So as I'm sure many of you know, Batman Arkham City was released last week to (mostly) rave reviews. Naturally, after my supreme enjoyment of Arkham Asylum I was hoping this game would live up to it's position as the successor to the greates Superhero game ever created. But how does it do?
Well, the campaign instantly throws you into the action no matter which way you decide to play. If you enter your Catwoman Pass code first, the campaign begins with a short cutscene followed by a fight scene in which you control Catwoman, stealing a memory card from Harvey Dent's men. Whereas, if you do not enter the Catwoman code, the game skips to the scene after the Catwoman sequence and begins with Vicki Vale reporting live from Bruce Wayne's anti-Arkham press conference, at which Hugo Strange's guards descend to arrest Bruce. While there is no denying that these two sequences are both action-packed, it seems as though a vital element has been missed. Why the hell is Bruce being arrested? It is soon established that Hugo Strange knows that Bruce is Batman, but this isn't reason enough to arrest Bruce whilst he is simply campaigning against the Arkham City facility. This plot point aside, you are soon inside Arkham City, but not wearing the famous Cape & Cowl. In this fairly short sequence you encounter Hugo Strange, Black Mask being beaten up by TYGER guards, Deadshot telling Bruce that he is "on my list" and finally Jack Ryder, a Political Prisoner in Arkham City. Here is your first fight sequence as Bruce, although your moves are severely restricted as you're still stuck in cuffs. Once you complete this sequence through a series of well-timed counters, Penguin arrives and commences his beating of Bruce. However you soon escape him through more well-timed counters and climb to the roof of the building, where you call Alfred and request the Batsuit be dropped off on the building of ACE Chemicals. (The first of many gorgeous throwbacks to fans throughout the game, ACE Chemicals is the location of Joker's creation according to Moore's The Killing Joke.) Now follows a lovely little platforming section as Bruce climbs to the rof of ACE Chemicals, just as the Batwing drops off a pod containing the Batsuit & Batgadgets. And this is where the fun of the campaign really begins!
As you get out the Cryptographic Sequencer, a gadget that will be familiar to players of Arkham Asylum, you hack into the TYGER Helicopter's communication networks, allowing you to hear Hugo's plans and orders for his own personal army. While this point sounds interesting, it is only utilised a few times throughout the game, in much the same way Hugo & the TYGERs themselves are, but I'll come to that in a moment. You overhear a transmission informing you that Catwoman is being held as a prisoner of Harvey Dent (Two-Face) in the courthouse, and Batman decides that if "anyone knows what's really going on in Arkham City, it's her". And off you go to rescue her from Two-Face, gliding and grappling your way across the Gotham rooftops. And this shows the game's really impressive feature - the city is beautiful! An almost completely open world, full of nods to fans & plenty of Riddler challenges to complete, with green glowing question marks visible all around! This is probably my second biggest piece of praise about this game, I'll come to my biggest one later.
Once you have saved Catwoman, as you undoubtedly would (You are the godamn Batman after all), you save Catwoman from a hole in the head at the hands of our dear old pal Joker. And this is where the really interesting story of the game begins. Joker. Without a doubt, no matter how many villains are in this game, he steals the show yet again! His storyline throughout the game is interwoven with Batman's journey in such a beautiful way. It really is a triumph and shows off how brilliant Paul Dini's writing really is! Even after Hugo Strange has been defeated, the final boss battle comes out of the Joker storyline, with a surprising twist which, while some may be able to work out, will surprise most people in some way when they reach that stage in the game.
But if the Joker story is so good, what of all the other countless villains in the game? This is an issue with Arkham City. Surely having so many villains won't provide enough time to give all of them a decent amount of characterisation as well as an idea of their motives, right? Absolutely correct. The game does a really good job with Joker, Harley Quinn, Penguin, Mr Freeze, Hush and Riddler, but it leaves Two-Face, Zsasz, Bane, Deadshot, Calendar Man, Solomon Grundy & Poison Ivy as either dramatically underused or not fully characterised, with the sense that they are simply there to give the game some depth. There are also two villaisn who are perfectly well characterised but underused in the extreme. Mad Hatter & Hugo Strange. Mad Hatter has a single side mission to his name, which is a fun beat-em-up sequence set on a falling stopwatch in a dream world inspired by Alive in Wonderland.
But Hugo Strange is a weird one. Throughout all the trailers & promotion his story has been built up to make him appear as the main villain of the game, wanting to tease and push Batman until Bats snaps, but Hugo is tragically underused. He is a threat constantly throughout the game until he is defeated in a frigging cutscene. You don't even get to physically fight him in any way, be it a puzzle or a fist fight. And whilst there are other villains in the game, but their appearances are so enjoyable and surprising that I don't want to spoil them here.
Arkham City isn't just a campaign mode though. Once you complete the story mode and all the side missions & Catwoman missions, there is still Riddler's Revenge to complete. A twist on the challenge maps or Arkham Asylum with the idea being that each map is Riddler putting you through your paces. This mode can be played as Batman by any owner of the game, Catwoman if you enter her code or buy her pass, Robin or Nightwing if you purchase the DLC pack relevant to the character.
Furthermore, there is a New Game+ mode which allows you to tackle the story mode again but with all your gadgets and upgrades from your initial playthrough of the game intact, meaning that replayability is obviously intended to be a feature of this game!
+ 12 Hour Campaign with even more hours of Side Missions
+ Beautifully well-written, coherent storyline incorporating many villains
+ Gorgeous design and rendering of the city itself
+ The Identity Thief Side Mission; a joy to be doing proper detective work as Batman!
+ Plenty of nods to Batman lore throughout the City (ACE Chemicals, Monarch Theater, Crime Alley, etc.)
- Several villains seem to be there for no apparent reason, particularly Hugo Strange
- Catwoman campaign content requires an Online Pass
- Several villains criminally underused in the story and/or side missions