Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum was a true breath of fresh air. It had everything stacked against it – an untested British studio working on a licensed superhero game – but through extraodrinary skill and hard work, Rocksteady produced one of the games of 2009 and showed there’s still life in third-person adventuring after all.
With Arkham City, though, the London-based outfit is feeling a new kind of pressure, that which comes from following up a supremely succesful debut. There’s no sense of second album syndrome coming through here though.
Batman is back in Gotham City and hot on the trail of The Joker, who he’s told has feline favourite Catwoman tied up and hovering precariously over a vat of bubbling acid. Sounds like an all-too familiar scenario, but Bats’ can’t ignore it. It’s his duty.
This time, instead of being trapped in the confines of Arkham Asylum, Batman is free to really show off. He can now glide across the rooftops of the city, checking out the madness below. Just seeing him perched on the corner of a skyscraper while the jet-black grime of Gotham sprawls out in front of him echoes Batman at his cinematic and literary finest.
Rocksteady has shown an innate understanding of what makes Batman unique both as a character and a universe before, and this commitment to the dark knight spreads to every facet of Arkham City’s gameplay. Like the genre-redefining combat.
As in Arkham Asylum, hand-to-hand fisticuffs are all about counters and combos. It’s now possible, thanks to double the number of animations, for Bats to swoop into a huge crowd of goons, and through timing and concentration, dispatch the lot without taking a hit. You’ll need to use your wits in the same way Batman would; identifying the most dangerous adversaries (gun toters, stick holders) and take them out before dealing with the rest. It’s phenomenally satisfying. If you don’t let a gravelly ‘I’m Batman’ out after doing it, you have no soul.
Arkham City is promising more scope than its predecessor. The environment is purportedly 5 times the size of the Asylum, and although not an open world in the traditional sense, it will give Batman the freedom to travel large areas as he wishes. There are even overhead helicopters that Bats can grapple onto for a skyborne taxi ride over the rooftops.
As before, too, Arkham City promises a harmonious marriage of story and gameplay. Writer Paul Dini returns after his stellar work on the original, and along with The Joker, Bats and Catwoman, we’ll see Two Face and Hugo Strange join the ensemble cast. Dini didn’t miss a beat last time, with memorable dialogue and a compelling story that only let itself down towards the end. He captures the darkness and stoic melancholy of the character beautifully, so expect more of the same here.
Batman Arkham City truly has the potential to lead where others follow. It’s already shaping up to be a marked improvement in both scope and detail over Asylum, a game that garnered its fair share of Game Of The Year awards itself. If only other superhero games could match the ambition and craft of Rocksteady’s caped crusader, then the world would be a better place. As it is, though, it’s a dark, tortured and pestilent hole that can only be policed by one person. The God Damn Batman.
Tags: Batman Arkham City
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