"Holy Conclusion, Batman!"
Indeed, Rocksteady has crafted a game that has so many different aspects to it that you can play it how you see fit. On one level, it's a puzzle game where you can spend long periods of play exploring every nook and cranny and working out how to unlock Riddler trophies. Then, all of a sudden, it takes the form of a platformer as you try to work your way through a location. Then it switches into a stealth game, where you might use detective mode to try and work out how to takedown enemies silently.
Then, just when you're least expecting it, you'll be surrounded by a pack of armed thugs. Each of these sections has its own appeal and adds to the overall Batman experience, but Arkham City is at its best when the Dark Knight, or Catwoman - an optional playable character in the game - are engaged in close-quarter combat.
Combat is fluid and Batman fights with style and panache as you rack combos together and dish out some hard-hitting punishment. With every back-hander, forward-flip and takedown you execute, you feel in control. Combat isn't just a matter of button-mashing; it's a combination of counters, attacks and finishing moves that feel satisfying to execute and absorbing to watch. It's an assuredly bold statement to make, dear reader, but we haven't played any game before that handles close-up combat as well as Arkham City and manages to make it so exciting.
In between the flurry of punches, blocks and kicks, you can also mix things up with gadgets, dropping smoke bombs to confuse enemies, stunning them with bolts of electricity or using your Batclaw to drag them toward you. The combat system is in-depth and challenging to master on the more difficult levels, but it's a lot of fun when you start to experiment with the range of moves and incredibly satisfying to take on a dozen thugs and come out on top.
With an area as large as Arkham City, it's quite incredible how smoothly it all runs, especially when you also take into account that the game incorporates stealth, exploration, flight, gadgets and the in-depth combat system. It's testament to the design team that we haven't seen one glitch in the game; something that is quite unusual for a title of this scope. Whether you're gliding around the city, using your remote-controlled Batarang to take out enemies from a distance, or applying explosive gel to blast through weak walls, animation is impeccable, and switching between gadgets and weapons is silky smooth. Even just travelling across the city is a fun pastime due to the fluidity of movement.
Beyond the campaign, there's also content in the form of 'Challenge Rooms' where you have to fight against different enemy types in a range of scenarios involving combat, stealth and speed. You might, for example, fight four waves of increasingly tough enemies, be rewarded for combos with points, or have to silently take down as many foes as you can by using stealth. Scores from challenges are then uploaded to an online leaderboard where you can see how you stand up against the masses.
For all its many, many good points, Arkham City isn't the perfect video game. It can, for instance, be frustrating trying to find your way out of a building and back into the city. There's a fair bit of back-tracking to do in the game, and you'll spend a chunk of time trying to navigate your way out of building once you've completed a task. Unless you've got a memory like an elephant and can remember how you navigated the main corridors and levels of some of the buildings, you'll constantly be switching to and from your map to work out which way to go. Even then it's not always clear, due to the game featuring many buildings with multiple tiers.
Not quite perfect
Though there's plenty of replay value to be had out of the challenge maps, the omission of multiplayer is also a little disappointing. It's testament to the strength of the characters and incredible move-sets of Batman and Catwoman that we'd really like to square-up against real players, or at least join them co-operatively to kick the heck out of thugs. Multiplayer is surely the next evolution for the series, but it's a shame we didn't get to enjoy it in Arkham City.
Nonetheless, Batman: Arkham City is a class above many games in the action-adventure genre, marrying gorgeous graphics and strong level design with potent story-telling and a kick-ass selection of gadgets and moves. The starring role is undoubtedly the visceral combat system, but way beyond that there's a lot of fun to be had out of solving Riddler puzzles or clearing a room by stealth. Despite some tedious back-tracking and the lack of online multiplayer, Batman: Arkham City is most definitely an experience not to be missed and one of the finest action-adventures of our time.
The GoodDazzling production values
Great gameplay variety
Combat is so good you'll feel like Batman
A fair bit of back-tracking and map-checking
No online multiplayer
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City is available to buy from Play.com.
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