"Batman: Arkham City" takes everything that was great about the first Arkham title and makes it bigger, bolder and better. The Dark Knight goes up against his most murderous foes with new weapons and allies in a story that expands the Batman universe.
Spinning off the ending of "Batman: Arkham Asylum," Gotham City decides that the best way to house all of its criminals is to wall off a large section of the city and dump them all together. So now, Joker, Penguin, Two-Face and others are free to do whatever they want inside those walls. Out of sight, out of mind.
The 18-month backstory of the game was presented in a limited series by DC Comics in the months leading up to the game's release. If you didn't read the series, there may be some confusion about what's going on when the gameplay begins.
The city is beautifully rendered, with plenty of locations that are unique to Batman's enemies. Although the regular prisoners tend to repeat themselves, each villain looks and feels very unique and true to their comic book counterparts.
It also helps that Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reprise their voice roles as the Joker and Batman, respectively. Those trademark voices have become as necessary as the Joker's laugh or Batman's scowl.
Combat is similar to "Arkham Asylum," as rhythmic button pushing sends Batman from foe to foe in a fluid and almost dance-like movement with devastating effects. The more times you can string together attacks will open new power moves that can daze or level multiple opponents.
Batman's utility belt is full with some of the same "toys" as before but with new abilities and functions. Batarangs, batclaws and explosive gels are back, with additional weapons like smoke pellets and a new Cryptographic Sequencer to help the Caped Crusader escape from trouble or solve puzzles.
Tutorials and the Batcomputer will help you master the skills needed to succeed as well as help point you in the direction of the next objective. Arkham City is five times the size Arkham Asylum was, so it is easy to get lost or misplace a mission.
Batman spends most of his time traveling this new territory by grapnel gun and gliding. There is an opportunity to get a grapnel boost, so use it and it will cut down the time it takes to get around.
In all, there are more than 250 upgrades and collectibles that help increase Batman's skills, armor and weaponry. Take advantage of each when you can.
All that real estate needs to be occupied, and developers filled it up with some of Batman's most famous and deadly foes. Each of them wants to rule over the prisoners in Arkham City but is willing to take their shots at the Dark Knight when they can.
Mr. Freeze, the Riddler, Two-Face, Harley Quinn and, of course, the Joker are ready to battle Batman in their own ways. Each has a unique agenda, and part of the gameplay is figuring out what they are up to and how best to stop it.
The main storyline is filled with intrigue and drama. Fighting skills alone will not win the day, and Batman is again equipped with a Detective mode that lets him spot clues normal eyes can't see.
In "Arkham Asylum," this mode could be turned on and pretty much left on at all times. In "Arkham City," the mode stays on until Batman takes a hit. Players will not want to leave it on the entire time, because they'll miss other things that are needed to complete other missions.
Twelve complete side missions, which could be regular missions in their own right, help deepen the game's experience and introduce even more villains and weapons to use. Players also are assisted by allies and other heroes as they make their way through the city.
The Riddler once again plays a big part in hiding riddles and puzzles all over the City. This time, however, he's taken hostages and releasing clues to their whereabouts only when Batman solves a certain number of riddles. Be warned: There are 400 secrets to be discovered, so don't pass up an opportunity to find them when you can.
Catwoman is a playable character in the game, with her own adventures and missions. There is some crossover between her and Batman during cut scenes, but fighting and puzzle-solving are all things she does on her own.
She has some special abilities, like being able to climb on ceilings and use her whip and bolas to take down enemies. She also has more than 50 trophies and upgrades that can be collected by only her.
The mastermind behind all the action? Well, you don't read comic books from the back to the front, do you?
Suffice to say, the game story takes plenty of twists and turns, revealing more about the Dark Knight and his rogues. The action is well balanced between fighting objectives and detective work and has a nice flow and pace.
It is a very deep game with a lengthy storyline, plenty of side missions and hundreds of collectibles. The playable Catwoman sections are a nice addition that weaves in and out of the main story but never feels out of place.
Through it all, players will become enmeshed in the Batman universe and experience it all as if they were looking through the eye slits of the Dark Knight's cowl and into his mind. It is a wonderful mix of classic characters, enhanced combat and new highlights that makes "Batman: Arkham City" worthy to wear the Bat-logo.
"Batman: Arkham City" will be available Tuesday in North America, Wednesday in Australia, October 21 in Europe and November 23 in Japan for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A PC version is expected to be released in November, and a Wii U version is planned for 2012. The game is rated T for Teen due to alcohol reference, blood, mild language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco and violence. This review was done playing a review copy on the Xbox 360
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'Batman: Arkham City' is bigger, bolder, better
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