Batman Arkham City (PS3) 9.5

Anybody who has played Batman: Arkham Asylum and loved it knows precisely why it was such an amazing game. Take one part Matrix: Path of Neo for epic, super-human martial arts beat-em up; ad in another part Splinter Cell style sneaking around in dark environments for tense moments that test skill and patience; throw in some cool gadgetry to help you along the way like in Ape Escape; mix it in with amazing graphics, superb voice actors, and arguably the greatest super-hero ever and you had Batman: Arkahm Asylum.

So, how much more can such an already amazing game offer us if given a sequel? Apparently, a whole lot more.

If you can believe it, the intro to Arkham City is even better and more pulse-pounding than the intro to the first. You start off, not as Batman, but as Bruce Wayne, who is lobbying against Arkham City. I won’t give anything away about what soon happens to our seemingly mild-mannered aristocrat, but I will say this…laying the beat down on some thugs as the boy-billionaire is one of coolest experiences I’ve had in gaming.

Soon afterwards, you suit up. Now you are Batman, but this isn’t a self-contained island you’re dealing with anymore. This is a no man’s land. Pouncing on an unsuspecting group of baddies isn’t as simple as it used to be; there are always more goons lurking around the corners, ready to jump into the fray like a vicious pack of wolves. More than once you’ll find yourself overwhelmed and having to flee a fight while the stinging insults of said goons follow in your wake. Take my advice and just let it go. Survival is the name of the game.

If you’ve been watching Youtube then you’ve no doubt seen Batman’s new flight mechanics. These are as fun in practice as they are to watch, although there is a learning curve to gliding effectively. There’s also a pesky helicopter searching for you at all times. These guys are Tyger, Hugo Strange’s own henchmen. Avoiding the helicopter can be tricky, but also fun.

As you’d expect, Arkham City plays almost exactly like the first one with a few tweaks and upgrades. Batman starts off with most of the same gadgets he had at the end of the first, including the grapple gun, the cryptographic sequencer and the remote batarang. He also has several new moves for melee situations. Batman must’ve been taking lessons from Chuck Norris because his martial arts are better and flashier than ever. He now has the ability to perform a counter-attack against two or more assailants at a time instead of just one. He has a new punch combo attack where he repeatedly thrusts with each press of the button. As Batman lays down an 18 punch combo on a single guy, or gigantic goon, I can’t help but think of Kenshiro! “The one-hundred crack fist of the North Star! You’re already dead!” Oh, but…this is Batman so minus the brutal killing of your foes. Let’s just say he’s more like Donkey Kong when beating up some Tikis.

The new combat moves make the game as fun as ever but also makes NOT using them an exercise in restraint. As stated before, enemies can show up when you least suspect and they sometimes pack heat. This will undoubtedly force all of us to use our brains even more when devising effective plans of attack. To aid in stealthy takedowns are a new set of “predator moves” where Batman can use far more takedowns from different hiding positions than he had previously. Again, a new set of moves and abilities to augment the ones we had before in Arkham Asylum. It’s almost like the first game just laid the foundation and the sequel built onto it!

In addition to the main story mission are additional side missions that will pop up along the way. These may have you saving random inmates from other, worse inmates, to working with Bane to dispose of drums of Titan chemicals (Titan once more plays into the game’s story) to solving mysteries planted by the Riddler. (By now we’ve all heard the “Riddler is Jigsaw!” equations made by everyone so I won’t bore you with that. I don’t even like Saw). You may want to hold off on the missions that involve Zaasz making you run across Arkham City to answer telephones until you’ve unlocked some flying upgrades. Certain henchmen will be highlighted in green. These are henchmen you can interrogate to acquire more info about the various crime lords they are working under. Taking them out last to initiate interrogation is a tough and not always fun exercise that we will nevertheless do in order to gain more precious XPs.

This game has a dark look and feel that pulls you in. Jumping across rooftops as the Batman is a whole `nother experience from doing it as Spiderman. The dingy, grungy look of the city, the background music and ambience. All of these together invade your subconscious until you feel alive with primal, survival instincts. I can’t even describe it, really. You feel like a predator, but also like the prey. You’re always walking a narrow line between seeming invincibility, and utter helplessness. This game puts you in a place all of us have been our whole lives without always realizing. When we dreamed we were running from danger, or dreamed we were conquering obstacles to achieve glory. This is just a personal opinion, of course, but I’d swear I’ve seen this in my dreams. Maybe I was just dreaming of being the Batman. This is as close as any of us will likely get.

The villains look fantastic. Mr. Freeze, interestingly enough, has a huge suit that reminds me of the Mr. Freeze suit from Batman and Robin. I apologize for even bringing THAT movie up, but the suit in that movie was still cool looking. Mr. Freeze looks menacing and sounds awesome with the voice talents of Maurice LaMarche (the guy who was Brain in Pinky and the Brain and about a million different voices in Futurama!) Penguin looks viscious and cruel and is twice as ruthless, no doubt to overcome his own size. Twoface looks somewhere between The Animated Series version and the Dark Knight version. Then there’s the unexpected appearance of Solomon Grundy who looks like a nightmarish Frankenstein’s monster and who is even bigger than Killer Croc!

In summation, Arkahm City is anther step forward for an already revolutionary game franchise. There are the usual shortcomings, however. You may find yourself wandering around, not knowing what to do until you trigger the right event to move the game forward. Figuring out some of the new controls may be a chore even to veteran players. And the boss fights still feel like, well, boss fights. Run around, dodge attacks and wait for the inevitable weak point to expose itself. Standard video game stuff, really. Of course, that’s just all part of the experience. If it was too easy we wouldn’t enjoy it as much, would we?

There’s no reason for anyone who liked Arkahm Asylum to not like this one. If you didn’t like the first one then I don’t know how I could recommend this to you. It’s the same game, just much bigger. If you don’t like sandbox sandbox games and prefer something linear you can still focues on just the main mission. On the whole it’s the same game, just with more stuff. That may be good news to some and bad news for others. For fans of the first, it definitely delivers. We finally got the new Batman Game, now just three more weeks til Skyrim!

**Update**
Some people may compare this game’s story, not unjustly, to Escape from NewYork. Maybe they’re just nitpicking, though. Even if that’s the case, there are still plenty of twists and turns to keep players genuinely surprised right up until they get to of the end main mission.
I’m afraid I can’t comment much on DLC since they have it in such a way that different people get different things. I’ve heard after a certain point, though, we’ll all be able to download the same content…for a price.

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