Arkham Asylum revolutionized how superhero games were made. Many people considered it the best comic book game ever made. When its sequel was announced, many thought that it wouldn’t be able to live up to the hype of the first game.
Little did we all know that it would actually be better.
After having disappeared for several years, the mysterious Hugo Strange has returned and opened a new super prison in the heart of Gotham: Arkham City. Bruce Wayne leads a campaign against this, but he quickly finds himself arrested and placed inside the city itself! Turns out, Strange has figured out that Bruce Wayne is the Batman! Now, with the Dark Knight within Arkham City, Strange is prepared to launch the mysterious Protocol 10. It’s up to the Batman to find out what Protocol 10 is. But when he’s poisoned by the Joker, this task becomes far more difficult. Will the Caped Crusader survive the night?
Also, Catwoman is there! She’s trying to rob a bank vault!
This plot is definitely a step up from Arkham Asylum. The mystery of Protocol 10 is compelling, although the ultimate reveal is unsatisfying. All of the villains are worked into the story much more organically and they play bigger roles than simple boss fights. It’s also got tons of fun moments, from the hallucination battle with Ras al Ghul to getting phone calls from the Joker!
It ain’t all perfect though. The dialogue is rough if it isn’t delivered by the Joker. That, and some of the story moments are completely illogical. Like the Mr. Freeze boss fight; Freeze gets made at Batman because he won’t save Nora, Batman beats him up, and then they’re all chummy again? Here’s how that exchange should have happened.
Freeze: Batman, the Joker kidnapped Nora.
Batman: Alright, I’ll save her. Can I have the cure so I won’t die?
Freeze: Sure thing. I know you’ll save her because you’re the Batman and that’s what you do. Here is your life-saving cure. No need for us to fight.
End of exchange. Like, I love the Mr. Freeze boss fight! But on a writing front, it’s completely forced!
I can forgive all of my plot grievances, though. All because of the ending. I would legitimately say that this game has one of the most impactful endings to any Batman game. The dialogue is stellar, the performances are among the best Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy have ever delivered together, and the cinematography of the scene is remarkable. I fucking love this ending, man!
Presentation wise, I honestly think this is the weakest in the series. Most of the comic book flare the first game had is gone. Now, we’re left with yet another photo-realistic game. One that actually looks much worse in the Return to Arkham collection. Updated Thalia honestly looks way worse than Xbox 360 Thalia.
It doesn’t help that the game is severely lacking in color. There are tons of grays and dark blues and blacks. Occasionally we get a bit of green. But that’s it. Granted, it’s a Batman game. Those are sort of forever doomed to be dark and gloomy. I just wish it had some of the style the first game had.
To be fair, I much prefer the music in this one. It feels like it would fit in with the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. The dramatic orchestral pieces are always a joy to listen to. I love how none of them are too commanding; they’re all subtle, yet they manage to get your blood pumping.
Now, we come to the game itself. Which… isn’t all that different than the first game. They very much went with the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality. They just added more onto it.
Combat and stealth encounters are just about the same as the first game. In action combat, you hit the attack button and occasionally press the counter button, among other things depending on the enemy. In stealth, you sneak around and take out enemies with guns. Simple, easy to learn, and really fun.
This time around, you have a ton more options than before. Batman can now unlock tons of new super moves and combo-boosting abilities. He’s also got a ton of new gadgets to utilize in both stealth and regular combat. Learning how to string everything together without getting hit is a challenge, but it feels soooo good to get it down!
Boss fights are also significantly better than the first game. There are still a few duds; I hate the Two Face boss with a passion. But some of them are awesome! The Mr. Freeze fight is incredible and the Clay Face fight is a ton of fun! They’re not on the same level as a Dark Souls boss, but they’re decent.
The world is much bigger this time. Arkham City isn’t Breath of the Wild levels of huge, but it certainly has plenty to do! From various side quests to gliding challenges, you have no shortage of places to go and things to do in the city. It’s a ton of fun to explore, but getting around can be slow going at times, given that Batman can only glide.
Of course, the Riddler has returned. And honestly? I really like his challenges in this game! The incentive for doing them is much stronger than the first game! It still gets tedious, collecting all of them. But the ultimate reward is pretty satisfying!
The challenge mode also makes its return. In this separate mode, you’re set into a combat or stealth challenge. In order to get all three medals, you’ll need to complete challenges that range from easy peasy to absolute bullshit hard. These are a fun side activity, but I doubt you’ll spend much time in them.
Fun fact! Back in the days of Windows Live, I had gotten to #14 on the world leaderboards for one of these combat challenges. I probably could have gotten #1, but I got bored and let myself die. That was how addicted I got to this game back in the day.
This mode also features more playable characters! You’ve got Batman! You’ve got Catwoman! You’ve got Robin! You’ve even got Nightwing! Who never talks! That’s… kinda weird!
There are also a ton of fun alternate costumes. Want to run around as Batman Beyond? How about the Animated Series Batman? You’ve got tons of options and they make playing New Game + much more tolerable.
There’s also the Harley Quinn’s Revenge DLC. This is a little mini-sequel to the campaign. It’s short and it’s fine. The overworld feels unnecessarily used, given that it’s completely fucking empty. But playing as Robin and fighting Harley Quinn is decently fun. Even if the actual narrative of it is a bit underwhelming.
My nostalgia boner for Arkham City is huge. I’ll admit that it’s not the best game ever made. But of the four Arkham games (I do count Origins), I would consider this one my favorite. I still think it’s aged fairly well, at least in comparison to Asylum.
But I’ll admit that it’s easier to get around in Arkham Knight. Even if it isn’t all that fun.