We took a look at “Batman: Arkham Asylum” not so long ago and discussed what made that game truly special and worth playing. Now, it’s time to jump into its sequel, “Batman: Arkham City,” in our series covering the Arkham games. We’ll be taking a look at how this game improved upon from the first and all the new villains it introduces for Batman to go toe-to-toe with. We’ll be taking a look at this in the “Return to Arkham” remaster as well as we did for Asylum, and spoiler alert: “Batman: Arkham City” is the best Arkham game ever made. Yes, even better than “Arkham Knight,” at least in my humble opinion.
After the tremendous success of “Arkham Asylum,” Rocksteady pretty much had the blind support of Warner Bros. to make their new game. Two years later, in 2011, Rocksteady released “Arkham City,” a better, bolder, and bigger version that was built upon everything “Arkham Asylum” did and made it 100x better. There are a couple of fun facts behind this game, with the first one being that “Arkham City” was their original vision for a Batman game that they pitched to Warner Bros. but were denied the funding on account of them being a new, unproven studio and the budget demand for this kind of project was too high to just gamble on. The second fact is that they hid the “plans” for Arkham City inside the warden’s office, behind an unmarked wall in Arkham Asylum that no one was able to find, and the developers themselves showed them to the world after they announced the second game. Crazy right? Gamers are usually pretty good at finding easter eggs and mysteries, and yet this one remained a secret for two years straight.
The expectations were through the roof for this game, and it delivered on every front and then some. With a near-spotless execution on all fronts, “Batman: Arkham City” was, and to a degree still is, the pinnacle of superhero action games. With this release, they went full open-world and improved the combat and stealth even further while adding new characters and continuing the story from where it left off. Let’s dive a little deeper and see what makes “Batman: Arkham City” such a phenomenon.
‘Batman: Arkham City’ Premise
The basic premise behind this story, penned once again by Paul Dini, takes place one year after that night in Arkham Asylum, with the now-former mayor of Gotham, Quincy Sharp, deeming the walls of the Arkham Asylum unfit to house these criminals and sectioning an old, flooded part of Gotham City to turn it into a prison. Said area was walled off from the main city and the entire city block became a prison. No cells and no guards were watching over the prisoners, but the streets, buildings, and houses themselves acted as their cages. All of this was “governed” by a massive tower called the Wonder Tower, looking down upon this area, which was named “Arkham City.” The man running this operation was none other than the popular Batman villain, Dr. Hugo Strange. Fishy.
The game opens with a bunch of thugs trying to break into a safe, and we see the shadow of pointy ears stalking them. In a surprising plot twist, it’s not the bat, but the cat. Catwoman is introduced as a playable character in this game, and her combat section is what acts as the opener for this game. After beating the goons, Catwoman breaks into the safe only to get a gun pointed at her head, and you hear a man’s gruff voice telling her to “keep her paws off.”
A fade to black later, we hear the screams of Bruce Wayne, with him being tortured by none other than Hugo Strange. He has been put in “Arkham City” for using his political influence to voice concerns against this project, a calculated move. What he didn’t calculate was Hugo Strange’s knowing his secret identity. He knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman. He cryptically mentions something called “Protocol 10” and how it will get rid of every criminal in Gotham City. After the torture or threatening session is over, Hugo leaves the room, and Bruce is left sitting in his chair. You try breaking him out of it, only for a guard to walk in and drag you outside. You meet a whole bunch of inmates waiting to get a piece of you while Black Mask is getting apprehended in the background, a cool easter egg. You are thrown in with the wolves behind the walls of Arkham City and are introduced to Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, who is not too happy to see you. After beating up his goons and knocking him out, you go up to the rooftops and ask Alfred to airdrop your Batsuit while explaining the situation to him. You suit up and are informed that Catwoman is being held by none other than Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face, in the courthouse, and Batman decides to save her as she may have some answers. That’s where the game lets you loose in its new world, which you are free to explore and exact justice upon. The plot here is much better than in the previous game, and if you are wondering what happened to The Joker and where is he, don’t worry; you’ll meet him soon enough, and he plays a key role in this story. You can even say that this is The Joker’s story and not Batman’s.
Overall, the plot and setup for “Batman: Arkham City” is better and bigger than those of “Arkham Asylum,” with a mystery to solve and plot twists throughout the journey. The cherry on top is the ending to this story, which is bold, to say the least. It went to a place I never thought they’d go to and made my jaw hit the floor. That’s enough about the plot for now. I am sure I have made it clear that the plot here is one to remember, so let’s jump into the gameplay.
‘Batman: Arkham City’ Gameplay
Just like the story, the gameplay here is a massive addition and improvement over the last game. The combat flows much better and has been sped up a little with additions made to Batman’s moveset and the usage of his gadgets mid-combat. The enemies themselves, this time, pack more variety and come in bigger numbers, surrounding you from every direction and making you think on your feet. Batman, being the absolute force of nature he is, doesn’t back away from this challenge and uses everything in his arsenal, from his newly acquired gadgets to his new moves and skills, all of which can be upgraded using the bigger and better skill tree.
For instance, you can stun someone using your cape and perform a literal beatdown on them, or you can take out multiple knocked-down enemies at once. Alongside his batarangs and explosive gel, he can also use a freeze grenade that freezes people in place, his new remote electric claw that shocks anyone he shoots, or a disruptor that jams enemy guns. The tools handed to you here open up your horizons even further and let you punish your enemies the way you want to. Batman is to be feared, after all. The boss fights also return here, and they are such an improvement over the ones in “Arkham Asylum.” While the boss fights in Arkham Asylum served their purpose, here in “Arkham City,” the bosses come packed with more theatrics than before, and each one is memorable in its own right. If you want to control Batman exchanging blows with one of his arch-nemesis, then there’s a good chance you’ll get to live your fantasy in this game.
The same expansion comes to the stealth (predator) sections as well, with bigger arenas and enemies that adapt to dwindling numbers or your presence and use new tools to aid themselves on their hunt for your head. The detective mode that lets you see through walls also sees major improvements here, and enemies use disruptors that block your usage of it, acting as another challenge you must adapt to on the fly. It’s crazy to imagine improvements being made to a system that was pretty much perfect as it was, and yet Rocksteady went the extra mile and made tweaks to their systems that vastly improved the feel of the game as a whole. The challenge maps from the last game also return and let you play Batman, Catwoman, Robin, and Nightwing this time around. There are a lot more maps this time, and there are even harder challenges for you to complete. They are definitely a fun addition that tests your skill and mastery of both combat and stealth.
Since the game is fully open world this time, Rocksteady also added a bunch of side quests that you can find and finish; each had its own villain tied to it and were fun detours from the main story. Another thing to note was the insanity of the Riddler trophies and puzzles. They were fun to find in “Arkham Asylum,” as the area was pretty small, but here in Arkham City, that man went off the deep end and hid more than 400 trophies and puzzles for you to find and solve. Hey! At least it’s very cathartic when you get to punch him in his smug face after finding all of his trophies.
Finally, let’s talk a little bit about the traversal. Being an open-world game, it lets you glide across Arkham City just like Batman would. You can nosedive and pull up to build momentum that’ll increase your gliding distance, or you can always use your grappling hook to grab onto ledges and jump from rooftop to rooftop. The traversal in this game is very Batman-like. The gameplay department of “Batman: Arkham City” is a top-shelf quality experience through and through with no corners cut. It’s always fun to get to play The Batman, after all.
I’ll quickly mention all the characters that show up in this game, and trust me, there are a lot of them. If you don’t want to know the list of all the villains that are present in this game, you can skip this section, as some of them are tied to story bits, and you won’t see them coming. The Batman Rogues Gallery is by far the best and most diverse of all superheroes, and it’s pretty much on full display here. You don’t get to fight every villain mentioned here, but you do see them, and that’s cool and very appreciated.
Alongside Batman, Catwoman, Alfred, and Oracle, Robin makes a cameo, and in the villains department, you get the Joker, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Penguin, Riddler, Ra’s Al Ghul, Talia Al Ghul, Solomon Grundy, Clayface, Hugo Strange, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Bane, Hush, Victor Zsasz, Mad Hatter, Deadshot, and Calendar Man. Isn’t that crazy? And if that doesn’t satiate your hunger, then there are plenty of easter eggs that you can find that hint towards other villains like Scarface, Man-Bat, Deathstroke, and more, alongside cameos for villains like Killer Croc and Scarecrow. It just goes on to show how diverse the roster is here and how much Rocksteady knows, understands, and loves the mythos of Batman.
Let’s quickly take a look at the world of Arkham City itself. It’s a big map, not very huge but big, full of easter eggs to find. The gothic style returns here as well and looks better than ever, with special mention of the slight redesigns each character got. Makes them feel like a part of this world even more. The city itself is full of criminals running around for free and is filthy. Streets covered in trash and debris, old brick buildings that are ready to crumble, everything covered in rust, barely clinging on while half of the area is flooded. It’s snowing and extremely cold, as you can hear the inmates talking about the weather. A special mention to all the enemy chatter you can hear while gliding across the city; kudos, Rocksteady, very well done indeed. Thanks to the radio Batman uses, he can hear conversations between enemies on the street, which add a level of personality and life to the city without which it’d feel empty. Some of the banter is really funny, while others are really scary. You can hear a goon talk about how he fought Batman once and made him run away like a chicken while others talk about the crimes, they committed that landed them here. The level of detail here is also very high, and everything looks and feels organic despite the heavy and bulky aesthetic. The city is well worth exploring, is highly detailed, is a very true Batman adaptation, and is a treat for your eyes, even if it is a filthy and disgusting one.
The Technical Stuff
Akin to “Arkham Asylum,” “Arkham City ” retains its timeless aesthetic and looks, sounds, and plays better than ever. All the voice actors, including the likes of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, and more, returned to reprise their roles, and it goes without saying that they did a fantastic job. The sounds in general also see major improvements and are somehow even better than they were in “Arkham Asylum.” The music here deserves a special mention with it’s grand, orchestrated and haunting melody, fitting in perfectly with the ambiance and sets the mood just right. That’s yet another feat I didn’t know was possible, but leave it to Rocksteady. Unfortunately, yet again, on consoles, 1080p at 30 fps is what you get, and because of the open-world nature of the game, there’s a lot of pop-in that definitely takes away from experience. However, on my Series X, I did not notice that the frame rate was higher and closer to 60fps exclusively in the challenge maps. I don’t know if it’s uncapped and the horsepower of the console pushed it up or if it’s meant to be this way. Either way, despite a few blemishes, “Batman: Arkham City” is a solid package with beautiful visuals, a high level of detail, and immersive audio.
If you have played this game, then you know how incredible it is; if not, then what are you doing? Go and play “Batman: Arkham City.” You’ll not regret it. Even after all these years, this game still stands tall and proud in the pantheon of superhero games with an incredible story, crazy fun gameplay, and characters to die for. There’s even a DLC expansion called “Harley Quinn’s Revenge,” which is a fun post-story addition where you play as Robin and comes bundled in with the “Return to Arkham” remaster. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about “Batman: Arkham City”? It truly is the best and my personal favorite Arkham game.