Batman may have changed since the days of bright blue pants, and "Holy unthinkables, Batman!", but in many ways, Batman: Arkham City Armoured Edition hasn't. A Wii U launch title, the game is an upgraded version of Batman: Arkham City, with the same plot, characters, locations, and, well, pretty much everything, being augmented by a few rather fancy GamePad features, and all of the previously downloadable-at-an-extra-cost extras being included on the disc. If you've played the original on the 360/PS3/PC, it's worth bearing in mind this is almost exactly the same game - but if you haven't, you're in for something of a treat.
The story here is fairly complex, and more than a little bit sinister, although the basics are easy enough to pick up. The game opens with billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne attending a press conference to oppose the creation of Arkham City, a sprawling, new prison complex five times the size of the Arkham Asylum, where all sorts of dangerous villains are being held. As you may expect, the conference doesn't exactly go to plan, and Bruce ends up being captured by forces led by Professor Hugo Strange, a sinister figure who appears to have "taken over" Arkham City, so to speak. Trapped inside the complex, and held before Strange, you learn that somehow, the Professor knows that you're really Batman, and talks about initiating "Protocol 10", something that will make him "a hero", and will be a testament to Batman's failings.
Immediately, you're thrown into a tough environment, as Bruce Wayne finds he's every bit as unpopular with the inmates as his alter ego. He also finds that he's not alone - anyone who knows anything about Strange has also been captured and thrown inside the prison, left to fend for themselves against the baying mobs - but unlike Wayne, they don't have super powers to defend themselves. After escaping to the rooftops, and collecting your Batman gear thanks to a supply drop from your loyal butler Alfred, you're on your own, as you attempt to unravel the mystery of Protocol 10, protect the innocent from the inmates, and come face to face with Arkham City's most infamous characters.
Batman: Arkham City is a third person game that has few limits. Free to explore the sprawling, industrial complex of Arkham City, you have the freedom to go wherever you want, and do almost anything - either following the story, from mission to mission, as you unravel the game's winding story, or completing one of the various sub missions you'll get offered as you make your way around. Luckily, despite being rather large, it's never too complex to find your way around the City - something that's made all the easier thanks to the Wii U's GamePad. Whereas before, checking your location would involve pausing the game and pulling up a separate screen, in Arkham City: Armoured Edition, all you have to do is look down at your GamePad, where anything of interest will be marked on your map, from collectibles, to mission waypoints, and, at the touch of a button, enemies too. Under various subsections of the menu, you'll find guides telling you how to use each of your weapons/perform your moves, bios of the main characters, and practically anything else you could want to know. Find something you want to check out on the map, and all you have to do is poke the touch screen, where it'll set it as your waypoint, which is indicated on the in game compass at the top of the screen, and, rather coolly, by way of the Bat Signal, too.
Of course, seeing as you're Batman, simply wondering the streets of the City would be a bit of a chore - it may not be dangerous, but you'd find yourself being set about by the group of ne'er-do-wells who lurk on every street corner. Instead, Batman has his own ways to get around. Using a grappling hook, at the touch of a button, you can shoot up to the top of a building. Hold B and run to the edge, and you'll dive off and glide, using the Batcape. Combining the two, you can swoop from building to building, rooftop to rooftop, as you traverse the city by falling - with style. Press the left shoulder button at any time, and you'll bring up a really rather useful overlay, that highlights anything of interest - collectables; items you can interact with, like doors; things you can blow up; and possibly most importantly, enemies.
In fact, one of the best things about Arkham City is how good a job it does of making you feel like a super hero. Batman's cool, calm, collected will never falters, and you're never short of snappy one line answer, even when faced with unthinkable odds. Meanwhile, everything you do feels so... cool. For once, it's nice to play as the good guy for once. Lurking in the shadows, high up on a rooftop, you'll hear enemies beneath you worrying to themselves; some with nervous bravado about wanting to take you on, while others sound genuinely petrified about ever the potential of coming face to face with you. Of course, should you then drop down from the ceiling, rather than causing them to immediately wet themselves and run off crying for their mummy, they'll do their best to take you down - but as you're the Batman, you have some tricks up your sleeve.
Oddly, the combat is actually one of the better parts of Arkham City. We're usually not a fan of combat in games like this, as, well, we're usually not all that good at it - but fighting as Batman is simple, yet effective. All you'll need to do is alternate between two buttons - Y, which punches/kicks, and X, which reverses. Press Y, and Batman will lay into enemies with a flurry of fists and kicks - and should an enemy sneak up behind you, all you have to do is wait until a series of jaggedy lines appear above their head, and press X to reverse their move. Impressively, the whole thing is pretty much seamless, as the Bat moves from punching an enemy to grabbing someone's leg behind him without even flinching. Cooler still is when you reverse a pair of enemies at the same time, which gives Batman a chance to demonstrate some of his fancier moves - and by chaining together a string of moves, you'll begin to build up a combo, which lets you perform moves that are even more spectacular still.
As you play through the game, you'll slowly begin to unravel the mystery behind Protocol 10, as you piece together clues you find at various crime scenes, and track down all manner of baddies from Batman's past. As an early example, after being shot at by an unnamed assailant, by pressing the left and right trigger on the Wii U GamePad, you'll be able to turn your GamePad's screen into a scanner. Surveying the crime scene for evidence, you scan the place where the bullet hit, and the hole in the window to calculate the trajectory, and then follow the line to find the perpetrator.
And it's as this mix of crimefighter come crimesolver you'll spend most of your time in Arkham City. Whether you're searching for the coldest point in the city to find Mister Freeze, working your way past the traps in the Joker's funhouse, or following the Riddler's clues to find, and free, a number of people he's taken hostage, there's never a shortage of things to do at any one time. With subquests that come in thick and fast, asking you to protect political prisoners, destroy barrels of a poisonous substance (with a little help from humongous Bane), or answer phone calls from the mysterious Victor Zsasz, who plans to kill another hostage if you don't reach a phone box within a certain time limit, there's enough to keep you occupied for hours on end. London based developers Rocksteady reckon the story will take a good 25 hours to complete on its own. When you add on the extra 15 hours the side quests will take, and the length of a piece of string when you include the time it'll take to find all the Riddler trophies (the game's main collectables, which are scattered around the town, with various puzzles that need to be solved before you can collect them), and you're looking at a game that'll keep on giving.
It's not that the game isn't without faults, though. At times, it can be a bit tricky to keep track of your objectives, especially with all the side quests the get thrown in, and the levelling system is also a bit on the confusing side. While beating up enemies and solving quests earns you experience points, it took us a while to work out what we could actually level up (turns out it's under Waynetech, where you can buy new moves, and upgrade your armour), but in general, our complaints are few and far between. Perhaps our biggest complaint is that if you're not very good at stealth, coming across enemies with guns can feel a little bit overwhelming - but thankfully, the pop up prompt to drop a smoke bomb helps cover your traces while you deal with the enemies.
A few people we've spoken to have mentioned how they like the idea of Batman: Arkham City, but were almost put off, as it seems like a "hardcore" game, they were expecting they wouldn't be able to do it. Our advice is - don't be. While it can be dark at times, with a gripping story, GamePad functionality that makes the game a lot easier to find your way around, surprisingly accessible combat, and so much to do, it's time to put on those pants, wrap on that cape, and pull down your mask. It's time to become the Batman.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U