When Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009 they seemingly did the impossible. They managed to not only create a decent Batman title, but one that thrived in an industry extremely skeptical about comic book tie-ins. Does Rocksteady create the ultimate Batman experience in the highly anticipated sequel Batman: Arkham City? Hit the break to view our verdict.
Batman: Arkham City starts off almost immediately after the events of its predecessor. Quincy Sharp, the former Warden of Arkham Asylum, now runs Gotham City and has essentially moved the inmates of Blackwater and Arkham Asylum into a designated zone called “Arkham City”, which is managed by Hugo Strange. What impressed me is just how well crafted the entire story is. There’s a strong cast of new and returning characters, and strong twists that really grab the player.
Rocksteady also made an extremely wise decision not to return to Arkham Asylum. That might seem like a no-brainer; however it’s often an overlooked thing, especially in sequels. We all know how Bioshock 2 turned out. Not only did a location change keep things fresh, but it put the emphasis on the characters rather than the environment. Without spoiling to much, Arkham City’s opening and ending sequences easily trump Arkham Asylum’s and stay with the player far after the credits. The characters and story is ultimately what ascends Arkham City to one of the best titles of 2011.
From a gameplay standpoint the most core elements from Arkham Asylum have been refined and polished. Some of the clumsiness with character movement is still apparent, but by and large the improvements are quite noticeable. For instance the combat is even more streamlined, and offers much more choice in relation to counter attacks and other combat options. It’s good to see that simplicity of the combat system wasn’t lost in the sequel, because frankly any gamer can jump right into it; which is a rarity these days. The stealth option on the other hand didn’t see as many tweaks I would have liked.
While the variety of locations these stealth sequences occur in has been increased; there just really isn’t a whole lot of variety. Aside from the wide open locations across the city, the exact same approach to stealth has been used. The issue with this is that the combat offers more variety then the stealth and often makes things feel loop-sided. It would have been nice to see Rocksteady take a bit more risks when it comes to the stealth. There’s a huge location to utilize virtually limitless ideas, take advantage of that.
Batman: Arkham City isn’t as big as some open-world titles, and often feels like a hub of sorts, however it’s packed full of side-quests, lore, and hundreds of Riddler trophies. I’m a huge advocate of this approach, because there’s always something interesting lurking around the corner. Most open-world titles have huge sprawling areas and not nearly enough content to support them. This isn’t the case with Batman: Arkham City. Players are unable to enter each building, though the ones that you can enter are usually tied to significant plot arcs or side-quests. It’s difficult to argue that there’s a dull moment, because Rocksteady has done a fantastic job of recreating everything for both fans of the comics and gamers to enjoy.
One of my biggest grievances with Arkham City is that it does cling onto some of the gameplay elements that were present in Arkham Asylum. Some of the sections (without spoiling them) are just not very different from the Scarecrow ones that were in Arkham Asylum. At the time those were extremely unique, and Rocksteady often leans towards more serious and shocking plot developments rather than the more reality bending ones in the original.
Items such as challenge rooms make a reappearance and are a great way to challenge friends on the leaderboards. Ultimately though this is padding to what is really a very good experience. People who purchase the title new will also have access to Catwomen, who has her own set of unique combat and stealth moves.
Creating sequels is tricky business; however Rocksteady has by far made the most complete title of 2011. The story, voice-acting, sound design, and gameplay all come together to create one of the most entertaining and memorable experiences of this generation. Batman: Arkham City is far from perfect, however it is among the elite releases of 2011.
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