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About two years ago, Rocksteady taught the gaming industry a lesson. Before Batman: Arkham Island, it was generally believed that to make a game about a superhero that had a deep and involving plot as well as fun gameplay would be nearly impossible. The problem was the characters. They had already been created, and evolving a character would anger his or her fans and destroy the credibility of the game. A good example is Spiderman 2 for the Game Cube. It was generally fun to play, as the movement was extremely flowing and fast. However, the characters were flat and boring (not to mention the voice acting sounded like Christopher Walken with a lobotomy) because there was nothing the writers could do to change and evolve the characters. This problem should have been double for Batman. All he really does is punch things and hit them with Bat-[insert name of gadget here]. But Rocksteady destroyed those notions, by making not just Batman, but every character extremely deep. I’ll go into what made the first Batman game so great throughout this review. Also, in order to make my reviews more organized, I’m going to split them into five (four for this one, as there is no multiplayer) sections instead of just writing until I run out of ideas.

Visuals: Damn, this game looks good. It’s not just the realistic graphics or awesome (more or less) character animations, though. It’s the look of the city. The buildings are dark, sporadically place, and there is junk and clutter everywhere. No matter how many times I play it, when I stop on a high perch and look out, it always amazes me at the detail of everything. There is the destroyed highway that used to connect the buildings that now without it makes the city look like Venice, the fact that some buildings are tilted or just generally in ruin, and there’s even one building that’s on fire on the inside. It has nothing to do with anything, it’s just on burning up on the inside. Well, I thought it was cool.

One thing is for sure, the people do not look as good as the city. There’s still that weird moment after a fight where the last enemy grips his head or body and writhes for a little bit before passing out. This was in the first game too, and it was weird seeing a guy who just got kicked in the head by Batman not get knocked out instantly. Also from the first game, there’s that creepy bug-eyed thing where some people have humongous eyes while they talk to you. Granted, my eyes would be pretty wide at the sight of the freakin’ Batman, but it’s just creepy how abnormally huge they are. It’s a small complaint, but I was hoping for it to be fixed. However, in the end, the sick Joker, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and everyone else all look great. That’s not just a graphics compliment though. The actual design of the characters is original without betraying its roots (what makes this series so awesome).    

Performance: Playing this on the 360, I experienced nearly no problems with the gameplay, which is surprising for a sandbox. Even when I thought I’d get stuck on a dead tree or antennae the game just shot me out of it without breaking the flow of my motion. There isn’t much else to say here, so here’s a picture of some guys about to have their day ruined:

Plot: As mentioned before, this is what makes these Batman games truly stand out. The actual plot is a little bit different to what usually happens in Batman movies/games/etc. This time, instead of the inmates taking over the Asylum, the inmates are just simply set free inside of a bigger Asylum. Hugo Strange has managed to section off a piece of Gotham City (luckily containing every major landmark from the Batman Mythos) to make a large super prison where everyone from Blackgate Prison and Arkham Asylum are simply set loose to have some fun. Then Bruce Wayne (along with other political prisoners) is thrown in, where he quickly puts his underwear on the outside and starts breaking other people’s bones (he actually does that last part before he’s in his costume). The overall plot does seem a little bit of a stretch. It just doesn’t seem possible for this sort of unusual system to happen anywhere in America (that’s what Cuba is for). However, the interactions with each super criminal (Joker, Penguin, etc) are really well thought out. Batman seems to have a special relationship with each, and he treats no two villains the same. This was the same in the first game, and it adds to that point I mentioned about each character being really deep and 3-D. Even the side missions help to expand Batman’s character, exposing more of the Man and less of the Bat (listen, I know that sounds stupid, but that’s the only way I can say what I’m thinking, so I don’t care what you think about it).

Gameplay: This is why you should buy this game. Never before has stealth and fist-fighting combat been so perfectly balanced. It never feels like a string of samey, old “Yeah, hide in the rafters and swoop down” or “Punch these guys until they stop moving.” Every encounter is different. Up until the last scripted stealth section or fight, new content gets added to make it fresh and exciting. This was more or less true for the first game, but Arkham City expanded and showed it’s true potential. If you don’t already know, the game controls excellently. Combat is generally just one button for each function, and now those functions have been combined in ways that make each fight a new challenge. Towards the end, it became downright difficult, yet it is just on the line of “challenging fun” and never crossing over into “needlessly impossible to make the game longer than it really is.” Strangely enough, not a lot of drastically new abilities or gadgets have been added to Batman’s belt. Most have been reserved for the enemies, adding to the feeling that you’re adapting to the enemies advances, not the other way around (which would just be strait up unfair, I mean, did you see that picture?).

However, the biggest change comes with the new setting. Arkham City is, as expected, much larger than the old Asylum. Here’s my biggest complaint: It doesn’t feel big. You could access every square inch of Arkham Island. Each building had secrets hidden in the walls and extra rooms with details that made the small island seem like a small part of a bigger entity. Now, in Arkham City, you have access to the same amount of buildings as the first game; however, in Arkham Island, those were all the buildings there. Now that there are a hundred buildings, I feel like I’m missing out on so much. Granted, the buildings you are granted access to have the same appeal as the first game, but I can’t shake the feeling I’m missing something. However, the city itself is still extremely fun to explore, especially with the new and improved Riddler Challenges. Now Batman has to use his gadgets and skills not to beat the environment around the trophy (as in the first game) but specific challenges set up by the little green brat himself. It adds to a feeling of accomplishment, as you feel like your beating the Riddler himself. And finally, the improved gliding mechanics (the ability to dive and swoop back up and to grapple boost to gain more height) make the city much easier to explore and move around in.

Finally, the actual encounters with the super-villains! The boss fights have been tremendously improved since the last game. In Arkham Island, there was one boss: a big, buff dude that you had to doge while he runs into a wall. Now, the level of variation from boss fight to boss fight is amazing. There’s the (spoiler alert?) mind bending Ra’s a Guhl battle, the stealth based Mr. Freeze showdown, and the incredible all out brawl that Joker presents you with. In the end, it adds a fantastic finish to an already amazing game.

In Conclusion: get this game. Seriously. If you like sandboxes, action, adventure, exploration, or Batman, you seriously need to check out this game (although this review is so late you probably already have.) It is an amazing improvement on its predecessor, a game I easily pick as my Game of the Year. Arkham City may even take that title for me this year as well (although I haven’t got a chance to play Skyrim yet).

Batman: Arkham Asylum
Visuals: 9.7 (great looking graphics and overall design that truly gave that Batman feel)
Performance: 9.5 (as with literally every game on the 360, it had texture pop-ins)
Plot: 9.7 (not truly original for a Batman plot, but amazed the gaming world with the evolution of its characters)
Gameplay: 9.6 (incredible balanced and flowing, but the fights can seem repetitive)
Multiplayer: n/a
Overall: 9.6 (a true classic)

Batman: Arkham City
Visuals: 9.7 (almost identical to the original)
Performance: 9.7 (much less problems than I expected from a sandbox game)
Plot: 9.8 (more original for Batman with all new characters that are still 3-D)
Gameplay: 9.9 (vastly improved on its predecessor with more variation and abilities) oHoweveer
Multiplayer: n/a
Overall: 9.8 (It’s truly incredible. Why? Because it’s Batman.)

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