'Batman: Arkham City' videogame review: A dirty town, a grand adventure

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Image Credit: Warner Bros.

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I worry that I’m talking mostly in abstract here, mainly because I don’t want to ruin too many of the game’s surprises, but I also wouldn’t want to obscure the main important thing about Arkham City: This thing is freaking fun. The combat gameplay is a nice mixture of pure button-mash attack and surprisingly in-depth strategy. When you knock out one of the game’s infinite minions, the soundtrack lets out an immensely pleasing explosion — it’s like the pistols in Sergio Leone movies, the ones that sound like cannonfire when they shoot.

Like 1000-page novels and concept albums, even the best open-world games have flaws. The puzzle gameplay isn’t too challenging; as with Arkham Asylum, most of the “crime solving” basically comes down to turning on Detective Mode and looking for bright dots. The overheard dialogue becomes repetitive pretty quickly. (Although it can be pretty funny: I actually laughed out loud when I heard one henchman ask another, “You gave your own mother a poisoned birthday cake?”)

Even the most casual Bat-fan could point out all the game’s various influences. The cinematically gritty aesthetic comes straight out of the Christopher Nolan trilogy. The story draws from several far-flung corners of the Bat-verse. The notion of Batman’s villains going to war over dystopian real estate comes from “No Man’s Land,” and the main storyline bears a slight resemblance to “Hush,” uniting the entirety of Batman’s rogues’ gallery in one big mystery.

The game’s most clear influence is Batman: The Animated Series, which was co-created by Arkham City writer Paul Dini. (Animated Series vets Kevin Conroy, as Batman, and Mark Hamill, as the Joker, return to lend gravitas and insanity.) But there are also hallucinogenic sequences that recall the work of Grant Morrison, and sci-fi subplots that tip a hat to Batman’s space era, and Mr. Zsasz is still lurking around to remind you of the early ’90s serial-killer boom.

On The No Doctor Cop Lawyer Show, Keith Staskiewicz and I argued that the key to Batman’s cultural longevity is that his particular iconography seems endlessly adaptable. He can be street brawler, a closet psychopath, a science hero, the patriarch of an ever-expanding Bat-family, and a cartoonish demi-god. The joy of Arkham City is that it somehow combines all those interpretations. Batman fights street thugs and surreal hallucinations, suffers from psychological torment and forced flirtation, flies through the air gracefully, catches a thrown chair and hurls it back. The whole time, Alfred and Oracle are arguing in your ear like a pair of disapproving parents.

You could argue that Arkham City’s storyline is arguably too overstuffed, with some villains just stopping in for a quick cutscene cameo. But the overall moment-to-moment experience is breathtaking. By the time I finished the main game, I felt like I knew the game’s world the way I knew Vice City or Red Dead Redemption’s New Austin. By its very nature, Arkham City is less epic than those games — they tell slow-emerging stories set over long months, while City is fundamentally the tale of one bad night in a bad part of town. But Batman: Arkham City remains a solid piece of videogame production that will almost constantly surprise you, and a pure injection of comic-book entertainment: gleeful villains, shady plots, big-eyed women with prominent everything, skies that are always cloudy. Addictive, curiously thoughtful, vividly realized and darkly funny, it’s a feast for comic book fans, and an expansively mythmaking new addition in the Caped Crusader canon. Grade: A-

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Can’t get enough Batman? Check out the latest episode of EW’s new geek-weekly web-series, The No Doctor Cop Lawyer Show, where we discuss why Batman is pop culture’s best superhero. (Sorry, Martian Manhunter!)

Read more:
A visual tour of Batman: Arkham City
Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises

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Comments (81 total) Add your comment
Page: 1 2 3 4
  • Felix

    No mention of the Catwoman sequences? That’s what I’m really curious about.

    • Joe

      Musta run out of room, with yapping on and on about GoldenEye and all…

      • slay

        who tha hell compares any game to golden eye as if that’s a big staple game

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      • Rick

        The writer admits this on page 3, first sentence – “I worry that I’m talking mostly in abstract here…”
        Too bad he didn’t do anything about this before this review was published. In this review, the writer was being too self absorbed (talking too long about Golden Eye, promoting his web series), provided game spoilers (and not really good ones) and only superficially touched upon the game itself and its features, I hope he gets some help either from his editor or the site’s more proficient writers before he attempts another review.

      • pickle t1ts

        EW is owned by Time/Warner which owns DC comics… Which is why this gets a headline “review”.

      • jonb347

        Goldeneye WAS a big game. it defined the 1st person shooter.

      • sean

        yeah…if you don’t understand how important Goldeneye was to first person shooters (or video games in general) then you’re a moron.

    • DAISHI

      @Slay While there was a lot of talk about Golden Eye, it was a relevant setup. However, the rest of your comment is silly. Golden Eye was and is a big game, one of the most influential in taking shooters to the console.

    • eshaen

      hey

  • Adam

    I picked the game up at midnight but had to work today so it sits on the shelf, waiting for me to get home. It’s been a VERY long day, to say the least.

    • SKR

      Think thats bad, I just got the 3 Red Lights of DEATH!! so now my copy of Arkham City sits next to the paper weight the formaly use to be my Xbox ELITE…its still a problem!! and xbox expects me to pay $120 to get it fixed! this on top of the $370 of the original purchas, the $50 I spend on xbox live every year (a service free on ALL other systems, and the countless dollars I’ve spent on games over all these years!!

  • MIKE

    Two pages of twaddle to wade through to get to the review and then when you do you start with a spoiler. People want to read your review about Arkham City not without a 200 word essay on Goldeneye beforehand

    • verbal

      Yeah, I thought I clicked on the wrong article for a minute when I kept reading GoldenEye.

      • slay

        lol same here

      • sublime

        The dude obviously gets paid by the word. I was expecting how the controls worked, the tool selection, etc. I guess I have to go to Game informer for real info, not a site that talks about who was wearing whose design on the red carpet.

  • Skye Hill

    Ugh, this is what happens when you let idiots do a video game review.

  • Rob

    Bitch bitch, whine whine. I found the review entertaining (weekly), and I will also go to gaming sites for different perspectives on the game.

  • Kevin

    Is this guy getting payed to write a review? Its bloody awful. Go back to school and learn your craft. Yeah Golden Eye is great but this is a review of the new Batman game.

    • Shadowlands

      The joke about going back to school while considering your misspelled word and grammar errors is too easy! Please try again.

      • Skye Hill

        He didn’t misspell any words. He just used the wrong spelling of ‘paid’. Payed is a word as well. It just means something completely different.

      • Mike

        Its = It’s too

      • C Men

        Whom, not who.

      • Teacher

        ‘He didn’t misspell any words…He just used the wrong spelling..’ What?

  • Jose

    I understand mentioning Goldeneye but not for a whole damn page, then skipping half for spoilers and then reading on thin details of the game

    • Mike

      I actually enjoyed reminiscing back to my college days when Goldeneye was the greatest game ever and we enjoyed multi-player death matches whenever we weren’t in class. And, if Darren’s experience playing Batman Arkham City reminded him of the joy he had when playing Goldeneye, then he might have convinced someone who never would have given the game a consideration before. (that’s me, in case I lost you somewhere) I’m guessing there are a few others of me out there. I say “Bravo” Darren. Thanks for the nostalgia!

      • Zoofishan

        Awesome! I am glad I came up with that name. Game Hero!! Just Kidding! It was just natural to have a sengmet like this on Think Hero. Having David hosting is a big plus. Please, if you can put some movie clips of the game play this sengmet would just perfect.

  • muaddib

    Wanted a review and got a spoiler ridden recap, thanks for nothing

  • MCS

    Does the author know what review means? I also didn’t click on an article about GoldenEye.

  • F

    At least Jeff Jensen didn’t review this. Would’ve been 18 pages comparing the game to obscure comic books and philosophers while crying about Lost ending two years ago.

    • joe luck

      Finally, someone else as sick of Jensen bringing up Lost every chance he gets.

  • Judy

    I wish this were a huge article comparing Arkham City to GoldenEye for some reason instead of anything resembling a review of the new game. Oh wait!

  • Joe

    Actually enjoyed the review Darren, for what it’s worth. Don’t really understand why people have to be so negative, if you didn’t like the review that’s ok, but you don’t need to insult the guy.

  • adam

    Uhhhh… You never talk about the game!

  • YeP

    So is it good?

    • Hammerhead

      next page, pro

  • Chris

    Jesus, thanks for the spoiler alert on the beginning of the game!

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