There are few things in the entertainment world I enjoy as much as Batman. Be it in films, comics, or games - Batman is a property that always goes down smooth. Ironically, Batman: Arkham City was the first game I previewed on Six Horizons nearly half a year ago, and it was actually the major prize for my sponsorship of The Morning Stream. Due to the PC version delay, and my own crazy schedule I just now got around to finishing Arkham City.
On one hand, I'm glad that I was able to stretch the experience out and didn't blow through it in a week. At the same time, I am so sorry that I didn't have this completed game being a part of my life sooner. 2011 and 2012 really are turning out to be the year(s) of Batman. 2011 saw the relaunch of the spectacular DC Batman Comic (my review Here) and Arkham City; and in 2012 we get a little movie called The Dark Knight Rises. Sidebar - how awesome would a current generation, live-action Batman television series be? Now that Luck is not going to continue, HBO would have a guaranteed hit if it could somehow option Batman.
Batman: Arkham City is a near perfect game. The highest compliment I can give is that Rocksteady Studios' Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are to my adulthood as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was to my childhood. Given the fact that Ocarina of Time is probably my favorite game of all time (and often referred to as the Greatest Game of All Time), that is stupidly high praise.
What makes this game so perfect is that it makes you feel like freaking Batman. Most of the superhero titles out there feel like generic fighting games with no links between the game and the character. In Arkham City, the more you behave like Batman, the better you play. In order to beat certain challenges, the only option is to do what Batman would do. As a design concept, that is spot on. Furthermore, I honestly don't know why there aren't more decent superhero video games. They offer such a wonderful selection of villains, gadgets, and decades of comic book lore to draw from. It seems like a no brainer to me, but no one has been able to nail it like Rocksteady Studios.
Arkham City starts where Arkham Asylum left off. Batman has once again defeated Joker and saved the day. Unfortunately, some idiot politicians had the bright idea to turn a whole section of Gotham into a maximum security prison. The player starts the game as Bruce Wayne and immediately gets sucked into the criminal underworld of Arkham City. The game is nonstop action, discovery and awesome from there.
The main storyline is wonderfully told and perfectly blends an intricate Batman tale for the hardcore fans and an accessible story for the general video game population. A small, throwaway addition that I absolutely love is the Story Synopsis feature. Every time you load the game, you are shown a few pictures and quotes of what recently happened in the main storyline. It's amazingly simple, but is truly genius. It's a perfect, non-invasive way to keep players engaged and help them remember what is going on. Furthermore, you can access the synopsis from the main menu and scroll through the entire story.
Arkham City is really two games for the price of one. There's the main story, which is probably 10-15 hours long, and then there's still all of the side quests and Riddler Challenges. For reference, you're lucky to get 8-10 hours in a campaign these days; Arkham City is satisfyingly long and that's just the main story. The Riddler Challenges come in a couple of different flavors. There are skill challenges, puzzles, mysteries to solve, and Batman lore to find. I adore the implementation of this system; it's absolutely perfect to have The Riddler posing all these questions to Batman to prove that he is smarter than him. (Hint: He's not, but some of these challenges will stretch you mind and your reflexes.) I'm 100% done with the main story and 55% done with the Riddler Challenges and I've already logged 26 hours. If you want to finish the main story first, don't worry, Rocksteady has you covered. There's a single scene at the end of the game that completely justifies Batman sticking around and finishing puzzles. There's no need to include something like that, but it made me feel great from an immersion point of view. The game validates my playing the game, that's like having your ice cream cone tell you that your pants make you look awesome.
All of this would fall apart without quality gameplay right? Well, it would, but it's definitely not an issue. Everything from the freeflow combat system, to the predator stealth options, to the transversal methods, to Batman's gadgets feels just right. In comparison to Arkham Asylum, there are more gadgets, more ways to get around, more ways to fight and more ways to be Batman. Arkham City iterates in every category that was already stellar and improves on them.
Finally, the voice acting and storytelling that takes place in this game is to die for. Kevin Conroy, a veteran Batman voice actor who's credits include the animated series in the 90's, returns as the voice of The Dark Knight and does an absolutely brilliant job. Additionally, Mark Hamill gives his final performance as the voice of the Joker. No one does a Joker voice like Mark Hamill. It's beautifully scary, sadistic, unhinged and just plain dangerous. It's so fascinating to me to think that Mark Hamill is known for playing Luke Skywalker, one of the greatest heroes in entertainment history and is also the voice for one the greatest villains.
I truly can't recommend Arkham City highly enough. If you like Batman, high quality games, or if you just like fun, buy this immediately. In fact, here's the Steam link. Stop reading this, and go buy it. If I could afford to buy copies for everyone who reads this article I would, but alas I can't. Go spend your own money and be happy about it!
I dare you to tell me that you've played Arkham City and didn't love it. Go on, try it.