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Batman: Arkham City
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Style(s): Third-Person 3D Action
Developer Rocksteady Studios returns players to its dark vision of Gotham, where the Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane has been replaced with a walled-off expanse of city streets and abandoned buildings, ruled only by deadly mad anarchy. From a familiar third-person perspective, players resume the single-player role of Batman, for missions of infiltration, assault, recovery, and rescue. Gruesomely outnumbered, the hero's survival still relies largely on stealthy ninja tactics, although open environments occasionally call for cape-aided hang-gliding or grappling-hook acrobatics.
Although the territory of the new Arkham City is nearly five times larger than the old asylum grounds, Batman's path is sometimes limited by outbursts of gang warfare, usually best avoided. The game also regularly presents puzzles for the Dark Knight to solve, in the gadget-enhanced "Detective Mode." The combat system has been refined, allowing Batman to counter attacks from multiple opponents at once, and to access his gadgets in the middle of a fight.
Set only a year after the events of Arkham Asylum, the game's story begins with Quincy Sharp, the former warden who is now mayor of Gotham City. His plan -- to shut down the asylum, move the inmates to a walled in section of city slums, and hire private security to guard the new borders -- has created a zone of pure lawlessness in the heart of Gotham. It is a city within a city, where inmates are free to roam the streets, stealing and killing as they wish, so long as they do not attempt to escape.
Control of this urban wasteland is now contested by two rival gangs: one led by the Joker, with the help of Harley Quinn, and the other by Two Face, who has called for the public execution of Catwoman -- much to the delight of the other bloodthirsty residents. Side-stories involve more of Arkham's most famously devious and demented recidivists, including Mr. Freeze, the Penguin, Poison Ivy, and the Riddler. Kevin Conroy again voices Batman, with Mark Hamill as the Joker. ~ T.J. Deci, All Game Guide
Package Contents: Catwoman Downloadable Content Code
One thing is abundantly clear in Arkham City: Batman is angry. He's been bruised, battered, and nearly broken, with factions led by Hugo Strange, Oswald Cobblepot, Harvey Dent, and a gravely ill Joker all wanting to break off a piece of the Bat. His identity has been compromised, he has been infected with a debilitating illness, his costume could use a seamstress or two, and time is running out.
Batman must figure a way out of his predicament in a closed-off part of the city where criminals run rampant. In contrast to the first game's handful of locales, Arkham City nearly overwhelms you with a dark and detailed cityscape where danger lurks on every corner and nearly everyone wants you dead. The atmosphere is just as impressive as it was in the first game, making you feel part of this twisted world as a powerful yet vulnerable caped crusader.
Arkham City isn't on the scale of open-world games from Ubisoft, Rockstar, or Bethesda, but it is big enough for you to glide and grapple, swoop and swing, or dive and drop, while traveling high above the streets. Interior locales are designed in a similar fashion to the first game's environments, with gargoyles to perch atop, vents to crawl under, and ledges to hang from. You'll also have the choice of directly pummeling thugs or taking them out with stealth, but the structure feels less formulaic than in the first game. You also have more options in combat.
The stunningly simple yet surprisingly deep hand-to-hand combat system once again relies on rhythmic taps of one or two buttons, with a keen sense of timing required to pull off larger combos. Now you can incorporate more quick-fire gadgets into your battles, allowing you to disarm, freeze, shock, or stun thugs while battering their friends. It never becomes an issue of whether you'll defeat a group of ten or more enemies, but how stylish or "cool" you'll make the fight to earn experience bonuses.
While the game lets you continue playing your upgraded Batman in a more challenging "new game plus," much of the replay value is tied to finding Riddler's 400 trophies scattered across the city, which is almost overkill. The good news is that trophies aren't just out in the open, often requiring specific technology upgrades and some puzzle-solving to figure out a way to remove their protective cages. The repetitive combat challenges also make a return, and they would have been far more welcome if they featured co-op support, especially since the developers included a playable Catwoman and Nightwing (the latter via downloadable content).
Small quibbles aside, Batman: Arkham City is basically a bigger, better version of Arkham Asylum. The story is more dramatic, the villain roster more diverse, the gadgets more inventive, and one of the weaknesses of the first game, the boss battles, is one of this title's highlights. It's hard to imagine that any fan of Batman will be disappointed with the plot, as each major character is represented as either part of the main story or part of the side quests. The setting, tone, voice acting, and dialogue are all high marks in a game that impresses on nearly all fronts. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide