In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’m dedicating every Wednesday of September to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.
Released: 18 October 2011
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X
Batman quickly became a successful and dynamic character after his 1939 debut in DC Comics; over the years, the character’s world and mythos has grown considerably to include numerous spin-off comics and adaptations into not just cartoons and movies but also videogames. While Batman has fared rather well in that department, it can’t be denied that there were a few stinkers as well before Eidos Interactive acquired the rights to make a Batman game and brought in both Rocksteady Studios and celebrated Batman scribe writer Paul Dini to create the critically and commercially successful Batman: Arkham Asylum (ibid, 2009) at a time when the character was hot off a resurgence thanks to the recent success of The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008).
Development of a sequel began work before Arkham Asylum had even been completed; despite apprehensions about system limitations, Rocksteady had big ideas for the sequel, which would move away from the claustrophobic trappings of Arkham Island and into more open world territory. Having learned from their mistakes and feedback from the first game, the developers greatly expanded Batman’s arsenal, animations, and gadgets to make him a more capable character and significantly expanded the range of exploration and side missions available to players in the much-larger game world. All of that hard work paid off as Arkham City became one of the fastest selling videogames in history. Critically, the response was universally positive; critics lauded the voice acting and additional features and the high quality of the game’s mechanics and content. The game was so successful that it was released in multiple editions with access to different downloadable content (DLC) and won numerous awards for the sheer expansiveness of its included, and additional, content.
Some time after the events of Arkham Asylum, the city’s criminals and maniacs have been locked up inside a walled off section of Gotham City known as Arkham City, from which there is no escape and both supervillains and TYGER mercenaries under the command of Doctor Hugo Strange enforce martial law. Infiltrating the prison to investigate Strange’s unlawful incarceration of those who spoke out against him, the odds against Batman increase when the Joker shows up, apparently dying from TITAN poisoning, and infects Batman with his blood, forcing him to delve into the city’s underworld to find a cure.
Like its predecessor, Batman: Arkham City is a third-person, action/adventure game but, this time, you’re prowling the streets and rooftops of “Old Gotham”, a dilapidated and rundown area of Gotham that has been encased in high perimeter walls sporting gun turrets to house the city’s undesirables. Arkham City’s game world is five times the size of the one seen in Arkham Asylum and features even more recognisable landmarks from Batman’s famous city and areas to explore, as well as an endless supply of inmates and lowlifes to get your fists on. One of the best things about Arkham City is how the control scheme and core mechanics remain exactly as in the first game, just expanded considerably. Once again, Batman’s main method of traversal is his operatic cape and grapnel gun, which can now be used in conjunction and upgraded to allow him to effortlessly zip across the city. You can also dive bomb while gliding to take out enemies or pull up and gain additional height and length on your glide, allowing you to traverse the city prison in no time at all.
This more than makes up for Batman’s continued inability to jump and allows him to easily dart out of danger when spotted; Batman can still crouch with the Right Trigger and toss a quick Batarang with the Left Trigger, but now he can also quick-fire other gadgets, which is incredibly useful in combat and for solving the myriad of brain-teasing puzzles scattered around the city by Edward Nashton/Edward Nygma/The Riddler. The “freeflow combat” mechanic of the previous game returns intact but greatly expanded thanks to the addition of more attack animations and combos; X allows you to strike in quick succession while a well-timed press of Y (indicated when the “counter” indicator appears) will allow you to block and counter incoming attacks and rack up a bigger and more fluid combo. The higher your combo, the more damage you’ll deal and the more dynamic the perfectly-placed fight camera will move to allow you to lunge at other enemies before they can land a blow. Since the streets are crawling with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of thugs this time around, there are far more opportunities to sneak up on them and perform a “Silent Takedown”, but this time you can perform a “Knockout Smash” (though this will attract nearby enemies) and you can even perform takedowns from floor grates, double or even triple counters and takedowns when in combat, attack parts of the environment (like fire extinguishers and electrical boxes) to disorientate or disarm opponents, and even slam inmates into walls or dangle them over ledges during combat or interrogations.
Also returning is the stealth-based “Predator” mechanic; in addition to sneaking up on enemies, Batman can grapple up to stone gargoyles and other high ledges to review rooms of armed thugs using the x-ray and thermal vision offered by his “Detective Mode”. A simple press of the Left Bumper and you’ll be able to see enemies by their body heat, their current condition, and any interactable parts of the environment. Batman’s new array of gadgets (easily accessed using the directional pad) can also be used in new ways to lure enemies into traps or take them down and, while traversing the city, you’ll need to make liberal use of these (and Batman’s new smoke pellets) to dart away from gunfire and dispatch gun-toting enemies. Again, Batman is tough but can’t take sustained gunfire or explosions; however, his health will replenish after you clear out all nearby enemies, solve riddles, or find the many Riddler Trophies. These same criteria will earn you experience points (XP) to improve Batman’s armour, abilities, and weaponry once more but the game definitely mixes things up by having enemies be able to jam your Detective Vision and electronics and lay traps of their own.
If you thought Arkham Asylum had a lot of riddles and Riddler Trophies, then Arkham City will blow your mind! The Riddler has placed his trophies not just out in the open but hidden behind walls, in cages, and a myriad of pressure pads and context-sensitive puzzles that will require all of Batman’s skills and gadgets to acquire. Similarly, there are riddles to find across the city and you can solve them by tapped LB to scan the environment when you spot glowing green question marks or the answer to the riddle. This time, there are also far more destructible elements to snag you some XP; the chattering Joker teeth return but you’ll also be destroying TYGER security cameras, balloons, and massive bobbleheads of Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn, which all adds to the fun, as well as more opportunities to use your gadgets to open vents or shut off steam from pipes. The map screen returns, far more expansive and user friendly (as are all of the menus) than before; you can now set waypoints to your next mission or any other location on the map and a very useful onscreen compass and Bat-Signal will direct you towards your location with a minimum of fuss. Take note, though, that these features are suppressed when you have Detective Mode activated but, again, there are some opportunities to track targets using this vision mode.
Like the first game, Batman: Arkham City gets progressively difficult as you play but this is expanded upon greatly. You might come across a gang of Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s minions and engage them in combat, only for more and more nearby inmates to hear the fight and join in, for one thing. These enemies will, eventually, repopulate areas after you’ve cleared them out so you constantly have to be aware of enemies on the streets and rooftops and, like in the last game, enemies will increase in their aggressiveness and capabilities as you progress through the story. Also, like before, you can select different difficulty levels to play the game on from the start, with “Hard” mode including counter indicators this time but increasing the damage enemies will put out, but there are no Achievements tied to playing on Hard mode so you may as well play on “Easy” or “Normal” since “New Game Plus” offers an even tougher challenge than the game’s Hard mode. Where Arkham City excels, though, is in its sheer size; Arkham City is full of buildings to enter, Easter Eggs and references, riddles to solve, and side quests to keep you busy. For a returning player like me, it’s really easy to get distracted with side quests on your way to the main story objective and you can keep track of all outstanding missions from the main menu. From here, you can also view stories and character biographies, review Batman’s moves and abilities (and even view a tutorial if you need a refresher), and check up on any outstanding riddles and such. In fact, the only real downside to Arkham City is, again, the inability to quickly exit an area, which can be particularly bothersome when deep in the bowels of the city subway or the forgotten steampunk city, Wonder City, as it can still be a tad laborious to find your way back out sometimes.
Graphics and Sound:
Batman: Arkham Asylum managed to hold up impressively well over time and Arkham City holds up even better; it was already a big step up in terms of graphical quality and visual presentation so it’s only natural that it’s aged even better. As before, it’s a very dark game and takes place in one night so you might be relying on your Detective Vision or brightness settings to navigate in some areas but, thanks to many of the game’s locations taking place in indoor, more suburban (if equally dilapidated) areas, there are far more opportunities to bask in the impressive art direction of the game. Arkham City is split into different regions, with each one being primarily controlled by gangs of thugs affiliated with a different supervillain (Oswald Cobblepott/The Penguin, Two-Face, and the Joker) and having a distinctive feel to them.
Because the game takes place within a walled off cityscape, it must be said that it’s not immediately as visually distinctive compared to its predecessor as you’re surrounded by skyscrapers but I can forgive this as there are far more opportunities to see and explore the wider mythos of Batman’s world. You’ll stumble across Crime Alley, explore the remains of the old Gotham City Police Department (complete with Bat-Signal on the roof), fight through the museum and into the Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge, and take on the Joker’s gang at the dilapidated remains of the Sionis steel mill over on Amusement Mile. Similar to Arkham Island (which you can still see lingering in the misty distance), the city prison is a rundown, desolate place full of graffiti, burned out cars, litter, and chaos and there’s a real sense that the dogs have been literally let loose within its high walls and have turned the city into a veritable war zone. As you might expect, there are some more intricate and elaborate areas of the city, too. You can venture down into the abandoned subway and, of course, navigate through some stony catacombs and sewers beneath the city but, luckily, the game is far bigger and makes much better use of these environments when it comes to utilising Batman’s abilities so there’s far less awkward jumping and climbing and much more emphasis on the Line Launcher and grapnel boost, though you will need to get used to the new dive bomb mechanic in order to swoop in through some tight areas and get 100% completion.
Things definitely start to take a more visually interesting turn once you venture into the abandoned Wonder City, a town populated by deactivated robots and lost to the midst of times, and scale Wonder Tower to confront Hugo Strange. Sadly, there aren’t the same dynamic sections as those involving Doctor Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow from the last game but Arkham City does go to some lengths to recreate these sections when the plot demands that Batman suffer the effects of his poisoning. Later, during a side quest involving Jervis Tetch/The Mad Hatter, you’ll experience a much more similar, twisted nightmare world but the game does include far more elaborate and layered areas to explore that change as the story progresses. The GCPD will freeze over because of Doctor Victor Fries/Mister Freeze, the steel mill needs to be cooled down and then you have to enter through a different entrance that involves navigating past giant machinery and drills, Julian Day/Calendar Man is imprisoned beneath the courthouse, and the museum contains a gigantic frozen pool with a very large and unfriendly denizen awaiting you.
Thanks to the diversity in the game’s inmates, enemies have a lot more visual variety this time around as they wear different colourings and outfits. There is also a lot more chatter as Batman picks up on his enemy’s radio signals and broadcasts, with both Joker and villains like Penguin taunting you and issuing commands to their underlings. Batman’s suit, while visually very similar to the last one, still takes on battle damage as the story progresses and, as you’d expect, both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill knock it out of the park with their stellar work as Batman and Joker, respectively. Like before, Batman stops to converse with Barbara Gordon/Oracle but he also talks with his faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth, who sends additional equipment and offers council. The game also features far more references to Batman’s cast of characters and the wider DC universe and there’s even a much-appreciated cameo from a really well-designed version of Tim Drake/Robin for good measure. Cutscenes still make liberal use of the in-game graphics, which are even closer to the higher quality cinematics, and you’ll now see a helpful little recap of the story and your current outstanding missions when reloading a save.
Enemies and Bosses:
With Arkham Asylum gone, its inmates and the rest of Gotham’s criminals have been tossed into Arkham City instead; for the most part, the bulk of the game’s enemies are the same scumbags you fought in the last game but in different clothing and with more jeers to throw your way. Inmates will throw punches, grab weapons, toss items at you, and attack with both knives, guns, grenades (in a new twist), electrical batons, and will even pick up car doors to use as shields and ram you. Eventually, you’ll also have to contend with snipers, enemies wearing collars that will attract their allies when they’re downed, enemies that can jam your technology, ones that take hostages, and thugs will even use thermal vision to spot you and start destroying the ledges you’re hiding on if you linger too long or fail to stay hidden. While the crazed lunatics from the last game are gone, the TITAN monsters make a return and some inmates with be decked out in protective armour. A simple Batarang to the face is no longer enough to dispatch these goons; this time, you must use three cape swipes to stun them and mash X to beat them into submission while also countering incoming attacks. You’ll also have to contend with the one-armed Abramovici twins a number of times; these big bastards swing huge sledgehammers or scythes and must be blasted with a bolt from Batman’s Remote Electrical Charge gun to inflict damage on nearby enemies and pummelled with your attacks as they can’t be stunned so you have to strike, hop over to avoid their swings, and strike again to defeat them.
Arkham City is populated by a number of Batman’s most notorious rogues, basically all of them being new additions to the roster of bosses. The first you’ll encounter is Two-Face, who has taken over the courthouse and held Selina Kyle/Catwoman hostage. This is more of a tutorial for the basics of combat and Dent is dispatched by Catwoman in a cutscene rather than in an actual boss fight, and the following encounter with the Penguin is quite similar. This is basically the culmination of a side mission that sees you rescuing frozen police officers, freeing Mr. Freeze, and acquiring tech from his suit to deactivate his freezing gun (which the Penguin is using to keep you at bay). In fact, the first real physical challenge you have (aside from gladiatorial bouts against swarms of inmates or fights against one of the Abramovici twins) follows this encounter with the Penguin, which sees you facing off against the hulking zombie Solomon Grundy. You fight Grundy in a kind of gothic laboratory and must use your quick-fire explosive gel to close up three holes on the floor that regenerate Grundy’s health with lightning (while dodging said lightning) and allow you to put a beating on Grundy. This continues into the next phase, where Grundy tries to crush you with leaping attacks and two giant wrecking balls and sends weird little mice-things scuttling towards you. The third phase is more of the same but Grundy has one arm trapped in a machine; this time, the floor holes open sporadically for even shorter bursts and you need to avoid the shockwaves Grundy produces. Once he’s finally defeated, you have to dodge out of the way of the Penguin’s missile to punch him out once and for all, all of which is more interesting and engaging than the final boss of the last game.
The next main story boss you’ll battle is Rā’s al Ghūl but, before this, you must first track down one of his ninja assassins by her blood trail, get past more of them in Wonder City (they can dodge your strikes and teleport in puffs of smoke before attacking with sword swipes), and endure the “Demon Trials” (gliding sections through a twisted hellscape where you can’t touch anything but the highlighted areas). You’ll face Rā’s in a desert that is part delusion, part reality, and have to take out hoards of sand men while he dashes at you from out of nowhere. Once you get past them, you must dodge the shurikens and blades he sends your way while blasting at him through his human shield with your Disruptor, and then mash Y to counter his attacks. The speed and aggressiveness of his attacks increases as the fight goes on but the final blow comes down to a well-timed toss of the reverse Batarang and Rā’ later meets a very gruesome end for his part in the game’s events. Next, you’ll have to take on easily the most intricate and complex boss of the game (or most games, for that matter) as Mr. Freeze betrays you and forces you into a confrontation. Depending on the difficulty you’re playing on, you may be forced to use every single one of Batman’s gadgets and abilities to deal damage and leave him vulnerable for a beatdown as Mr. Freeze learns and adapts his strategy as the fight progresses. Mr. Freeze will plod around the laboratory searching for you and sending heat-seeking globes to seek you out; you can use Batman’s glide attack, takedowns, and gadgets (like the explosive gel and Remote Electrical Charge gun) to deal damage but he’ll take action to ensure that you can’t do this twice (he freezes the ledges, grapple points, and vents, destroys parts of the environment, erects a shield, among other defensive measures), which forces you to think on your feet and explore options you might not normally use.
In the game’s finale, Strange activates the mysterious “Protocol 10” and commences a strategic bombardment of Arkham City; this briefly forces you to hack into circling helicopters in order to get inside of Wonder Tower and shut Strange down but, after you do, you’re forced into a confrontation with the Joker, who seems revitalised and has taken Talia al Ghūl hostage. Earlier in the game, you actually fight the Joker in his base form while his goons and out of control dodgem cars fill the arena but, when you confront him at the end, it’s revealed to have been Basil Karlo/Clayface in disguise; thus, the finale is, again, a battle against a hulking enemy. This time, you have to dodge Clayface’s cannonball attack and swinging arms while repeatedly spamming Freeze Blasts to whittle his health down. In the second phase, you grab a sword and slice up the mud men he spawns while repeating these tactics and avoiding his big sledgehammer shot in order to take him down. In between each of these main mission boss fights, you’ll come across a number of side missions that will draw you into confrontations with more of Batman’s rogues gallery: Floyd Lawton/Deadshot has been killing targets all over the city but Batman eventually tracks him down and must sneak past his one-shot rifle-arm to take him down; Victor Zsasz/Mister Zsasz has been killing people by luring them to ringing phones so Batman has to listen to his macabre life story to triangulate his location and then sneak around him in a partially flooded area to rescue his hostages; the Mad Hatter abducts you and forces you to battle waves of demonic rabbits; and the Riddler has also taken five hostages and placed them in Saw (Wan, 2004)-like traps. These hostages can only be saved by finding the Riddler’s Trophies, solving riddles, and interrogating his informants (highlighted in green) to gain access to his “Enigma Device” and locate each one in turn using the Cryptographic Sequencer.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As before, Arkham City features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, solve riddles, or pick up Riddler Trophies and destroy cameras and such, you’ll gain XP. Upon levelling-up, you can again upgrade Batman’s armour (now separated into one that improves damage from melee attacks and one from gunfire) to gain additional health, add more elaborate takedowns to his repertoire (including a swarm of disorientating bats, bone-breaking takedowns, and weapon disarmaments), and upgrade his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. Again, it’s pretty easy to fully upgrade all of Batman’s abilities if you engage with enemies and search out riddles on a regular basis, and it’s best to mix and match your upgrades for a balanced playthrough but you can choose to focus on making Batman more durable if you so wish.
Batman begins the game with many of the gadgets he had at the end of the last one, making him far more equipped for the rigours of Arkham City; many of his weapons, such as the grapnel gun and explosive gel, can now be used as quick-fire attacks to mix up your combos to allow for more diverse combat. Although Batman can no longer rip down walls with his grapnel gun, the Line Launcher can be upgraded to fire a second line and allow Batman to walk along it like a tightrope and he also has access to some new toys. The smoke pellets allow him to disorientate enemies and make an escape if needed, the Remote Electrical Charge gun allows him to power up electrical appliances, the Disruptor deactivates mines and renders up to two enemy guns useless, and the Freeze Blast (and upgraded Freeze Cluster) can plug up steam pipes and form ice floats on bodies or water to allow Batman to float around by grappling onto conveniently-placed hooks around the environment.
Batman: Arkham City has fifty Achievements to earn, with the bulk of these popping simply by playing through the story, meeting certain objectives, and defeating bosses. One has you fiddling with the Xbox’s internal date and time in order to hear Calendar Man ’s chilling acts while most of the others are tied specifically towards starting or completing the game’s many side missions rather than solving or finding riddles (although this is a factor since you need to do this to rescue the Riddler’s hostages). No matter what difficulty you complete the game on, you’ll unlock a New Game Plus mode that offers and additional difficult challenge, mixes up the enemy placements, allows you to play the story with any additional DLC costumes, and carries over all of your gadgets and upgrades to a new game file. You’ll also be able to return to your original save file in a post-game world where the inmates will comment on the dramatic conclusion of the game and be freely able to switch to Catwoman at certain points on the map.
This is super useful if you have any outstanding side missions to complete; not only are there some diving simulations to complete and a bunch of Riddler challenges tied to performing combat and gameplay manoeuvres, there are many other mysteries and villains out there to confront, such as tracking down Thomas Elliot/Hush (who has been mutilating victims to impersonate Bruce Wayne), figuring out the motives of the mysterious Michael Lane/Azrael, saving a number of political prisoners from random acts of violence, locating and reunited Nora Fries’ cryogenically frozen body with Mr. Freeze, and destroying TITAN containers in a fragile alliance with Bane. Additionally, there are way more Riddler Trophies hidden throughout Arkham City, many of which require precision gliding, pressing pressure pads, and using a variety of Batman’s gadgets to pick them up. Catwoman also has her own Riddler Trophies to pick up and, while there are no audio tapes to find this time, you can still unlock biographies, news stories, and audio clips by solving and finding riddles. As before, the game features a Challenge Mode, now rebranded as “Riddler’s Revenge”, which allows you to take on self-contained combat and predator challenges based on encounters in the game. You’ll battle a few waves of increasingly difficult enemies and rack up points by sustaining and varying your combos and pick off goons from the shadows while handicapped by a number of modifiers (such as disabling your Detective Mode, shielding enemies from damage, or having reduced health).
There is also a new series of “Campaign” maps that mix up the two challenges to present a sort of adjacent side story to the main game and you can compare your high scores against friends and other using the online leaderboards. These challenge maps, and the main game itself, can be expanded by purchasing the many different DLC packs for the game. As mentioned, Catwoman was a big selling point of the game and those who pre-ordered Arkham City or purchased her DLC can switch to playing as Catwoman during the story to follow a side mission involving Poison Ivy and stealing from Hugo Strange. The DLC for Arkham City is such a massive step up compared to the last game, adding twenty Achievements to collect and numerous costumes for Batman to use in New Game Plus and on challenge maps, and, best of all, the ability to play as Robin and Dick Grayson/Nightwing in the challenge maps. Each of the four playable characters plays a little differently (Catwoman is faster but weaker, slashes with her claws and tosses bolas; Robin uses his bo staff, riot shield, and faster (but shorter) version of the Batclaw; and Nightwing batters thugs with batons and utilises his acrobatic skill to take out enemies) and has their own gadgets but, sadly, only Catwoman is available to play as in the main game. Robin does take centre stage in a post-game DLC story, “Harley Quinn’s Revenge”, that sees him infiltrating the steel mill to rescue Batman; I had all of this DLC on the PlayStation 3 and greatly enjoyed the variety offered by the skins and each character but I do wish that the studio had allowed these additional characters to be used in the actual main game.
I was massively impressed with Batman: Arkham City when I first played it on the PlayStation 3; the game was just so much bigger and better than the original thanks to expanding the scope of the game world and the range of Batman’s abilities and gadgets. Everything that worked in the original game is back and improved upon, making combat even more fluid and diverse and truly defining the essence of Batman to set the standard for the remainder of the series. Rather than being confined to a claustrophobic, gothic prison, Batman is freely able to roam and fight around a dilapidated, walled off section of the city full of Easter Eggs, references, inmates to fight, secrets to find, and side missions to keep you busy for far longer than the first game. Best of all, the game is packed full of post-game and additional content thanks to these side missions, the New Game Plus mode, the expanded Challenge Mode, and the impressive abundance of DLC. Including additional skins, a short post-game story, and two of my favourite Batman characters in Robin and Nightwing really helps to expand the lore of this interpretation of Batman’s world and offers far more replay value. For me, Arkham City is still the gold standard for the Batman: Arkham series (Various, 2009 to 2015) and, while Arkham Asylum finally offered all of Batman’s abilities in a fun and engaging way, Arkham City expanded on them to the nth degree and truly defined what it means to play as Batman in an open world environment and it definitely deserves all of the praise it earned upon release and even to this day.
What did you think about Batman: Arkham City? How do you feel it holds up compared to the original games and its sequels? Did you enjoy that the game world was expanded into a city-sized open world or did you prefer to more claustrophobic aesthetic of the first game? Which of Batman’s new gadgets and rogues were your favourite to use or fight against and why? Did you ever track down all of the Riddler’s trophies and secrets? Which of the side missions was your favourite to complete? What did you think to the game’s DLC and would you have liked to see Robin and Nightwing playable in the main game? How are you planning on celebrating Batman Day this year and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever you think about Batman: Arkham City, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for my review of the next Arkham videogame!