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Batman Arkham City is a carefully written love letter that stayed with me long after I'd finished it. But what was less expected is how appealing and accessible this is to casual gamers and those uninitiated in the charms of the comic.
Rocksteady have paid the piper, not just in their devotion to creating an immensely playable videogame, but by taking time to get to grips with their subject matter. This handling of Bob Kane's comic creation, Batman, deftly steps through this hallowed ground without putting a foot wrong.
Batman Arkham City continues where Arkham Asylum left off -- re-creating in meticulous detail each and every aspect that makes Batman, well, Batman. The result is a hero who moves swiftly from questionable vigilante to puzzle-solving Sherlock to agile martial artist and back again.
While it could have rolled out the same mechanics in a new world, Arkham City moves both gameplay and story forward in intelligent, and intelligible, ways. Things start in familiar territory with fisticuffs and clue detection from the first game. Detective Vision again enables you to spot antagonists through architecture and plan your attack before stepping out of the shadows.
Unlike many fighting games, here you start with a full complement of gadgets. They are then powered up as you progress through the game. But it is in the less familiar additions that the real fun is found. A grappling hook means you can fly from roof to roof before gliding down to attack. Unlike the first game this gliding time is much longer and nicely offsets the larger maps Batman needs to navigate.
There are other new gadgets to play with too. My favourites were the remote Batarangs that could be directed round corners and smoke pellets are also useful and underline Arkham City's dedication to stealth as well as brawling.
The story starts several months after Arkham Asylum, and in a very different Arkham. Free from the Asylum we now have to deal with an open (if walled) city run by the whimsical Hugo Strange and his turn-a-blind-eye approach to crime management.
This is more Escape from New York than The Wire's legalisation of drugs in Hamsterdam, but the pressures behind it are not dissimilar. Batman soon finds that he can't let things carry on as they and adds his own brand of vigilante law enforcement into the already bloody streets.
A game that you will want to take your time with.
Rocksteady have created an Arkham City of any Batman fan's dreams. The place is massive and sprawling and I soon found myself lost in the back alleys with nefarious riffraff. There is a Gormenghast comical horror about the place with eyes on every corner and gargoyles jutting out from almost every building.
Having such a large City to fill with criminal activity means that more of Batman's enemies make an appearance than last time. The Penguin, Two Face, The Joker and a busty Harley Quinn all throw their hat in the ring. But it's not until the story really takes hold that Arkham City really cranks things up and draws in characters old and new from Gotham's underbelly -- and a return appearance for The Riddler and his riddling side-quests.
Seeing the game open up into Gotham's streets was a real penny-dropping moment for me. Although I had enjoyed the first game the scale of Gotham City suddenly reminded me of Assassin's Creed - but here the combat and gameplay around the environments is so much stronger.
The result of all this is a game that you will want to take your time with, rather than rush through to the conclusion. Although that may not sound all that unusual I know I'm as guilty as the next man of playing games simply to say I've finished them. Batman Arkham City stands alongside experiences like Uncharted and Alan Wake that need to be savoured.
Some games stay with you between sessions, this one stayed with me long after I'd finished it. Perpetual perfection.
Once you have got through the main story (not too quickly I trust) you can also play through as Catwoman (and Robin with some retailer exclusive deals). This isn't just another excuse for more high def decollage and cleavage (I'm talking Cat rather than Robin here) but they also handle differently and add some longevity for die hard fans.
There are many voices heaping praise on Arkham City, but unusually I'm happy to join their midst. This is a love letter of a game, written not just to comics or even core games, but to anyone who wants to escape their day to day life once in a while and step into the shoes of the most human of Superheroes. Some games stay with you between sessions, this one stayed with me long after I'd finished it. Perpetual perfection.
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