I cannot believe that as I write this article, it has been ten long years since Batman: Arkham City released on Xbox 360, PS3 and, slightly later, PC. Ten years ago, my son was eight months old, I was working a job I hated, left trying to adjust to a life where sleep was a luxury more precious than diamonds. Fast forward to today, my son is a confirmed gamer, I have a job now that I really enjoy, and I’ve got a gig writing about video games. I could still use more sleep, but you can’t have everything, eh? Anyways, the core message is this: Batman: Arkham City is 10, and I’d like to reminisce about playing it back in the day…
Following on from 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum (itself the first Batman game I’d played since Batman Returns on the SNES), Arkham City took the basic formula of Asylum and turned things up to 11. Instead of being stuck inside a relatively small Asylum, Batman now finds himself trapped inside Arkham City, After the events of the Arkham Asylum game, the warden of the Asylum has now become the Mayor of Gotham City, and has decided that both Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Penitentiary are no longer fit for purpose; they need replacing. He then buys up all the slum areas of Gotham City, builds a massive wall around them, and makes that the new prison complex. Bruce Wayne (who is Batman, in case you’ve not been keeping up) speaks out against the plan. But this goes about as well as you’d expect, and he is tossed into Arkham City, after which Alfred has to drop him his suit so he can kick all kinds of ass. Must be nice to have a butler!
So, as you’d expect, with this being a Batman game, it isn’t long before the Joker makes an appearance, and he is once again voiced by Mark Hamill. In this game, however, the Joker is not a well man, as the Titan formula he used at the climax of the last game is mutating in his blood, killing him. After capturing Batman, he gives him a transfusion of the infected blood, in effect dooming Batman to the same fate, unless he can find a cure. And just for good measure, Joker has also infected blood supplies in Gotham’s hospitals, and so the hunt is on. I’ll stop telling the story of the game now, in case you haven’t played it, but if you haven’t, you really should. You know, it’s been ten years and all…
The gameplay of Arkham City is an extension of that found previously. The “Freeflow” combat system evolved rather than revolutionised, but given that the base was so good, this is understandable. The game was presented again in a third person view, and the camera could be moved about to give the best view of the action. Countering attacks, punished thugs, and trying to avoid baddies with guns (not always that easy, especially when the TYGER mercenaries appear) and it has to be said that there is a much greater emphasis on stealth and silent takedowns this time around. Add to this enemies that can only be attacked from the rear, and also heavily armoured foes who need to be stunned before they can be hurt, and the scene was set for a titanic tussle.
Luckily, Batman starts the game with pretty much the same gadgets that he ended the last game with, and these can largely be used in combat to turn the tide in your favour. If all fails, hiding on a vantage point up high is a great way to escape a fight you’re losing.
As Batman fights and defeats enemies, he unlocks new upgrades to his suit and gadgets by spending the accrued EXP points. I kind of wish this system worked in real life, as by now I must have enough points collected for a health of stamina upgrade at least. As you’d expect, as Batman goes through the city, taking down ne’er do wells and generally being a hero, he finds new gear to give himself an edge, such as smoke bombs, remote electric charges and even freeze blast grenades that not only can encase enemies in ice, but that can be thrown into water to make platforms. As we all know, billionaires can’t swim.
With a separate campaign featuring Catwoman (this was DLC at first, but was bundled with the GOTY edition of the game), and Challenge maps where Robin and Nightwing can be rolled out for some fisticuffs, in addition to a new chapter of the game featuring Harley Quinn, there’s a lot of content in Arkham City besides the main game. Finishing the game brought the addition of a New Game+ mode, where you get the gadgets and levels that you had, but that makes the whole game harder, starting with the disabling of the incoming attack warning.
The reception of Arkham City on release was pretty good, I think it’s fair to say, and the game garnered a lot of praise from right around the world. Metacritic, that arbiter of what is a good game, has the Xbox 360 version sitting at 94. Even the user rating is sitting at 8.8, which is almost unheard of in this day and age. In fact, Arkham City is one of the best selling games in history, with 2 million copies sold in the first week of release, and went on to sell more than 12.5 million copies within the first year.
Batman: Arkham City was then pushed out again on Xbox One, in Enhanced form in 2016 via the Return to Arkham pack. If you want to play it today, we’d suggest that is the finest way to do so, either on Xbox One or Xbox Series X|S.
So, these are my memories, dredged from long term storage, of playing Batman: Arkham City on Xbox 360 and PS3. But did you guys play it back in the day? Can you remember that far back? Let us know in the comments!