I really don't know how else to start this article than to say games just don't get much more perfect than this. When I think of the PS3/360 generation, I define it with a handful of stellar games: Fallout 3, Call of Duty 4, Uncharted 2, Red Dead Redemption, and now Arkham City.
If you bother to read any of my articles, you may have pinpointed a trend in my tastes. I'm a sucker for open world/sandbox games that give me the freedom to explore. I'm also of a dying breed of gamers that prefer compelling single player experiences to endless multiplayer stat raising. So factoring that in and you can easily assume Arkham Aslyum was a hit with me and predict that Arkham City was going to follow suit. I fired the game up knowing it was going to satisfy but nothing prepared me for how above and beyond this game would go.
One problem I face in writing this article is how to describe to you how great Arkham City is without spoiling anything because that truly is one of the defining strengths of the game. There are so many twists and surprises in the entire package, not just in the story (in fact less so in the story) but in the presentation and mechanics. From the instant you step foot into Hugo Strange's dystopian penal facility to the ending fade to credits, there isn't a dull moment to be had.
The story involves Hugo Strange given control of Gotham's justice system, establishing a fortified slum district of the city to house all of the criminals. I don't want to tell you how Batman makes his way inside because even the beginning is riveting but soon the Dark Knight discovers that Stange has an alterior motive for the facility as not only Gotham's pychopaths are incarcerated but many political prisoners and former associates as well. As you play through, you unravel a conspiracy tying to all the major super villains that ends almost as spectacularly as last year's Red Dead Redemption.
No caption needed.
Arkham City is divided into faction sectors, with villains like Two-Face, the Penguin, and the Joker controlling the streets with their uniquely decorated henchmen. You'll grapple, glide, and most importantly maim your way across the city, completing story missions and side quests in environments ranging from Penguin's museum headquarters, to secret underground hideouts that, once again I don't want to spoil.
I think I love this game so much because of how complete and uncompromising it feels. It's like the developers were given a blank check and left nothing on the cutting room floor. It has all strengths of an open world game and none of the weaknesses. The city is huge, 5 times the size of Arkham Asylum according to Rocksteady, yet the graphics and art style still look great, unlike LA Noire's character models. There's so much to do yet I can't remember one annoying fetch quest or boring "go talk to people" missions like there were in New Vegas. The controls are as tight and perfect as they were in Asylum and I don't have to run in 2 meter mini circles to enter a door like I do in Rockstar games. It's the most streamlined sandbox game I've ever played.
Ok, so all the facial animations don't move to the exact muscles of the actors. At least they don't look like puke up close.
The side missions and little details of the game are just as well done as every other aspect of the game too. All of the smaller villains that don't play a major role in the story get to have their time in the spotlight with sidequests, Zsasz's being a big surprise hit for me. The Riddler also returns in a much bigger way that I would dare to say it's not even a side quest. It's a whole separate main storyline that'll take you just as long to complete as your battle with Hugo Strange. And the way you uncover his clues instead of finding "Riddler Maps" is just one more addition to the list of pleasant surprise game mechanics.
I suppose I could take a minute to be one of those dick English teachers that never believes in a perfect essay, and point out the very few, very forgivable flaws in the game. The most prominent of which is Catwoman's bonus campaign. Catwoman's separate plotline adds very little to the narrative and playing as her is a real drag compared to playing as Batwoman as navigating the city with her is a pain and dying with her is all too easy. Whenever I needed a stopping point from this addictive game, I could always count on a Catwoman mission to cue me to shut the game off. I don't detract any points from the game for this though because it's a free expansion that I don't have to install.
Will I pay extra $$ to unlock the old man "Dark Knight Returns" skin? You can bet his wrinkly fat ass I will!
The only other minor complaint I have is the sometimes frustrating moment where you're not sure what you're suppose to do. During main story missions inside the game's "dungeon" levels, the compass no longer marks your objective and instead you're supposed to use your detective skils to figure out what to do next. Perhaps I'm an idiot but there were more than a handful of situations that had me in CSI vision for too long trying to figure out where to go. It was compounded even further if I quit the game mid mission and came back the next day completely lost at was I was supposed to do. But I'll just take away points from my intelligence rather than from the game's approval rating.
I don't consider myself a Batman fan because I never read the comics but I loved the animated series and just about every movie made in my lifetime with the exception of Batman and Robin (I even liked Batman Forever). It's hard for me to say what I like better, Chris Nolan's movies or Rocksteady's games. But if you are a true Batman fan, there is no doubt that this is THE DEFINITIVE Batman experience. No movie, tv show, previous video game or print material comes close to capturing Batman's persona like Arkham City. In fact, no adaptation ever created of ANY CHARACTER is this faithful, satisfying, and engrossing.
To say this is the best Batman game ever made is an insult. To say this is the best comic book game ever is an understatement. To say this is one of the greatest games ever made is much more accurate. I have absolutely no idea how Rocksteady is going to top this. Uncharted 3, you're fighting an uphill battle starting tomorrow.