Two years ago, a great restaurant opened in your neighborhood. It was, oddly, called Arkham Asylum. You had your doubts--previous Batman restaurants just haven't been very good. But critics and fans agreed: Arkham Asylum was terrific, and the three course meal it offered was one of the finest meals you've had in a long time.
Now, Rocksteady Studios has prepared a follow-up. Batman: Arkham City offers so much more--it's not a restaurant, but a ritzy casino buffet.
At first, the options presented to you are entirely overwhelming. Where do you even begin? You gorge yourself on everything laid out in front of you. As you lie down, you unbuckle your belt, thinking "maybe I've eaten too much." Yes, you're a bit sick. You're happy--but you fondly recall Arkham Asylum, and realize that as decadent as this buffet was, it wasn't the chef-prepared experience you had years ago.
Bigger isn't necessarily better, and Arkham City--the game--is testament to that. Its biggest selling point--being able to explore an open world as the world's greatest detective--is also at the heart of the game's biggest weaknesses. Mere moments after starting the game, you're given free reign to explore most everything Arkham City has to offer. Your utility belt too is nearly filled right from the start, fully empowering you as the Batman right away.
While Arkham Asylum veterans will have no problem jumping in, I couldn't help but miss the carefully directed experience that the first game offered. I have no idea how approachable the game will be for newcomers, as the game offers little handholding. Even the "AR tutorials" aren't much help, as the game gives you scant instruction on how to actually play these sequences. There are the occasional prompts that highlight which gadget you're supposed to use, but expect a lot of trial-and-error guesswork as you stumble through the open world. Combat can be especially problematic, given the game's complete lack of direction on how the scoring and combo system actually works. (ProTip: Don't button mash!)
Every "improvement" made to Arkham City comes with a mark against it. The constant flow of side quests do add variety to the game, but make for a stilted narrative experience. Sure, you can ignore the pleas for help from the various "political prisoners" trapped in the city, but would Batman really do that?
The tech is far more ambitious in Arkham City, rendering not only an open world, but dozens of enemies at once. You will be fighting entire mobs of enemies--an impressive feat, to say the least. However, this enhancement makes Batman's "FreeFlow" combat system less effective. It can be frustrating when you intend to hit one enemy, but unintentionally hit the shielded commander next to him. Would Batman really do that? Probably not.
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Perhaps the most glaring shortcoming is the addition of Catwoman. Relegated as pack-in DLC, her side-story is dull, breaks the pacing of the main campaign, and ties into the narrative in the laziest way possible. Playing as Catwoman is fun, as she plays rather differently than the Dark Knight, but your excitement over her missions should be muted.
It's easy to note the flaws, if only because of how tightly constructed its predecessor was. Arkham City may not be as memorable, or as well-executed, but it's far from a bad game. Rocksteady has produced yet another terrific Batman simulator. Gliding off a building, cape outstretched, kicking a goon off a ledge is still exhilarating. The numerous face-offs (and partnerships!) with iconic rogues will get any Bat-fan excited. Also, you get to punch a shark in the face.
Arkham City: the restaurant may not win any Michelin stars, but you'll walk away from it, belly ready to burst. In an era of four hour copy-paste campaigns, having a game that's too big for its own good is quite the wonderful problem to have.
Disclosure: This review of Batman Arkham City is based on a retail Xbox 360 copy of the game, provided by Warner Bros. Interactive.