In last year's
Faced with a criminal housing crisis in the wake of the events of
But their misfortune is your gain. The area of several city blocks that makes up the superprison isn't especially vast as open worlds go, but what it lacks in scale, it more than makes up for in atmospheric detail. Arkham City is home to an old courthouse, a former police headquarters, a musty museum, a disused subway terminal, and other fascinating places. These structures, with their faded portraits, old billboards, and plentiful other features, convey a sense of history, and the art direction that makes this vision of Gotham so fantastic is in full effect on the Wii U.
Batman has no choice but to explore the alleyways and underground tunnels of North Gotham. Within the prison's walls, Joker is dying, and the villain's schemes force the Dark Knight to help him find a cure. That quest brings Batman into contact with the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and numerous other members of Batman's rogues' gallery. Each character is represented terrifically, with plenty of nods to their histories as established in the comics, and part of the fun of progressing through the story lies in seeing what character might make an appearance next. The excellent Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker, heading up an ensemble of voice actors who never miss a beat.
Naturally, Batman's errand brings him into constant conflict with the many thugs and lowlifes lurking in the shadows of Arkham City. The game's combat is outstanding; there's a rhythm to chaining together your strikes and counters, and successfully keeping a chain going for a while is immensely satisfying. Your attacks are accompanied by terrific animations that look simultaneously graceful and brutal, and the increasingly varied configurations of enemies you encounter as the game progresses require you to frequently alter your tactics.
Of course, thugs with shields, blades, and body armor are one thing; enemies with guns are something else entirely. Batman is tough, but far from invulnerable, and when faced with such firepower, it's time for him to rely on stealth. Batman has an assortment of sneaky techniques at his disposal, all of which are great fun to use. Crawl up to an enemy from behind, and you can take him down silently. By hanging from a gargoyle, you can ensnare an unsuspecting enemy below with an inverted takedown. The excellent sound design adds tension to these stealthy standoffs, with bad guys becoming increasingly frightened as you pick off their buddies one by one.
One addition to the Wii U version of Arkham City does take some of the bite out of combat, though. Batman's suit now comes equipped with what's called Battle Armored Tech mode, or B.A.T. As you fight enemies, your suit stores up kinetic energy, and once you have a full charge, you can trigger B.A.T., which makes your blows do twice as much damage and activates a visual filter that highlights enemy positions. Part of what made the combat in Arkham City so involving was that every strike mattered and that Batman was fragile enough that missing a counter could be a costly mistake. Being able to do more damage at set times means you can worry about precision a little less, and this eliminates the exciting balance that combat previously maintained. Of course, you're free to just ignore B.A.T. and not use it, but you can't turn it off entirely.
Another silly addition to Armored Edition is sonar, which lets you see indications of nearby enemy positions, as well as the locations of nearby collectible Riddler trophies, on the GamePad screen. Batman's detective vision, which lets you see through walls and easily spot any enemies in the area, is much more useful than glancing between the GamePad and the television to plan your next move, and manually spotting and tagging those Riddler trophies you don't know how to snag just yet is far more involving than letting the sonar do it for you.
Other implementations of the Wii U's GamePad to perform certain functions are more sensible, but don't appreciably improve the experience. When Batman investigates a crime scene, for instance, you can now move the GamePad around to search for clues; it's a nice option, but hardly a meaningful addition. Similarly, you can tap the GamePad to detonate explosive gel if you prefer that to the button command. Armored Edition's best use of the GamePad is not in the gameplay at all, but in the sound design. Now, radio transmissions, and all the enemy chatter that Batman intercepts, come through the GamePad's speaker, giving them a distinct, crackly sound.