Reflecting Back on ‘Arkham City’ through the Game of the Year Edition

Despite seeming to be characters tailor-made for successful video games, for the longest time, comic book adaptations made for only passable, if not downright bad video games. While some, like the arcade version of X-Men did a fine job of presenting a familiar comic wrapper on the classic beat-em-up genre (and additionally, there have been many fine efforts at putting superheros into the fighting game genre), few titles actually allowed players to feel like they were inhabiting the skin of their favorite superhero. Rather, they simply gave the player a few iconic moves that fit within the context of the genre the character was being shoehorned into. There are exceptions to this notion that come readily to mind, like Neversoft’s initial Spider-Man title and Radical’s The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. But by and large, comic books have been poorly represented by video games.

Of all the superheroes that have been translated poorly to games, few have fared worse than Batman. The magic of Bruce Wayne’s transformation into his alter-ego for many is that it required money, training, and will as opposed to some sort of scientific accident that imbued him with superhuman powers. There’s plenty of combat and stealth tied to the Batman, too though, as well as enough psychological depth from which to create a potentially compelling game narrative. Add to this one of the most iconic rogues galleries in mainstream comics, and it seems like good Batman games would simply design themselves.

But though there were several attempts to make a truly great Batman game, one didn’t arrive until 2009 with Arkham Asylum. Though the most recent mainstream spike in interest in the character came with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005, Arkham Asylum didn’t attempt to ape the style set forth by the film (a poorly received movie tie-in game had already done that). Rather, Asylum’s aesthetic was drawn from the comic book roots of the franchise, with a surprisingly good original story (penned by experienced Batman scribe Paul Dini), plenty of fan service for longtime aficionados (including the original voice actors from the DC Animated Universe) and fantastic stealth and combat mechanics.

Arkham Asylum was developed with a sequel in mind that would expand the confined corridors of the first game to an entire city. Arkham City arrived in 2011, and while largely a success, it was perhaps not as jaw dropping as its predecessor. As G. Christopher Williams noted in his review, the game’s ambitious breadth made it clear how much more sharply focused Arkham Asylum was.

Arkham City has been packaged as a “Game of the Year Edition” for a budget price. Given how well the title sold, not to mention how well it was received, this isn’t surprising at all. What is surprising is just how complete the package is for the price. The main game, in addition to all the DLC as well as a Harley Quinn focused epilogue are all present. Also included is a download code for the animated Batman: Year One, an adaptation of the seminal Frank Miller tale, making this package a fantastic value for those that missed Arkham City the first time around. Indeed, this edition is arguably worth upgrading to for those that plan to revisit the title.

It’s interesting to note that after having completed two successful Batman titles and in the process proving that doing so was even possible, developer Rocksteady have reportedly begun work on a Batman game set in the Silver Age of comics (1956-1970). To this point Rocksteady has undoubtedly been able to stay true to the iconic image of Batman, it has done so by staying extremely close to the modern, grim approach used by comics creators like Tim Sale and the aforementioned Frank Miller. Although they’ll certainly have a wealth of material from which to draw inspiration, it remains to be seen how popular such a take on the caped crusader will be, much less how well it will translate to a game. Rocksteady has proven quite adept at the action/stealth hybrid mechanisms used in the Arkham games, but such a style doesn’t quite fit the relatively lighter tone of the comics of the Silver Age. Having said that, it is somewhat refreshing that the studio hasn’t decided to simply ride the success of back to back hits and churn out another Arkham game.

Arkham City was already a fantastic game when it was initially released, and the Game of the Year Edition provides the complete Arkham City package, and then some. Anyone with the slightest interest in the character or action games in general who missed it the first time around shouldn’t hesitate to pick it up. Although the relative confines of Arkham Asylum made for tighter pacing, and perhaps a more finely tuned experience, Arkham City is largely successful at bringing the combat and stealth mechanics of that title to a bigger arena.

RATING 8 / 10