Batman: Arkham City, the Rocksteady-developed sequel to the universally-loved Arkham Asylum, has finally been ported to the PC. And holy strawberries Batman, he’s sure in a jam this time.
Arkham City takes place roughly a year after the events of Arkham Asylum, only now Quincy Sharp, ex-warden, has now become the new mayor of Gotham. Sharp’s teamed up with weirdo psychiatrist Hugo Strange, who has the crackpot notion that sectioning off some of Gotham’s worst slums and jamming all the crazies and crims in together, will somehow eradicate crime in the city.
Instead of making like the Romans with this new gladiator pit on their doorstep, citizens of Gotham aren’t happy about it - and Bruce Wayne’s one of the loudest to speak out against this new “solution”.
However, things go rapidly downhill for Wayne after he’s arrested on false charges and thrown in ‘the City’ himself, and the game picks up from this point. (For a more detailed rundown of the storyline see Angus’s original review for the 360, which I won’t attempt to duplicate.)
Needless to say, Wayne decides to continue his investigations from the inside; he’s convinced that there’s more wrong with Arkham City than just bad regional planning. Fortunately for him there’s no cellphone jamming around the perimeter (though it’s heavily guarded and patrolled by helicopters), and he’s soon able to get in touch with butler-and-sidekick Alfred, who does his best to help Wayne from the outside. After a quick delivery of one Batman suit, Wayne’s able to take to the rooftops and skies, and do what he does best.
Arkham City, despite its squalor, is fantastic to look at. It’s dark, dank, and most definitely not the sort of place you or I would want to spend too much time poking around. The crumbling old buildings (lit up here and there by Joker’s circus lights and the Riddler’s mysterious ‘?’ symbols) have been wonderfully rendered, and the gloom and murk just helps to emphasise the sense of malice. It’s reasonably large in size, though it doesn’t take too long to get from one end to the other as-the-bat-flies.
Movement controls are straightforward and easy to use, with the standard mouse-plus-WSAD keys approach working well, in that they give rise to an extremely fluid way Batman (and Catwoman too, for that matter) manoeuvres his way around the City. A hotkey menu lets you quickly access his other gadgets, while the tab button brings up the map, from which you can select and deselect active quests.
While Angus was happy with the combat controls on the 360, the port of the attack and counter-attack actions to the right and left mouse button left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. Most games still use this mapping, but I think the problem in this case is more to do with the speed of AC’s fight sequences, and the resulting mouse-button mashing that’s needed to get through them in one piece.
But that’s just a small grizzle. Once new abilities and gadgets are unlocked, these can be triggered through hitting specific keys at strategic moments (such as when you’ve racked up a requisite number of combo attacks), and for the most part these work pretty well.
That said, compared to the all-out brawling, Batman really shines when he takes a more stealthy approach to getting past the bad guys. Like a sniper, or predator, he’s best when he’s watching the action from above, perched up high and picking off enemies one by one, dropping silently down to disable them, before grappling back up to a strategic point.
Turning on Detective Mode prior to taking on a room of baddies also helps to assess what approach to take, with Batman occasionally thinking out loud through his options, as he surveys a sort of infra-red view of the scene. (Detective Mode is also frequently used in searching for clues, tracing trajectories of bullets, or analysing a crime scene.)
And there’s certainly no shortage of people for Batman to fight, with a gang’s-all-here approach to the inclusion of his nemeses. Though it was great to see the whole host getting the Rocksteady treatment, the inclusion of them all didn’t feel particularly seamless with the rest of the game. That said, Joker and Penguin are very good (or bad), with Mark Hamill returning as the voice of everyone’s favourite creepy green-haired clown.
While I was less susceptible to the female characters’ charms (Catwoman’s minxing around the place grew old fast, and Harley Quinn’s voice made me look for the volume control), I still really enjoyed the inclusion of the Catwoman ‘cut scenes’, where you can play as her for a while. Though she does her best to titillate at every turn, she also packs a mean punch, and has her own set of cool gear - like the whip she uses a bit like Batman’s grappling hook, and caltrops she can throw around to slow down the bad guys.
In addition to the main storyline, there is also a huge number of collectibles, in the form of Riddler challenges and hundreds of trophies hidden all over the city. Collecting these unlocks all sorts of new content, including gear, artwork and gadgets. And once you have completed the main story, something called New Game Plus is unlocked, which really ramps up the difficulty, and also removes the counter indicators from combat.
At a time of year when there’s usually no shortage of interesting games to pick up for the PC, Arkham City absolutely stands out as one of the top Christmas contenders. PC gamers of all stripes are going to love this one.