Hi there! This is another review I’m bringing over and polishing up from my old WCRReviews blogspot site. Batman: Arkham City, which was originally developed by Rocksteady Studios, is a well-known and much-loved game across multiple platforms, and was even updated for Batman: Return to Arkham in 2016 – but I first came across it on the Wii U, so this is specifically a review of that version, which was named the Armoured Edition. If needed, you can see my original post from 26th February 2013 at this link. Yes, nine years ago… Now that is scary!
Developed by: WB Games Montreal
Published by: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: Out Now
Back in 2011, Batman: Arkham City was released, and just like Batman: Arkham Asylum (the game that came before it and started the Arkham franchise), it was extremely well-received by both critics and gamers alike. With the launch of the Wii U in 2012, a new version of the game was created for Nintendo’s first HD-capable home console. The Wii U version was my first experience of Arkham City, so whilst I’ll note the the Wii U-specific features, this is also a general review of the game itself.
The Bat is Back
Arkham City is a direct follow-up to Arkham Asylum‘s story. To replace the asylum, Arkham City has been built to contain all the criminals of Gotham – and Bruce Wayne, of all people, has been kidnapped and taken into it. Of course, it isn’t long until Wayne turns into his Batman alter-ego to explore the secrets of Arkham City. Compared to the confines of Arkham Asylum, the city is a large open-world, and acts as a hub for the entire game. Straight away, you’ll run into familiar faces such as Catwoman, Two Face, and the Joker. Seeing all these iconic Batman characters is great, yet the amount of enemies brought into the game is a little too much for me. From the Penguin to Zsasz, and from the Riddler to the Mad Hatter, the plot covers so many villains. They’re all entertaining to different degrees, but the rogues gallery is spread a bit too thin to give them all justice.
Apart from this, the over-arching story is interesting and unpredictable. There are many compelling twists and turns, and with a great variety of locations and challenges, you’re constantly on your toes. Arkham City itself is much more than just a transitional area; the city is packed full of things to do. Enemies are always strolling around, there’re loads of Riddler Trophies to find and Riddler Challenges to complete, and the side-quests are absorbing in their variety. You could easily spend hours at a time flying around the city and working your way through what the game has to offer. Certain areas critical to the story are naturally integrated into the city, and are often so enticing that they motivate you to keep progressing and see what they contain.
The Wii U GamePad and the extra screen it supplies is useful here. As you find information regarding different objectives, the GamePad map is a handy way to navigate your way through the city without having to pause all the time. That leaves you more free to enjoy the thrill of traversing the city; the grappling gun lets you travel large distances with satisfying ease, especially once you upgrade it (do that as soon as possible)! Meanwhile, the gliding with Batman’s cape has a lot of depth to it, and offers versatility in both movement and combat if you hone your skills.
From the Shadows
Out of everything Batman: Arkham City offers, combat has to be the best part. When done poorly, the fighting mechanics of action games can be an annoying interlude between story beats – but in this case, the combat is so excellent that the idea of another set-piece is just as exciting as another cutscene! Batman’s moves are both simple and complex, and remind me of that phrase often associated with Nintendo: easy to learn, hard to master. You start off with two main attacks – the simple hit, and a counter for when enemies try to strike you (a blue marker above their head helps you predict this, unless you choose to turn it off). The fluency of Batman’s movement in a fight is amazing to watch; Batman travels around the battle increasingly gracefully as your combo builds, and at certain points of said combo, the option to use more complicated techniques (provided you have unlocked them) become available, making the battles even more aesthetically astonishing.
The only downside to the combat in Armoured Edition is that there’re some noticeable framerate issues during particularly frantic stages of the combat. While this issue doesn’t present itself often enough for it to be a major problem, it can take away from that delicate illusion of becoming Batman that this game works so hard to sustain. As you meet new enemies, new battling techniques are shown to you, which add to the complexity and challenge of the combat. In later stages of the game, you’ll be pulling off massive combos of many combat techniques with ease.
In addition, there’s a second type of combat, too. The Predator battles are perhaps even more ingenious than the standard brawls, as they fit more with the image of Batman being silent and stealthy (which was promoted so well by the Dark Knight trilogy of films around the time of this game releasing). In the Predator sequences, you have to take on an enclosed area containing several armed enemies. These enemies cannot be disposed of as easy as the unarmed enemies – your health will be rapidly depleted by their gunfire. Instead, you have to use Batman’s skills, his gadgets, and the environment to your advantage. Vantage points allow you to survey the area, emphasised with the help of detective mode, which allows you to clearly see where key characters and items are. For example, you can set off fire extinguishers with a Batarang to distract enemies, remove wall grates to give you access to tunnels to sneak around in, or disable enemies’ weapons with the Disruptor gadget.
There’re many options at your disposal, as you might expect from the character of Batman, and this could have easily led to the game being too easy. However, whilst you always feel like you have the ability to win, the enemies are cleverly designed. They will check and shoot down vantage points, for example, and as the game goes on, they acquire tools like heartbeat monitors that alert them when an ally has been taken out by Batman. Overall, the entirety of the combat in this game is the highlight – personally, it stands out to me as one of the best combat systems in gaming, which is evidenced by how much it has inspired other games such as Assassin’s Creed since.
We’ve Got Gadgets
Let’s go back to the Wii U-exclusive features of Armoured Edition for a second. The GamePad map I brought up earlier is very useful to glance down to, and I’ll reiterate how helpful it is for setting your next objective or waypoint with the tap of a screen. This isn’t all the GamePad has to offer, of course; indeed, the GamePad magnifies the already-prominent sense of embodying Batman in this game. The touch screen is used to hack objects, set off explosive gel with a simple touch, and operate the Remote Control Batarang with gyro controls. They’re all unique and worthy additions to the game, and whilst they don’t make or break the game experience, I’d always prefer to have them. I’m appreciative of aspects like the gyro-controlled Batarang being optional, though, in case the player isn’t a fan of that control method.
Whilst this game is brilliant on all platforms, the GamePad adds something extra to the Armoured Edition of Arkham City. Being able to use it as your central hub for Batman’s tools accentuates the feeling of being the world’s greatest decretive, leaving the main TV screen reserved for the execution of your plans. Sonar, phone-tracking, and even reading character backstories is a pleasure on the GamePad. Perhaps best of all, the wonderful Off-TV play is present here, so you can enjoy being Batman from the comfort of your own bed!
Look to the Skies
In terms of presentation, Arkham City can be majestic, but some niggles drag it down. Most of the time, environments look great – but at certain distances, some textures and details lose quality and don’t stand up as well. The Wii U is able to support an impressive draw distance on games such as Need for Speed: Most Wanted, so this is slightly disappointing. Despite these things, Arkham City is generally a visually beautiful game. The traditional yet gritty look of Arkham City has a gothic appeal, and prevents itself becoming repetitive through a variety of environments including sewers, museums, ancient cities, and more. Character models are stunning on the whole – other than Batman’s cape glitching through him from time to time – and all of the characters, from Catwoman to Penguin’s thugs, can be admired in the form of unlockable Character Trophies. You can also unlock pieces of Concept Art, which is a welcome extra.
As well as this, the soundtrack cannot be ignored; the stirring piece that plays on the main menu is one of many striking tunes that I can happily sit and listen to! The audio holds up throughout, and the sound design is an essential part of this, emphasising every move you make, whether it is grappling and gliding through Arkham City or knocking two thugs’ heads’ together. It’s a crucial aspect of making Arkham City feel like a living space.
Finally, some more Armoured Edition-specific thoughts. The B.A.T. Mode is a new addition to this version, but unfortunately doesn’t add much. It’s really just a temporary damage boost, charged by battling enemies (it’s kinetic energy storage, apparently). The new armoured outfits that come with it for Batman and Catwoman are visually cool, but in terms of actual gameplay effect, it doesn’t have much of an impact. In most battles I ended up forgetting about it, as I was more preoccupied with keeping up my combo and using the right move at the right time.
Another bonus in the Armoured Edition is the inclusion of all the released DLC for Arkham City. This includes the fantastic Harley Quinn’s Revenge story expansion, plus more characters and stages for the superb arcade-style Challenge modes separate to the main campaign. Having all of the Downloadable Content included really adds to the longevity of the game; speaking of which, Arkham City can sustain you for an impressively long time. There’s reason enough here to play the story at least twice, and with all of those Riddler Challenges, Riddler Trophies, and side quests, getting 100% on your save file is quite the task!
Batman: Arkham City was already an amazing game, and the Armoured Edition only makes it better. The combat is exceptional, and the world Rocksteady crafted here is alluringly grimy and lived-in. My only real issues are an over-abundance of villains, and some minor rough edges on the technical side. Additions such as the included DLC give you even more content to get your teeth into, and the GamePad allows you to feel even more like Batman than before. I mean, come on… Being Batman from the comfort of your bed with the GamePad? That’s awesome.