The Dark Knight is Back and in Better Form
The game starts off with the gamer playing as Bruce Wayne and he has been captured by Dr. Hugo Strange, who is now in charge of Arkham City and the seeming mastermind behind the entire project. Once Bruce gets away from his captors, as a rich playboy is always a target, the gamer then gets to see him transform into Batman. The map unlocks, mostly, at this point and different activities are marked on the map. The HUD is non existent in this game, but contrary to Arkham Asylum, there is a constant navigational element on the top of the screen, acting as a compass to keep your bearings.
The game offers a variety of things to do. The main story takes up a good amount of time, I think I spent at least a few days just milling around in addition to that. The story is written, again, but scribes from the comic book, led by Paul Dini. The story plays out like something from a comic book, with twists and turns that will have you unravelling the mystery and intrigue that surrounds Arkham City. The motivation for all the characters differs, though the focus is always on Batman.
The ending is utterly unpredictable. When you embark on the final hour or two of play, the story you thought you were playing adjusts ever so slightly and a different set of issues erupt as the closing credits play. The story is the driving force to this game, make no mistake. I spent hours upon hours saying to myself, 'well, just another few minutes and I'll get past this section.' The game is addictive not for the game play, but the story that drives you to want to know why. The villains, a real rogue's gallery of Batman's foes, are always up to something, and are rarely simplistic about their methods. In this game, in addition to facing off with the Joker, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze and a variety of other spoiler-worthy boss battles, there are also villains for Catwoman to face as well. Each boss battle must employ different tactics and use all of both Batman's and Catwoman's weapons as well as fighting mechanics to get around the foes.
While the game meshes the great story with great voice acting, once again Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil return to reprise their roles as Batman and Joker, the rest of the cast is the same from the last game. I was sad to see a different voice for Penguin from the long-time cartoon, as well as a change for Tim Drake and Alfred, though Drake is of course older here than we see him in the cartoons.
Overall, the graphics are pretty stellar. On more than one occasion, I did have slight glitches with Batman walking through people or Catwoman performing Silent Takedowns in mid-air. The glitches were few and far between, but still created a slight disruption to otherwise seamless game play.
Speaking of game play, there is little that is significantly changed from the previous game, while this game makes some of the attacks more fluid, and gives more firepower to some of Batman's gadgets, overall, the game has changed little in this area. Some might argue that it worked well in the first game, so it didn't need great tweaking, but I did find myself waiting and frequently being told I was either 'too late' or 'too early' for a combo, which might be a function of my poor play, but I doubt I'm the only one to suffer through this.
The music and voice acting are both top notch, I don't think more can be said for how well Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamil and the rest of the cast become their characters so fully. Even the 'extras' delivered great performances with little, witty one-liners before Batman pummelled them. The music fit perfectly into the grey, bleak surroundings of Arkham City.
There isn't enough to be said about the story. While I have always been a firm believer that there needn't be more than one or two main villains in a movie, for a video game, only one boss battle would be absurd. The story unfolds in a manner that will keep you engaged through-out the final chapters of the game.
While the game excels in all ways to its predecessor, it is a sequel; there is no other way to put it. I enjoyed the game thoroughly, the open-world feel was familiar, but retooled to make it seem new in Gotham. The game play improves from the previous iteration, while keeping the familiar controls. I would have loved to see more varied game play, but as a stand-alone single player game, there are few games that can accomplish what Arkham City accomplishes. The game stays true to the deep roots of the Batman legacy and we can only hope that Rockstar will continue to make the same type of game, only perhaps add elements in to make it seem new, instead of the same game, with a different location.