Batman: Arkham City is an incredible action adventure that soars high above its superb predecessor in every possible way

User Rating: 9.5 | Batman: Arkham City PS3
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Contains: Strong Fantasy Violence, Images of Injury and Sustained Threat
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Batman: Arkham City is a third-person stealth action adventure game developed by Rocksteady Studios that builds upon the intense, atmospheric foundation of Batman: Arkham Asylum. It's a dark-themed game, more darker than Arkham Asylum in areas of the story, the atmosphere, and the violence, and takes place in the fictional setting of Gotham City that has been imagined and reimagined countless times in comic books and movies and now is the location you find yourself trapped within, in a sealed-off superprison that is a demented playground for the city's worst criminals. Batman is devoted to saving the people of Gotham, but this time he'll be pushed to foiling a plot that threatens the existence of the crime-infested metropolis he soars above day by day protecting the innocents from inhuman behaviour committed by merciless villains; and he's the only one capable of pulling off the improbable.

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STORY - 4/5
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North Gotham can now be widely regarded as Arkham City, which is now walled off from the rest of Gotham, and is a place in which criminals have been put cruelly in an operation that reflects the madness of the supervillain responsible. The story sees you get plunged into this intoxicating new area, and within time you'll find out that The Joker is dying (contributed greatly by the events at the end of the first game) and requires your help. And there's a catch, because you yourself get poisoned by this crazy enemy and must find a cure before time runs out for the both of you. Unfortunately the story comes to an unexpected finale that feels like it came too soon, and is abrupt and disappointing, as in one instant you're engaging in a decent boss fight, and the next you're staring at the credits, but fortunately the side missions can keep you playing long after you've saved the gloomy neighbourhood, and the quality of the script doesn't demerit this ending greatly, but more surprisingly to how it ends.

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CHARACTERS - 5/5
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Batman - the superhero vigilante, caped crusader - is back again to thwart the latest threat on Gotham City, and with great power comes great responsibility as he knows all too well. Impeccable storytelling leads supervillains to come into direct verbal conflict with the Batman, and because of the huge threat they pose, and how Batman is required to aid them because of a story event, you feel invested with his efforts, and appreciate his "I work alone" attitude that he clearly exhibits throughout. Arkham City features a magnificent ensemble cast of characters from the fantasy universe of Batman, and does a terrific job of incorporating them into the plot and side missions, aswell as clever references located through Riddler challenges that unlock there character bios and interview tapes. You'll cross paths with heroic thief Catwoman (more so if you own the DLC), encounter infamous villains such as The Penguin, Two-Face and Mr Freeze and be guided with information by the friendly voices of Oracle and Alfred Pennyworth. Amazing character models and facial animations further influence the quality of the storytelling, to the extent where you can see the intent on Batman's face as he probes for proper answers, and the malicious grin on Joker's face as he manically denies the caped crusader what he wants with a cold-hearted joke or a witty line that emphasises his crazy sense of humour and hatred of humanity.

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GAMEPLAY - 5/5
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This dark fantasy adventure takes place in an open world setting where all manner of violence is being committed and all kinds of enemies are placed that range from typical violent inmates, infamous criminal masterminds, and a host of notorious supervillains straight from the Batman comic-book universe that are equivalent to the biggest threats you'll face against the danger posed to be created in Gotham City if they cannot be thwarted in time. As you delve into an incredible world created for you to explore and find hundreds of worthwhile secrets, you'll notice just how memorable everything comes together, especially where the fundamentals of combat and stealth are concerned, and how both are fused into soaring around the city and exploration elements extremely well.

The wealth of combat moves and animations is staggering to believe, but sure enough it's phenomenal to realise. It's more or less the same as it was in Arkham Asylum, except this time there's a dramatic expansion in Batman's move set, with him able to counter 2 or more thugs at once in a single, smooth, impressive animation; use the environment to interact midway in combat; pull off some immense special moves that often boggle your mind because there's so much to think about to create variety; and the ability to incorporate quick-uses of Batman's gadgets into the thick of a fight. To sum up the hand-to-hand combat, all you need to know is that it's fun, brutal, fluid and quite simple outstanding, especially when a brief slow motion shot captures the final devastating attack stylishly, or hard-hitting sound effects resonate the dark theme of the experience like the rest of his kick-ass move set. It's hard to comprehend the achievement reached in the Free Flowing combat system because of how simple it is, yet how satisfying the final outcome proves. One button is used to attack, another is used to counterattack, and another is used to perform a cape stun - simple, basic, yet immersive and gratifying. Much of the hand-to-hand action sequences appear like extremely well choreographed fight sequences from a superhero movie because of how smooth each attack flows flawlessly into the next move, and how Batman is immediately aware of everything around him to be able to counterattack multiple assailants at once and even bring part of the environment into a beat-down move without the attacks feeling disjointed.

Batman's detective knowledge, primary instincts, and use of stylised gadgets make him a formidable superhero who is vastly feared by the criminal population, and his gadgets throughout Arkham City are all put to suitable usage at the appropriate situation, and new ones are introduced at the right times usually to determine how you proceed through the next stage via a non-traversable obstacle of some kind. You'll be familiar with explosive gel, batarangs and the grapple gun among other past entries, but even the old favourites founded on the asylum are still used in unique ways in this new hostile neighbourhood, usually resulting in cool battles that see their ability to be used during a combo without resetting the counter. But new ones are even more interesting and provide lots of possibilities to be used to get to your objective, used in hand-to-hand fights, or even pose as purposeful distractions amidst stealth. In the open world where you are free to engage in fights when you wish, you can pass by as a silhouetted bat against the night sky by gliding using your cape, and flying around the city and using the special grapple boost ability is a thrilling way to get to your objective, with the option to glide in on a bunch of goons and beat them unconscious if you're in the mood to dish out some punishment. Once you master the grapple hook boost ability, you'll be soaring across the city with sharp control and precision, living the dream as a notable superhero and experience some seriously awesome action.

Detective vision mode, like last time on the mad asylum, plays an integral part of the game, and showcases a side of Batman that gives you the understanding of just advanced his powers go beyond simple brute strength. Activating this alternate vision mode enables you to see your opponents aswell as innocent people in a unique skeletal form that addresses to you their threat level (enemies with guns show up orange while unarmed thugs are the standard blue colour), their equipment and weapon, and their current condition via heart rate evaluation, but can also allow you to detect parts of the environment available to be interacted with such as a vent to be removed or gargoyles to watch from. For stealth, this vision is vital to assess the surroundings before making your move to eliminating foes one by one and trying to remain undetected and out of sight. A wide variety of options give you reason to be slow, cautious and clever when taking out foes by getting them away from the rest of the group before silently (or loudly) dispatching them and worrying the armed thugs who remain. As you prey from the shadows you'll relish in the varying amount of chances to cause panic and will seek the best opportunities to evade the armed enemies gunfire as best as possible, especially with a new smoke bomb that disorientates attackers and allows a safe escape back to a gargoyle up high or cover within the walls.

As the story progresses, more buildings will become available to be entered for different purposes, and many are derived from the many side missions free to engage in. The open world of Arkham City isn't massive, but it's the perfect size and shape for everything that happens within it. Main missions advance the core plot, but side missions don't necessarily feel like they don't fit in with the story, and more-or-less feel like they entangle within the story coherently and at consistent times to keep you engaged and up to your neck in trouble and potential disaster and/or death. Even more impressive about the side missions is that some don't necessarily get completed in one go, and are injected every-now-and-then into the game to advance it slightly while keeping you guessing, and also do a fantastic job of including a supervillain of some kind that effortlessly intertwines with Batman's current struggles against the major threats on Gotham. And there are more than just main objectives, side missions and sweet injections of fisticuff conflicts, because one supervillain is back and more determined than ever to see Batman pay after the conclusion on Arkham Asylum: The Riddler.

Riddler challenges have expanded upon the first game, just like many of the core gameplay elements dramatically have, and once you've solved enough riddles, The Riddler will reveal a hostage location on your map which will involve a tougher challenge. Having to solve a large quantity of random riddles across Arkham City will seem a daunting prospect at first because of the overwhelming open world design, but soon enough you'll become more confident at trying to figure out the more obscure and complex riddles that require agility and necessary equipment you may yet to receive through story completion. There are some challenges that may look painfully difficult, but the harder they are, the more satisfaction you'll gain upon finally outwitting The Riddler with your ingenious intelligence, and gives you something to strive for when it involves a side mission. They are also not always easy to spot at first, but through progression of the game you'll soon become adept at sniffing out a puzzle which is made more easy thanks to interrogating the last of an enemy once the rest of the group are unconscious. This reveals their location on your map, and makes finding them slightly easier, though the solutions are still up to you. The bulk of these riddles are Riddler trophies. In Arkham Asylum they were mostly just hidden around for simple collection, but this time they are concealed and need to be unlocked. Their concealment is obvious and you'll always get within touching distance, but it's battling your mental strength to figuring out how to attain it where the puzzlement lies, and through careful analysis of your surrounding you'll soon suss out what you need to do, but successfully completing the requirements is another thing altogether and keeps you pondering but rarely causing aggravation. There may be a few switches that have a short delay after one is triggered, meaning you need to somehow hit them all at the same time; or pressure pads that force you to get from one to the other without touching the floor while battling a short time limit. The use of your gadgets will become obvious in time, and solving a large sum of these challenges will not only be worthwhile in finding the next hostage The Riddler has captured, but ultimately revealing his hideout to be confronted and outwitted once and for all.

Solving the demanding riddles and defeating enemies grants you experience points (more so depending on gadget use in combos and variety in stealth sequences), and when you gain enough, you level up Batman and can choose an upgrade that permanently influences on the remainder of the game. You can choose to improve the resilience that Batman's armour can take from bullets or blunt force, or pick from a handful of gadget improvisations that add variety and depth to the core gameplay and the gadget itself, plus many others that dedicate to making Batman increasingly capable of defeating anything that comes his way. There are a diverse amount of upgrades that give you the opportunity to advance Batman how you want, with plenty of directions to path towards a specific point that you feel is important for you as the player controlling him, and the wealth of options make you feel like Batman is developing at a steady pace and with a rewarding sense of growth.

If you purchased this fantasy action adventure new you would have had the code to unlock Catwoman for free. Alternatively you can purchase this DLC from the Playstation Store. She plays a prominent role infrequently in the storyline, and her thief-like attitude causes her to cross paths with Batman a few times, giving you some time to play as her and experience her own unique thief vision mode and use her cat-like gadgets. While both Batman and Catwoman feel familiar to play as, Catwoman appears to have more elegance about her attacks and movement as opposed to Batman's brutal, hard-hitting moves, and her acrobatics prowess and clever equipment usages of her own make her a pleasure to play as at certain intervals throughout the story. She's flexible and agile, and favours depositing of enemies in a manner that avoids direct confrontation. With her cat-like claws and whip, Catwoman is quite easy to traverse around Arkham City, and she is equipped for stealth scenarios aswell, being able to climb along certain ceilings and takedown foes silently with an array of excellent moves that show off her combined strength and agility. She also has her own Riddler challenges to complete, and requires Batman to give her the chance to snatch them up in some scenarios due to their secured concealment which only Batman is capable of unlocking for her gain.

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GRAPHICS - 5/5
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North Gotham has transformed into Arkham City, and while it isn't massive as far as open worlds go, what it lacks in size it most definitely makes up with tremendous amounts of detail to create a sincere amount of believability in the fictional, fantasy-styled world of Batman. It's an outstanding looking game that impresses visually, artistically and technically, while also empowering with fantastic presentation that is just as admirable as the colour palette used to inject substance to the core visual design, and delighting with the dark colours that filter to represent Gotham City imaginatively with lots of creative structures to match the artwork and technical power of the game engine it's using. Animations are silky smooth, flowing from one powerful attack into the next with clear motion that augments your immersion further, while facial expressions live up to the voices behind the comic book inspired faces and completely suck you into the thick of the story. From beginning to end you'll never find anything to fault in the graphics department, as framerate issues, draw distance object pop-in, among other possible blemishes are all absent from this memorable experience.

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SOUND - 5/5
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Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and The Joker delightfully, heading an ensemble cast of excellently picked voice actors that nail every line perfectly, and are convincing for the characters they portray. Nolan North is virtually missable with his London cockney accent used to add flavour to flesh in the nasty, villainous Penguin, while Peter MacNicol adds a suitable, delicate edge of madness and mild delirium to the Mad Hatter who crops up briefly in a side mission, and it's hard to express just how perfect the voice acting truly is unless you hear it yourself. Just as sublime is the sound design, which captures the theme of Batman's universe, turns it into a dark, action orientated audio score mixed with hard-hitting sound effects, and delivers everything from the highly impactful to the delicately subtle instrumental effects that reverberate a definitive touch of class and universal achievement.

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CONTROLS - 4/5
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Once you eventually gain freedom to traverse the open world, you may feel overwhelmed by the large area, and the gliding around the city made quicker by your grapple gun is an aspect of the game that will seem a little complicated until you get used to it. Practice makes perfect is certainly the best way to look at the control scheme, and despite some early, unexpected complexities that incur, a few hours in you'll admire the wealth of control configurations and garner a measure of satisfaction when you manage to inflict variation with quick-fire gadgets into the midst of a frantic, outnumbered brawl, and seek thrills from utilising the grapple hook boost ability to soar around and above the stunning environments at will with confident, precise control over your directional movement. A neat feature is the option to enable special move tutorials, which displays button prompts to pull off an advanced attack when the moment is right, making combating tricky opponents a little easier until you get used to their weaknesses, and the timing to use that particular technique under the permitted circumstances.

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ATMOSPHERE - 5/5
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Sensational atmosphere with great attention to detail brings the sprawling mega-prison to incredibly believable heights, and its rich with historic touches and fictional structures that cement your involvement with everything occurring in the hostile open world, and leave you motionless with disbelief at the achievement reached here. It's winter, and the quality of snow effects matches the detail in every aspect of the environment to give you no doubt that this fictional setting is alive and thriving with power-hungry villains and perilous danger. Food and warmth is scarce, and so many thugs are choosing to bully the innocent people trapped within Arkham City, threatening to beat them unless their demands are met, and as you glide through the night sky, overhearing everything being said over your communication device, you begin to feel the moment in your mentality and your instinct to prevent this crime from being fully completed. As you soar down on the unaware thug with distinct grace to your dive-bomb transition, overtaking the falling snow drops and preparing your violent finale to your immaculate descent, you'll almost feel the icy rush of breeze caress your face, and then take pleasure in the surreal, slow-mo effect that takes place as you eventually end the conversation and plant your boot squarely into the brute's face before taking pleasure in watching him roll in the wet weather under the moonlight with his last sight being that of a giant bat jumping on top him, landing with intent, and then smacking him into unconsciousness. This is how tight and cohesive the atmosphere is within Arkham City, delivering lots of believability to fantasy-like scenarios, and providing you with one of the most atmospheric settings in recent memory.

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ENEMY AI - 5/5
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Enemies are varied in combat, and the further you advance the story, the more difficult opponents will become. Guards with shields can only be defeated with an aerial attack; enemies with stun batons must be evaded and can only be hit safely from behind; and thugs with solid amour can only be successfully injured with a rapid-fire punch move called the beat down. It gets a little complicated later on when an assortment of differently armed enemies come into conflict with you, but it definitely feels rewarding if you take down an entire group of inmates without being hit by using an array of techniques at your disposal.
The highlight of the enemy intelligence arrives and lingers in the stealth sections, where incredible responses, realistic reactions and speech, and cooperative actions result in truly awesome sequences of gameplay from your third-person perspective out of sight. If you take out a guard silently, a sensor may go off that alerts the rest of the group, and you'll hear one call out to the rest to go and look at the evidence of Batman's latest attack. The more guards you take out, the more nervous the rest become, and watching from a point of safety using your useful detective vision mode provides unlimited moments of joy to see nerves creep into the once-confident thugs and see them slowly go downhill into humiliation as they show more and more signs of increased, scared behaviour while trying to desperately search for your whereabouts on their own, or side-by-side with another enemy. It compels you to complete these stealth sections slowly, reaping the satisfaction as you strive to cause distractions and creative strikes, while admiring the animations of enemies and their very good responses.
Random conversations play out between thugs and can be heard frequently as you intercept their chatter through your communication device when close, and these are fun to listen to and will no doubt bring a smile to your face with the psychopathic nonsense they come out with, aswell as lending you a distinct understanding to their insanity and reason they are imprisoned within Arkham City's walls while updating on recent events in the story with their own opinions.

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LENGTH - 5/5
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With the many side missions and Riddler challenges to complete aswell as the main story quests, Batman: Arkham City will take approximately 25 hours to finish, and none of these minutes are spent on tasks that don't entertain, but consistently prove likely to cherish as you don the superhero costume of the Dark Knight for a great length of time.

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REPLAY VALUE - 5/5
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After completing the game to as much as your heart's content, a new game plus option becomes available to play through the single player campaign again that carries over your gadgets and upgrades. It also makes the game more challenging by taking away the attack icons above enemies heads, forcing you to react efficiently to avoid the incoming attack or thrown projectile with any hint but relying purely on your knowledge and overall practice and awareness gained in the previous playthrough. There is so many reasons to replay this engrossing adventure over again beyond the typical access to all acquired gadgets and upgrades allowance, and by completing Riddler challenges you'll unlock lots of extra content that is displayed at the time in the usual fantastic presentation. You'll unlock character trophies and concept artwork that can be viewed from the main menu aswell as challenge maps like in Arkham Asylum that have point margins for combat, or a few objectives to complete during staged stealth sections in order to earn the medals that rank you on the online leaderboards or against your friends.

But beyond any other reason, Batman: Arkham City is worth replaying for the sheer enjoyment gained experiencing Batman's vast detective skills and attitude to never give up within a storyline that summons so many notorious villains from the comic book universe that inspired this creation. From the incredible sound design that further develops the story while establishing a lot during gameplay, to the smooth controls that compliment Batman's manoeuvrability, this action adventure is an instant classic. Fantastic audiovisual presentation and atmospheric detail are the backdrop for the face of the varied, hard-hitting combat and amazing stealth action, and from the star-studded cast that greatly augments the quality of the storytelling to the dark-themed story itself, Batman: Arkham City proves to be consistently breathtaking and jaw dropping with everything it successfully incorporates new or improves upon from it's excellent predecessor. With the lives of innocent civilians at stake only one man can save them and bring justice to the streets: Batman!

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OVERALL SUMMARY - 9.5/10
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Good Points: Excellently detailed character models and facial expressions, Sublime freeflowing combat system with an immense repertoire of brutal moves, Outstanding ensemble cast that features many notorious supervillains from the Batman comic-book universe, Stealth mechanics are mesmerising with so much variety to creatively eliminate foes, Catwoman is integrated into the story mode really well and has her own set of skilful moves and gadgets, Dark story with lots of engrossing side missions and Riddler challenges to keep you playing for a long time, The open world setting of Arkham City is stunningly detailed and represented imaginatively and believably, Phenomenal voice acting and sound design, Loads of extra content to unlock.

Bad Points: Controls can feel a bit complicated for the first few hours, Unexpectedly abrupt ending.

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