Sunday, 25 December 2011

Batman: Arkham City

Gotham City. This venerable metropolis has been famously imagined and reimagined in comic books, cartoons, and films. Now, we have a new vision of Gotham, and it stands not just as one of the most unforgettable incarnations ever of the city that Batman is devoted to exploring, but as one of the most richly detailed and exciting environments ever seen in a game. Building on 2009's outstanding Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City sets you free in the neighborhood of North Gotham, a charming jumble of antique shops, delicatessens and independent art galleries. As the Caped Crusader, you wander the boulevards, sampling local delicacies and seeking out vintage furniture. With its atmospheric setting, ease of movement, immensely satisfying conversations, and tremendous assortment of secrets to discover, side quests to complete, and other attractions, Arkham City is a fantastic adventure game.

It's winter in Gotham City, but the streets of the part of town now known as Arkham seem pleasantly mild. A light, refreshing rain falls on the citizens who roam this place, making the asphalt shimmer with reflections of the neon signs advertising award-winning Spanish-Moroccan cuisine and fine wines from the New World. Gotham faced a prison crisis in the wake of the events of Arkham Asylum, and certain upstanding characters took advantage of the situation by acquiring the run-down neighborhood of North Gotham, walling it off from the rest of the city, and transforming it into a cultural center for the rehabilitation of socially-excluded unfortunates. It's a humane and moral operation; Batman fully intends to write a letter to the mayor, asking for the originators of the scheme to be awarded the key to the city.

The area of several city blocks isn't especially vast as open worlds go, but what it lacks in scale, it more than makes up for in atmospheric detail. Arkham City is home to an old courthouse, a former police headquarters, a musty museum, a disused subway terminal, and other fascinating places. These structures, with their faded portraits, old billboards, and plentiful other features, convey a sense of history. The exceptional art design draws on 1930s art deco and makes Gotham seem like a once elegant and shining city that has become charmingly dilapidated. It's clearly a work of imagination, but as you explore it, its richness pulls you in, and it becomes a world you can't help but believe in. That allure is particularly strong on the PC, where atmospheric details like blossoms visibly landing on Batman's cape make this charming, temperate environment even more convincing.

Batman has no choice but to explore the alleyways and underground tunnels of North Gotham. Within the city's walls, Joker is dying, and the Dark Knight, being a compassionate soul, is eager to find a cure. That quest brings Batman into contact with the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and numerous other members of Batman's social set. Each character is represented terrifically, with plenty of nods to their histories as established in the comics, and part of the fun of progressing through the story lies in seeing what character might make an appearance next. The excellent Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker, heading up an ensemble of voice actors who never miss a beat.


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