Two years ago, London-based Rocksteady Studios decided to match the superhero standard set by director Christopher Nolan by giving the world a video game worthy of comparison to his now-legendary The Dark Knight. Batman: Arkham Asylum delivered a true knockout video game experience in 2009, but having now completed its sequel I am happy to report that Rocksteady was just getting warmed up. Perfecting the balance of icon, detective, and warrior, Arkham City is undoubtedly the greatest Batman—and quite possibly superhero—game of all time.
In order to let their Batman truly spread his wings (see what I did there?), Arkham City moves the Caped Crusader from tight corridors and the haunting asylum to Gotham itself. Batman’s playground isn’t just big; it’ massive. Arkham City is a virtual Escape from L.A. setting in which Gotham’s worst criminals are shoved into a portion of the city barricaded off from the rest of the world, separate from mercy and law. Icons of evil such as the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and the Joker have come to call this turf home, and it is where Batman must enter and uncover a grand scheme that puts Heath Ledger’s Joker ideas to shame. The stakes are at their highest, and the Dark Knight is pushed to the absolute brink.
But Batman is not only a masked vigilante; Arkham City delivers Batman as a one-man wrecking machine. Squads of Joker’s henchman come dozens at a time, yet by the forth or fifth hour of play gliding effortlessly between attacking, countering, and dodging will seem like child’s play. Rocksteady promised the combat system from the first game would remain the same, which gamers will be happy to hear has only been perfected. Using combinations of just two buttons, you will be capable of unleashing dozens of combos that stun, freeze, disorient, and incapacitate one after the other, and it never gets old.
Also of note is the voice-acting. Like its predecessor, Arkham City brings back the iconic Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill duo as Batman and Joker, respectively. Also joining the cast is Stana Katic (Castle) as Talia Al Ghul, and Nolan North (Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed) as the Penguin. Voice acting is an often overlooked aspect of game design, but Rocksteady did their homework and brought together a truly impressive acting team that breathes life into each of these iconic characters.
Detective mode also makes a return from the first game, though it still works as a sort of means-to-an-end to help remind the gamer of Batman’s detective background. The types of graphics used to accentuate the mode are almost as amazing as the rest of the game, and its potential uses for combat situations are just as necessary as the combat itself.
Games of this caliber are often the most difficult to summarize, simply because there isn’t anything worth criticizing. There certainly are details one can be nit-picky about, but even the finest of points can be called rough by the most scrutinizing. Arkham City simply plays beyond these perceived flaws. Thankfully, Rocksteady’s legacy is not one of missed opportunities, but of the grandest accomplishments.
See you in the next level,