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Batman: Arkham City Review(Xbox 360)
Arkham City takes place 6 months after the events of Arkham Asylum. Arkham prison has expanded into Gotham and become Arkham City run by criminal mastermind Hugo Strange. It's up to the Dark Knight, Catwoman and a few other bat buddies, Alfred rules, to stop Hugo and the returning Joker. The story of Arkham City is amazing with many twists and turns along the way that pop in classic Batman characters whenever possible. While some things aren't explained as well as I'd hoped the remainder, especially the amazing ending, more than make up for the minor plot holes.
Arkham City plays just like Arkham Asylum which is completely OK with me. The combat revolves heavily on group battles where you have 5+ thugs taking on one lonely Batman. When combat is initiated you'll use the X button for striking, Y button to perform counter moves when the yellow lightning bolts appear over an enemy's head, the B button initiates a stun move which now can be followed up by AA which does a new air combo. A by itself still dodges as well as manipulates switches and doors. The biggest thing with the combat is the need to keep a combo going in any way possible because when you reach a certain number of hits you can perform a special move. In Asylum you got two, a 1-hit takedown and a throw move. Now you can perform 4 different moves that must be unlocked such as one where you send out a flurry of bats to stun enemies in close proximity and a flashy move where Batman jumps in the air in slo mo and launches Batarangs at his foes. You'll use these abilities on enemies new and old and while the new enemy types aren't the greatest they still give new ways to think about the deep combat. After the battles are over you will gain XP which can be used to upgrade various aspects of Batman. You can get better versions of gadgets, better defense against certain weapons or get brand new moves and abilities. The combat of Arkham Asylum was fresh, fun and addicting and the additions made in City makes the combat even that much more fun.
Outside of the combat Arkham City also has an interesting adventure game hiding in the shadows. After a great intro you are dumped into a large open map that you can use as your playground. You are free to do sidequests, look for collectibles or just beat up thugs walking the streets. Don't expect a Just Cause sized map here. Think of it more as the size of the map found in GTA Vice City except with much more vertical opportunities. One thing I don't like about the map is that right in the middle is a "Forbidden Zone" which you are unable to enter. Sadly this means you will spend alot of time taking a long detour to get from one end of the map to the other. Even later on when this area opens up for entry it still forces you out if you don't enter the predetermined way. Maneuvering the map is fast and fluid and makes the experience that much more enjoyable. There are ledges and gargoyles littered around all of the city which you can grapple onto using RB. When at a high altitude you can then leap off with A then hold A to glide freely around the city. While gliding you can hold RT to perform a dive bomb to either get the drop on enemies or use it to build up momentum to glide further or you can tap RB to fast grapple onto other ledges and gargoyles. Much of the story, though, takes place indoors so expect to do most of your combat in large open rooms with gargoyles on the ceiling just like in Asylum. I've always wanted a free-roam Batman game and while I wish the map was large enough to ride Batman's cool vehicles the gliding is still extremely fun and makes the transition from adventure to combat smooth and fast.
Batman: Arkham City is absolutely gorgeous. The city is highly detailed and even running on the Unreal Engine I never saw any of the architecture have pop-in like you'll see occasionally on the character models. The city of Arkham is dark and dreary and fits perfectly into Batman loir. You feel like you're actually Batman gliding through thug-ridden dark alleys littered with garbage before roaming highly-detailed buildings with beautiful art decor. In other reviews I saw complaints about bad lip-syncing but I made a habit to watch this while playing and never saw anything out of sync. I did download a patch so maybe that resolved the issue but I must say that the facial animations here are some of the best I've ever seen. There's something about the grimaces and glares of Batman that caused my jaw to drop on multiple occasions. The character models, like the city, are beautifully detailed and most characters are very faithful to their comic book counterparts though I wish we got a little more divergence in Batman's costume, but more on that later.
"I don't wear hockey pads!" The voiceovers in City steal the show. Kevin Conroy as Batman is still as memorable as ever but it's Mark Hamill as Joker that takes the cake once again. Outside of the returns, the rest of the voice works is still great. Batman is armed with a radio now that eavesdrops on enemy communications so you'll occasionally listen in on enemy chatter which can be very hilarious and believable as thug conversation. Other mains such as Harley Quinn, complete with new but not noticeably different voice actress, Mr. Freeze and Catwoman all sound great as well. The hit sounds are lifted right from Arkham Asylum but the audio of the wind whipping through your cape and the cries of innocent people in peril give Arkham an audible flavor to accompany it's detailed city.
The music of City is a mixed-bag. Awesome orchestral music plays while you glide through the air and that specific song is very reminiscent of the music found in the Tim Burton Batman movies. Outside of that the music isn't as engaging since the voicework and sound effects drown out the otherwise quiet music.
The story of Arkham City took me about 8 hours to complete. Outside of the story is a whole city to explore that can add another 10 or so hours to that. You can search the city for over 300 Riddler trophies and riddles that require a little bit of brain work to get a grasp of. You can also take on a small handful of sidequests that can be seen as separate storylines involving other characters from the Batman universe. You can do some demolition quests for a character from the first game or do some AR training that has you gliding through checkpoints to upgrade your grapple gun. The sidemissions can add yet another 3 hours or so to your experience so expect to spend about 20 or so hours if you're going for everything campaign-wise. Once you finish the story you will get access to a few more modes that will add yet more time to your experience. First off is New Game+ which lets you replay the whole story with all of your unlocked upgrades as well as randomizing enemy placements and removing the counter prompt over their heads making the experience much different and alot of fun. You'll also get the challenge maps like those found in Arkham Asylum. You have the combat challenges where you seek to get the highest score during waves of enemies and there are predator challenges where you try to eliminate enemies silently. On top of this is the Campaign mode which groups three of these challenge maps together but adds on various mutators like time limits, stronger enemies and more gun-wielding enemies. You can also make your own campaigns to challenge yourself and friends.
Batman: Arkham City offers you plenty for your $60 but there is one major beef that I have with this game, DLC. First off are the Catwoman missions. One of the big things Rocksteady gloated during production is the inclusion of being able to play as Catwoman at certain points of the game. The problem here is that you have to buy the game new to access any of this. These missions add alot to the actual story of Arkham City but when running around and seeing messages saying "Content not installed" just left me sick to my stomach. I borrowed the game and while I really wanted to play these missions, didn't want to shell out the extra $10 to play them. Also add onto this that in the challenge modes you can play as Catwoman or Robin but ONLY IF YOU PRE-ORDER AT CERTAIN RETAILERS!!! This is pure bullshit and only screws the customer out of content on the disc that they pay for. My biggest gripe with this DLC garbage comes with the costumes. I love having the ability in superhero games to change up my costumes during play. Nothing beat playing Spider-Man on the PS1 and changing between Ben Reilly or Scarlet Spider whenever I want as long as I unlocked the costumes. In Arkham City you don't unlock ANY costume unless you fork out extra or pre-ordered at certain stores. There are over 6 different costumes floating around and there's no excuse as to why atleast 1 of those couldn't be unlockable in-game.
Outside of my hatred for this game's gratuitous use of DLC bullcrap the on-disc content is plenty for you to salivate over. You'll get a fully-fleshed story along with a few extra modes for your $60. Arkham City truly lives up to the hype and is a faithful sequel to the amazing Arkham Asylum. If I were to nominate my personal game of the year so far, Batman: Arkham City would easily take it.