Reviews Comments: In the end it had nothing to add to Asylum

In the end it had nothing to add to Asylum
Disclaimer: This is a picky subjective personal opinion. In terms of the 'is the game functional? Is it fun? Are there more things than there were in the game before it?' 7-10 scale, this game is a 9. It improves on the combat, it makes the game open-world, it makes travelling in the open world fun, it fixes problems from the original (the boss fights). It does what Batman: Arkham Asylum did but incrementally better, so it must be a better game right? And it will be if your mainly here for the purely gameplay side.

But in non-functionality terms, Batman: Arkham City is much less special than it's original. The first was an amazing coming together of every aspect from presentation to story to gameplay all contributing to the core idea of the Joker slowly wearing the Batman down over the course of one night to push him closer and closer to breaking his One Rule. As the game progressed you could see the physical strain as Batman's injuries visibly remained and there were gaps and gashes in his costumes from encounters he'd faced.

City bravely improves upon that idea by slashing up his costume even more. But it's missing the point, we've seen that idea, and Arkham Asylum with it's island location and central Joker plot did it better and for the right reasons.

This game has nothing to contribute, it's about Batman being worn down over the course of one night to push him closer and closer to... except the story isn't even focused on that idea this time. The central theme of City is about Batman not killing, but not despite how worn out he gets, but despite how many civilian casualties it risks and about why the Greater Good isn't.

Yet the game is so confused with repeating the original's theme it never even explains why that's the case. Instead it's taken as a given and the game never even explores it's own key idea. It puts emphasis on Batman being physically worn down, it handwaves justifications with the idea of 'political prisoners' which then completely conflicts with the events of the ending cutscene. The plot only hits home the idea every now and then whilst swinging through other things.

The sad thing is it could've worked. If they'd focused on making the sidequests about the idea and on the wear and tear of the city itself and explained why Batman shouldn't kill it would have been so good in every aspect


Well, you've given me something to think about now that I've just started replaying City. Somehow I don't remember much of the game, aside from a few snippets of noteworthy gameplay and the big twist at the end, so it's practically a fresh experience. As a game, I recall enjoying City far more than Asylum, but now I've got to keep a closer eye on the narrative.
comment #21809 JobanGrayskull 30th Oct 13
And of course I'm only just now noticing the author of this review. You've given me so much to think about in your reviews thus far tomwithnonumbers, kudos once again.
comment #21815 JobanGrayskull 30th Oct 13
But gameplay is the most important thing in a game isn't it? So having better gameplay is objectively just more important.

Video game sequels just have a tendency to have worse plot and better gameplay.
comment #21818 ElectricNova 30th Oct 13
@Joban Gray Skull don't stop enjoying Arkham City because of me though! And it is a fun enjoyable game by most standards, Asylum just set the bar high with my particular standard

@Electric Nova 'But gameplay is the most important thing in a game isn't it?' (apologies if you didn't mean that literally) I think that rule is probably too general to apply. I can think of a lot of counter-examples of the top of my head of games that lots of people have enjoyed more despite not being exceptional in terms of gameplay. For example there are plenty of people who prefer Spec Ops to Co D and Knights of the Old Republic to Epic Battle Fantasy.

Videogames are a composite medium of a lot of different features from art to story to sound to gameplay and the thing that makes a game a game doesn't have to be the one that's important. It depends what you're looking for when you start playing the game.

In this case what I loved most about Arkham Asylum wasn't story or gameplay, but how the combination of both with some clever visual changes got across a really powerful idea about being Batman. I know generally that sequels get mechanically better and worse in terms of ideas (and story) but because they did such a good job making the first one from scratch I guess I hoped that they could do it again with a slightly different theme

comment #21823 tomwithnonumbers 30th Oct 13
Not to worry, I'll continue to enjoy it, but as is often the case a second playthrough of a game and someone else's perspective lets me examine it more closely. I rarely think deeply about something while enjoying it the first time.
comment #21826 JobanGrayskull 31st Oct 13
While I respect your opinion, I have to say, I got a very different interpretation of Asylum and City. When I was playing Asylum, I always got the impression that Joker's plan for Batman was to simply drive him insane. After all, he does say "All I wanted is for you to see the world as I see it: giggling in a corner, crying." This isn't Nolan's Joker after all. He's not out to prove everyone is as evil and demented as he is, he just wants to break Batman and either destroy or conquer Gotham. And then at the end, there's another quote from both Batman and Joker that, combined with their final exchange at the end of City, really defines their relationship.

Joker: I can still take anything you can dish, Bats. Ready for Round 2? Batman: Always. Joker: What?! Batman: I will never let you win. (Cue Batman punching Joker with explosive gel sprayed over his wrist blowing up.)

So for me, Asylum wasn't testing Batman's One Rule, but rather testing both his sanity and his ability to stop the Joker, Rule or no Rule. Asylum was about presenting The Dark Knight with the ultimate challenge: survive the night on an isolated island with no back-up, and a limited array of tools, while the bad guys have been planing this night for months. Now City, City was definitely about testing the Rule, but also about the relationship between Batman and Joker. In some disturbing way, Joker was right in one of his voicemails: Batman needs him. Because when you really look at his life, Joker is one of the closest things Batman has to a friend. Sure, it's a completely insane and disturbing relationship, but there is something of a rapport between them. And now, even after Joker killed his girlfriend, Batman was still willing to save him. He didn't have to. It was Joker's fault he was in this mess, and no one in the game would blame Batman for letting him die. But he still wouldn't. Only now, Joker is finally dead, and Batman and the criminal world have to figure out what they're going to do without him.

TLDR Version: I think Asylum was about testing Batman's physical, mental, and emotional limits, but City was about both Batman having to decide if the Rule comes at too much cost, and his relationship with the Joker.
comment #22080 JamesPicard 18th Nov 13
I just finished my replay of City, and I think my real problem isn't with City being a poorer re-hash of the themes covered in Asylum. Rather, the glaring flaw to me is that City is primarily an excuse-plot/setting for an open-world game, where Asylum wasn't. In the end, it amounts to a similar sort of problem, where City has the superior gameplay/mechanics but inferior fundamental substance.

I didn't really see anything in City to suggest that the One Rule was the primary subject of analysis. It came up a couple of times, but it wasn't central. If anything, they inverted it towards the end when Batman faces the dilemma of saving one life (Talia) or many lives by stopping Protocol Ten. And there's not even an illusion of choice there, since the game railroads Batman to stopping Protocol Ten.

I find the premise of City to be fairly flimsy on its face. It's a cool setting and a good way to build an open world teeming with criminal mooks and run from inside by the super villains, but it's not nearly as interesting or plausible as Asylum was.
comment #22081 JobanGrayskull 18th Nov 13
Maybe I was just stretching for any kind of theme with City then and came to tthis one. Ra's purpose as a villain was to try and get Batman to lose his restraints in order to 'do what is right' and Talia was the same. They were people willing to commit atrocities to save the world and wanted Batman to take his place.

Equally, the Joker was testing Batman's ability to go out of his way to save him, or at least that was what the last scene was about, and then the key moment of the plot was Batman actively trying to save a city of criminals (ish). So that was why I thought the theme was about the difference between Batman and the League of Shadows, and why that was important.

The gameplay theme was definitely still 'Batman being pushed to the limits of his physical resources' which doesn't fit with either that, or James' suggestion. I did find the premise of the City pretty flimsy and not very evocative at all, I was thinking about what I would change to make the game better, and I decided instead of stealing the plots of No Mans Land but then twisting it so it totally didn't work, I would have left it as it was. It feels like the only reason why they chose to make it a city of criminals, instead of actual No Mans Land was because they wanted Arkham in the title. How they did it in The Dark Knight Rises would have been better and allowed for some more interesting open world mechanics about trying to control environments.

@James Picard I read Arkham Asylum as the Joker trying to prove that he and Batman were essentially the same and make that true. The attempt to drive him insane was part of that and the rule is also part of that because it's what separates Batman from them and why he isn't an inmate in the asylum.

But either way, we can both agree that it was about Batman being pushed right to his limits right? And the gameplay of City still completely apes that frame, with everything from the one day time limit to costume destruction, even though I think we can both agree that wasn't the central purpose of city right?

I did pick up the stuff on the Joker's relationship, but I dismissed it a bit as boring because it felt copied from Asylum. Some of the lines like 'You and me are the same' and about Batman needing the Joker as much as the Joker needs Batman were direct copies of the same lines in Asylum. And I believe Batman would have saved anyone in that position, so him saving the Joker doesn't make the act special.
comment #22087 tomwithnonumbers 18th Nov 13
Ultimately, figuring out City's central theme is really more of a YMMV. But I will say that I do kind of agree that while City had better gameplay, Asylum has something about it that just feels right. I don't really know what it is, but something about Asylum clicks better than City. But they were both great and enjoyable games, and I'm glad I played them.
comment #22237 JamesPicard 24th Nov 13
What this review really touches on is the difficulty of using the Joker as a primary antagonist. He's always been one of my least favorite Batman villains because he's so dreadfully one-note, and unfortunately, that is really evident here in City, where we see him rehashing the same old schtick he did in Asylum and has done ever since the days of Jack Nicholson. Perhaps this is why the cast was more of an ensemble this time; kept it from being too repetitive.

On that note, Hugo Strange made for an excellent co-antagonist, and his presence is what I think allows City to have its own distinct theme. Much of the story has Batman doing double duty trying to thwart either Strange or Joker. Does he investigate Protocol Ten, make sure the inmates are safe and spend his time rescuing people, or does he start making hard decisions to work with his enemies to help save himself and protect his own interests? He does both for as long as he can, but what the game pushes him towards is that latter option, not breaking the One Rule. And ultimately, that's where he ends up. taking the cure he'd developed with Mr. Freeze using Ra's Al Ghul's blood for himself before even considering offering it to Joker.

Still, it's not as solidly established as Asylum, I'll admit. Here's hoping that rocksteady's next Batman game doesn't use Joker again.
comment #23329 DeviousRecital 27th Feb 14

Well, it shouldn't be too hard for them to avoid using the Joker, considering the ending. And they did confirm in interviews that yes, Joker is really dead. That's apparently the only reason Mark Hammill came back. So at least you have that, DR.
comment #23330 JamesPicard 28th Feb 14
^Not to worry, they shoehorned him into Origins again anyway.

...*grumble grumble* prequels.
comment #23332 JobanGrayskull 28th Feb 14
Yeah, and the Lazarus Pits still exist, so there's nothing stopping him from coming back either. Though by this point, they may be inviting fan rage if they use Joker a fourth time, so I'm a little optimistic about it.
comment #23333 DeviousRecital 28th Feb 14

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