Before Batman: Arkham Asylum, superhero video games were pretty disappointing on the whole. There were some good games to be found sure – we’re mainly looking at you here Spider-Man games – but on a whole they weren’t great. And whilst he’d always been a hugely popular character across other mediums Batman failed to make an impact in the gaming world.
But Batman: Arkham Asylum changed all that. It was a game that made you feel like you were Batman, able to take down a room full of thugs, battle with super criminals, solve riddles, and fly through the air gliding with his cape. It was astounding; so a sequel to that would have a lot to live up to.
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Released just two years after the first game, Batman: Arkham City took everything the first instalment did but went bigger in scope and scale in every way. Rather than setting another story inside the cramped corridors and strange grounds of Arkham Asylum, the story moved to an entire section of Gotham City that had recently been walled off to make a giant prison. Instead of running through halls past cells the player was given the freedom to explore the streets of Gotham, scale buildings, and glide from rooftop to rooftop.
This also meant that the designers were able to include a lot of interesting areas and variety to the game, as well as some iconic locations from Batman’s lore. There’s an old Maxie Zeus casino, a GCPD building complete with bat-signal on the roof, a courthouse decked up by Two-Face, the Penguin’s Icerberg Lounge, Ace Chemicals, and even the Monarch Theatre and Crime Alley, the place where Batman was born as Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered. The game felt expansive and huge despite the limitations still placed on it by the technology because of all of these areas and inclusions.
It wasn’t just the game world that got an overhaul though, as the story was much bigger in scope and scale than what had come before. Paul Dini, often celebrated as one of the best Batman writers of all time, came back to contribute to the story, and along with Paul Crocker and Sefton Hill, the three of them were able to craft a story that would take players to several memorable locations, and present a mystery that would hold a number of genuine surprises (even though like all good mysteries there are a lot of hints early on that you’ll kick yourself for not having gotten first time round). If the first game felt like a small, six issue story, Batman: Arkham City felt like a sprawling year long Batman epic across multiple titles. It was the video game equivalent of an event comic, and fans lapped it up.
Another way in which the game was a vast improvement over the first was the boss fights. As good as the first game was the encounters with the iconic villains were a bit lacklustre at times. A lot of the fights relied on the player having to perform the same actions over and over again, and were some of the weakest parts of the game; especially the final fight with the Joker.
This was majorly overhauled in the sequel. Instead of dodging enemies so that they ran into walls you’d be fighting an electrified zombie under the city; instead of throwing batarangs at a big plant until it fell down and you could hit it you’d be stalking Mr Freeze through the GCPD, laying traps for him as he learns from what you’re doing and takes out your hiding places. Suddenly you had to think about how you approached situations instead of just being able to run in and fight like you could the first game, and it was so much better for it.
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Upon release the game gained critical acclaim across several publications, with either perfect or near perfect scores from the vast majority of reviewers. It was called ‘the best licensed video game ever made’ by Game Informer, whilst it was held up as a standard for other games to meet by other reviewers. Thanks to the constant praise around the game, as well as excitement generated through a huge marketing campaign across multiple platforms, meant that when the game came out it became one of the fastest selling games in history. It topped the charts on every platform it was released on, and outsold the original in a matter of weeks.
Due in large part to the sales and the constant praise, but also to the somewhat less favourable reaction to the other games that would come after it, Batman: Arkham City is without a doubt the peak of the franchise, and one of the best superhero games that will ever be made.
Batman: Arkham City was first released on 18th October 2011.