Batman: Arkham City (PC)
Batman: Arkham City, developed by Rocksteady Studios, is the tense sequel to the 2009 release Batman: Arkham Asylum. Set inside a sprawling district in the heart of Gotham City, which functions as a new maximum security prison for all of Gotham's criminals, Arkham City is a continuation of Arkham Asylum timeline and is also a who's who of Batman, bringing together all the classic characters from the Batman universe.
The console version was released around a month ago, receiving rave reviews, but for any discerning gamer the version to wait for was on PC with its added graphics quality and promised high resolution stereoscopic 3D and PhysX effects.
HardwareHeaven has been busy playing through the game and today we review it and will include plenty of high quality screenshots, including 5760x1080 resolution, and gameplay videos with PhysX on.
In a story written by Emmy award winner Paul Dini we start the game proper (after a small Catwoman section) not as Batman but playing as Bruce Wayne. Wayne opposes the creation of a city district size super prison in the heart of his beloved Gotham City. At a public anti Arkham City rally Wayne is snatched by paramilitary force TYGER, who are the enforcers for Arkham City and working directly for Arkham City Governor, and classic Batman villain, Hugo Strange. After suffering some mild torture and hearing about ominous sounding plot point "Protocol 10" from Strange we are deposited into Arkham City to fend for ourselves.
And that's where it starts to get really interesting. To get to the to bottom of why we have been kidnaped and to find out what "Protocol 10" really is we must search the mean streets, and in some cases the sewers and rooftops, of Arkham City. We go from one tense and time sensitive task to another along the path that our detective work takes us and all the while we are distracted by the side missions. Seemingly innumerable challenges from The Riddler, Easter Eggs and well placed groups of thugs to tussle with.
In terms of controls and gadgets Arkham City is very much an expansion of those used in Arkham Asylum and players familiar with the first game will be comfortable with controls in the sequel. We found ourselves easily adopting the strike, counter, combo, combat system the detective mode, the grapple and gliding gadgets as they are simple and intuitive.
Arkham City is more than just sequel to Arkham Asylum though; it is an expansion and an improvement. The combat system is slicker, with the character turning to face thugs more easily making the combos better and more elaborate. The environment is truly vast, giving the game a genuine city wide feel, especially when using detective mode to find and uncover additional content. Though this does often have the down side of taking us away from the gloriously detailed cityscape. Gadgets too are improved in number, function and upgradability. While we start the game with a fair amount of kit, some of the more interesting Bat-toys have to be unlocked at a specific point in the game or during a specific task.
As we win fights, explore side mission and solve riddles, we earn experience points and periodically level up. This allows us to upgrade our suit, gadgets, and combat skills. The upgrades dictate how we approach a task and allow us to tailor our Caped Crusader more to the way we preferred to play. Like the environments, the number of upgrades is vast making it impossible to full upgrade before storyline is completed.
Graphics and Audio
When playing Arkham City the ideal hardware to use is NVIDIAs GeForce range as it gives us access to all of the graphics and PhysX options in the game. This means the use of PhysX for persistent physical particles that fly from enemies and weapons, destructive environments, volumetric smoke and GPU simulated cloth/paper. Added to this on more recent cards are advanced lighting, shadows and tessellation which all combine to create a more detailed game than is available on PS3/360.
Shown above is an example of the aforementioned PhysX cloth effects as the rug can be moved/dragged by our characters feet with the technology enabled. Without PhysX it is a solid, basic texture.
It is also worth noting that the cut-scenes in Arkham City were created by a collaboration between Rocksteady and Nvidia to ensure they were some of the best 3D ready visuals ever found in a game. This adds to the already cinematic feel that is provided by the use of technologies such as Horizon Based Ambient Occlusion which provides real time lighting and shadow placement that take depth and blur into account.
Working hand in hand with the excellent visuals is the excellent sound. The voice acting is flawless with each major character sounding exactly as we had imagined they would. The background music adds tension and when we entered into a stealthy combat situation, sneaking round a group of heavily armed goons and taking them out one by one, the audio enhances the experience as the NPCs become increasingly agitated as we swoop in and take them out.
So the location of Batman: Arkham City appears to be shocking similar to Escape from New York. Arkham City is stylistically and thematically the same as Arkham Asylum too though this is perfectly acceptable as it has little need to be vastly different from the original which was often praised for its style and atmosphere. Essentially Arkham City continues with the traditions of its predecessor by being an atmospheric and tense game, excellently playing out in a fascinating world rich with details and secrets.
While we swung and swooped our way an exceptional environment, struggling to bring order to the chaotic streets, foiling the plots of villains and protecting the victims we are struck by one niggle - the combat system. We are of divided option here as on the one hand we feel that the combat system is easy to pick up and intuitive allowing the player to develop from the basic strike-counter technique to include the use of gadget to produce an interesting and enthralling experience. On the other hand it is also rather easy to slip into button mashing which simplifies the experience too much.
Particular praise also has to be paid to the extra graphics features which are present in the PC version of Arkham City. Asylum was well known for being an excellent example of PhysX done right and City expands on this, adding in some great detail through DirectX 11 and customisable in-game options. The end result is a version of the game which truly eclipses the console equivalents. Especially when we enable ultra-high resolutions such as 5760x1080.
With its atmospheric and richly details setting, spectacular movement, satisfying combat (most of the time), a huge assortment of secrets and side missions, Arkham City is a fantastic adventure game that will keep gamers playing and replaying. 91%
We are aware that some users experience stutters in gameplay with DX11 enabled. This will be resolved in a future patch however it was our experience with 2x GTX 470 and Core i7 that the issue was minimal and it did not significantly impact the gameplay experience.