Originally released in 2011, the story picks up a year after the events of Arkham Asylum. An entire district of Gotham City has now been repurposed as a prison, and it isn’t long before our hero finds himself trapped there, embroiled in an overarching conspiracy cooked up by one Hugo Strange, not to mention the return of arch-enemy the Joker.
The gameplay is much like the original game, with Batman again taking on multiple thugs using the extremely elegant “freeflow combat” system of chaining attacks, counters and gadgets together to knock them all out. At the other end of the scale is the predator mode, whereby Batman must use stealth and cunning to systematically neutralise heavily armed enemies, attacking from above, below, or through walls. In Arkham City, Batman is more creative, and has many more options for taking down enemies, particularly within the predator maps, with options such as “double takedowns” available from the start, and others unlockable as you play.
You’ll also spend some time playing as Catwoman, who has a similar, but different set of skills, but unfortunately you don’t get to choose when to switch between characters, and you’ll find yourself being bounced between the two at key moments in the story. It’s not a bad system, but it isn’t perhaps as organic as it could have been. As with Arkham Asylum, there’s the option to replay many of the predator and brawl “challenge maps”, this time via the redesigned “Riddler’s Revenge” mode, where you can select between different characters, maps, and many different perks and modifiers in order to get a high score.
The Riddler himself returns in this episode, and rather than just having to collect his scattered trophies, you’ll have to work a bit harder this time around. Collecting all the trophies will still require a full complement of gadgets, but many are more puzzle-based now, having to hit a moving target, or remember a particular sequence to be able to collect the trophy. There are also red trophies that can only be collected by Catwoman, but every trophy you see can be added to your map to return to later.
But the main difference is the City itself, packed full of events and places, most of which you can visit as and when you choose. This makes the game a little less directed, although the main storyline is engrossing and fast-paced, so you’ll certainly not feel like there’s nothing to do. You’ll also encounter random groups of thugs at many points throughout the city, as well as a few heavily armed ones, meaning you get to use your predator skills outdoors for the first time.
The dialogue is seemingly the only weak point in the game. The voice acting is of course superb, but the incidental dialogue spoken by the background cast can get a little tedious after a short time, and overall doesn’t lend itself that well to the mature and detailed atmosphere the game works so hard to create. I also wonder how much of the game would be lost on those who have never experienced Arkham Asylum, as although Arkham City has one of the best opening tutorials in any game ever, there’s a lot of different mechanics to get to grips with. On second thought, if you have any interest in playing this game, you should absolutely have played the first one.
The experience is consistently good, almost detrimentally so. The pacing is so perfect, I found myself almost wanting to feel momentarily bored just so the high points would mean a little bit more. Arkham City is a deeply troubled place however, and you are its relentless saviour, after all. Any time you stop to take a breath you’ll be flooded with notifications about people in trouble, thugs to put down, or riddles to solve. The closest I felt to being Batman in this game was not through his gadgets or combat expertise, but through the sheer dread of knowing I was unable to do everything.
Whereas Arkham Asylum opened a door that led to a wonderful playground, Arkham City seems to grab your hand and make you run through it, screaming and laughing. Towards the end, I’d decided to forgo most of the storyline and just explore at my own pace, but I soon found myself thrust back on the mainline towards the inevitable climax, and then it was all over. It was exhilarating but exhausting, and although I longed to return to Arkham City and tie up its many loose ends, I could never bring myself to go back, like a roller-coaster ride that’s never quite as good the second time around. Many of you will though, and the game is extremely good at scratching the completionist itch, so many things to do, so much of Gotham’s troubled backstory to reveal.
So yes, Arkham City is a triumph, a spectacular coming together of everything that makes gaming great, and you owe it to yourself to experience it.
Performance & Quality
The performance is generally good. We noticed some frame drop at certain points, typically after loading or travelling a long difference (and especially if you have the cursed Time Machine running in the background). I certainly can’t fault the port in any way, but sadly it’s not quite up to the level of the Windows version in terms of performance (for those interested, it seems to be on a par with the DirectX 11 version of the game, rather than the DirectX 9 version).
It’s also worth noting that save games are compatible with the Windows version of the game (for the Steam version), although they won’t automatically sync with each other. You’ll need to create a new save within the game first, then rename your Windows save from “save0.sgd” to “macosx_save0.sgd” (and vice versa).