Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Released: 2011 (Original)/2012 (GotY)
Completed: 25 April 2015
For my money, there is no greater superhero than Batman. An orphan who dedicated his life and considerable wealth to fighting crime after his parents were slain in front of him as a child, Bruce Wayne is both brains and brawn. He's one of the darkest, most complex superheroes in comic books and the films based on them, and his rogue's gallery of villains is absolutely second to none, in my book. Though I was a diehard Marvel Comics reader in my youth, it was my brother's book of Batman comics that turned me onto the medium in the first place, and the character continues to fascinate me some thirty-odd years later.
Batman's history in video games is as rocky as his film history. There were some great entries, such as the NES classic and a pair of excellent titles based on the even more excellent animated series on the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube, but then there were games like Batman: Dark Tomorrow, which is universally reviled. It wasn't until Rocksteady Studios got their hands on the Dark Knight that Bat-Fans finally got a true taste of what it might be like to don the Caped Crusader's pointy-eared cowl.
As great as the first entry in the series - Arkham Asylum - was, Arkham City ramps everything up. No longer confined to a relatively small area, you're given free reign of a huge section of Gotham City, now under the control of criminal Hugo Strange. As the World's Greatest Detective, you're tasked with stopping a cavalcade of super-villains, and discovering what Strange's mysterious Protocol 10 is - and who he's working for.
Written by series stalwart Paul Dini, Arkham City is a brutal, gritty, and absolutely phenomenal Batman game. It's a phenomenal video game - period. The freeflow combat engine is fluid and easy to grasp, while offering enough flexibility to pull off some incredible moves. Gangs of thugs fall by the dozens with a few simple button presses, and thanks to the stupendous animation, every hit looks like it hurts and showcases Batman's martial arts prowess.
More than just combat, Arkham City also tasks you with using your detective skills. While the few scripted scenes don't offer much challenge in discovering valuable information, smart players are also rewarded for using their brains in combat. Entering a room full of armed thugs is suicide, but swinging from ledges and picking them off silently one by one feels great. Whether combating a small army of henchmen, or hanging them upside down from the ceiling, Arkham City truly makes you feel like you are the Batman.
There are even some pretty nifty puzzles, most of them in the form of Riddler challenges. These range from solving riddles by taking pictures of things in the environment, to collecting little question mark trophies. Some of the latter can be extremely challenging to obtain and will tax both your problem solving abilities and your reflexes.
The Game of the Year Edition collects all the available downloadable content, including the short Catwoman campaign, and the post-story Harley Quinn's Revenge campaign. Catwoman's missions are integrated into the main game, so every so often you'll switch over to Selina Kyle for a quick jaunt through Arkham City. Catwoman may be nimble, but her campaign is extremely brief, and I found it added little to the overall story. I haven't delved into Harley Quinn's DLC as of yet, but from what I understand it's not particularly long either.
It's not as if the main game is lacking in content. The main game should take a dozen hours if you skip the vast array of side missions, but some of them are so much fun it's worth taking them on. I especially enjoyed the Cold Call Killer mission in which Batman must track down serial killer Victor Zsasz by scrambling through Arkham City to find a ringing phone and triangulating his position. There's another set of missions in which you must track down a mysterious figure who's watching you from the rooftops, another involving super-sniper Deadshot, and even smaller missions where you stop simple muggings. There's so much to do, the game could easily eclipse 40 hours.
However long you spend in Arkham City, one thing is certain: this game is breathtaking. Arkham is a beautiful ruin - vast and expansive, yet claustrophobic. From high vantage points, it almost looks peaceful. Neon lights flash, snow gently falls, but as you get down to street level, you see signs of decay. Trash litters the streets, and the buildings are jammed so close together they feel like they're closing in on you.
The character models are also exquisitely detailed. Batman's outfit visibly wears and tears as his long night rolls on, and his villains have never looked better. Penguin sports a voice box, which does nothing to deter his smoking habit, Mr. Freeze's helmet condensates when closed, Two-Face's hideously-scarred visage resembles that of Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight, and most importantly, The Joker and his main squeeze Harley Quinn look amazing.
While I'm on the subject - much praise has been given to Mark Hamill for his portrayal of The Joker since Batman: The Animated Series. In the Arkham games, he really gets to let loose. Without the need to make the character kid-friendly for TV, Hamill's Joker is as sick and twisted as the Clown Prince of Crime has ever been - as well as hilarious. If Batman is the greatest comic book hero, Joker is the greatest villain. As far as I'm concerned, he may very well be the greatest villain of all-time in any medium, and Hamill plays him to perfection.
In fact, many of the actors from the Animated Series return, including Kevin Conroy as Batman himself. It's always wonderful to hear Conroy and Hamill interact again, and many would argue they are the definitive versions of both characters.
If spectacular voice acting weren't enough, the musical score is equally outstanding. Resembling Hans Zimmer's scores for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight with dark, brooding strings, the music adds to the overall atmosphere, giving the game a very noir cinema feel.
What more can really be said about Arkham City? There's a reason it won so many Game of the Year awards in 2011. Many games are rereleased with a "Game of the Year" label slapped on the box, but Arkham City is one of the rare double-dips that's absolutely deserving of the title. The incredible production values of the game, from its top-notch story, voice acting, graphics, sound, and control, and the sheer wealth of content in this package make it one of the must-have games of the entire console generation. The Arkham franchise has set the bar impossibly high for all superhero games that will follow it, but it's a dream come true for Batman fans specifically.
Although, I will say it needs more Man-Bat.
Batman: Arkham Asylum Game of the Year Edition was completed on a PlayStation 3 with no cheats.