Batman: Arkham City marks Mark Hamill’s final performance as the voice of the Joker, and what a way to go out. Everything that made Arkham Asylum great has been made better, and everything that made AA tedious has been removed. Beyond that, City succeeds at being a truly brilliant open-world game that captures the darker tone of Nolan’s Batman and combines it with the 90s animated series’ cast of villains and voice actors, and the result is what may come to be remembered as the greatest Batman game ever made.
Catwoman and company
Virtually every major villain and kind-of-villain-but-not-really makes an appearance in this game, either in a cameo or as a major player. While that may sound overwhelming, the open-world nature of the game ensures that it never feels forced. Different gangs under different villains’ leadership show up on different parts of the map, so just traversing the map gives you a sense that you’re caught in the middle of a giant turf war, and you can even eavesdrop on random thugs who often discuss recent plot developments among themselves.
Batman has a great cast of characters, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that all of my personal favorites made it into this game (most notably Talia al Ghul, who humanizes Batman in a way few other characters can). Even some characters I don’t care for all that much made it, but they’re nonetheless done so well that I can’t help but like them regardless of my prior feelings for them. Whether you know anything and everything about Batman or have been living under a rock for the entirety of your life, you’ll end up loving the characters, especially since the voice acting for everyone is impeccable (especially in the case of Mark Hamill, who’s capable of transforming even the most psychotic character ever conceived into a lovably tragic figure using nothing but inflection).
It’s an open world after all
To start with, it’s open-world. Kind of. Whereas the first game felt almost on-rails with the game telling you where to go and dictating when you can go there, City drops into a bigger world that you can freely run around in, only forcing you into smaller, more Arkham Asylum-esque corridors when you travel to certain areas to progress the plot. To give an example of how this works, imagine this: You finish a plot point, let’s say Batmanning it up by saving someone from someone else, and then the person you save gives you a hint on what to do next. You can either go progress the plot using the new information at this point, or opt to glide around the city beating up random ne’er-do-wells for the sheer pleasure of it.
Furthering the plot oftentimes means ending up in a building, methodically making your way through linear rooms full of hired thugs in the most Batmannish way possible until you’ve reached wherever you’re going, but simply having the option to run around freely between these parts helps take away from the claustrophobic feeling of the first game. The city may not be a juggernaut of open space that can rival other open-world games in size, but it’s packed full of so many things to do and discover so that even running around aimlessly can be surprisingly rewarding in a way that those other open-world games fail to be.
The combat is improved somewhat
I wasn’t a huge fan of the combat in Arkham Asylum despite the virtues of the “free flow” fighting system and can’t help but feel that it’s been much improved in Arkham City. To be fair, part of that is probably due more to the damage-sponge Titan thugs that seemed to be overused in the first game than any kind of actual deficiency in how combat works, but the end impression is ultimately the same. As for the control scheme, the whole experience is probably better on a controller than a keyboard for both games, but I found myself dying in City far less than in Asylum because of an inability to hit all of the required keys; I’m not sure whether Asylum truly requires more dexterity than City or if City just gave me a better impetus to become accustomed to the control scheme, but the fact remains that everything seems to come together a bit better in Arkham City.
Personal feats of batmannery
You’re given several options for how to approach potential combat situations in the game, from straight-up confrontation to a more stealthy approach. Armed opponents are best taken out silently while unarmed opponents mean you can have some fun chaining together combos, but it’s possible to fight opponents who have guns by timing your hits carefully and silently taking out the unarmed. Alternatively, you can shoot your batclaw at an armed enemy to tear the gun out of their hands (though they’ll sometimes dodge). You’ll likely come up with your own favorite way of approaching different situations and stick with it throughout the game, only being shaken out of your comfort zone once or twice, and in that sense City is a huge success.
Arkham City is a beautiful place
The atmosphere of the game lends itself to the whole “dark knight” theme, being a shadowy place filled with danger around every turn where even the snow seems reluctant to fall. The graphics are one of the game’s many successes, really, holding up remarkably well even at high resolutions and making Batman’s world feel realistic in a way that few other Batman games could. That being said, there are a few low-quality textures that occasionally stand out, and the DirectX 11 features are virtually meaningless (and still don’t seem to have been fixed, if the many crashes I experienced were any indication), but City is nevertheless a surprisingly lovely place. I also want to make a point to mention that there are a number of small graphical touches that add immensely to the experience, such as Batman’s clothing being torn up over the course of the night and snowflakes that linger on his cape when he’s gliding around the city.
Play it again, Batman
I won’t say that Arkham City has incredible music, being largely made up of same-y orchestral music that many other (lesser) games use to cheaply build tension, but City at least breaks those up with occasional electronic-sounding tracks. I found these to be reminiscent of Mass Effect, strangely enough, and they do well to add a bit of variance to the soundtrack.
Here’s what you should do: