In last year's Batman: Arkham City, the Caped Crusader faced one of the greatest adventures yet in his legendary career. Now, that game has made its way onto the Wii U as Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition. The new touches added here don't contribute much to the experience, and occasionally risk interfering with it, so there's no reason to buy this version if you have access to others. However, the Wii U version is still an excellent game, one that's absolutely worth playing if you haven't yet stepped into the batsuit and explored the open-air superprison of Arkham City.
Faced with a criminal housing crisis in the wake of the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum, the city of Gotham has fallen on dark times. Certain unscrupulous characters took advantage of the crisis by acquiring the run-down neighborhood of North Gotham, walling it off from the rest of the city, and tossing criminals in there to fend for themselves. It's an inhumane and immoral operation; food and warmth are scarce, and some inmates are people whose only crime was voicing a negative opinion of Arkham City and those who run it.
But their misfortune is your gain. The area of several city blocks that makes up the superprison isn't especially vast as open worlds go, but what it lacks in scale, it more than makes up for in atmospheric detail. Arkham City is home to an old courthouse, a former police headquarters, a musty museum, a disused subway terminal, and other fascinating places. These structures, with their faded portraits, old billboards, and plentiful other features, convey a sense of history, and the art direction that makes this vision of Gotham so fantastic is in full effect on the Wii U.
Batman has no choice but to explore the alleyways and underground tunnels of North Gotham. Within the prison's walls, Joker is dying, and the villain's schemes force the Dark Knight to help him find a cure. That quest brings Batman into contact with the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and numerous other members of Batman's rogues' gallery. Each character is represented terrifically, with plenty of nods to their histories as established in the comics, and part of the fun of progressing through the story lies in seeing what character might make an appearance next. The excellent Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker, heading up an ensemble of voice actors who never miss a beat.
Naturally, Batman's errand brings him into constant conflict with the many thugs and lowlifes lurking in the shadows of Arkham City. The game's combat is outstanding; there's a rhythm to chaining together your strikes and counters, and successfully keeping a chain going for a while is immensely satisfying. Your attacks are accompanied by terrific animations that look simultaneously graceful and brutal, and the increasingly varied configurations of enemies you encounter as the game progresses require you to frequently alter your tactics.
Of course, thugs with shields, blades, and body armor are one thing; enemies with guns are something else entirely. Batman is tough, but far from invulnerable, and when faced with such firepower, it's time for him to rely on stealth. Batman has an assortment of sneaky techniques at his disposal, all of which are great fun to use. Crawl up to an enemy from behind, and you can take him down silently. By hanging from a gargoyle, you can ensnare an unsuspecting enemy below with an inverted takedown. The excellent sound design adds tension to these stealthy standoffs, with bad guys becoming increasingly frightened as you pick off their buddies one by one.
One addition to the Wii U version of Arkham City does take some of the bite out of combat, though. Batman's suit now comes equipped with what's called Battle Armored Tech mode, or B.A.T. As you fight enemies, your suit stores up kinetic energy, and once you have a full charge, you can trigger B.A.T., which makes your blows do twice as much damage and activates a visual filter that highlights enemy positions. Part of what made the combat in Arkham City so involving was that every strike mattered and that Batman was fragile enough that missing a counter could be a costly mistake. Being able to do more damage at set times means you can worry about precision a little less, and this eliminates the exciting balance that combat previously maintained. Of course, you're free to just ignore B.A.T. and not use it, but you can't turn it off entirely.
Another silly addition to Armored Edition is sonar, which lets you see indications of nearby enemy positions, as well as the locations of nearby collectible Riddler trophies, on the GamePad screen. Batman's detective vision, which lets you see through walls and easily spot any enemies in the area, is much more useful than glancing between the GamePad and the television to plan your next move, and manually spotting and tagging those Riddler trophies you don't know how to snag just yet is far more involving than letting the sonar do it for you.
Other implementations of the Wii U's GamePad to perform certain functions are more sensible, but don't appreciably improve the experience. When Batman investigates a crime scene, for instance, you can now move the GamePad around to search for clues; it's a nice option, but hardly a meaningful addition. Similarly, you can tap the GamePad to detonate explosive gel if you prefer that to the button command. Armored Edition's best use of the GamePad is not in the gameplay at all, but in the sound design. Now, radio transmissions, and all the enemy chatter that Batman intercepts, come through the GamePad's speaker, giving them a distinct, crackly sound.
These transmissions are a frequent accompaniment to your travels. One of the greatest joys of Arkham City is the act of moving around its open world. Thanks to your grapnel gun, Arkham City is a veritable playground for you, with all of its buildings for you to grapple onto and soar off of. Once you get the hang of generating momentum with your dive-bomb move, you can soar through the city, diving and climbing like a roller coaster. It's an exhilarating way to travel. And if, as you're flying high above the streets, you spot a group of thugs and fancy a fight, it's easy to plummet straight down and plant your boot in a goon's face.
Arkham City also acknowledges that Batman's brains are at least on par with his brawn. Occasional clever environmental puzzles, such as a situation involving a pool of water covered in thin ice, frozen cops who need to be saved, and a giant, deadly shark, require you to make smart use of your gadgets. More significantly, the Riddler is in town with nothing to do but torment Batman. As previously mentioned, Riddler trophies have been placed throughout Arkham City. Some of these collectibles have been hidden in the city's nooks and crannies, and if you locate them, you can simply pick them up.
However, in many cases, the trick is not locating them, but figuring out how to get them. There are Riddler trophies in plain view all over Arkham City, but they're enclosed in cages, and to retrieve one of these, you must figure out how the mechanism for that particular cage works. There might be a series of switches on a nearby wall that need to be triggered in a particular order. Or it may be a test of agility, with a switch that opens a gate some distance away that you have only a short time to reach before it closes. Some of these puzzles are surprisingly tricky, but there's always a discernible logic that makes working out the solutions rewarding.
In addition to his trophies, the Riddler has a new set of environmental riddles for you to solve. Some of these take the form of questions or statements, such as "Do you have Strange thoughts? Maybe you should seek help?" and "I am an actor who can transform a film with the final cut. Who am I?" Answering these requires you to locate the sign, storefront, or other environmental detail that contains the answer. The richness of the world already makes exploring it a pleasure; tracking down these solutions makes doing so even more engaging. Each of these that you solve unlocks an Arkham City story, which offers some textual background on the people associated with that particular riddle, deepening the neighborhood's sense of history.
Solving these conundrums doesn't just reward you with a bit of text, though. The Riddler has also kidnapped hostages and placed them in riddle rooms throughout Arkham City, and the only way to get the locations of these rooms is by completing enough of the Riddler's challenges. And foiling the Riddler's plot is just one of the numerous side quests you have the option of pursuing or ignoring during your time in Arkham City. You'll almost certainly want to complete many of these, though. These engrossing quests often make great use of villains from the Batman comics who don't play a role in the main quest, and they have their own story arcs that are worth seeing through. They're also fun to play. There are strings of murders to investigate that have you analyzing crime scenes, following bullet trajectories and trails of blood. There's a madman who forces you to race across town to answer ringing pay phones before time runs out and he kills a hostage. There are innocent political prisoners who need your help. And much more.
All of the downloadable content that was available for earlier releases of Arkham City is included in Armored Edition. This means that the Catwoman chapters, which were accessed with a code sold with other console versions of the game, are automatically incorporated into the story here. Playing as Catwoman is enjoyable; she has just enough abilities that are unique to her to make her feel distinct from Batman, while controlling similarly enough to feel immediately familiar. She can cling to certain ceilings and use her claws to scale walls, and her caltrops and bolas can be used in combat to trip and immobilize enemies. And although Batman's Armored Edition suit makes him look a bit more like a chintzy action figure than he did previously, Catwoman's new outfit here is far more practical than her original Arkham City getup.
Once you complete the main story, you unlock the new game plus option, which lets you carry over your upgrades but also makes your life more difficult; you have to do without the helpful lines that appear in combat informing you that an enemy is about to strike. But once you've spent that much time with the game, you'll likely be ready for this challenge. And there are a host of challenge rooms that test your skills both in all-out combat and in stealth situations. Some challenges take the form of small campaigns that alternate between combat and stealth scenarios.
Each campaign assigns you an assortment of modifiers and requires you to use each of them once. One modifier might benefit you, perhaps giving you regenerating health, while another might benefit your enemies, perhaps giving one a protective aura that prevents him from taking damage. These modifiers, and the tactical process of applying the detrimental ones to the easier scenarios and the beneficial ones to those scenarios you might have a tougher time with, make these campaigns feel distinctly different from the encounters you have during the story.
But more than anything else, it's your adventures and explorations in the city of Arkham itself that make this game extraordinary. The B.A.T. option added for this edition of the game only interferes with the tense and rewarding combat, but that doesn't need to come between you and one of the best action adventure games of recent years. From the speedy exhilaration of soaring high above the streets to the atmospheric thrill of discovering long-forgotten secrets in the tunnels below Gotham, this is an unforgettable adventure that will keep you coming back to the cape and cowl long after you've seen the credits roll.