Bruce Wayne (SPOILER: Batman) is tossed into a dystopian super prison carved out of a Gotham city ghetto and kick, punch, batarangs his way though his rogues gallery in Batman: Arkham City.
Despite the thousands of knee-to-face inquiries I delivered as Batman upon the inmates of Arkham City I am still a little unclear how this came about. Cackling supernaughty psychiatrist Hugo Strange has a hand in it, but then I’m also fighting the Penguin and working for the Joker and with Mr. Freeze, and there is a dream sequence. The plot, crafted by Batman series stalwart Paul Dini, is a knot of breadcrumbs brought beautifully to life despite its comic book inanity by the voice talents of Kevin Conroy (as Bats) and Mark Hamill as the hand-buzzer-down best Joker ever put on a screen.
You will use an array of gadgets to dispatch large groups of ne’er-do-wells with a rhythmic combat system that is a delight to execute. While it has much of the cinematic flair of quick time event sequences, a la God of War, the fighting is far more satisfying and free-form. Punches, counters and dodges can be comboed with quick-fire gadgetry to stun, disarm and confuse your opponents. Batman builds a combo meter as you time your strikes correctly and you gain access mid-fight to a broad array of finishing moves that crunch satisfyingly into the vitals of your foes. But all is not fisticuffs and tasers. Much of Arkham City’s enjoyment lies in the stealth-based action of Batman’s “predator” sequences. Utilizing cover, environment and maneuverability you are tasked with silently eliminating a room full of toughs right under their noses.
True, much of this gameplay is a direct port from Batman: Arkham Asylum, and while the controls have been streamlined and some new abilities tossed in, there are still disjointed moments sprinkled in. Sometimes Bats will glide eerily across a whole room to connect a kick with an enemy and in the heat of battle you may find yourself swinging wildly into empty space. What has been added is the free- roaming exploration of this damned slice of Gotham. Batman can grapple and cape- glide from roof to roof, eavesdropping on gangs, and pull criminals over ledges with ease. Arkham City isn’t as sprawling an environment as one might find in an open-world title, but it is certainly dense. Alleys, alcoves and hidden chambers abound, and littered throughout are hundreds of collectible Riddler trophies and dozens of challenge rooms. Batman: Arkham City is everything its predecessor was turned up to 11: it has genuine plot twists and stunning vocal performances to buttress the amazing combat challenge. A —Glenn Given