Batman: Arkham City review

We don our cape and cowl to hit the streets of Arkham City as Batman for our review of Rocksteady's second effort as the Dark Knight.

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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.

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.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 28, 2011 12:00 PM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Batman: Arkham City review.

    We don our cape and cowl to hit the streets of Arkham City as Batman for our review of Rocksteady's second effort as the Dark Knight.

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      October 28, 2011 12:45 PM

      Whoa...Too each his own opinion to be sure...but i respectfully disagree!! In a day and age where every damn game that comes out portends you never played one before...in a day and age where the modus operandi has become to dumb it down and spoon feed you every step of the way...Arkham city is a welcome addition to one of the very best games i have ever played....if it is faulted for anything, than i think it comes off to crowded at points...as you already point out there is a ton of stuff to do...but ill take too crowded over not enough any day of the week

      Cheers!

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        October 28, 2011 12:54 PM

        agree!

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        October 28, 2011 1:03 PM

        I definitely loved the game, which is why i wanted to start with the restaurant comparison. It's a terrific game--but a slightly flawed one in comparison to the first.

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          October 28, 2011 1:08 PM

          I thought it did a decent job introducing newcomers to the gadgets and combat techniques. Thats basically what the first and second story missions were for (the bit where you play as Bruce Wayne and then go to save Catwoman from Two-Face).

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          October 28, 2011 2:17 PM

          I actually thought that was an exceedingly well written review. I think the analogy holds and indeed was similar to my own viewpoint. I think the game could have used more structure out the gate, then build up into letting you loose in the city proper. I definitely felt visually overwhelmed.

          I'll get back to it later (this time the PC version, yay!) but for now, Dark Souls and Gears 3 are keeping me occupied.

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          October 28, 2011 3:26 PM

          One person's opinion, but as much as I love Batman, I couldn't even bring myself to finish the first game.

          A week in and I'm about to 100% Arkham City

          I think that speaks for itself.

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        October 28, 2011 1:04 PM

        ellipses!

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      October 28, 2011 12:53 PM

      What is with the AR missions? I had little trouble with them. As for the side missions, I think they were done very well. If you do them in different order (My wife and I have played through the story and all side missions in different orders and my son is halfway through) then the story slightly changes, or at least the dialog. Catwoman is a fun addition. I personally have no problem with it. If you had too much more of Catwoman then it would start to be a DC game and not Batman. Her addition added a bit of flair to a remarkable game. The combat and animations as a whole are amazing to say the least. I fear this "review" (sorry, had to mock the "improvement" comment) is lacking. And why so late in the review? I go to college full time and work part time and I have had time to beat the hell out of the game. And no scores? I can understand reason for not having a score system for reviews, but you discourage a lot of "readers" from ever looking at your review simply because you don't have a score. I for one, and I believe I am not alone, usually won't read a review unless I am curious why a game got a particularly high or low score. The only reason I read this one was because of it being, in my opinion, an excellent game. Sorry, got off on a tangent there, but seriously ShackNews, if you want to be taken seriously you should have some form of scoring system in place. Anyone else agree?

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        October 28, 2011 1:23 PM

        I'm cool with the no scores thing, it has been the Shacknews way for a long time. Plenty of sites that don't give scores are "taken seriously", I'm not sure why you say they must add a scoring system for that reason. Their reviews are still effective and get their point across.

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          October 28, 2011 2:17 PM

          OK, maybe "taken seriously" is the wrong phrasing, but if they want more people to actually read the reviews, then I think a scoring system would help to bring in readers. Maybe I am wrong, but many other game sites list the scores that other sites have given a particular game. That is free advertising. When I look at a game on another site, say Metacritic, and I see an exceptionally low or high score for a game I am interested in, I will go to the sites review to see what they liked or didn't like about the game. Without a score, I would never know that an objectionable review was written. As a gaming news site, ShackNews is amazing. As far as the reviews go, there are a dozen other sites I would trust before this one. Part of the reasoning is the scoring system.

          Let's take this review as an example. After playing and beating Batman: Arkham City, I came out of reading this review thinking to myself, "this guy either sucks at games or can't think for himself" (in regards to having too much to do with little to no direction). If I had not played the game I would be thinking, "this game doesn't sound as good as I thought it would be." Truth is, as Andrew Yoon says in a reply to RSalads post, "I definitely love the game". Never once does he mention the polish the game has. I think I saw clipping once in my 25+ hours with the game. I, for one never finished AA. My wife did and after I saw her beat it, I lost interest in finishing it myself. This was in part because of the semi-linear game play. The other reason was that I just did not have as much fun with AA as I have with AC. So, back to this review. If I had not played AC and I just read this review, I would not play it. With that said, the scoring system comes into effect. It seems to me that this game would get a B, or 8/10, or 80-85% from most sites (once again, based off of this review) . BUT, Yoon says that he "definitely lovs] the game" in the comments. So, that makes me think it is more like an A, 9/10, or 90-95%. That is a big difference and the reason I say a scoring system would help.

          That is a lot to digest. The gist being, if you have a scoring system, you have accountability.

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        October 28, 2011 2:08 PM

        No. Scores mean nothing these days. I've read plenty of articles (see: any IGN review) that hammers the game on a number of points, yet rarely gives anything below a 7. The opinion matters more than a number.

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        October 28, 2011 3:15 PM

        We take reviews very seriously, which is why you're seeing this review now. Warner Bros elected to not give us access to the game prior to release.

        In general, our reviews offer the opinion of the author backed up by example and explanation, and steer clear of the product evaluation approach commonly seen on other outlets. Scores could potentially help frame those opinions and we are constantly evaluating how they might work with our review system.

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      October 28, 2011 1:08 PM

      Man this review is so wrong it makes me tear up a little. :`(

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        October 28, 2011 1:26 PM

        This is the most accurate review I've read, and I am a fan of Arkham City.

        To me Arkham City is a better game, and Arkham Asylum is a better story. I haven't quite finished the campaign yet though (I'm only 2-3 missions away from the end).

        Those goddamn Advanced AR missions.. took quite a few tries to nail a couple of them, but I finally managed to get the trophy.

        What this game needed was more Joker, in Asylum, even if you were nowhere near joker, he was always around to share some awesome dialog at appropriate moments and was by far my favourite part of playing Asylum.

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        October 28, 2011 2:05 PM

        The game is gorgeous, certainly, but Andrew pretty much hit the nail on the head with this review. It's by no means a bad game, especially when compared to other superhero beat 'em ups. But Asylum is easily a better game.

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          October 28, 2011 2:08 PM

          Asylum is much better, in terms of a focused story and a superb linear quest. City works better as a satisfying open world experience. They're both great games, but I love that they're different enough from each other that such a comparison is possible.

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            October 28, 2011 2:11 PM

            That's very true. I'm not sure how I would have felt had Rocksteady just up and copied the Asylum formula for City.

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      October 28, 2011 1:13 PM

      Some of the comments in this review reminded me of this.
      http://www.hiwiller.com/2010/04/29/if-mario-was-designed-in-2010/

      I kinda miss the old C64 days when we had to figure out what we were supposed to do. Best example of that era may be Out Of This World (Another World).

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        October 28, 2011 1:42 PM

        it's funny 'cause it's true

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        October 28, 2011 2:16 PM

        I agreed with your statement until you mentioned Out Of This World... and then I REALLY agreed with your statement. Damn I love that game.

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        October 28, 2011 2:21 PM

        Another good contemporary example would be Dark Souls and Demon's Souls. Those games are pretty much all about working it out for yourself (or with the help of your ghostly anonymous helpers).

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      October 28, 2011 1:41 PM

      Ok got a question regarding : Your utility belt too is nearly filled right from the start, fully empowering you as the Batman right away.


      ....you're the motherfucking BATMAN. Why would you not start off with all your equipment? This applies to not only this game but other superhero games where someones like 'Damn I left my favorite gun at home...' then in the middle of the game they are 'Oh hey I found it laying right here!'

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      October 28, 2011 1:47 PM

      I guess it's like skipping Star Wars ANH and starting at Empire then bitching you don't know wtf is going on and why are people flying around and moving objects with their minds. What a dumbfuck.

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        October 28, 2011 1:50 PM

        I am so confused by this post

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          October 28, 2011 1:52 PM

          did you read the article? He is complaining you are a bit lost if you didn't play the Arkham Asylum, thus my comparison.

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        October 28, 2011 2:10 PM

        oops sorry for the "dumbfuck" comment, that was out of line. I sperg out a bit when people don't suck batmans batcock.

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      October 28, 2011 2:21 PM

      While I believe even good games need their flaws pointed out, this review does rather read as if the sequel were a letdown. We've certainly had enough disappointing sequels (hello Dragon Age 2) to be on the watch for such things, and I'd hate for someone to get scared away from a very good game.

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        October 28, 2011 2:39 PM

        This review reads more like an internet commenter disappointed in an expansion pack for AA. The whole tone of it just seems rather crappy, for lack of a better term.

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      October 28, 2011 3:05 PM

      I was 70% through the game (plus a shitload of side quest stuff) on 360 when it decided to delete my save game off my HDD. This seems to be affecting many others as seen here: http://community.batmanarkhamcity.com/forums/showthread.php/6912-360-save-files

      So far no answer from the developers. Just a warning

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      October 28, 2011 5:00 PM

      Wow! Okay then. I played both. Finished Arkham City yesterday and immediately started a new game.

      I can kinda see your criticisms but I completely disagree. I think this game is better in every way than the first.

      Maybe in your next review you can mention some of the things that the game does right instead of just dwelling on what you didn't like?

      I personally love the combat, love the open city, love the freedom. It's a great game with far more replayability than the first. I do agree with the catwoman sequences though. I just wanted them to be over.

      I give the game a 9.4/10. One of the best games of the year.

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      October 28, 2011 5:03 PM

      This is just a bad review. It is the worse review of arkham city I have seen so far. I know it's an opinion but come one. The reviewer complained about everything when nothing need to be complained about and it sounded like he wanted to be hand held through the whole thing. What's wrong wit trial and error and if you've played the first one then you should know how to do most of everything and should like that you don't have to sit through tutorials. This reviewer is the type of person that if there would have been tutorials for everything he would have complained about it saying we don't need as many and that most people know how to play it already. I haven't played the game yet but I've read enough reviews to know just about how the game is. And no I don't just read one or two reviews I read about eight or nine. For every game I buy I read a bunch of reviews and I know what I'm getting into just from reading them and what to expect. This person is obviously not the right person to be reviewing this. From the review I can tell he wants to be hand held through the whole thing what with him complaining about tutorials and not having a definitive direction to go through. I also have not heard one person complain about the story and the side missions and the catwoman parts. This reviewer complained about all of them. I mean do you really not want side missions. How does it brake up the story? They are there so you can go off the beaten path and so you can have other stuff to do in the game and to be their own little story apart from the main story. Shacknews generally has good reviews and I almost always agree with them but this one is just plain bad. It needs to be scratched and get someone else who appreciates batman and knows what a good game is and doesn't need to have his hand held through the whole game. Also I don't know what the score was given for this game. I don't even know if shacknews gives scores because I mainly just look at the gamefly app and no scores are ever put on there. But from reading this it sounds like a 3/5 or 7.5/10 which it should easily get a 9.5 or higher but I'll save my true judgement till I play the game and not just go off all the reviews I have read. Given all that said though I know it'll be a great game. The first one was spectacular and this one looks so much better and from the reviews I've read everybody else agrees besides this reviewer of course.

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        October 28, 2011 5:46 PM

        ^^^ My brain feels like it's been slammed against a brick wall just looking at this.

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          October 28, 2011 7:00 PM

          a brick wall of text!

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          October 28, 2011 11:29 PM

          Seriously, it's as if dedon0707 has never even heard of the concept of a paragraph. Jesus.

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      October 28, 2011 6:08 PM

      fuck this shit, where is valcan

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      October 28, 2011 6:11 PM

      The restaurant metaphor sucks. =\

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        October 29, 2011 5:13 AM

        Yeah that was my first reaction so I quit reading.

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      October 28, 2011 7:52 PM

      It's really rare that a Shacknews review runs so counter to my own experience with a game. I found the fight system to be elegantly simple. It gets challenging as the enemies arm themselves with better weapons later on, but I never felt overwhelmed. The options open to you when you first start are a bit daunting, but I realized pretty quick that the game doesn't punish you for starting/stopping your progress through the side missions and only at the tail end does it compel you forward in the main story.

      I thought catwoman was a nice change of pace in the game and my only complaint was that there wasn't quite enough of her. I'm hoping for some DLC expansion down the road.

      The flaws highlighted in this review seem more like a reflection of personal preferences. It's like a reviewer pointing to the bulky costumes in Gears of War as a flaw. Maybe they're a little unsightly for some, but I wouldn't call that a flaw. Maybe the fight mechanics in Arkham City aren't as responsive and crisp as Ninja Gaiden, but I wouldn't highlight it as a flaw.

      IT seems like the author was really trying to rationalize why it might not be his favorite game, but it seems like the truth is it's just not his cup of tea. Calling the games strengths "weaknesses" seems misleading.

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      October 28, 2011 10:17 PM

      You really should have edited out the restaurant metaphor. It isn't apt, doesn't add to your point and makes the last paragraph confusing. I still can't tell if you liked the game.

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        October 28, 2011 10:31 PM

        Feels like the Arkham City review was an excuse to wedge in the restaurant metaphor, rather than necessarily a good fit for it.

        The whole review is... weird.

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      October 28, 2011 10:52 PM

      If I were trying to decide if I wanted this game or not based on this review I would not find ANY help which means you did not fulfill your purpose. This is a poor review.

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      October 29, 2011 1:18 AM

      What a strange review. Of course it's important to talk about a game's flaws, but there isn't really much else to the article. You spent more time making a bad restaurant analogy than you did telling us whether the game was actually any good.

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        October 29, 2011 2:20 AM

        yeah just a little blurb at the end

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      October 29, 2011 1:25 AM

      You should probably start writing at ign or something

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      October 29, 2011 4:53 AM

      TLDR: "This restaurant isn't THAT great...but don't get me wrong, it's still great." (wtf?¿? )

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      October 29, 2011 5:03 AM

      I don't usually do this, but I felt this was a rather poorly written review. The restaurant metaphor felt oddly out of place and it seems like you're upset over some really inconsequential stuff.

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      October 29, 2011 6:05 AM

      Wow.. Reading this it, sounds like the reviewer didn't even play through the whole game and just listed random bad points without a proper explanation to back them up.

      Here's a tip Andrew: when you write negative points at least add what you liked and substance to what you thought was so wrong. There is absolutely no logic or structure to this review that makes this "article" useful. Do Shacknews editors not proof things before publishing these, days?

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        October 29, 2011 9:31 AM

        Agreed.
        The game is much better than its predecessor and the review doesn't do it any justice.

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      October 29, 2011 11:51 PM

      a review this is not.

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      October 30, 2011 9:25 AM

      Yikes, I've never seen a review on the Shack bashed this hard... I've read comments regarding issues with writing styles before, but this is that and disdain for the opinions.

      Funny thing is I wanted to see the comments to make sure I was not the only one who was thinking these thoughts.

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      October 30, 2011 7:09 PM

      Best line in the whole review, "In an era of four hour copy-paste campaigns...". I applaud you Mr. Yoon.

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      November 2, 2011 6:52 AM

      It's a review based on your opinion, i get that but... this is ridiculous. First, what was with the restaurant angle? Hungry or something? Why are you bashing the freedom they give the player? Isn't that what we as gamers fight for all the time? Are you going to complain when Skyrim let's you walk all over the map at the very onset of the game? What if they give you a sword and bow? Will you complain that your "utility belt" is nearly full? I'm so SICK of turorials when I've already played the first game. Unless there's someting new don't hold my hand. If I DO have any questions, I'll look in the batcomputer.

      How does putting more enemies in combat hurt the freeflow system? That's RIDICULOUS!!! If anything it helps since you have more faces to punch! Don't blame the game if you suck at playing. At the very least, if it's a shortcoming here it was a shortcoming in Arkham Asylum, so you can't blame the increase in enemies. If anything they IMPROVED this system by giving you more gadgets to use with just the use of a quick hotkey.

      This is what you said with the Catwoman DLC: "her side-story is dull, breaks the pacing of the main campaign, and ties into the narrative in the laziest way possible." And then you go on to say:"Playing as Catwoman is fun, as she plays rather differently than the Dark Knight, but your excitement over her missions should be muted." So....WHICH IS IT?!?! Are those missions too boring or too exciting? (or are you just looking for things to complain about) I thought her missions were a nice change of pace and I'll take any chance I get to play as a different character in the DC universe.

      This game was incredible. It was extemely polished when it was released. It has loads of replay value with NG+, riddler trophies and the various challenge maps. My favorite part about the game is the freedom it gives you when it comes to the goons. You have so many ways to approach any situation!!! Based on your review, you were disappointed with the game. That's too bad because it was one of the best this year. This is a very frustrating review... and next time, take your lunch break before you sit down to write it out.