Back in 2009 Rocksteady Studios surprised the world, as they created the perfect video game interpretation of DC’s Dark Knight, setting a whole new standard for superhero titles. With this in mind, It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the same studio has now set an even higher standard, as Batman Arkham City makes its way to consoles. Game of the year? I think so.
Several months have passed since Batman’s last show down with The Joker, an event that unfortunately left Gotham City somewhat defenseless without the protection of its precious prison island. Fortunately for Gotham (or not), Arkham Asylum’s good old warden, Quincy Sharp, was ready for this day with a bit of a relocation in mind, which brings us to the sequels villain rich setting. Arkham City itself is a cordoned off area within Gotham City that houses all of the cities low-lives and thugs. The area is pretty much controlled by Hugo Strange, a deranged Doctor who unfortunately for Batman knows he’s actually Bruce Wayne, something you learn in the games opening moments as you are instantly put in control of the billionaire himself, immediately shaking things up, as Rocksteady provide an extra dimension to the Caped Crusader.
Perhaps the most obvious change in Arkham City is its massively upscaled environment, offering countless missions and challenges for players to sink their fists into. You gain near enough total access to the city and its buildings from the moment Bruce Wayne Bat Suit’s up, allowing you to freely switch between story and side missions as you please. This comes as the game moves away from Arkham Asylum’s linear gameplay style, providing enough freedom to keep you immersed for hours at a time.
Immersion is one thing Rocksteady have handled superbly, combining detailed environments, sleek character models and a spectacular soundtrack to create an all-round immersive experience that’s easy to get lost in. It’s the games general flow that makes it so immersive, as gameplay and cutscenes intertwine fluidly with one another creating an unbroken experience that will soon see you disregard the concepts of time!
Combat is perhaps the most defined part of the Arkham City’s experience, truly bringing DC’s Caped Crusader to life. The combat system itself draws a lot from Arkham, as the core punches, kicks and counter attacks remain. If anything it’s the combat system that made Asylum so enjoyable, so it was great to see the core functionality in place. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a sequel if everything was the same and Rocksteady have gone all out to ensure their additions don’t spoil this system, brining in a range of new combos and intuitive gadget attacks that provide an extremely varied combat experience.
The great thing about combat in Arkham City is that it encourages you to play well, and I’m not just talking about racking up your combo score. There’s a sort of flow to the combat that can only be achieved when you vary up your moves. Sure! You can stand around punching and countering, but you won’t benefit from the smooth, almost cinematic flow that is provided as you mix up gadgets with punches and counters.
Stealth is another area that you could say Rocksteady had already perfected in Asylum, but that clearly hasn’t stopped them taking things to the next level. Stealth rooms really add an challenge to the game, as they move away from the brawling fist fights you frequently encounter. There is a decent range of stealth specific moves available in the game, each making prime use of the environment around you and gadgets at your disposal, giving you complete freedom as to how you take down the bad guys!
Gadgets are one of the things that define Batman. He’s a superhero, but has no powers, instead making optimum use of his brains and billionaire armory of advanced tech. Arkham City stays true to this definition as it provides the Dark Knight with a varied set of high-tech gismos, allowing you to advance through all sorts of situations. Various variations of the Batarang, along with other innovative treats like gun-jamming devices, shake up the game, adding a little extra to the way you plan out your attacks. The game also accommodates for everyone that has already completed Arkham Asylum, as it makes most of the gadgets you unlocked on the island available from the start. Who needs planes when you have a remote control Batarang!?! In fact.. Who needs a plane when you have Batman’s cape?! Rocksteady definitely weren’t lying when they said that thing was better than a vehicle!
After completing the main story, Arkham City treats you to its ‘New Game Plus’ feature, allowing you to play through the game with all gadgets and upgrades you unlocked on your first play through. This is also where you get to don some of those awesome pre-order skins you might have in your possession, adding a little bit of flavor to your play through. A word of warning should go with this mode, as it seems to only post one difficulty level. Hard. So if you go through on easy, you’ll be in for a bit of a surprise!
Players can also don their alternative outfits when playing through the games challenge maps. Challenge maps are the way to go if you have a thing for high-scores and competing with your friends. Each challenge map comes with a series of rewards, presented to players who reach certain scores within the maps. In order to reach the highest score and bag the Riddler medallions, players will need to pull off some smooth fighting moves, flowing punch to punch with counters, building up a precious combo multiplier.
Rocksteady have done it again. Arkham City is without a doubt the best superhero game to date. You could even go as far as saying it’s the best game this year! Everything from the games vast city environment, to its fine attention for detail, create an immersive experience that players will struggle to break free from. It goes without saying that Rocksteady’s superb pre-launch campaign has ended without disappointment. Game of the year? I really think so.