Reviews: Batman Arkham City
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
Great game, but digs a bit deep into the source
Batman Arkham Asylum was a great game, and Arkham City is a great follow up. The bar has been raised in every conceivable way since the first game and it is glorious. There is, however, one small problem. Asylum had you fighting the Joker, one of the most iconic super villains of all time. There were some appearances from other characters, like Scarecrow, Bane and Poison Ivy, but they were (relatively) minor. Come Arkham City, they're breaking out the entire rouge's gallery, and for someone who has only seen the Christian Bale films and some Batman Beyond several years ago, I was left confused. In fact, most of the info on my enemies came from the profiles in Arkham Asylum. Profiles that in Arkham City felt a lot shorter. In itself, this is not a bad thing. If there are so many characters, why not use them? But the game seems to expect me to already know them. Some information on their backgrounds and motivations would be great, either in cut scenes or in the character profiles. But what's there is precious little. Ra's Al Ghul in particular confused me, as he was neither immortal or had a daughter in Batman Begins. And the only reason Clayface didn't turn into an Asspull for me was because I remembered his character profile from Asylum. All in all, fan service is great, but I just wish they did more for us suffering from Continuity Lockout.
Casebook example of how a sequel should be made.
Except for a few nagging elements here and there, this is a casebook example of how a sequel should be made. Unlike other games which make the hero lose everything at the start of the next game, this one more or less picks up where the last one left off as Batman starts with several of the upgrades he had to find or earn in the previous game. While this poses a problem to anyone brand new to the series (such as knowing how to detonate individual explosives) it makes those who played the first game slide back into the mantel in a way that is beautiful. More importantly, this is one of those rare games that has easy-to-learn basic concepts that are truly rewarding to master, allowing a first-timer to blunder through but allowing experienced players to look and feel like an invincible super-hero. Even rarer still is the fact that the first game did the same, and this one somehow improves upon it. It is not flawless however. All the scenes should be skippable (but aren't), the lack of manual save is an irritation, and Catwoman was a poorly implemented character, feeling more like a handicapped version of a player character over her own entity. She's clumsy and less precise, and her take-downs are slower, making her a chore to play in comparison with the freedom, precision and versatility of Batman. Being a less moral character, allowing the player to play 'dirtier' or faster would have given her play style more depth. The fact that Batman can't blow up enemy weapon caches and prevent future foes from arming themselves makes it more like a game and less like Batman as well. The plot — for those who care — is so stupid that even the inmates make fun of it, and there's no way to turn off the ability to listen into conversations which get redundant. The villains are so focused on out-eviling each other that it's comical at best and eye-roll inducing at worst (one or two notable exceptions). I think having the character mimicking the more moderate (and better written) Animated Series incarnations would have suited the generally bloodless tone better — but even this is handled better than the first game. If you played the first game, it's everything you loved dialed up a notch. If you haven't played the first game, then this is one of the few that live up to their hype.
A very deserving Game of the Year
Arkham City has been promoted and received with critical acclaim like few games before it. It was dark, funny, awesome and achieved the impossible in making you possibly agree with some of the villains. That alone is worthy of commendation. Having completed the game and played around the epilogue I'm ready to lay down my thoughts. The game begins with part of Gotham being turned into a prison where criminals lay waste to each other. Bruce Wayne attempts to shut down Arkham where he is arrested, a psycho named Hugo Strange reveals he knows Bruce is Batman and imprisons him. From there Batman learns that The Joker is dying from the same disease that is killing him and has to find a cure. That's only the opening hours, there's much more. Some may find it overwhelming or hard to keep track of all the characters but I found it no worse than Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row. And that's what this game is, it's a Wide Open Sandbox with the goddamn Batman. You can concentrate on rushing to the GCPD to find out Mr. Freeze had been kidnapped, work with Bane in a side mission, hunt down Riddler trophies or just go all Al's Ghul on the inmates. There's a lot to do, and a lot of tools to do them with. You have your batarangs, grappling hooks, smoke pellets and such, but what about a gadget that jams a thug's gun? A zip line? A radiodecryptor? Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys indeed. Now to the two things that impressed me the most, the characters and the music. Riddler for example has been turned from Jim Carrey as...Jim Carrey to Neil Patrick Harris as Jigsaw. The Penguin in Batman Returns is gross, in Batman The Animated Series he was cool but here he's made into a Complete Monster and delivers a memorable performance. And as I said at the start of the review you can see from the villain's point of view. Two Face being an okay guy? Imprison then kill off criminals, why not? Even the link between Batman and Joker makes sense. For that matter, in the game Batman is kind of a dick. The music takes it's cues from the cartoon, The Dark Knight Saga, even Batman Forever. Just play the church and tell me you're not impressed. My biggest gripe is you cannot skip the game over screens, they're cool but they get frigging annoying. I'm also not a fan of clothing damage on Catwoman, but now I've hit my word limit so check the game out for yourself.
Gameplay? Godly. Everything else? Eh.
Oh, Arkham City. Has there, in the history of gaming, ever been a video game more hyped? More detailed? More picked-apart by legions of fans? Its gameplay is everything that critics say it is. Like that of Arkham Asylum, only ten times better. Access to gear you've never had before. A bigger, badder environment to run around in. Brand-new combos to unleash upon heaps of henchmen. And Arkham City itself feels genuinely alive, crawling with ne'er-do-wells of all sorts. Little touches like the Monarch Theater and Ace Chemicals are really appreciated. But everything, no matter how seemingly perfect, must have its flaws. As a long-time reader of Batman comics, perhaps I am not the best person to judge, but I found most of the characters disappointingly shallow and predictable. Batman? Your typical no-nonsense hero. Joker? A gloating, murderous sociopath with far too little creativity to his taunts. Strange? The creepy mastermind whose only purpose seems to be sitting in some remote control center and doing whatever the hell the plot requires of him (while belting out the usual "All according to plan" speeches). Catwoman? An embarrassing mess of on-my-own-side "Bad Girl" cliches without a hint of originality to her characterization. Perhaps most tellingly of all, Two-Face - quite possibly the single most complex villain in all of Gotham - is reduced to a penny-ante thug whose role could have been replaced by any one of dozens of villains. The plot was fine, but nothing too special. Yes, including the Big Plot Twist (and I swear to God, I cannot see how the "final joke" is funny in any way, shape, or form). No originality points for resorting to the tired old "It was Clayface all along!" gimmick, either. Nevertheless, I doubt that these cons will be much deterrent to those that put gameplay first and foremost. No matter how bland the plot or how flat the characterization. there's always the thrill of leaping into a crowd of goons head-first and kicking all their asses one-by-one. And getting to hear Conroy and Hamill again for what just might be the final time is probably motivation enough by itself.
I'm not even a Batman fan
The only Batman material I had sampled before Arkham City was Arkham Asylum and a few of the movies. I also recall seeing a few episodes of The Batman when I was eleven or twelve. So yeah, I'm not exactly a Batfan. But Arkham City did what a good adaptation should do; it got me interested in the source material. The gameplay is near perfect, the enviroments look gorgeous (especially the underground city) and the voice acting is universally excellent. (seriously, Luke Skywalker was the voice of the Joker? I had no idea!) I do have three minor quibbles with the game however: 1) The main story is a bit weak. 2) If I recall correctly, the character biographies in Arkham Asylum were more detailed. There were also more of them. 3) The reveal of Clayface felt like an Ass Pull to me. Your Mileage May Vary greatly on that one of course. Like I mentioned earlier, Arkham City has got me interested in the Batman comics and I will probably purchase some now.
Not a 10, but certainly a 9.5
This review was based on a single playthrough of the game on Normal difficulty, and as such may or may not apply to harder difficulties. When i first purchased Arkham Asylum some time ago, the concept itself interested me, but ultimately failed to keep my interest and has lived in my own memory as, after playing Arkham City, a game i hope to play again and gain a greater appreciation of. Arkham City certainly lives up to the reputation it has gotten recently, although i would hesitate to agree with the highest comments given to the game. I purchased this game entirely on a whim, and have not once regretted getting it since. From the very beginning, my interest is held through it's cinematic sort of beginning, leading me to great anticipation for the moment i would finally begin to experience the game in full. From there, the game does not once strike me as getting dull and uninteresting as i soar through the skies, occasionally dropping down to the streets to take on a group of enemies for fun. Entering the game, even with my past experience playing Arkham Asylum, i was unfamiliar with the true nature of most of the villains of the series, and while this still is largely the case after finishing Arkham City, i have a much greater interest in truly getting to know them, after seeing Batman interact with each of them, from hinting at his past history with the Penguin to his comments to hostages about the Riddler. The gameplay is largely smooth, although there was an issue with combat that bugged me in that distances between enemies when creating a fluid chain of attacks could reach truly ludicrous levels, and that's not even counting the environment at times. While most combat situations felt too quick and easy in the beginning, they soon become increasingly more challenging. Stealth segments became much more intense with the music emphasizing each takedown or imminent triumph. The enemy AI is slightly more advanced in that enemies will destroy vantage points if they realize you're using that to take them out, which i appreciate, as well as checking vents or ceilings. (In the Catwoman DLC segments.) This really emphasized caution for me, as i use vantage points a little too much. While i enjoyed the game greatly, i felt sad by the end, as if it was over as quickly as it began. But that's what New Game Plus is for, right?
I'm going to be like Yahtzee and explain some negs first instead of lauding it like everyone else has done... 1) The fact of having all your weapons back from the game is a lie. The line launcher, remote control batarang and sonic batarang come in at different parts of the game (and to top it off they're all inverted controls but that could be switched in options i haven't tried it yet) 2) Likewise to the previous statement, I was under the impression that Catwoman missions would be sort of a break in the narrative instead of DLC where you have to download updates and then the DLC which I despise with a passion because of how long it takes. 3) The controls can be hard as with getting from one handrail to the next during the Mr. Freeze confrontation was mind boggingly difficult. 4) The villains sometimes seem to go to catoonishly evil due to the darker nature of the game. Ones like Bane, Riddler and the Penguin are examples of this because in the cartoons and comics made them seem more rounded, particularly comic Bane. Bane was a good step in this direction of roundedness got taken away from me when you finish his side quest. It was like the film "20 Minutes or Less" where they couldn't go a minute without saying an f or other curse word. 5) Augmented Reality missions suck. 6) Another minor complaint is the survival horror of last game is gone in this one. I did really like that but I wish they went with a more stealth approach. But overall It is one of the best games I've played ever.