It's not all about combat in Arkham City, though. Far from it. One of the greatest joys of the game is the act of moving around its open world. The grapnel gun made getting around enjoyable in Arkham Asylum, but Arkham City, with its numerous buildings to grapple onto and soar off of, is a veritable playground. You can zip up to ledges and rooftops with the push of a button, and you can leap off these surfaces as well, using your cape to glide through the air. Once you get the hang of generating momentum with your dive-bomb move, you can soar through the city, diving and climbing like a roller coaster. It's an exhilarating way to travel. And if, as you're flying high above the streets, you spot a group of thugs and fancy a fight, it's easy to plummet straight down and plant your boot in a goon's face.
6340112You wouldn't know from looking at him, but on the inside, Batman is saying 'Whee!'
Arkham City also acknowledges that Batman's brains are at least on par with his brawn. Occasional clever environmental puzzles, such as a situation involving a pool of water covered in thin ice, frozen cops who need to be saved, and a giant, deadly shark, require you to make smart use of your gadgets. More significantly, the Riddler returns to torment Batman, and he has stepped up his game considerably. As in Arkham Asylum, Riddler trophies have been placed throughout Arkham City. Some of these collectibles have been hidden in the city's nooks and crannies, and if you locate them, you can simply pick them up. However, in many cases, the trick is not locating them, but figuring out how to get them. There are Riddler trophies in plain view all over Arkham City, but they're enclosed in cages, and to retrieve one of these, you must figure out how the mechanism for that particular cage works. There might be a series of switches on a nearby wall that need to be triggered in a particular order. Or it may be a test of agility, with a switch that opens a gate some distance away that you have only a short time to reach before it closes. Some of these puzzles are surprisingly tricky, but there's always a discernible logic that makes working out the solutions rewarding. And in a nice touch, you can mark the location of trophies on your map so that if you can't figure out how to get one at the time, you can easily come back to it later.
In addition to his trophies, the Riddler has a new set of environmental riddles for you to solve. Some of these take the form of questions or statements, such as "Do you have Strange thoughts? Maybe you should seek help?" and "I am an actor who can transform a film with the final cut. Who am I?" Answering these requires you to locate the sign, storefront, or other environmental detail that contains the answer. The richness of the world already makes exploring it a pleasure; tracking down these solutions makes doing so even more engaging. Each of these that you solve unlocks an Arkham City story, which offers some textual background on the people associated with that particular riddle, deepening the neighborhood's sense of history. The Riddler's perspective puzzles also make a comeback. These are question marks painted in the environment that need to be viewed from just the right place to appear correctly. Working out the proper vantage point from which to solve these puzzles is as enjoyable as ever.
Solving these conundrums doesn't just reward you with a job well done. This time around, the Riddler has kidnapped hostages and placed them in riddle rooms throughout Arkham City, and the only way to get the locations of these rooms is by completing enough of the Riddler's challenges. And this is just one of the numerous side quests you have the option of pursuing or ignoring during your time in Arkham City. You'll almost certainly want to complete many of these, though. These engrossing quests often make great use of villains from the Batman comics who don't play a role in the main quest, and they have their own story arcs that are worth seeing through. They're also fun to play. There are strings of murders to investigate that have you analyzing crime scenes, following bullet trajectories and trails of blood. There's a madman who forces you to race across town to answer ringing pay phones before time runs out and he kills a hostage. There are innocent political prisoners who need your help. And much more.
The world is packed with references to famous Batman characters.
If you buy the game new, you receive a code that gives you access to Catwoman. (If you don't have the code, you can purchase one in the game's online store.) If you have this content loaded onto your console, the story will occasionally switch to Catwoman. The paths of the two characters occasionally intersect, and if you have the Catwoman content, her occasional interludes offer some illumination on how she gets into the situations in which you encounter her as Batman. Playing as Catwoman is enjoyable; she has just enough abilities that are unique to her to make her feel distinct from Batman, while controlling similarly enough to feel immediately familiar. She can cling to certain ceilings and use her claws to scale walls, and her caltrops and bolas can be used in combat to trip and immobilize enemies. You spend only a short time playing as her during the main story, but once that's complete, you can switch between Batman and Catwoman at any time, and she has her own objectives and challenges to complete, and her own set of Riddler trophies to collect.
Once you complete the main story, you unlock the new game plus option, which lets you carry over your upgrades but also makes your life more difficult; you have to do without the helpful lines that appear in combat informing you that an enemy is about to strike. But once you've spent that much time with the game, you'll likely be ready for this challenge. And, as in Arkham Asylum, there are a host of challenge rooms that test your skills both in all-out combat and in stealth situations. Some challenges take the form of small campaigns that alternate between combat and stealth scenarios. Each campaign assigns you an assortment of modifiers and requires you to use each of them once. One modifier might benefit you, perhaps giving you regenerating health, while another might benefit your enemies, perhaps giving one a protective aura that prevents him from taking damage. These modifiers, and the tactical process of applying the detrimental ones to the easier scenarios and the beneficial ones to those scenarios you might have a tougher time with, make these campaigns feel distinctly different from the encounters you have during the story.
One Batman against a mere six thugs? Hardly a fair fight.
But more than anything else, it's your adventures and explorations in the city of Arkham itself that make this game extraordinary. The game's boss fights look dangerous and spectacular, but they're disappointingly easy, and on occasion, context-sensitive actions may thwart your efforts. You might intend to evade an enemy attack, for instance, but instead your button press makes Batman slowly disable some device as bullets are shredding your health. But these criticisms are nitpicks in a game that does so much so well. From the speedy exhilaration of soaring high above the streets to the atmospheric thrill of discovering long-forgotten secrets in the tunnels below Gotham, this is an unforgettable adventure that will keep you coming back to the cape and cowl long after you've seen the credits roll.