Batman: Arkham City (PS3)

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Who is The Batman?

The Batman is brutal. The Batman is patient. The Batman can be cruel. He is stealthy and highly intelligent. The Batman defends those who can’t defend themselves, and rescues those in need. The Batman is fallible. The Batman isn’t a killer (or is he?). The Batman soars over rooftops and brawls in the streets, but he uses the cover of darkness and relies on advanced gadgets, too. The Batman is the world’s greatest detective and has many exotic, outlandish enemies. Above all else, The Batman is confidence personified.

But… who is The Batman, really?

In Batman: Arkham City, you are The Batman.

Batman: Arkham City Screenshot 1

Events of the game kick off as Batman infiltrates Arkham City itself, a recently opened and expansive prison district carved into the city of Gotham. Criminals and inmates of Arkham Asylum have been rounded up and let loose in this new mini-metropolis to do as they please, which means some of the most dangerous, villainous and insane individuals known to Gotham are fighting for survival within the towering walls of this burgeoning borough.

It is Bruce Wayne’s (and therefore Batman’s) belief that Arkham City has already become a cesspool for humanity and a breeding ground for atrocities worse than what the inmates would be able to cook up outside of its confines – assumptions proven correct once Batman makes it inside and witnesses the appalling conditions that the prisoners are being subjected to. It’s up to Batman, then, to discover the truth of the place and shut it down from within.

Batman: Arkham City Joker Harley

Some of Batman: Arkham City’s greatest delights are served up with the introduction of different narrative arcs involving the myriad of characters from DC Comics’ prize Batman universe, and while saying just who you’ll meet during the adventure would spoil the surprises (and even the story), casual and hardcore Batman fans alike will squeal (and even ‘squee’) at the sight and sound of guest appearances, hints at Batman lore and major presences of well-known personalities – the twists and turns in this game are excellently handled and presented.

Another character inherent to the game is Arkham City itself. Not since Bioshock has a game world played such an important role in setting a tone and developer Rocksteady has done an amazing job of bringing the city to life with intricate detail, dingy clutter and eye-catching motion. Bright and colourful fluorescent lights blink and shine like beacons against a gloomy backdrop of filthy city streets, dangerous alleyways, lofty buildings and murky search beams, while landmarks dotted around the open world provide the city with its signature, familiar ‘face.’

Batman: Arkham City Screenshot 1

An extra extremely significant dimension of the world’s character is presented with the music of Batman: Arkham City, and the weight that this aspect of the game carries and the part that it plays in setting the atmosphere can’t be stressed enough. Rumbling brass compositions are tempered with solemn strings and orchestral voices, while potent jungle drum-like elements add to the pace and urgency of the story, all combining together to form a character of its own. If you’re feeling triumphant, nervous, tense or relaxed, you can be sure that the music of Arkham City has played a big role in moulding your mood.

Arkham City invites you to explore every crevice of its world, with all kinds of activities to partake in and conversations to eavesdrop on. Similar to open-world games like Assasin’s Creed and inFamous, Batman: Arkham City is adept at luring you into extra side missions and heroic deeds, and you’ll easily lose hours of game time to popping balloons, completing augmented reality missions, answering telephones, saving lives, hunting down psychopaths, puzzling over Riddler trophy unlocks and more.

Batman: Arkham City Screenshot 1

Luckily, all of the discrete side missions can be located on your map and you can choose to dive into them whenever you choose, and best of all, they all contribute to the betterment of Batman’s abilities, which is important if you’re to survive in the hostile environs of Arkham City in the middle of a deadly turf war between The Joker, The Penguin and Two Face. It’s well worth it, then, to seek out these extra challenges and complete them to make Batman a more effective fighting machine.

We all know that Batman can effortlessly hold his own in a fight, even when tasked with putting down a dozen enemies at the same time, and the same holds true in Arkham City thanks to Rocksteady’s refined fighting system. Even when Batman is surrounded by thugs, he can wade through them with ease using flurries of bone-crunching punches, kicks, ground slams, throws, sweeps, aerial and stun attacks… and combinations of each, all of which is governed by the use of only two to four controller buttons.

Batman: Arkham City Screenshot 2

Hand-to-hand combat in the game is always (always) satisfying and plays out like an expertly choreographed movie as you’re able to juggle multiple enemies at once. The animation system flows seamlessly from one action to the other, too, allowing you to transition from a fast-paced beat down to dodging and catching an incoming attack at the last split-second, before turning that into an extra opportunity to wreck a few enemy limbs. Crunching sound effects play their part here, too, leaving you to grimace in awe at the power and brutality of the ferocious battles.

Batman doesn’t rely solely on his feet and fists to deliver justice (i.e. ruin fools) and right from the get-go you’ll have access to gadgets like The Batarang (to throw at enemies), the Bat Claw (to grab things out of reach), the zipline (to quickly travel great heights and distances) and a trusty gliding ability (which enables you to fly over the expanse of the city). By the end of the game, however, these options open up to include smoke pellets, hacking tools, ice bombs and others, most of which are linearly upgradeable to increase their effectiveness and usefulness. The Bat Claw, for example, can be augmented to grab weapons out of an enemy’s hands, while the zipline can additionally be used to launch you further into the air – very useful!

Batman: Arkham City Screenshot 4

I was constantly impressed by Batman: Arkham City’s ability to increase its provided challenges just within my comfort zone while simultaneously teaching me additional abilities and combat options. When I was able to obliterate six goons in one go, the game threw a dozen more at me. When I was used to the flow of combat against unarmed foes, the game introduced guns, shields and armour. When I had mastered the art of concealing myself in the shadows, enemies switched up their approaches. Most every combat encounter is a test of patience, concentration and mastery of your abilities and gadgets, and consistently pushes you to do better than before, which is in my mind one of the masterstrokes of Batman: Arkham City.

One of the other chief achievements of the game is its ideal pacing, and except for one extended section, the variety of available missions and activities keeps the experience fresh right until the very end, moving from tense hostage situations and rooftop chases to short investigation stints and full indoor missions, which are all very different to time spent gliding over the streets of Arkham City where the world is seemingly your oyster – zipping from point to point before soaring above rooftops and water towers is a sublime affair, which leads directly to opportunities to plummet to the ground and crack the skulls of ne’er-do-wells.

Batman: Arkham City Screenshot 2

Rocksteady has also addressed a major complaint aimed at Batman: Arkham Asylum by injecting a healthy amount of diversity into the boss battles of Arkham City, and instead of battling gigantic bruisers to cap off a series of events, you’ll be facing off against enemies who provide varying levels of cerebral challenge, but to say any more than that would once again spoil the surprise.

One thing that Rocksteady hasn’t improved over Arkham Asylum is the use of the ‘Detective Mode,’ which bathes the world in a blue hue and highlights items of interest (as well as enemies and secrets) in the environment. While Arkham City is visually very impressive, it usually behooves you to use Detective Mode to get the jump on enemies and find the next doorway, so I was constantly switching between this and the regular viewing mode to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, which can get a little annoying and diffuses any opportunities to enjoy the graphical detail of the game to the full.

Batman: Arkham City Screenshot 15

Batman: Arkham City is a massive and important accomplishment for the third-person action adventure genre, and videogames in general, with its ‘page-turning’ story, vast and impressive world, rich music, expert pacing, highly satisfying, enjoyable and challenging gameplay, as well as the game’s spectacular presentation… and I haven’t even mentioned the extra challenge missions, Catwoman quests, or the host of unlockable features, nor have I discussed the dozens of little touches (like Batman’s degrading combat suit, the awesome voice acting and the Batman-induced terror instilled in enemies), which demonstrates just how much there is to do, discover and engross yourself with in Batman: Arkham City.

Rocksteady Studios has followed up the outstanding Batman: Arkham Asylum in fine fashion and upped the ante with a game of blockbuster proportions. It’s not a question of if you’ll play Batman: Arkham City, but when. As for me, I’ll be dipping back in with the ‘New Game Plus’ mode very shortly, so if you’ll excuse me…