With Arkham City, audio director Nick Arundel and veteran composer Ron Fish once again to compose for a Batman game. The sequel to Arkham Asylum, the game takes place in a section of Gotham City that has been holed off and converted into a sector for the criminals to roam free. Batman obviously has objections and so infiltrates Arkham City to figure out who the true mastermind is. The first game unfortunately never got an album release, but the sequel received both an instrumental score and licensed album release, courtesy of Warner Bros.'s digital record label. This review refers to the instrumental score.
The "Arkham City Main Theme" opens the soundtrack in a momentous way. The introduction immediately immerses listeners with tense electronics and deep strings, reminiscent of the approach that Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard adopted on The Dark Knight. The samples are top-notch throughout and are blended with performances to yield a truly immersive sound. Arundel introduces a moody melody on chorus half a minute in, yielding a sound more akin to Danny Elfman and Shirley Walker's Batman score. However, it's the orchestral tutti at the climax of the theme that brings the most satisfying moments of the entire composition and declares to gamers that they're in for an epic ride.
Batman has always been a creature of the dark observing his prey before striking and, as a result, has a dual sinister yet triumphant character. To portray this, most tracks on the score have a very slow buildup and the melody doesn't kick in until halfway. They slowly and desperately start with melancholic and resolute instruments, such as brass, and then evolve into brighter and triumphant string melodies. The perfect example of this would be "A Monument to Your Failure", one of just a few compositions by Ron Fish feature in the soundtrack release. Other tracks reminiscent of Walker and Elfman's work is "Sorry Boy's", with its playful yet menacing melodies and piercing horror influences, and "I Think You Should Do As He Says" with its gothic choral parts. But these pieces certainly aren't linear and once again emphasise that, no matter how much he gets roughed around, Batman always finds a way to triumph over evil.
There are certainly plenty of parallels with Hans Zimmer's work on the film series. The string buildups that characterise "Refusal Will Not Be Tolerated" and "I Know What You Guys Are Thinking" capture the ambience of a dark, desperate metropolis. They are certainly minimalistic in composition, but enormous in their scope, in part thanks to excellent implementation. To individualise the villains of Arkham City, "It Was the Joker" is a varied and modern orchestration dominated by an unpredictable melody befitting the Joker, while the climax of "Call Him Off" is equally unusual with its eerie fiddle ostinati and shifting string suspensions.
Although the soundtrack is filled with slow-building melodies, there are some impressive action tracks that capture a different aspect of Batman. "I'ts Initiation Time" is one such track, using threatening brass and sinister percussion to keep the players on their feet. The bright melodies that can be heard occasionally on "I Think You Should Do As He Says" have an exciting effect too and ensure the scenes it is used in feel more iconic. These action tracks don't really incorporate modern electronics and instead take the approach of classic orchestral setpieces. That works well with Batman in every sense, keeping him a revolutionary yet classic character.
Batman is known for its classic orchestral anthems too. Arundel has not forgotten about their previous work for Batman as well, as there are moments that feature the iconic brass motifs from the main theme of Arkham Asylum. Tracks like "Wham. Gotcha!", "It's Initiation Time", and "What's He Doing Here" loosely reference the motifs, but surely build an important connection. The soundtrack concludes with the soft but mysterious sounds of "It's Not Even Breakfast", a collaboration between Fish and Arundel. While it hints that more is to come from the franchise, it's not as satisfying as the big epic credits rolls of the movie soundtracks.
This soundtrack is a must-have for followers of the Batman series of film soundtracks. With its epic orchestrations and gothic melodies, much of the soundtrack is reminiscent of Elfman and Walker's classic scores for the series. Yet the electro-orchestral soundscapes and motif-driven buildups are more akin to Zimmer and Howard's scores. It therefore offers the best of both worlds, while having a few individual touches. I would recommend every Batman fan to give this soundtrack a listen, as it's of comparable style and quality to the film scores.