Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the reasons we finally caved in and joined the rest of you in the seventh generation system nation. Looking back on the Caped Crusader's long history in the realm of video games, we realized that we've never played a bad Batman game. Even the licensed games from the Schumacher era of films are actually a lot of fun, rare for games designed to coincide with film releases. Needless to say, we've been looking forward to Rocksteady's latest release avidly.
Thus far we can honestly say that Arkham City is a must-buy. Continuing where Arkham Asylum left off, Gotham is now housing its criminals, both the psychotic rogue's gallery Batman usually faces and the normal, run-of-the-mill bad guys the cops take down, in a giant walled-off section of the city.
The entire project is under the jurisdiction of Professor Hugo Strange, a lesser-known Batman villain obsessed with the idea of becoming Batman himself. His madness is matched both by being equally as physically adept as the Dark Knight as well as being mentally brilliant. Oh, did we also mention that he knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne?
Within minutes of the game's start, Strange has Bruce Wayne thrown into Arkham City after having him arrested at a press conference where Wayne was speaking out about the danger of the Arkham City project. Along for the ride is reporter Jack Ryan, who we're still hoping will get a few minutes in the spotlight as the Creeper at some point. Here's hoping.
The gameplay retains all the revolutionary hallmarks of the first game. The fighting system, already one of the most fluid and exciting systems ever developed, has, if possible, become even more easy to use. Newcomers may have a slightly harder time if they skipped Arkham Asylum as the tutorials are less prominent in terms of helping you learn the controls, not to mention that our game case contained catalogs instead of an instruction manual.
One you've got the hang of the buttons, though, Batman's inner monologues are great at teaching you to disappear in a cloud of smoke, a great new addition, as well as dropping down to silently take out armed thugs from behind. The learning curve is steep, though, and every mistake is likely to make you sit through cut scenes that start out cool and rapidly become annoying as you're punished for failure. We already can't stand Tara Strong's Harley Quinn calling us B-Man just because we let them shoot one little old hostage.
Oddly, for a franchise that is gearing up for the highly anticipated third film in Nolan's reboot, Arkham City seems more interested in revisiting the house that Burton built in the 1989 film. Vicki Vale appears in the first scene in the movie, and we get a chance to visit both Ace Chemicals, where Jack Napier became the Joker, and the cathedral where the movie had its final showdown.
You get a much better look at the world of Arkham City than you did in Arkham Asylum. We can't speak for you, but we spent the whole of the first game in detective mode, rarely getting a good look at the amazing art that makes up the settings and characters. Even though detecting is still a big part of the game, you don't need to be quite as invested in it to progress and the result is not feeling like you're playing the whole game while looking at a CAT scan.
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The game is not without flaws, though, and most of these are carryovers from Arkham Asylum. Batman still takes up a bit too much of the screen when you're just running around trying to get the lay of the land looking over his shoulder. Also, sometimes the objectives and directions you need to take are just a little too vague, leading to a lot of poking around.
Granted, Batman is supposed to be the world's greatest detective, but we're a college dropout whose greatest accomplishments are tricking someone to pay us to play video games and removing the white stuff perfectly from an entire bag of Oreos. A few more hints for the slackers among us would be nice.
These are incredibly minor complaints in what is otherwise an incredible experience. Face it, we all want to be Batman, whether he's your favorite superhero or not. The Rocksteady series is still the closest anyone has ever come to actually suiting up to take on the scum of Gotham. All props to Phoenix Jones, but we're not taking up a costume to make war in the streets until grappling hooks become simple, affordable and idiot-proof. Also, there aren't enough gargoyles or themed villains in Houston, though we hear that Mayor Parker is working on at least one of those.
So, we've established that we all want to be vengeance, be the night, be Batman. For $60 you can make that happen. Now if you'll excuse us, the city needs us.