The Batman franchise has seen its ups and downs over the years; from Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin and a slew of subpar comic and movie-licensed PS2 games, to The Dark Knight and “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” In a time where Batman is seeing much success in every facet, “Batman: Arkham City” has a lot to live up to.
The events of “Batman: Arkham City” take place six months after the close of “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” The most notorious criminals are now housed in the much larger Arkham City—a prison complex five times larger than the now defunct Arkham Island. The creators have done a good job of including some old favorites from the last game (Riddler, Bane, Harley Quinn), while focusing on a slew of other characters that had yet to be featured in the Arkham universe (Two-Face, Penguin, etc.). We also have Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles at Batman/Bruce Wayne and Joker, respectively. As with its precursor, Arkham City oozes authenticity with these extra touches, and constantly nods and winks to fans of the comics and animated series alike.
Gameplay is not a far stretch from the critically acclaimed “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” Batman’s arsenal has been upgraded in some capacities, and downgraded in others. For example, new gadgets, like the Remote Electric Charge, which fires bursts of electricity, and the smoke pellet make their way into Batman’s bag of tricks. However, past favorites like the triple batclaw didn’t make it off of Arkham Island. In the grand scheme of things, Batman receives more item upgrades than downgrades, and with them come more puzzle opportunities that require more skill and thought than ever before. A prime example is the extensive use of the remote batclaw; while it was more of an option in the first game, it is now a necessity for solving puzzles that allow Batman access into new areas that he wouldn’t be able to enter otherwise. If a puzzle seems unsolvable, whip out the remote batclaw.
The combat system is nearly identical to its precursor, but it’s simply a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Arkham combat system has always been unique in that you don’t control each bodily movement, but rather just press one button for “attack,” one for “dodge,” one for “stun,” and one for “counter.” Its simplicity is oddly gratifying, and gives the gameplay a smooth flow during combat sequences. There are, of course, special moves that are unlocked through experience points. The player can then purchase these upgrades from “Wayne-Tech,” your one-stop-shop for all your combat and weaponry needs. It should also be mentioned that the vast overworld and armies of thugs appear with no lag, or loading times at all. Being able to take down a room full of Joker’s clowns or seamlessly glide across miles of rooftops are truly experiences worthy of the Batman name.
I remember a time where playing a game would unlock special bonuses for the player, be it costumes, characters, or just a special cutscene. These days, as is the case with Arkham City, these bonuses are bought—not earned. It has been revealed that Batman will have six alternative costumes to wear during the game; but you won’t find them in the game. You won’t even find them if you beat the game. That is because these costumes—unless you received one during a pre-order promotion—are downloadable content (DLC) that can only be purchased through the Playstation Store or XBOX Live Marketplace at a later date. Oh but don’t worry, beating the game allows you to wear these costumes in story mode. So you could purchase these costumes and still have to beat the game in order to use the content you just paid for (Challenge modes excluded). Sadly, this is the direction games have taken as we round the second decade of the 21st century.
At least the game publishers had the common courtesy to include Catwoman as a playable character right out of the box…with a redeeming code. Good news for first purchasers; bad news for used-game customers. But never fear, you can purchase Catwoman for your used copy on the Playstation Store/XBOX Live Marketplace for the low price of $9.99. With used games not exactly offering a huge discount, it might actually be cheaper to buy the game new with the Catwoman DLC code included. There’s another drawback to the age of out-of-the-box DLC. I received my copy of Arkham City with redeem codes for Catwoman and the Robin DLC packs. I had to wait an hour to download and install both packs from the PSN Store, before I started the game. Now, I know that I could have started the game without these characters, but I’m always one to lose redeem codes if I don’t use them right away. It just seems like a lot of extra work for something they very well could have included in the game from the get go.
Among the other DLC packs are Robin (if you didn’t get the pre-order bonus) and Nightwing character packs. These include the characters for use in Challenge mode, a Batman: The Animated Series character skin, and two unique challenge maps. These will cost in the neighborhood of $6.99 each. You know, I’m all for add-on content, but there’s something a little foul-tasting about dropping $59.99 on a game, and then another $20 for extra characters and maps, when you don’t get anything for beating the game (well ok, you get New Game+, but you know what I mean).
As previously stated, beating the game unlocks the New Game+ feature. This allows you to play through the story again, but with all of the upgrades from your first go-around. Enemies are also a lot tougher; there is no indicator when an enemy is about to strike, so it makes countering these moves much more difficult. Think of this as the “Very Hard,” or “Extreme” difficulty setting. It's a nice new incentive for players to replay the game for more of a challenge.
The bottom line is this: Is "Batman: Arkham City" a worthy successor to “Batman: Arkham Asylum”? Absolutely. Is it worth your hard-earned cash? You bet it is. Is it worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $80-$90 for the game and all of the bells and whistles? Not quite. This is a grand adventure worthy of any Batman fan, but your wallet might not make it out of Arkham City alive.
The Good: Fantastic storyline picks up right where Arkham Asylum left off. A multitude of new characters make for a fan’s dream, with voice-acting to match. The Bad: Like its precursor, feels a little short in length in the story mode department. The fans want more! The Ugly: $6.99 for a skin and two maps? And there are HOW MANY packs? You know I already spent $60 on this, right?