Batman: Arkham City - Looking Back At The Superhero Game That Changed Everything
Breaking out of the asylum and into a brave new world, Batman: Arkham City raised the benchmark for superhero games a decade ago.
Batman: Arkham City is now 10 years old, and looking back at the last decade of interactive entertainment, the history books show a game that built on its own substructure and gave fans a far more polished and confident dive into Bruce Wayne's world. While Batman: Arkham Asylum's arrival began a new era of superhero games, Arkham City is arguably the genre's foundation: a stunning exploration of the title character in a sandbox filled with Easter eggs and supervillains that became the go-to inspiration for games that followed in its wake.
Developer Rocksteady Studios had already set a high benchmark for itself with 2009's Arkham Asylum, an addictive cocktail of stealth, action, and detective work within the claustrophobic jail that housed Batman's rogues gallery, but Arkham City amplified everything memorable about that game and expanded on its story. With Arkham Asylum all but destroyed in the Joker's rampage, a large portion of Gotham City had been turned into a makeshift prison that even Snake Plissken would have trouble escaping from, filled to the brim with dangerous inmates, and used as a dumping ground for any opposition to Gotham's new political regime.
Spoilers for a game that's now a decade old below
Rocksteady kicked off the story with what felt like a one-two punch of Bruce Wayne being thrown into the suburban slammer while its warden--Hugo Strange--taunted him with knowledge of his alter-ego, and from there the story continued to escalate until it reached its cataclysmic conclusion. The Joker's death is as hard-hitting now as it was a decade ago, thanks to actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill delivering scene-stealing performances in the game.
While that tragic outcome may have been foreshadowed at the start of the game--check the painting of Cain and Abel on Two-Face's safe as Catwoman breaks into it--everything else about the game is a testament to Rocksteady's superb eye for detail and quality. Batman's arsenal of bone-breaking attacks and gadgets felt better than ever to utilize in combat and predator sections, but it's the world of Arkham City that deserves the most praise.
It's a grotesque prison built on slums and historical landmarks, walled in by barriers of steel and well-armed mercenaries who are more than willing to use lethal force to keep the mercenaries inside. Arkham City is a game of unbridled confidence, throwing players into multiple showdowns against the DC Universe's most corrupted and disturbing super-criminals, from an almighty tussle with Solomon Grundy in the bowels of Gotham's national history museum to a drug-fueled duel with Ra's Al Ghul within Batman's own mindscape.
Even better, Arkham City allowed for organic drops into side-missions, giving other Batman villains a chance in the spotlight. Between the Mad Hatter's tea party, the grisly clues left behind by the Hush killer, and a chance encounter with Azrael as he warned of a cataclysm, it felt like Rocksteady had somehow managed to squeeze several decades of caped crusader lore into a single disc of content.
All of this made not just for one of the best superhero games of all time, but the commercial standard for the industry. Until Marvel's Spider-Man managed to dethrone the dark knight in 2019, Batman: Arkham City was the top-selling superhero game of all time. The influence Arkham City and the rest of the series had on the industry is undeniable, as the studio's template for action became the gold standard that would inspire multiple games in the years to come.
10 years later, it's worth remembering the lesson that Rocksteady delivered with a stunning sequel of ingenuity and ambition, proving just how dedicated the studio was to creating a Batman story that felt authentic and true to the world's greatest detective.
GameSpot may get a commission from retail offers.