The games industry moves at a rapid pace, and the combination of modern rendering techniques and more powerful commercial hardware can render games obsolete in a few years’ time. What was once considered to be the epitome of gaming might not even suffice as a minimum viable product by modern standards, but our memories tend to obscure the rough edges and the game that we view from our rose-tinted glasses might be pretty different from the reality.
As such, it’s important to revisit these classics from time to time and try to view those games from an unbiased lens and see if they stack up to modern standards. With this feature, we will be taking a look at Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham City. Released in 2011, the game won countless awards and was showered with immense love from fans and critics alike, and it continues to be brought up in discussions as a shining example of how superhero games should be made.
But we have had more than a couple of great superhero games since then, so how does Arkham City stack up? With this feature, we will be taking a look at the game from the perspective of it being released right now – and try to decipher how it would hold up in 2024.
So, to start things off, let’s take a look at the story, which starts off with Bruce Wayne walking down a criminal-infested prison after he is imprisoned against certain false charges, and that kickstarts a chain of events that quickly morphs into a greater conflict that takes you all across Arkham City fighting different manner of evil. Arkham City manages to strike a careful balance in terms of the narrative, and what we get is a plot that’s not overly simplistic but isn’t filled with a ton of revelations to be too obtuse or difficult to follow.
But of course, any superhero story is defined by the villains that we get to fight throughout the story. Arkham City takes good advantage of the narrative to include more than a couple of iconic characters from Gotham’s Rogues Gallery, including but not limited to the Joker, and crafts a story that’s cohesive and consistently engaging. It’s a timeless blueprint that games like Spider-Man 2 continue to follow to this date, so it stands to reason that it would be more than a feasible story if Arkham City had been released in the current gaming landscape.
Moving over to the gameplay side of things, Arkham City felt like a literal breath of fresh air after Arkham Asylum since it transports players from the claustrophobic corridors of the original to the open skies of Gotham City. The shift from Metroidvania to a full-blown open-world action adventure was a radical one, but the game does an expert job of managing that transition in a beautiful way that retains the core tenets of what made it work in the first place.
You get a much bigger playground to move around in, and the movement system has been adapted to make going from point A to point B a fun activity in and of itself. Batman gracefully glides from high vantage points and is able to cover great distances, and you can chain that movement with the plentiful grapple points to zoom around the city in absolute style. It might not match its contemporaries in terms of the flexibility in terms of the moves that you can make, but that largely falls down on the character not being as acrobatic as say, Spider-Man.
Switching gears over to the combat, Batman: Arkham City builds upon the excellent foundations laid down in Arkham Asylum. Rocksteady’s combat system switches seamlessly from a stealth action game to a full-blown action brawler within moments. Encounters generally take place in large arenas lined with multiple gargoyles and other vantage points, and you must first thin the herd by making use of quick takedowns and other tools in your arsenal to hunt from the shadows.
Things would obviously go downhill at some point, and when that happens – you can switch to a more aggressive stance and pummel down your opponents with a flurry of kicks and bashes all while countering attacks in a rhythmic fashion. It’s a simple system that gives you the power fantasy of being a superhero without putting much effort. Still, there’s quite a bit to master as you try to string together 2 or 3-digit combos or execute specific kinds of finishing moves.
And who can forget the memorable boss fights that are generously peppered throughout the experience. They are definitely one of the biggest highlights of the game, and the boss fights against the likes of Mr. Freeze are spectacular sequences that challenge the player in new ways or provide a sense of spectacle to spice things up, and it’s safe to say that these fights are just as fun and memorable as they were back in 2011.
Despite its age, Arkham City’s combat system is one that continues to be extremely fun to engage with even after all these years. The parry timings are generous, attacks have a certain weight to them, and while it can feel a bit weird to see a bulky superhero dancing around the screen – those issues rarely come in the way of the innate fun that comes from punching down baddies as Gotham’s superhero.
One thing that has perhaps not aged as well as others is the open world itself, more specifically the content distributed throughout the open world. Arkham City’s suite of side quest offerings fit the game in a thematic sense, but the content itself isn’t all that engaging. There are a couple of side quests that feature interesting objectives, but more often than not – these quests are pretty simplistic and mostly serve the purpose of padding out the game. To be fair, such acts were extremely common in open worlds of the time – but judging by modern standards, the open-world activities in Arkham City could definitely use a bit of polishing.
Batman: Arkham City was a looker when it was released in 2011, and it was a game that pioneered the use of computationally taxing effects such as Nvidia PhysX, which made it one of the most graphically impressive games on the market. It doesn’t look all that impressive today, but it doesn’t look too bad either. Playing it on a PC with graphics turned too high can still make it palatable to this day, but it wouldn’t be much of a looker even with those alterations applied.
But looking at Batman: Arkham City as a whole, it’s a game that continues to be a fun open-world game that really understands the character of Batman and knows exactly how to provide the feeling of being the multi-millionaire detective hiding behind a black mask and punching dudes all night long. Everything from its effective storytelling to the rhythmic combat and stealth gameplay works perfectly in sync with one another, and what we get is a game that’s a worthy sequel in more ways than one.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.