Batman is awsome, everyone knows this, thats why it's truly astounding that there had never really been a truly great Batman game until Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009. I do remember enjoying Batman Forever as a kid simply because in had two player coop, but a recent playthrough left me feeling cold and numb. Arkham City is the sequel to the fantastic Arkham Asylum and for the first few hours of gameplay, you would be forgiven for calling it a masterpiece, but you may not feel that way by the end.....
The game begins with Bruce Wayne being kidnapped and taken to Arkham City, a cordoned off section of Gotham City used for housing criminals. Arkham City is run by Hugo Strange, who has plans to become the ruler of Gotham with the help of an operation he calls 'Protocol 10', Bruce decides that he can't leave Arkham City until he learns the true meaning of Mother's Day, or at least until he stops Hugo Strange.
While Arkham Asylum focused on only one villain, The Joker, Arkham City takes the 'Spider-Man 3' approach and squeezes in as many classic Batman villains as possible, this causes a problem as the game jumps from one villain to another leaving no time to fully flesh any of them out. Take The Penguin for example, cool, menacing and brilliantly voiced by the awsome Nolan North, I would have been happy with just him, but after the first few hours the game just forgets about him, I was like "Hey game, what the hell happened to The Penguin?", then 'Bam' my tv slapped me in my face and said "STOP ASKING QUESTIONS, YOU WILL ENJOY MR FREEZE NOW!".
The biggest change since Arkham Asylum is the size of the game world, Arkham City is huge in comparison and is without doubt, one of the greatest open worlds in games, ever. The amount of detail that has gone into creating the city is simply astonishing, every nook and cranny has something to hide, be it a Riddler trophy, side mission or easter egg, the world is literally crammed with content.
The combat in Arkham City is as brilliant as ever, the core mechanics are virtually untouched since the first game, but Arkham City has a few tricks up it's sleeve to keep things fresh, for example, you can now use almost all of Batman's gadgets in combat with 'quick use' buttons, so now you can lay traps for enemies without breaking the flow of combat. There are also some new enemy types to get to grips with, like the shield carrying thug who nees to be taken out with an aerial attack. There is still that problem of Batman occasionally darting off to an unoccupied corner of the room to partake in some shadow boxing, but it never happens enough to be annoying.
The stealth sections from the first game also return, I've always had one big problem with these, the gargoyles. It's just too easy to take out an enemy and then retreat to a nearby gargoyle, safe in the knowledge that you can't be seen, Arkham City tries to combat this by adding enemies that use thermal goggles, but there is an upgrade available very early on that makes you invisible to thermal imaging as long as you stay still, even if you don't opt for the upgrade, the enemies are always like "Hey guys,....guys pay attention, I'm about to scan this gargoyle with my thermal goggles, gee, I hope there's nothing up there, commencing scan in 5, 4, 3...." and no the bomb-rigged gargoyles from the first game don't return so you can always use them.
Now let's talk about the controversial Catwoman, she's not actually as integral to the experience as some people would have you believe, yes, she is fun to play as and using her whip to navigate through the city is awsome, but she adds little if anything to the story. There are four Catwoman missions in total all of which take place at intervals throughout the main story line, they focus on her attempts to steal back valuable items which were taken from her. The missions are all very short and honestly, you're not going to miss much if you don't unlock her, although if you are one of those people who just has to get 100% completion then you're going to need her as she has her own Riddler trophies and upgrades.
I was left slightly disappointed by Arkham City's main quest, it took me less than 8 hours to complete and it just felt like something was missing, It's the same feeling I got from the Gears Of War 3 campaign, still a brilliant game, just maybe not as epic as it should have been. If you plan on buying Arkham City, I highly recommend you complete as many side missions as possible before completing the main game, I also recommend playing the main game in slow motion to make it last as long as Rocksteady said it would.
Remember how bad the boss battles were in Arkham Asylum?, remember how everyone asked Rocksteady not to bring back the Titans this time around?, well Rocksteady listened, and then chose to ignore those requests, granted, the Titans are much easier to take down this time, you only have stun them with your cape to allow you to climb on their back, but it still would have been nice to have some new kind of freak to take down. There was alot of talk about the Mr Freeze battle and how you had to use all of your cunning, or better still your gadgets to take him down, as cool as it sounds in writing, it's not nearly as cool in the game, especially when you accidentally 'quick throw' a single batarang at his big reinforced suit only to have him fall to the floor shouting "NO, NOT AGAIN".
Although I do have some problems with the game, I still can't help but love it, it's a minor miracle that Rocksteady managed to make it all work, it's a stealth game, an open world game and a brawler all rolled into one and it transitions from one to the other seamlessly. The story has it's faults but the ending will come as a real shock to Batman fans, and it's a real testament to just how brave Rocksteady is as a developer. The bottom line is we need more games like this, so go buy it, then start saving again for Uncharted 3.