Review: Batman: Arkham City

by Steven Williamson on 26 October 2011, 09:42 4.5

Tags: Warner Bros. (NYSE:TWX), PC

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All-star cast of classic characters and murderous villains

Super-high production values

As Batman stands majestically on top of the tallest tower in Arkham City, with his chest puffed out and cape blowing gently in the breeze, we ask ourselves one question: does any other video-game location look as good as this?

It's a tough question. The meandering hillsides of Oblivion's Tamriel immediately spring to mind, as does the historically-accurate and beautifully-crafted city of Constantinople in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, but Arkham City offers something a little different.

The fact that Batman's spiritual home has existed in film, TV and DC Comics for so many years makes it feel a little more special than stumbling across a place that you've never seen before. Consequently, you immediately identify with it and feel excited by it. Seeing it in the flesh and being able to explore Arkham City in all its glory is something that long-term fans of the super-hero will absolutely relish.

The view across Arkham City is a sight to behold with iconic structures towering into the night sky and shimmering neon lights of Joker's carnival (complete with gigantic Ferris wheel) providing a stark contrast to the myriad of dark alleyways far below. For a moment, as you stare far into the distance and marvel at the sheer scale of the City, it does take your breath away.

The roof-tops of Arkham City provide a place of solace for Batman from where he can formulate a plan and soak up the sights before soaring across the night skies to his next destination, where he inevitably comes face-to-face with his arch-enemies and stiff resistance from their henchmen. This is a city thwart with danger but one that begs to be explored.

Brilliant design

The brilliant level design and the Caped Crusader's ability to glide and use gadgets to traverse this effervescent location combine well to ensure that the city is a joy to navigate and explore. Using the Batclaw to swing intuitively between buildings, while dive-bombing like an eagle hunting its prey - before taking advantage of the up-draft to accelerate and speed through the sky – transforms Arkham City into the ultimate playground for the super-hero.

The production values in Batman: Arkham City are exemplary. Developer Rocksteady Studios has already produced two games to set the foundations in place for this third iteration, and its hard work shows. From the disturbing and finely-chiseled face of The Joker to the sculpted look of Batman himself, character rendering is first class, while a quick glance at the architectural detail showcases how the developer has built on top of the engine from previous games to add an extra layer graphical polish.

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Right from the outset, it's hard not to be totally entranced by Arkham City's colourful roster of characters. Cut-scenes are movie-quality and totally unmissable thanks to the intriguing storyline, over-the-top action and powerful voice-acting. While the main story-line and sub-plots intertwine well and build expertly on DC Comics' lore, the sheer quality and variety of Batman's arsenal of moves empowers you to want to crack some skulls and stop Hugo Strange's evil plans.

Involved storyline

To elaborate any further on the storyline would ruin the surprise, but there's a lot to sit back and enjoy and plenty to get involved in as you come face-to-face with iconic villains, such as The Penguin, Solomon Grundy and Two-Face, and call in help from Catwoman and Mr. Freeze. With a rousing soundtrack backing it up, Batman: Arkham City feels like you're embroiled in a big-budget movie, only in this film, well, you're the star.

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The main campaign missions in Arkham City generally involve travelling from 'A' to 'B' investigating crime-scenes and taking down henchmen before squaring up in a boss battle for the ultimate super-hero showdown. It all sounds quite generic, but there's so much more in between as you level-up and get access to new gadgets, upgrade your combat moves and deviate off course to dive into the many side objectives that colour the city.

Follow the main narrative and you're in for a cinematic action-adventure filled with exciting boss battles, environment-based puzzles, stealth play and all-out explosive action. Vary off the beaten track, however, and there are an unprecedented number of things to do with lengthy side missions, training objectives to boost powers, and the hunt for Riddler trophies serving to lengthen your time in Arkham City and add new challenges that you won't face if you follow a linear path.