Platforms: PS3, Xbox (reviewed) and Wii U (re-reviewed)
Such is the general love for Batman: Arkham Asylum, that there’s almost no need to say that it’s the best Batman game ever and one of the finest superhero games of all time. Where other superhero games seemed content to take a hero and shove them in whatever genre – platformer, brawler, stealth action game - was the flavour of the month, Arkham Asylum was built up around the character. Its mix of stealth, close-combat and puzzle solving was ingeniously thought out, and it had a superb, weird take on the Batman mythos that drew on the work of Miller, Dini, Loeb and Lee and Morrison and McKean without slavishly recreating any of it. Most of all, it had an incredible atmosphere; the sense of place and twisted personality that you find in a Bioshock, Silent Hill or Half-Life 2. Batman: Arkham Asylum was unquestionably great.
The challenge for this sequel has been to expand on it; not just in terms of moving the action out from the original’s claustrophobic island setting to a larger, urban world, but in terms of building on the style and game mechanics of the original game. Arkham City is a bigger game, with more to see, more to do and more to explore. It’s a game where traversing the rooftops via grappling hook and gliding cape plays a much larger part.
Where Arkham Asylum had a much more linear, story-led approach, Arkham City takes a semi-open world approach, with the core storyline surrounded by sub-quests,challenge missions and wandering groups of criminals in need of taking down. And there are points at which the game looks like it’s lost control, as the plot jumps from one villain to the next with the most sketchy causality, or you lose track of where you’re going and what you’re doing next. Yet for the most part, it works quite brilliantly. While we might have reservations over whether Arkham City is better than Arkham Asylum, it’s still an exceptional game.
This time events kick off some months after the events of the previous game, with Gotham’s lunatics and criminals moved from Arkham Island to a sectioned off area of the city. Within the prison walls, Batman’s greatest villains wage gang warfare on each other, watched over by a security force controlled by the mysterious Hugo Strange. Concerned by Strange’s talk of a sinister project, Batman’s investigations lead him to Two Face, Catwoman, Penguin, the Joker and a parade of classic villains, each ensconced in some facility or civic building reworked to form a perfect lair. In between, the Dark Knight can take on ad-hoc objectives and side missions, rescuing vulnerable prisoners from brutal gangs, collecting all those ticky Riddler clues, tracking down tanks of the TITAN agent with Bane or stopping a serial murderer before he can strike again. As we said, there’s a lot to see and do.
The city itself is superb: a stunning combination of the futuristic, industrial and gothic which is a pleasure to zip through with a grappling hook or glide over with your cape unfurled. It’s not huge, but it is detailed, and the interiors, whether The Joker’s clown-coloured steel mill or The Penguin’s creepy natural history museum, are rich with texture and ghoulish decor. As with Arkham Asylum, the villain design is extraordinarily smart with the re-imagined Penguin - a brutal Brit mobster with a broken-bottle monocle – such a brilliant concept that you wish Christopher Nolan would pick it up for another Batman movie.