A bright future for the Dark Knight

batangWhen Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009, the company set the bar high for any and all future installments that featured the Dark Knight. The perfect combination of stealth and action formed a masterpiece, even winning Guiness World Record’s “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game” award. However, with a background that prestigious, and seemingly insurmountable expectations from Batman fans all around the world, does Batman: Arkham City, released on October 18, live up to its prequel’s glory?

Following the events of the Joker’s takeover at Arkham Asylum in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Mayor Quincy Sharp has declared it incapable of housing all the criminals, psychos, thugs, goons, gangs and the villains. Also known as the former warden of the failed Arkham Asylum who took credit of Batman’s stopping of the prison riot in order to win the mayoral election, Sharp buys Gotham North (Where Bruce’s parents were murdered) and transforms it into Arkham City, an open facility prison, and appoints Hugo Strange as its warden. Those in Arkham City were granted the privileges of being able to roam free and do anything… except escape. The game begins with our hero, Bruce Wayne, being kidnapped by Strange and thrown into Arkham City where Strange lets Bruce know that after his master plan “Protocol 10” takes effect, he will be the hero Gotham worships — he will be the Batman.

Although no huge changes gameplay were implemented into , a wise decision on Rocksteady’s part – why fix something that’s not broken? – many small enhancements include a brand new environment that focuses more on a free-roam (You’re able to traverse anywhere and are allowed to stray from the main objective to do whatever you want) approach; a huge new array of abilities, such as the technique of performing a double-takedown (Batman is now able to undetectably knock two goons out simultaneously); new gadgets, such as the gun jammer, which can from afar, as long as they target is in view, disarm gun-wielding thugs from afar; and some modified gadgets, such as the line-launcher which now allows Batman to change direction while traveling. The thing with changes in Batman: Arkham City is that you’ll never stop finding them.

Over 400 Riddler Trophies are scattered throughout the game, each with some kind of puzzle. Batman fanatics have complained all over blogs, videos, and major gamer magazine websites (such as IGN or GameInformer) that there are too many ways to defeat somebody – who complains about something like that? A huge number of side-quests will easily double the total game-play time. I found myself struggling to stay focused on the main objective because of the side quests, such as being forced by the psychotic Zsasz to locate a ringing pay-phone in Arkham City in a short amount of time, before he kills a hostage. Batman: Arkham City even allows you to play as Catwoman, who has her own identity, abilities, and attack animations.

My point is simple: Batman: Arkham City is undeniably good. It is visually stunning: the animations are smooth, clean, and precise. The mouth-movements match the dialog and in cinematic cut-scenes, you forget that you’re playing a game and are convinced that it’s a Blu-Ray movie. Should Batman be slashed by a knife or if his his cape is riddled by bullets, the cuts and holes will remain on the character for the rest of the game. Even better, these “flaws” in Batman’s aesthetics follow him into cut-scenes as well.

But the best thing about Batman: Arkham City, or even in the series, is the sound. The sound is realistic, detailed, and emphasized. Regardless of where Batman is, ambient noises seem realistic and add to the  total experience, whether it’s water dripping from a leak or the persistent blasting of air escaping a pipe. The soundtrack itself is appropriate and catchy – some die-hards turn their game console on, navigate to Batman: Arkham City’s main menu and leave it there just to listen to the music. Rocksteady’s attention to detail is impeccable: As the helmet of Mr. Freeze’s Freeze Suit closes, his voice gradually changes as if being blocked by actual material. Finally, the emphasized painful-sounding blows that strike the enemy leave the player cringing. So many times I’ve finished a foe, only to feel remorse afterwards because it sounded as though it really hurt. 

The thing with Batman: Arkham City is that every fight feels new and fresh. Hardly ever will you finish a foe the same way you did in the last brawl and there are so many ways to make your combo-attacks connect and more stylish—Will you grapple the next thug towards you? Will you quickly shoot your stun gun at a cronie? Will you freeze a gangster in the midst of their tracks? The possibilities are endless and Rocksteady has done its job in establishing that variety in combat.

Rocksteady’s game designers have risen to the challenge and outdone themselves on a groundbreaking game. The Dark Knight, a vigilante, born from injustice, has received finally received his justice: a sequel that is sure to keep the audience in awe in every moment of the game. Between taking down a group of thugs that outnumbers Batman 15 to 1, grabbing and dropping an unsuspecting cronie from atop a gargoyle statue, and the phenomenal graphics and sound, you will lose countless hours to this game. Batman: Arkham City is fun, well-designed, and sure to have you wishing you were Batman.

Batman: Arkham City is available on the Playstation 3, XBOX 360, and PC consoles and is rated T.