With Arkham Asylum's release in 2009, gamers everywhere were stunned. Licensed games, and particularly licensed games involving superheroes, have had a notorious reputation in the gaming industry for being little more than sub-par cash-ins or cheaply produced throwaway titles. Developer Rocksteady Studios took those preconceptions and tore through them mercilessly, giving players the chance to control the dark knight as he explored the dark depths of Gotham's infamous madhouse, the titular Arkham Asylum. The game was met with tremendous acclaim world-wide, winning numerous awards and setting a steep new standard for licensed titles.
Expectations for a sequel were suitably high following the success of the original. But would Rocksteady be able to once again deliver on all accounts? To put it simply...yes. Arkham City not only lives up to the acclaim of its predecessor; it knocks it out of the ball park and asserts itself as the new kingpin with nary a scratch. Gritty, beautiful, and expansive, Arkham City oozes with atmosphere and an unbelievable amount of polish.
Why is it so good? Plainly put, the game gets just about every detail right. It's a tightly-knight, smoothly-oiled experience that very rarely stutters in any regard. Rocksteady Studios aptly utilizes the power of the Unreal Engine 3, pushing the game's visuals into the stratosphere. Don't believe me? Play it for yourself, and prepare to be blown away. Dynamic lighting provides lush visual detail, giving already excellent textures a nuanced layer of polish. From the way light plays across Catwoman's provocative bodysuit to the beautifully realized Gothic beauty of the city itself, the visuals go a long way in immersing the player knee-deep in what is already an unforgettable experience.
The plot, without giving anything away, is a valuable addition to the Dark Knight's legacy, filled to the brim with classic villains and references sure to put a smile on any Batman fan's face. True to the animated series, the game utilizes the immense vocal talents of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, reprising their roles as the Joker and Batman, respectively. Of course, the game features a plethora of talented voice actors, but to list them all seems rather unnecessary for the purposes of this review. From start to finish, Arkham City grips the player tightly around the neck and refuses to let go. And this is one game that doesn't skimp on an ending. It ends in such a way that you'll likely have a hard time picking your jaw up off the floor for a while. It's that good.
The game runs particularly well on both the Xbox 360 but and the PlayStation 3 but Nintendo's console doesn't boast any significant advantages that make the game any less enjoyable to play on other systems. It's hard to think of a single thing wrong with the game, but if anything, the 'advanced augmented reality gliding missions' are brutally difficult to an unfair degree. But factor in everything this game gets right, and you have what's easily one of the best games of 2011.