There are dozens of easy ways to explain Batman: Arkham City, the most regularly used of which is that it's basically Arkham Asylum mixed with Grand Theft Auto. To be honest, it's tempting to just leave it at that too - letting you know via lazy shorthand that Arkham City is as good as one much-acclaimed game combined with one other much-acclaimed game. Oh, and it's open world too.
So, recount the premise - that part of Gotham is now a giant inner-city prison - then slap a 90 per cent score on it like everyone else; the review is as good as done.
Except it isn't, because what that too-easy expression glosses over is the fact that those two components don't fit together that well. In fact, they conflict; Arkham Asylum's focus on tight, linearly connected spaces went a long way to building a memorable and visually distinct setting that dripped gothic moodiness. Arkham City's broad skyline has the opposite effect, diluting the mood with constant back-and-forth trips across a city which no longer wants to call itself Gotham.
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The good news, though, is that this dilution creates a wealth of new landscapes and enemies with which to play. What Arkham City lacks in focus it recreates in ambition, with supervillains throwing themselves into the limelight with comic alacrity and then disappearing with equally faithful aplomb.
Two-face! Punch! Penguin! Punch! Mr Freeze! Punch! The cast of foes that Arkham Asylum merely hinted at are here fleshed out in a way that constantly propels you forwards. Only a handful of the dozen antagonists can claim to be meaningfully characterised, but that's no bad thing; real threats such as The Joker feel all the more interesting for the lesser baddies you knock down on your way.
Side missions and subplots further round out the formula and go a long way towards helping build this momentum, though some work far better than others. Ringing phones dotted around the city will reveal hostage threats from Victor Zsasz, for example, prompting dashes across the city to reach the next phone before the time runs out. The reward for each answered call is more information about Zsasz's character, as well as a chance to tighten the net around him, making him one of the more fleshed out villains in the game.
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Unfortunately, the variety and depth of this side-content can't be called consistent - it's sad to see that the clever riddle-based puzzles offered up by E. Nigma are gone, for example. Instead, the Riddler has left only the more obvious trophies for you to collect once you've unlocked the required equipment, as well as simple grind challenges - destroy all the video cameras in each district, for example.
In fact, to those who relished cracking the Riddler's conundrums in the first game, Nigma's contribution to Arkham City is one of the most disappointing parts of the game thanks to disarming simplicity and overt gamification. It's only towards the end of this optional quest line that it gets at all interesting, when hostages are involved. Batman can mark the trophies on his map now at least, so he knows to return when he's unlocked the next Bat-gadget or is next allowed to play as Catwoman in side-sequences, which have Selina Kyle attempting to loot the looters.