Review: Batman: Arkham City Collector’s Edition (Sony PS3)

Batman: Arkham City Collector’s Edition
Developer: Rocksteady
Publisher: Warner Home Games
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up/Sandbox Action
Release Date: 10/18/2011

Well, it’s finally here – the much anticipated sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum. This game won our 2009 “Game of the Year” award, along with six other awards. You’ve probably already read our unboxing of the Collector’s Edition and our “Ten Thoughts” piece on Robin. Now it’s time to see if Arkham City lives up to the hype or if it falls short like Dead Island and Catherine before it.

Let’s Review

1. Story

While not Paul Dini’s Bat-Magnum Opus (That would be Mark of the Phantasm), the story of Arkham City is a masterpiece. It celebrates Bat-continuity from the early days when Bob Kane was still defining the character all the way to more recent times. It contains nearly every name resident in Gotham from The Creeper (as Jack Ryder) to The Calendar Man. The only real people missing are Jason Blood and Ragman from the hero side or Clock King and Rupert Thorne from the EEEEVIL side. It’s truly a love letter to the nearly seventy five year history of Batman. Any fan of the character in any form should instantly fall in love with this just for the storytelling, homages, references and outright reverence to everything that has come since May of 1939.

The story of Arkham City is a chaotic one, but in a city with characters like The Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze and more, it’s no surprise. You are thrown into the action in medias res, which is a requirement for any actual epic (rather than the utterly incorrect use of the word we see thrown around today…). Batman, or rather Bruce Wayne, has been knocked out and kidnapped by Hugo Strange and thrown into Arkham City. There are two things you need to know before you proceed. The first is that Hugo Strange is one of the oldest Batman villains, although his heyday came in the late 1970s during Steve Englehart’s run on Batman. Hugo Strange is the one villain who has known Bruce Wayne’s identity without running into a mindwipe, amnesia or the like. Yet, he’s always been an oddly noble and honourable sort, refusing to reveal it to anyone, even under pain of death. The second is that Arkham City appears to have replaced the island version of Arkham Asylum in the first game, being a mad TOWN rather than a madhouse quarters in what used to be the slums of Gotham. Hugo Sharp runs this district and rather loosely. The inmates are allowed to run free as long as they don’t try to escape. This helps to explain the violence and even weapons contained within. Why is Hugo Strange, who has never allied himself with other super villains before (Indeed, he even envisions himself as a hero and has fought criminals before) letting chaos reign like this? What’s truly going on here? At the same time The Joker appears to be dying from an unknown malady brought upon by his use of the Titan formula (enhanced Venom) at the end of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Does the Joker’s impending demise tie into the machinations of Strange? What about the Riddler’s challenges? Are these three separate stories unfolding at once, or is there a bigger tale to be told?

I won’t spoil what happens, but I will say as a longtime Batman fan, I loved every moment of this. There is so much continuity between both of Rocksteady’s games as well as nods to every version of Batman out there, be it The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: TAS, Pre-Crisis, Post-Crisis. You name it, it’s probably in here in some way. I was hooked from the beginning of the game and was shocked when three major A level characters died at different points in the game. Sure it’s easy to roll your eyes at death with comic characters, especially since the Lazarus Pit is a prominent “get out of death free” card in Batman stories, but all three deaths were intense and somewhat unexpected. Sure, this puts Arkham City into its own continuity, but it’s great to see what Dini was able to do without editorial guidelines from DC or network censors.

This is the best story ever told in a video game that involves comic book characters. I am rarely impressed these days, but the story of Batman: Arkham City reminded me why Batman is such a great character and of all the stories I loved of his when I was growing up.

Story Rating: Unparalleled

2. Graphics

I was impressed by the visuals of Arkham Asylum two years ago, and I’m even more impressed now. Every character (and all their optional skins) looked amazing. We even finally got to see what Bruce Wayne looks like in the Rocksteady-verse! The game features an impressive array of character models, all of which are highly detailed and are diverse. It’s not just one physical form with different hairstyles or shirts like we see in a lot of game. This is out and out gorgeous. Everything looked and felt like an interactive animated movie rather than a video game. It was that good. For those of you who enjoy gaming in 3D, you’ll find that Batman: Arkham City looks amazing there too. Even if you don’t have a 3D TV, you’ll be able to notice certain points of the game that were pretty much made for 3D capability and wish you had one just to see those scenes leap out at you, even if 99.99% of the time you couldn’t care less.

Backgrounds are amazingly detailed as well. Sure the game looks dark and ominous, but it’s Gotham City (part of it anyway). It’s supposed to. At the same time when there is colour, it is vibrant and beautiful. Buildings have an amazing amount of both texture and detail to them and the entire region of “Arkham City” is laid out much the same as a real city, furthering to enhance the experience.

I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about the visuals of Arkham City. The game looks that amazing. It just might be the best looking video game of this console generation.

Graphics Rating: Unparalleled

3. Sound

Much like the graphics, the aural aspects of Arkham City are fabulous. The only real complaint I have here is that the Penguin is British for some reason, which was as annoying as when Silicon Knights did it to Emma Frost in X-Men Destiny. Everything else though is as close to perfect as it gets. Kevin Conroy as Batman? Check. Mark Hamill as Joker? Check. Tara Strong as Harley Quinn? Check. Even the characters that have different voice actors from Arkham Asylum or B:TAS are wonderfully done. Maurice LaMarche (The Brain, Chief Quimby, Orson Welles) as Mr. Freeze? Awesome. Grey DeLisle aka Jeanette from Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines as Catwoman? Purr-fect. Wade Williams does Black Mask exactly as I always envisioned him in my head. Corey Burton (Tomax, Spike Witwicky/Sunstreaker, Dale the Chipmunk), as Hugo Strange? I couldn’t have asked for a better voice there. I could keep going on like a complete mark, but suffice to say, the voice acting alone sold me on this game. This is nothing but A level voice actors in each and every role and I was blown away constantly.

The score for the gaming is equaling wonderful. I just wish that was the free music included with the Collector’s Edition rather than the Indie Rock soundtrack we were given. Each piece of the nineteen track score is amazing. I could just listen to it from beginning to end. Ron Fish and Nick Arundel deserve a lot of praise for kudos for their work here.

Aurally, Batman: Arkham City is nearly flawless. The Batman fanboy in me loved every choice made here (except the Penguin) while the stodgy critic in me was won over by the score, sound effect and sheet amount of subtle little nuances but into the game, from the scraping of bricks as you leap off them to the sound of a batarang thunking someone in the skull. I couldn’t ask for much more.

Sound Rating: Unparalleled

4. Control and Gameplay

The good thing about Arkham City is that it plays almost identically to Arkham City. This means if you’ve played the first game, you don’t need any prompts and can just rush right into the action. The bad thing about Arkham City is that the game assumes you not only played but beat Arkham Asylum and as such, spends very little (if any) time going through the controls. This makes the game very unfriendly to newcomers and as there isn’t an actual manual for the game, you’ll have to spend a good deal of time reading all the possible moves from a sub-menu as well as committing them to memory. People who haven’t touched Arkham Asylum in over a year will no doubt need a refresher too, but unfortunately you’re not going to get one. I was disappointed Rocksteady went this route and I find it a bit arrogant to assume that everyone who picks up Arkham City is intimately acquainted with Arkham Asylum, but it is what it is. The game isn’t totally devoid of in-game instructions, but it really should have offered a little more to help newcomers out.

Arkham City is MUCH bigger than Arkham Asylum and it feels a lot more “open world” or “sandbox-ish” in design. In Arkham Asylum, the game unfolded in a pretty linear fashion save for the Riddler bits. In Arkham City you can pretty much tell the main story to sod off at any point after getting your Batman costume. I spent the first few hours of my game beating up random thugs, saving Jack Ryder from more thugs, talking to political prisoners, fulfilling Riddler challenges and leveling up three or four times before I remembered that Catwoman was captured by Two Face. Sorry kitty.

If you haven’t played Arkham Asylum, then most of the game is a beat ’em up button masher with a little more depth than you usually find in this genre. There are many different types of moves to pull off, upgrades for your character, and timing rather than mashing comes into play a lot. You can easily get through the game button mashing though, which makes this a great game for players of all skill levels.

The controls for Arkham City are easy to learn, but take a while to master. That may sound trite, but this is one of the deepest beat ’em ups ever made (if not THE deepest). It gives you all the moves, gadgets and abilities from the first game and then adds some more. Whether you’re in detective mode, looking for how to trigger a Riddler trophy, trying to do a 50 hit combo, or just admiring the view from the top of Ace Chemicals, you’ll find there is always something new to try out.

I did find that Arkham City‘s Batman is ever so slightly slower to respond to button input than Arkham Asylums, which may throw off AA vets at first. I also found the camera to be pretty solid for much of the game, but there were times when it could be awful. An example is when I had to send a remote controlled batarang through a tube to get a Riddle trophy. Throwing and maneuvering the batarang wasn’t the problem – the camera was. Either it would tear away from the tube entirely, the tube would disappear visually but still be there in terms of collision detection, or the camera would just be at a wonky angle. Niggling issues like this were rare, but be advised they do exist. Arkham City isn’t perfect but it’s still very well made and unlike a lot of third person action games, control and camera issues are exceedingly rare.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

5. Replayability

Batman: Arkham City is huge. Between all the puzzles, Riddler Trophies, side missions and main story, there are various Challenges that take place outside of the main game which you can complete as Batman or Catwoman, along with Robin and Nightwing if you get their respective DLC bits. You’re going to be putting in thirty hours to this game easy -far more if you’re trying to collect all the trophies/achievements. Factor in that you can customize Batman in different ways as you level him up and that there is a New Game Plus option if you beat the game on normal or hard difficulty and this beat ’em up offers more replay value than a lot of RPGs. Every time you play you can do things different. Maybe this time you won’t build up your armor right away and instead focus on combat skills. Maybe you will choose to ignore the main story and just do side missions and Riddler trophies for as long as you can. Maybe you’re just going to try to get all the medals in the challenges with all four playable characters there. Regardless what you choose, you’ll probably get tired of the game and need to put it down before you’ve seen every Easter Egg and uncovered every mystery.

It’s downright insane how much content there is in Batman: Arkham City.

Replayability Rating: Unparalleled

6. Balance

Regardless of the difficulty setting, you’re probably going to find the battles in Batman: Arkham City to be easy. You’ll always know when to counter and boss patterns are predictable. New Game Plus does away with some of this, but at the same time, you’ll have all your gear and XP from the previous game, so it’s actually easier there aside from having to memorize timing instead of outright knowing when to press a button.

That said, finishing all the side missions, doing the detective work and snagging all the Riddler trophies are all things that require more than the ability to press a button. You’re going to have to be quick-witted and good at puzzle solving to make headway here. I suppose a strategy guide might help too, but I haven’t seen the contents of the Prima guide so I can’t speculate on the quality (or lack thereof). So yes, combat might be pretty easy, but it’s the extra side stuff that’s going to test your mettle. It’s just that Batman: Arkham City tests your little grey cells rather than your hand-eye coordination.

If you are looking for some combat hurdles to clear, the Challenges outside of the main game might do just that. After all, there the goals are to set high scores or clear locations in the shortest amount of time. Some locations like the Freight Train are quite cramped so you can run and dodge as much as you are able to in the main game. As the goals for each location differ based on if it is a stealth or brawler mission, there are no real guidelines to go by save for one – try as wide a variety of moves as you can regularly.

So yes, the main game’s combat is a bit on the easy side regardless of difficulty, but the puzzles can really test you (or drive you nuts if you encounter one that you don’t have the right equipment for) and the Challenges outside of the main game provide you wide a wide range of opponents to best and goals to achieve. Pretty good across the board here.

Balance Rating: Good

7. Originality

If there is any one weak spot in Arkham City, it’s here. The core of the game is exactly the same as Batman: Arkham Asylum – it’s just that there is more of everything to do here. There are more enemies to beat, more characters from the comic (both enemy and ally) to encounter, far more puzzles to solve, many more Challenges to overcome, a longer story mode, side missions and even three new playable characters (all of which require DLC in some way shape or form). All of this is great and I loved every moment of the game, but it’s almost TOO similar to Arkham Asylum at times. I’ve yet to hear/see/read someone describe the game as anything but “Arkham Asylum but bigger and better.”

Thumbs in the middle for originality here. I love how big Arkham City is and how much there is to do here. I appreciate all the side quests and the sheer fan service provided. I just wish there was something here that was actually unique to the game that wasn’t already in Arkham Asylum or any other sandbox game.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8. Addictiveness

Let’s leave it at this – I had a very hard time putting down Arkham City. Every chance I’ve had, I’ve been playing this? Eat? Sleep? Work? What are these nebulous concepts you speak of? The only other game that has sucked me in like this all year was Disgaea 4. It helped that I’ve always been a DC Comics fan (The new 52 reboot caused me to pick up nineteen different series.) and that like nearly every person in the first world, Batman has held a special place in my heart at some point or another. It also helps that my favorite games have always been beat ’em ups. I spent much of my time in arcades playing X-Men: The Arcade Game or one of the two Dungeons and Dragons beat ’em ups by Capcom. I loved Double Dragon. I couldn’t get enough River City Ransom. My favorite game of all time is Guardian Heroes (Sega Saturn version). So it’s no surprise that both of Rocksteady’s Batman titles warmed my cranky old heart. It’s the core simple but deep gameplay that I’ve loved since I was a tot.

Batman: Arkham City isn’t just an exceptionally well made game – it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had as a gamer this year. I won’t deny that Arkham City might just seem far better than it really is due to 2011 having very few games with a “wow” factor, but I really had a hard time putting this down and I know I’ll play through it at least once more before the year is out.

Honestly, Batman: Arkham City should make even the grinchiest gamer remember why they love video games and have devoted a good chunk of their time and disposable income to the fandom. Don’t fight it. Just go with it.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9. Appeal Factor

Let’s be honest – usually licensed games stink. When there’s a good one though, it’s a joy to experience because it features characters from some other form of entertainment that you love. When it’s a great licensed game…well those are exceedingly rare but we all witnessed the result with Arkham Asylum. It basically printed money, had massive critical acclaim, won numerous awards and is considered to be one of the best games of this console generation. It was almost universally loved.

Fast forward to two years later. Now we’ve got a game that is bigger and better than Arkham Asylum – something that didn’t seem conceivable due to the double whammy of sequel and licensed game stigmas. This is honestly the first game of the year that has lived up to the massive amount of hype put behind it. Hell, even little aspect of the game has been covered by numerous websites and publications. There’s been controversy over the Catwoman DLC, forum posts guessing who would all be in the game, excitement over the reveal that Robin and Nightwing would be playable. Almost every aspect of the game since its original announcement at terrible video game award show on Spike TV back in 2010 has created a massive almost unparalleled excitement.

…and the game lives up to every bit of the hype. How often does that happen? Maybe once a year? Once a console generation? Usually the games with the heaviest marketing fail to impress and it’s the lesser marketed titles that remain in our hearts and memories as the years go by. Arkham City seems to be the exception that proves the rule and it should be a game that everyone, even adamant non-gamers will enjoy – if not outright love.

Appeal Factor: Unparalleled

10. Miscellaneous

For this section, I thought I’d focus specifically on what you get in the Collector’s Edition and if it’s actually worth $100. Well let’s do a breakdown here.

First up, there’s the game itself. That’s a $60 value right there. We won’t count the Catwoman DLC as separate from that as it’s part of the standard edition as well. Same with Robin’s DLC pack or the Gamestop preorder bits as you could get those with the standard version of the game as well.

So there’s the “Dark Knight Returns” skin. That’s probably worth a dollar. It is just a single character skin after all. There’s the Arkham City soundtrack which according to would cost $9. We’ve got the Batman: Gotham Knight movie blu-ray which is also on Amazon for about 10 dollars. So far we’ve got twenty dollars worth of stuff.

The Collector’s Edition also comes with the Iceberg Challenge Map and that’s worth three dollars if we compare it to the Arkham Asylum dlc Challenge Map costs. There’s the artbook, which is filled with gorgeous pictures of the characters featured in Arkham City. I’ll say ten dollars just to play it conservatively but it’s probably worth well more than that. There’s the very unique packaging the game comes in, but I can’t think of anyone that would pay extra just for a unique cover so we won’t count that. This brings us up to $33 so far, or a grand total of $93 dollars for the contents of the Collector’s Edition.

But wait – there’s more. There’s the Batman statue that is the centerpiece of the case. Although this particular Batman has a severe case of the albinos, the statue looks incredible, is exceptionally well made and is both better looking and better made than the Batman statue that came with DC Universe Online. Again, I’ll be conservative here, but we’ll place the statue at about $25. That gives us a grand total of $118 worth of stuff for $100. That’s not a bad deal at all.

Add in the fact you’re getting one of the best games of this console generation on top of all the extra stuff and $100 is a pretty reasonable price tag for this game. Then again, I nearly dropped $100 on the 20th Anniversary leather-bound Vampire: The Masquerade book, so I may be a bit more open to getting snazzy collector’s editions. Still, unlike a lot of Collector’s Editions, everything is Arkham City is something you can use in some way. The artbook is something you’ll flip through repeatedly if not regularly, the statue can be a conversation piece of bookend and so on. This is a wonderful Collector’s Edition however you look at it and the sheer quality of its contents actually made me look at the War in the North CE and say, “That’s fifty bucks MORE than this and offers less stuff? I’m downgrading to the standard edition.”

Bottom line – like everything else about Arkham City, Rocksteady has set a pretty high standard for pure quality.

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores:
Story: Unparalleled
Graphics: Unparalleled
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Good
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Unparalleled
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: Classic Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Batman: Arkham City Collector’s Edition is an instant classic no matter how you choose to dissect it. The story isn’t just the best Batman tale ever told in a video game, it’s one of the best Batman stories I’ve encountered in a long time. The game is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, it features one of the best voice actor ensembles to ever grace a video game and the game is amazingly fun to play. Factor in the sheer amount of content and the game is pure quality from beginning to end and you have a definite Game of the Year contender here. This is one of the few games that actually lives up to all the marketing hype, fanboy wank and media frenzy surrounding it. Don’t miss out on experiencing this thing. You’ll sorely regret it if you do.



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5 responses to “Review: Batman: Arkham City Collector’s Edition (Sony PS3)”

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  3. […] kid ourselves here. Batman: Arkham City was a great game. When I reviewed it last year, I gave it one of my highest ratings ever. Then, when it came time to give out the 2011 Video Game Awards, Arkham City walked away with Best […]

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  5. […] titles have garnered numerous game of the year awards (check out our reviews for Arkham Asylum and Arkham City) is about as difficult task as it gets. On top of that, they were expected to make due without […]

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