Batman: Arkham Asylum was not only one of the best games of 2009 but also the best comic-to-game conversion of all time. Perfectly capturing DC’s Dark Knight, Asylum was a taut, action-packed adventure that blended stealth, investigation and fluid fisticuffs as Batman made his way through the institution, battling the Joker and his various henchmen. Swinging into action one year after the bombastic events of Arkham Asylum, Arkham City propels former warden, Quincy Sharp, to the top of the food chain in Gotham as its Mayor. With neither Arkham Asylum nor Blackgate Prison in any shape to house the rowdies, Quincy has jettisoned the four-wall and steel bars mantra and gobbled up huge chunks of Gotham’s slums in a bid to create Arkham City, a walled-in penitentiary overflowing with Gotham’s criminally insane.
Aside from an incredibly enhanced roster of villains and allies including a playable Catwoman – taking up around 10 percent of the actual campaign – as well as The Joker, The Penguin, Deadshot, Mr. Freeze and countless others, the most apparent alteration to the iron-clad formula established in the original is the monumental shift to open-world gameplay. After being confined to the asylum’s gloomy corridors, Gotham truly is your playground and despite the obvious absence of the Batmobile as a mode of transport, traversal of this gothic jungle gym has been enhanced by refreshed grappling and gliding abilities.
Bats is now capable of soaring gracefully across the rooftops before plummeting towards groups of enemies and transitioning seamlessly into a bone-crunching combo attack. Throw grappling hooks, batarangs and all kinds of wonderful toys into the melee mix and you’re left with a superbly overhauled combat system that builds on the original’s simple yet endlessly pleasing mechanic. While almost everything in Arkham City is bigger and better, one element of Batman’s arsenal has been wisely trimmed down – Detective Mode. Still allowing an X-ray view of Batman’s perspective, the ability is now diluted by blurring his peripheral vision, removing the first game’s temptation to simply leave it turned on. It’s still an integral part of Batman’s puzzle-solving, but now a liability in the midst of a full-on bat brawl.
Alongside the whopping campaign and a utility belt full of side missions, the addictive Challenge Rooms make a return with plenty of combat, speed and stealth tasks for you to prove yourself in. And, much like every other title this Christmas, Arkham City comes fully-loaded with both stereoscopic 3D and, if you haven’t got the requisite gear, good old-fashioned anaglyph 3D. Frills aside, though, Arkham City still manages to stand as the pinnacle of Batman’s video game outings, which is no mean feat. Rocksteady Games has not only surpassed sequel expectations but crafted a follow-up worthy even of standing shoulder to shoulder with Christopher Nolan’s big screen sequel, The Dark Knight.
Reviewed by Sebastian Williamson