10 Reasons ‘Arkham City’ is the Best Game of 2011

I’ve barely touched another game since Batman: Arkham City came out. The debate about Modern Warfare 3 vs. Battlefield 3 entirely passed by this house without getting a look in. I didn’t even stop playing it long enough to write a review and after I’m done writing this I’m gonna go and play it some more. There are two reasons I’m still playing it: firstly, my save file got corrupted when I was at about 88% completion and dammit I’m getting that trophy. Secondly, it’s friggin’ awesome. Here’s why:

10. Even it Didn’t Have Batman, It’ll Still be Awesome

Most licensed games – that is, based on a comic or movie – seem content to slap the characters on the box art and let the dollars roll in. There are plenty of top-notch superhero games out there, but without the added bonus of playing as Spider-Man the game wouldn’t be much better than an average release. If ‘Arkham City’ wasn’t a Batman game the design and gameplay is solid enough for it to still be awesome.

9. It Feels Like Batman’s World

Like many superhero games ‘Arkham Asylum’ saved the big name baddies for the boss fights, spacing out the time in between with hordes of faceless thugs to pummel. ‘Arkham City’ still featured a small island nations worth of thugs to break into manageable pieces but also featured such a wide range of familiar faces and voices to make it feel as though we really had been dropped in to part of Gotham. Zsasz, Deadshot, Hush and The Riddler are always lurking in the shadows even when you’re not facing down a boss fight, plus you’ve got Oracle and Alfred providing vocal support and a massive level of detail in the design.

8. It’s Perfectly Paced

Being a gamer who has to fit his hobby in between a full time job, a family and a website, I don’t appreciate pointless padding in a video game. Long travel time may empahsise the size of a world, but it’s a nuisance when you need to be grading papers, and endless hordes of respawning villains feel arbitrary when you just want to get to the next room. ‘Arkam City’ couldn’t be designed better. Even when you’re not urgently rushing of the next objective there’s something to do. Whether it be solving puzzles, attaining goals, completing side quests or a bucket of other options there’s always something to do.

7. The Extra Challenges are Worth the Time

Any sandbox game needs side missions to qualify for the title, otherwise they’re just games with needlessly big maps. Sadly some of these games miss the point and most of the side missions are repetitive and pointless and might as well be in a different game for all the impact they have on the one you’re playing. In ‘Arkham City’ any one of the side-missions could’ve been a required part of the story. They’re varied, allow other cool characters to be used in the game and are fun to complete. In addition there’s the Riddler’s Revenge combat and stealth challenges for those who just didn’t get enough fun out of the story mode.

Yeah, you better be playable in 'Arkham 3'.

6. They Pay Fan Service Without Alienating Casual Players

During an early sequence in the game you may have noticed a man with his face bandaged up in the church. This later tied into the ‘Identity Thief’ side mission where Batman finds a serious of grisly murder victims with their faces cut off. Fans of the comics instantly recognised this as the work of Thomas Elliot aka Hush. Whilst newbies to the Batman extended universe wouldn’t know this in advance, but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the mission and in completing it will have learned all they need to learn. Providing as much information as needed keeps everyone in the loop while pleasing fans. This can be compared to a Ghostrider game I once played where I had to battle ‘The Orb’. Who the fuck is the Orb? To this day I have no idea.

5. The Combat Doesn’t Get Boring

Even in a game with awesome combat – such as God of War – eventually things get repetitive. Somehow this doesn’t apply to the new Batman series. Simple inputs unleash epic combos that are satisfying enough, but the real selling point is the role of rhythm in the fighting. No matter what your approach, who you’re fighting and what gadgets you wish to employ, everything comes down to weighing up the incoming attacks and keeping your rhythm going steadily (story goes that the combat originated as a rhythm based Batman game) which proves more satisfying than simple button mashing.

Fun for all!

4. The Stealth is Fun

‘Stealth Section’ in a game is synonymous with ‘Fun Free Zone’. Often pointless and frustrating, forcing stealth sections into a game that isn’t already designed around stealth gameplay is one of the worst trends since motion control. Not so in this case. The stealth gameplay is fun and challenging, providing the player with multiple options for completing their goals. Sneaking up behind everyone works fine, but so does lurking in the rafters, unleashing booby traps, flinging projectiles and dropping smoke bombs and going the knuckle in a pinch.

3. The Design is Awesome

The world of Arkham City is dark, gritty and and realistic whilst at the same time retaining the cartoony design of the characters. The Joker, for example, still has his exaggerated angular features, menacing grin and bright purple suit but instead of looking like a comic character he looks like a demented, twisted person. The changes made to the characters to fit in with this world are all brilliant, with The Penguin going from a funny gangster character to someone who is actually scary.

2. The Story is Epic

The story of this game is good. Damn good. Good enough to rank among the best Batman stories committed to both page and film, something made all the more impressive by it’s marriage with an interactive medium. What begins as a good set-up – all the criminals of Gotham locked together in a walled off section of the city – only gets better with shadowy figures controlling things from the shadows, all the major players fitting in perfectly and detailed back story for those wishing to delve into the unlockable information files and/or the comic series. It paid off having senior Batman scribe Paul Dini work his magic on this project.

So...how do you capture the epicness of the story in one picture?

1. You’re Batman

Yes, that’s obvious. But there’s dozens of games featuring Batman where you play as what could be swapped out for a generic sprite. Very few video games about Superheroes actually let you feel like you’re a superhero as the environments are limited and the bad guys all have to provide a challenge. Even in Superman games you generally play as a typical gaming character with terrible fashion sense. ‘Arkham City’ plays like a Batman simulator. Swooping through the rooftops, efficiently taking apart a gang of thugs or using a range of gadgets and quick thinking to over come a trap – it’s all handled so perfectly that it’s as close to being Batman as we’re going to get.