The game's combat has been refined but not substantially changed. The standard rhythm-based flow and unique counter system works as well here as it did in Arkham Asylum. It's still as good a system as any for giving you a sense of control over the general direction of the combat without burdening you with an overabundance of controls. Dropping down into the middle of a large group of enemies and then punching and kicking your way through them emphasizes the heroic dimension of Batman. The animations are fluid and the contacts feel like they have real substance behind them. Once you get fancy and start throwing in unique takedowns and counters, you'll begin to feel like even more of a badass. Toss in any of 12 different gadgets, most of which have some direct combat application, and it gets even more intense. You might use a freeze grenade to immobilize an enemy, or drop an explosive that you detonate remotely once you've moved to another part of the battle. You might also decide to call in a wave of bats to disorient your foes. There's a lot to choose from here and, given the variety of enemies and bosses you'll face, it's worth trying every trick at least once.
Stealth can often be just as fun as combat. It's hard to imagine Batman passing up the opportunity to beat a few criminals into submission, but occasionally, you'll find yourself with the opportunity to bypass guards and continue on to take out bigger prey. But if you can pass by undetected, odds are you can also have a little fun. Sneaking up behind enemies and performing silent takedowns or hanging inverted from gargoyles and scooping up any bad guys who walk below you are some of the game's greatest joys. The detective vision, which allows you to see through walls (and which I found more plausible than last time), helps you maintain awareness of your enemies' positions as you skulk through air vents and behind walls. It's a particularly important approach for Catwoman, who lacks some of the power of Batman's gadgets.
For all that it gets right, there are a few things I didn't like about Batman: Arkham City. For one, the main story feels a bit rushed at the end. The revelations and twists pile on each other so quickly that you begin to realize you've never really been entirely sure who the main villain of the game is supposed to be. Is it Strange? The Joker? Ra's? Even the final villain you fight at the end comes as sort of a surprise. Trying to sort out who's who and who's death is fake or not leaves little room for the player to really appreciate (or even notice) the clever mystery at the heart of the story. I was also a little sad that there's just not enough detective work for this Dark Knight. He'll get into a couple of CSI-style forensics sequences, but none of them really challenge the brain.
The gadgets, though tons of fun, are a bit distracting. By the end of the game, Batman has 12 different gadgets, most of which can be used in combat, and a variety of different takedowns and combos. Getting off the freeze grenades and batarangs is usually no problem, but trying to swap out the gadgets in combat just ends up being more confusing than helpful. In the end, simply sticking with the usual strikes and counters is more reliable than rifling through your utility belt trying to come up with something clever.
I'm still a bit conflicted about holding Catwoman out as DLC. Her story essentially kicks off and closes the entire campaign, and fills in a few additional details towards the middle. If you don't experience that, you'll still have a good time, but you won't enjoy it as much as you would if you'd played with her all along. Even those who do get the code from buying a new copy of the game might miss out on how important her story elements are if they don't download the extra content right away.
Bottom Line: An action-heavy realization of what makes Batman such a compelling hero, complete with a fascinating world, a smart story and loads of rewards for exploring it all.
Recommendation: Play it.
Steve Butts suspects Batman would trade it all just have his mom and dad back.
This review is based on the 360 version of the game.
Game: Batman: Arkham City
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)