Swinging from gargoyle to gargoyle, completely unnoticed, I began formulating a plan to dispatch the gun-toting, murderous thugs intent on exterminating me. As I dropped from my perch, grabbing a thug by the neck, I stared directly into his eyes, full of fear, as he begged for his life. Thankfully for him, I do not kill. I dropped him with the bungee cord I had attached while he was paralyzed with fear, and as he fell, began screaming for help shortly before passing out.
Batman: Arkham City is a stealth-action game set within the dark knight’s universe. Using stealth, cunning, amazing gadgets and years of martial arts training, Batman must stop a terrible plot within the newly made Arkam city, a prison made out of a sectioned off portion of Gotham city. He must defeat nearly all of his worst enemies, within a single night.
The easiest way to describe Arkham City’s gameplay would be to say it’s a stealth-action game, but this would be horribly underselling it. Not only does this title have stealth, it has a fantastic combat system, brain busting puzzles, epic boss fights, and an open city to explore. Saying this game is anything short of the complete experience of being Batman would be a terrible lie.
Stealth is based on two factors, noise and line of sight. Due to his years of training, most of Batman’s actions are silent, but sprinting and throwing a punch aren’t. So running up to a goon and throwing a few good punches probably isn’t the best way to fight. Instead you must stay out of sight, and plan how you take out each assailant. You can try to pick each one off silently, before they even know you’re there, or strike hard and loud, before disappearing to plan your next target. With a plethora of powerful gadgets (which I won’t spoil) and plenty of environmental takedowns, I loved this aggressive approach to stealth.
But if you can’t defeat enemies with stealth, you may have to resort to an all-out brawl. Combat is simplified into attacking, countering, dodging, stunning, and using gadgets. These five abilities are able to be seamlessly linked together to form combos, which allow you to use more powerful moves in order to end fights quicker. Basic attacks are all executed with the same button, but are context sensitive to where enemies are and how far into a combo you are. Since you can’t always be on the offensive though, you need to counterattack. Counterattacks are made easy by indicators located above an enemies head directly before they attack. Dodging can be done either by rolling along the ground or flipping over an enemy. In order to stun enemies, Batman can swing his cape multiple times to disorient enemies. Gadgets are back in Arkham City, but this time, certain ones can be linked together within the combo. These gadgets can do anything from pulling an enemy towards you, to freezing them in place. Overall, I liked the combat, but I did find it to be a bit too fast. I never felt cheated out of a punch, but sometimes I just couldn’t react to all the thugs coming at me.
As mentioned before, the city is open to explore, at least to some degree; while it’s nearly five times the size of the map from Arkham Asylum, it’s still pretty meager by open world standards. There are twelve side missions (plus a few extra with Catwoman, if you bought the game new), harder difficulties, and multiple challenge rooms that help add to the game’s length and replayability. Coupled with the main story, I didn’t have any problems with the game’s length. The harder difficulties provide a much needed challenge, and the challenge rooms are a great way to quickly jump right into a fight/encounter.
This game is dark, and I mean that both figuratively and literally. The streets are grimy and lined with garbage, the buildings are archaic, and since the game takes place over a single night, shadowy. Gone are the days of a campy Batman; this Batman lives in a terrible world, and it shows. Everyone and everything looks like this has been the worst night ever. Nothing is clean, everyone is beat-up, and the whole world is falling apart at the seams. All of the villains really fit the world as well; these are no longer the Saturday morning cartoon villains we all know. These are psychotic murderers bent on killing you, at any means necessary. The civilians are no different either. These are real people, cops and medics, who are scared out of their mind to be stuck in this prison, but determined to make sure they don’t let the villains win.
Normally, right about here, I would try to sum up the story without spoiling too much. But I’m not going to do that this time. Rocksteady really went all-out with the story and telling you anything about the story would be a crime. Suffice it to say that Batman is stuck in a prison city and needs to find out what the heck is going on. The story is packed with great characters, unexpected twists, and an ending that comes out of nowhere. This is the kind of story that I expect from a comic book, not a videogame, and watching it play out before me was an absolute treat.
Anyone who grew up in the 90’s will immediately recognize this game’s voice cast. Not only do Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (yes, Luke Skywalker) reprise their roles from ‘09’s Arkham Asylum and Batman: The animated series (as Batman and the Joker, respectively), the rest of the cast portray their roles exactly as how I would picture them. The penguin is an entitled British man, Two-Face is obsessed with fitting a two pun wherever he can, and the Riddler loves using big words. The thugs even have false confidence, thinking that they could defeat me, shouting out things like, “Come down and fight me Batman!” The music is intense, and it kept me on the edge of my seat, but it never felt overstated either. It felt like I had been dropped right into a darker version of the old animated Batman series.
With a game as deep and complex as Batman: Arkham City, I wasn’t surprised when I showed this game to a friend that he really struggled with the controls for awhile. The controls aren’t necessarily hard or bad, just complex. This isn’t a game where someone can just jump in at the middle; they need to go through the tutorial. Once you get the hang of it though, you’ll be beating the stuffing out of everyone with ease. Everything is responsive and I had no problems with the default control style. Whenever I messed up, I knew it wasn’t because of the controls.
Just as I said about the graphics, this game is dark, and probably the darkest T-rated game I’ve ever seen. In case you didn’t see the ESRB descriptors at the top, here they are: alcohol reference, blood, mild language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence. Add in possible occult references and a man whose face was burned off (Two-Face), and you have nearly everything you can fit into a T-rated game. Alcohol is referenced throughout the game, and bar signs are present within the world, but alcohol is never actually consumed on-screen. Blood can be found on certain furniture and when characters are shot. B***h, *a**, and b*****d are spoken multiple times throughout the game. In addition to tight, exposing clothing on some of the female characters, “Live Nude” signs, and mentions of sexuality, I was able to see Nora Freeze’s breasts. However, she was frozen and it was similar to a Greek sculpture. The Penguin smokes a cigar. Although Batman doesn't kill anyone, it certainly looks like he does. Combat moves are brutal and very violent, even though they are without blood. As mentioned before, the character Two-Face is horribly scarred, and he could easily pass for a horror movie villain. In addition, there were a few possible occult references in the form of the villain Ra's al Ghul, also known as “The Demon’s Head”. To be honest, I think the only reason this game isn't rated M is because Batman never kills anyone. Because even though plenty of other people die, from things as varied as being shot to impalement, as long as Batman never murders anyone, it’s A-okay for kids. Sarcasm intended.
As kids, we all loved pretending, whether we were cops n’ robbers, soldiers, or our favorite superheroes, it was fun to be somebody else. That’s what I felt like playing this title. I was Batman, immersed in a dark and seedy world, trying to stop evil. And despite some small problems with the combat, a few cases of texture pop-in, a couple unnecessary load screens, and an overly lenient ESRB rating, I had a blast. I wouldn’t recommend this game for anyone under fifteen, but for everyone over that, I thoroughly recommend this game.