It's never easy to make a perfect video game out of adapted material. There's always something bound to be lacking which makes fans feel the game doesn't do justice to the source material. That is not the case with Batman: Arkham City. The previous installment was a welcome surprise as it offered a grim viewpoint of Arkham that had been glossed over by recent adaptions which were meant to appeal to younger fans as well. Arkham City carries forward the darker approach delivering a fast paced, if not completely fulfilling premise. The game is an expansive take on the earlier installment that attempts to throw players completely into the cowl of the Bat, rather than guiding you around every corner of Arkham asylum. This time a much larger map is accessible meaning there's a whole city to scale and Batman's vast array of utility belt items to use. A number of notable side quests are also spread out in the city for you to explore while the main plot line is always hovering around as well. All this sounds very promising on paper but Arkham City unfortunately does not fully realize this potential. In each of its features there's something lacking that ultimately brings the experience down a notch. However, that does not mean the city filled with Gotham's most wanted is not worth a go around, quite the contrary in fact, you'd want to get as much out of it as you can.
The story is what you would expect from a Batman game. The Caped Crusader has the finest rogues gallery bestowed upon any superhero, and almost all of them make an appearance. It's over a year after the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and after that went down the city of Gotham decided to do one better - make an entire city dedicated to housing the scum that ran rampart into the streets. Of course, Bruce Wayne, being the incorruptible protagonist, is ardently against the idea and lobbies in opposition. But much like in Arkham Asylum, he is duped into capture and sealed within the city's walls. Now, as the Caped Crusader, he must utilize all his strengths and resources - in the form of The Oracle and trusted butler Alfred - to get to the bottom of the conspiracy spearheaded by Hugo Strange. The plot is almost a case of whodunit as once you uncover one lead another is straightaway thrown into the mix. It is very well paced, so much so that you're very unlikely to busy yourself with the side quests which are always nearby. Batman is confronted by fan favorite villains such as the immortal Ras al Ghul, his daughter and former Bruce Wayne flame Talia, the maniacal Two-Face, the stout and conniving Penguin, Mr. Freeze, the crazed anti-villain, and finally the arch enemy, The Joker.
Each one of these antagonists offer something unique, yet they are all intertwined in the main story, every one of them having an agenda of their own. There is no chance of lackluster story telling, especially once Batman has to face a race against time halfway through, by that point the story breezes by and it is an effort to catch up with. This is where the weaker point presents itself, just when you'll feel like you're really getting to the middle of the plot you'll end up realizing that the story line has in fact reached its end. This is a shame considering there really aren't moments the player would feel bored or detached, yet the game doesn't have enough of the story material to extend the main game run for a couple more hours. The characters do just about enough to make you give some consideration toward them but even there it feels like a letdown that there wasn't more of them. Some of the plot twists were really obvious to see coming as well, which would have been easy to overlook had there been more to play through. Unfortunately there wasn't. Along with the main story line, there's also several more as side missions. Here villains such as Bane, Victor Zsasz, Deadshot make their appearances. Zsasz's missions standout much ahead than the rest, these comprise of phonecalls during which he reveals his past while the Batman has to race through the city to locate the next call in order to save an innocent from being slaughtered. Although this is repetitive, the pay off makes it worth as the confrontation with Zsasz is as chilling you'd like it to be.
The well received game play from Arkham Asylum makes its return and will be easier to get used to. Batman's utility belt stores a host of weapons and gadgets which make life immensely easier in Arkham City. Obvious choices are the grapple gun - which the player will probably abuse considering its nifty and enjoyable use - or the batarang, which doesn't dispatch enemies as much as stunning them for a moment. But there are many more gadgets that you will pick up, mainly by defeating antagonists. And their uses only add to the fun once you get the hang of them, combat is made thrilling by a double as you utilize each weapon during a fist fight. Batman's fighting method is pure brawl combined with masterful skill and strategy, the player will throwing those punches around about fifteen bloodthirsty inmates at most. It is an adrenaline rush, although it is also somewhat clunky. A knockout blow is necessary to dispatch an enemy, and this begins to feel like a real chore especially when you're surrounded by many other thugs. Being hit from the side while you're trying to deliver the final blow will become a usual occurrence, which is an annoyance. However, the gadgets do offer many stunning opportunities and making the most of them can make the fighting process easier.
Sometimes stealth will be your friendlier option, during times when you're in close quarters with numerous enemies slinging machine guns, it would be more prudent to perch Batman on a gargoyle and systematically take down one man after another. Then again, you'll still end up in a fist fight as the other enemies catch on quick, Batman is still to strong here and it's a foregone conclusion that you'll be dispatching them soon enough. If being stealth is your foray then Batman instantly drops a smoke pellet once shots are fired providing ample time to hide away once more. There are way too many upgrades available for Batman's arsenal, but these aren't particularly useful considering Batman is pretty strong from the get go. The side missions could have been much more fun had they not been so sparse. The player is required to locate these quests, which is not an easy task, and once you do manage to find and complete it, locating another one is exasperating as the whole process continues again. Riddler trophies are spread out around each block, although they are easy to find, unlocking them isn't as simple. At times you'll be required to figure out what the clues mean, others will be as simple as standing on a pressure switch. Along with this are political prisoners for you to save, they aren't difficult to find, all you have to do is follow the screams.
Arkham City isn't vast. This is an issue as you'll be circling around the vicinity hundreds of times looking for another clue for a side mission. The smaller scale is exposed this way, and becomes exasperating when you see the same spots over and over again. The missions, while fun, should have been easier to locate, the search for them reduces the momentum significantly. The design, though, is phenomenal. Gothic style cathedrals, courtrooms, and towers. Eerie sirens blaring, screams of helpless prisoners always running through the night, the only sources of light being the large spotlights that swivel around, which means darkness will be your friend for the most part. The game does a fabulous job at making you experience the grittiness of Arkham City.
Graphics aren't the most impressive within game play, being pretty much on par with Arkham Asylum. The Joker, though, is superbly terrifying in appearance owing to the degeneration of body due to exposure to the TITAN virus. Arkham City is cloaked in darkness which serves as a perfect atmosphere for the game, even if it might not be the most engaging places to explore. Then again, that was never the point of it. Large neon signs, soft snowfall, enemies lurking around each corner, all these resemble a noir-esque portrayal of the city. Other villains such as Bane and Solomon Grundy are imposing enough for you to take a step back and approach them with a different mindset. The boss fights aren't all that memorable, being extremely simple to deduce and a majority of therm simply throw hordes of enemies at the player, a simple pummeling is enough to beat them into submission. However, this flaw is circumvented due to the plot's tone quickly shifting afterward.
No one can ever expect Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy not to deliver as The Joker and The Batman respectively, and they light up the screens each time an interaction between the two takes place. Nervous chatter among inmates over the Batman lurking about greatly highlights the tension of the situation as well as brings in authenticity to the game. There isn't as much as a soundtrack as one might think but there really isn't a need for one when the gruesome setting needs to be realized as much as possible, which means quiet moments are the most tense ones.
There is no denying that Batman: Arkham City is an enjoyable game, but it's that fun level that brings the experience down a notch when it lacks in depth in all departments. The game simply needed to be longer in main story line, larger in scale, had more side quests than there were, and most of all, should not have had a confusing route along with scattered points of interest that take way too long to uncover. However, it is a solid offering which is definitely worth the experience, as it pits the player straight into the dark and dreary streets of Arkham City and the Caped Crusader's adventures that he soars into.