locked back down a couple years ago. Someone thought it would be a good idea to build some massive walls around a chunk of Gotham and let all the criminals and super villains loose within. Naturally, alliances were made. Gangs chose leaders to follow. And things are generally just bad within the compound that is Arkham City. At the beginning of the game, Bruce Wayne is captured and thrown into the city. It’s not long before he breaks loose and has Alfred dispatch his suit via Batwing. No one seems to make the connection between Bruce’s disappearance and Batman showing up, but that hardly matters. Batman is back in action, and quickly starts putting all of the pieces together.
If you buy the game new, a redemption code is included which unlocks four chapters where you play as Catwoman. Her story interweaves with Batman’s nicely, and the game actually kicks off with a nice little scuffle between her and Two-Face. Once the game is complete, you can free roam the city as either Batman or Catwoman, and there are specific (pink) Riddler trophies hidden through-out the city that only she can collect.
I absolutely love this depiction of Catwoman. She is equal parts cute, sexy, and dangerous. And as we’ve seen, loves to get tangled up in Batman’s business. Catwoman’s combat maneuvers are pretty much in line with Batman’s, in that the buttons perform similar moves. She doesn’t have as many gadgets at her disposal, but she can deal with a dozen or more thugs just as well at The Bat. Getting around the city is a little slower though, as she has no cape for gliding. As you would expect, she’s quite acrobatic and can scale a building with the use of her whip and some timed jumps fairly elegantly.
As with the previous game, we see a number of recognizable faces in Arkham City. Both good, and bad. Most notably, The Joker, The Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and Two-Face will stand in Batman’s way, on more than one occasion. There are quite a few others who make appearances in side quests and the Catwoman chapters, which could easily be missed if you simply blow through the main story.
Speaking of which, Arkham City felt a good bit shorter than Arkham Asylum, but there’s certainly a lot more left to do when the day has been saved. The Riddler has littered the city with (what else?) riddles, trophies, and even some side quests that are sure to keep Batman busy for hours on end. There are a number of breakable items (balloons, chattering teeth, security cameras, ceramic penguins, etc.) through-out, which net you small amounts of XP. I made sure to break them as I came across them, but certainly didn’t go out of my way looking for them. I like having additional tasks to do once the main story is complete, but that sort of tediousness is not my cup of tea.
Aside from the main story and side quests, there is an alternate version of the story which allows you to start with your upgrades and XP in tact, but throws tougher enemies at you from the get-go, and disables most of the visual cues during combat. There are also combat and stealth challenges, similar to what we saw in Arkham Asylum.
I must be nearing the 20 hour mark now, and there hasn’t been a moment where I wasn’t enjoying myself. No super tedious mandatory tasks. No overly difficult battles. No infuriating boss fights. Everything is extremely well balanced and the pacing couldn’t be better. Batman: Arkham City is every bit as good as its predecessor, and then some.