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10 Years Later, 'Arkham City' Is Still One Of The Best Batman Stories Ever Told

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10 Years Later, 'Arkham City' Is Still One Of The Best Batman Stories Ever Told

In 2011, Rocksteady Games released Batman: Arkham City and redefined what a superhero video game could be.

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Arkham Asylum has laid the groundwork just a few years before, of course. Here, at last, was a title that inherently understood what we wanted from a Batman game: to feel like Batman. The claustrophobic asylum was the perfect setting for a game that combined bone-crunching combat with slick stealth and, most crucially of all, actual detective work. Bringing back Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to reprise their roles as Batman and Joker respectively was just the icing on an already delicious cake.

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Certainly, you could argue that Arkham Asylum is the better game in many ways. It's certainly tighter and more focused. But really, Arkham City is the adventure that allowed both Batman and Rocksteady to spread their wings and fly.

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It is the ultimate sequel. Grander. More ambitious. There's a much larger space to explore, more puzzles to solve, enemies to fight, and famous villains to track down. It's everything we could possibly have wanted from the follow-up to Arkham Asylum. It also happens to be one of the best Batman stories ever told.

Arkham City takes place some time after the events of Arkham Asylum. Quincy Sharp, former warden of Arkham Asylum-turned Mayor of Gotham, has transformed the city's slums into a massive gated prison called Arkham City.

It's not long before Bruce Wayne is thrown into the prison, along with pretty much anyone else who disagrees with Sharp's views. All part of Wayne's plan, obviously, and after a fantastic opening sequence in which we get to see our hero beat the crap out of Penguin before he's gotten anywhere near a Bat-suit, the cape and cowl are on and it's time for action.

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Batman: Arkham City / Credit: Warner Bros.
Batman: Arkham City / Credit: Warner Bros.

Many of the best Batman stories are the ones that pit our hero against overwhelming odds and incredible pressure. The Dark Knight sees Joker pushing Batman to the absolute limit, constantly proving to be just one step ahead of him. A Death In The Family shows what happens when the caped crusader fails to save Robin. Hush is centred around a shadowy conspiracy featuring all of Batman's greatest foes.

Arkham City clearly looked at all of these incredible stories and decided to take a little bit of everything. Hugo Strange, the new facility's warden, is taunting our hero with the knowledge that he knows Batman and Bruce Wayne are one and the same.

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Meanwhile, Joker has tricked the Dark Knight into ingesting a hefty dose of the toxin that's slowly been killing him since the end of Arkham Asylum, essentially turning Batman into a reluctant partner in crime. Joker knows where the only cure in the city is, and now Batman has the... motivation, to help him get it. Oh, and The League Of Shadows are hiding beneath the city and planning something, because of course they are.

Truly, Batman finds himself dealing with attacks from all sides, but never loses his cool. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Arkham City is that it never collapses under the considerable weight of the story it's trying to tell. It makes the Hugo Strange storyline work alongside the Joker and League Of Shadows stories, all while finding time to include everyone from Mister Freeze and Clayface to the sodding Calendar Man.

Batman: Arkham City / Credit: Warner Bros.
Batman: Arkham City / Credit: Warner Bros.
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If Arkham City were a movie, it would easily be an hour longer than it needed to be and would still somehow not do everything it needed to do. But as a game? Arkham City soars. The way these seemingly disconnected strands slowly come together and intertwine over the course of the adventure is incredible.

It's rare that a game gets to throw out as many fan-service cameos and iconic villain appearances as this and still somehow tell a quality story, but Arkham City manages it and makes it look easy. I daresay Marvel's Spider-Man wouldn't have been anywhere near as ambitious as it was in terms of narrative had Arkham City not come along first and shown us how to do it.

But at the heart of it all, as with any truly good Batman yarn, is the relationship between Batman and Joker. Arkham City is a meditation on why the two need each other to exist and why the Dark Knight will never cross that line and break his sacred "no-kill" rule, even to end the life of Gotham's greatest monster. It's something the game's sequel, Arkham Knight, attempts to do in more detail, but I maintain that Arkham City is much more successful in its attempts.

If the past decade or so has taught us anything, it's that the best superhero video games are made by the teams with a fundamental understanding of the source material. Arkham Asylum showed us that Rocksteady knew how to make an incredible Batman game. But Arkham City? That's the game that showed us Rocksteady knew how to tell an incredible Batman story.

Featured Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Topics: DC, Batman

Ewan Moore
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