Batman in the big house

By Zack Renner
Arkham City looks awful. The special kind of awful that makes you want to explore its every beautifully articulated nook and cranny.
It’s time to don the cape and cowl and step inside the world of everyone’s favorite bat enthusiast for Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham City. Does the Dark Knight rise above expectations or fall in line with the many third-rate superhero adaptation games clogging disc drives these days?
If 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum was a love letter to comic book fans, and then Batman: Arkham City is a full-blown romantic novel.  Whether it’s the deliberate yet hectic gameplay or the cameo-laden story, being Batman has never been this much fun.
After the events of the first game Batman’s rogue’s gallery repository, Arkham Asylum, is out of order. The solution to this problem is a bigger, better prison built right into the heart of Gotham City. The narrative opens with prisoners taking control of Arkham City under the command of Dr. Hugo Strange. Strange being the one villain smart enough to connect the dots from Bruce Wayne to Batman. It’s up to Batman to clean up the big house any way he can—and oh, the ways he can.
The story will have you running, rolling, grappling, gliding and diving through the missions spread throughout Gotham City’s district turned prison camp. While the main story can keep gamers busy for up 20 hours, the side missions provide fleshed-out optional stories with much incentive for deviation from the beaten path.
Think Grand Theft Batman. While there is no Batmobile in the game, Batman has no trouble traversing rooftops with grace that would give Spiderman a run for his money.  It can be difficult to stop and smell the roses of Arkham City, but if you do you’ll see just how gorgeous and painstakingly realized the environment is.
Once you use the game’s x-ray vision like detective mode, the game’s elements of exploration and treasure hunting come into play. Revealing side quests like the Riddler’s challenges or random chatter among thugs, the game is out to distract you. Although the detective mode is helpful in finding Easter eggs hidden in the vast city, the world simply looks too good not peep out behind the x-ray specs.
Did I mention the game is gorgeous?  Each section of the city has a unique flair that alone provides enough incentive to progress through the story as it takes you from gothic cityscape to art deco underground ruins.
Pitch perfect sound design and a stellar voice cast breathe life into every character you encounter. Anyone familiar with Batman: the Animated Series from the ’90s will recognize the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as they reprise their famous roles once again as the Batman and Joker.
Fans will appreciate the dark and personality driven architecture of Arkham City. The city itself feels alive and volatile, ready for some bone-breaking brawls and sleuthing about. There is plenty to see here and whether you’re a fan of the source material or not and have a good time doing it. (Rating: A)