Batman: Arkham City Game Review
Overall Batman’s achievements/trophies are well thought out, delivering a good balance of simple ‘progress’ rewards with tempters to make you try out everything the game has to offer, from the side missions to the separate challenge rooms. The large number of awards on offer for getting stuck into solving all the Riddler’s challenges is particularly well considered, and certainly kept us battling away to do more of them than we might have done otherwise.
Rewards for opening up all of Batman’s tools and combat moves keep you plugging on even after the game has been finished too, and a cluster of small achievements for hitting a roster of combat-related targets seem well-considered if, inevitably, frustratingly beyond our talents…
The lure of 25 points meant we also became briefly obsessed with finishing all of the optional ‘training’ missions the game includes within the campaign. In fact, there would be scope for Rocksteady including any number more of these frighteningly addictive training excersises as part of some future downloadable content package.
The only achievement in the Arkham City roster that rankled with us was the ‘Perfect Knight’ 75-pointer offered for a) completing the main story on normal and on its ‘Plus’ difficulty level; b) completing all the side missions; c) Bagging all the collectables; and d) completing the Riddler’s Revenge challenges as Batman. This seems to unnecessarily deliver a lot of extra points for collectively completing individual tasks you’ve already been separately rewarded for, making us think the 75 points might have been better ‘spent’ elsewhere.
Batman: Arkham City is a stunning graphical achievement when you consider the sheer scale of what’s on offer.
Basically, Rocksteady’s brilliant understanding of the ‘mood’ of the Batman character and his world and their equally brilliant ability at translating that understanding into a cohesive and beautiful visual style is given full rein, making the also-lovely Arkham Asylum look like a mere practice run for what they deliver in its sequel.
You know they must be doing something right when even after flying over and running through the same city streets for more than 30 hours the game still has the ability to make you sigh with pleasure at some particularly view down and/or across the city’s criminal-filled streets and rooftops.
There are a number of reasons why Arkham City looks so special. For starters, it’s possibly the most bug-free ‘sandbox’ environment we’ve ever played, with no ‘glitching walls’, no heavy pop up problems, no ‘fogging’ to reduce draw distances, consistently believable animation, and a remarkably consistent and solid relationship between your character and the environments he’s operating in. Even though those environments feature an exceptional amount of interactivity in keeping with the game’s unique variety of stealth kill opportunities.
The PS3 version has a tiny bit of tearing at times during the combat sequences, but it really is minor and doesn’t affect gameplay.
The sharpness with which both the interior and exterior locations of the game are rendered is also superb for a game that employs minimal ‘loading time’ interruptions. Textures look rich and consistent, and render almost perfectly in real time; we can think of scarcely any occasions in 2D mode where there was any significant delay in the textures rendering.
The game’s use of lighting is superb too, effortlessly creating a suitably dark, oppressive atmosphere but never to the extent that the look becomes monotonous or shadow detail gets crushed out of the picture.
As noted before, draw distances are very large indeed, which helps you fully appreciate the scale of the game’s city setting in vertical as well as horizontal terms.
Also impressive is how much variety Rocksteady has managed to get into the game’s graphics. The Arkham City setting has been divided into various different districts, and each of these has its own distinct architectural style.
Ultimately the main feeling you take from Arkham City’s graphics is a combination of sheer awe at their dark and majestic beauty and the thrill of realising that everything you see can be climbed or grappled onto with a beautifully realised efficiency that genuinely makes you feel like a superhero compared with all the poor fools left to tramp the streets below.
As stated with unusual boldness on the front of its packaging, Batman: Arkham City can be played in 3D. And it’s actually a very significant 3D moment for the Xbox 360, at least, since it’s the first title to support the console’s new ‘HD stereoscopic’ 3D capabilities. Which means for the first time the console can output the same 1280×1470 3D image that you get from the PS3.
This is potentially a huge deal given that all previous 3D experiences on the Xbox 360 have invariably been undermined by their gratingly obvious lack of resolution compared with the 2D graphics of the same games.
To get the game to play in HD 3D on the Xbox, you first have to make sure that the 3D TV setting has been enabled in your console settings menu (outside of the game), and that you’ve chosen the ’3D TV’ option in the game’s set up menus. If your Xbox 360 hasn’t been set up for 3D before, or it hasn’t done a proper HDMI ‘handshake’ with a 3D TV, the 3D TV option won’t be available. Instead you’ll just get an INFIColour option that actually lets people enjoy an ‘old-school’ colour-separation 3D picture on an ordinary, non-3D HD TV – though obviously this is a much less precise and satisfying experience than the higher resolution ’3DTV’ option.
Once you’ve got Batman set up correctly for 3D output on your Xbox 360, the results are a revelation. For the first time in the console’s history it manages to produce 3D images that have nearly as much fidelity, resolution and depth as those delivered by the PS3.
We say ‘nearly’ because there’s a curious sporadic artefact on the 360 whereby distant textures sometime seem to draw in slightly late and with a palpable shift in brightness. But such moments don’t occur all the time, leaving Xbox 360 owners free to marvel at last along with PS3 owners at just what a difference having HD 3D makes to their gaming experience.
In fact, with Arkham City, for possibly only the second time in our gaming lives (the first being Gran Turismo 5), we genuinely felt as if playing in 3D enhanced our enjoyment of the game. Having HD 3D resolutions means that environments created with as much care as those in Arkham City look crisp and detailed, enhancing the perception of depth in the image.
The judgment of depth shown by the game is consistently brilliant too, always being sufficient to showcase the scale of the environment, but never pushed so far that it feels tiring.
Seeing Arkham City splayed out below you with an extra sense of both the relative height of buildings and their relative positions in the horizontal landscape is a 3D showcase that everybody who owns the game should try and witness at least once, even if they have to nip round to the house of a mate who’s got a 3D TV.
The 3D works as well with interiors as it does exteriors too, adding genuine impact to classic locations like the Natural History Museum with its huge model T-Rex dominating the main hall.
Crucially, though, the HD 3D effects in Arkham City don’t just add visual ‘wow’ (though they certainly do that). They also sell the sense of space in the game much more effectively than the game’s 2D version, and crucially this actually enhances your gameplay too, as you are able to form a more accurate sense of the relative locations of different foes – especially when you’re faced with one of the game’s many ‘stealth take down’ set piece rooms.
The game’s focus on dark locations punctuated by harshly bright details does cause crosstalk on screens that struggle with this 3D ghosting problem. But provided your 3D TV isn’t heavily susceptible to crosstalk, Batman joins Gran Turismo 5 as being a game that we genuinely recommend you play in 3D from start to finish.