It’s funny. There have been hundreds, perhaps even thousands of super heroes created for public consumption. From the straight forward heroism of Superman to the crazy antics of Deadpool, there has always been a character type for fans to latch onto and watch as they evolved through the medium of comics. Yet few of these heroes ever manage to escape the confines of their paper based medium. Either because they lack the fan base to make such a transition viable or because said attempts were miserable failures, only a handful of characters have transcended their medium to become a household icon. Yet there is one hero who has had success in a wide variety of mediums, from movies to television to, most importantly (in this case at least) video games, he has stalked the night, hunting down evil doers and protecting the city of Gotham from its menacing gangs and roving super villains. I am, of course, referring to Batman, whose presence in blockbuster movies like “The Dark Knight” and classic television shows such as “Batman: The Animated Series” has cemented his place within the public consciousness. In tribute of this success I will take a look at his latest sojourn into the world of video games, “Batman: Arkham City”, to see whether or not it is worthy of the character that it portrays, or if the Arkham series was a one hit wonder.
Starting with the game play, not too much has changed from the game’s predecessor. Other than the addition of a few new moves that can be unlocked and the slight variance in play style that Catwoman offers, the combat system is exactly the same as the first game. Punch people, counter their attacks to build up chains, and dodge their attacks when you can’t do one of the first two. Sure, there are a few more moves at your disposal, but the combat really just becomes a blur of counters after a certain point. Unlike Asylum, City seems to revel in the concept of fighting large hordes of enemies with nothing but your fists, with large enemy groups being the norm for hand to hand combat. It’s a simple and intuitive combat system that is initially extremely satisfying to play with, but it does begin to grow tedious after a few mobs of enemies. The stealth combat, on the other hand, is even less changed, with the same basic formula of sneaking around behind an enemy to get the drop on them while they’re separated from the others, rinse and repeat until everyone’s unconscious. The only real challenge is when the enemies refuse to split up, forcing you to endanger yourself in order to split them up or take one down. It was a solid system in Asylum and it’s still a solid system here, but I wish they had tried changing it up a little.
The one aspect of the game play that they did change up was the additional focus on the boss battles, with a decent variety of different bosses to challenge this time around. Unlike in Asylum where the bosses felt tacked on and silly beyond anything else, here the bosses actually feel fleshed out and challenging. Mr. Freeze was a fantastic boss fight as you are forced to think on your feet to determine what the most effective way to attack him is, as well as deal with the countermeasures he deploys to stop you from doing the same tactic more than once. Ra’s al Ghul forced the player to confront hordes of enemies as usual, but also blended that with an interesting use of quick time event based combat and dodging his sand blade attacks. All five of the game’s bosses feel distinctive and memorable, to the point where I wish there had been more of an emphasis placed on these fights. What we get is too sparse in my opinion, as you have at most an hour’s worth of interesting boss combat mixed into a 30 or so hour game. Still its one of the biggest improvements over its Asylum counterpart, so kudos there.
One of the main things I heard being hyped about Arkham City before it was released was the fact that the world map was so much bigger and more open, with a lot more to do than was available in its predecessor. Heck, the Riddler trophies alone have doubled between games, which, on paper, sounds great! After all, collecting all of the Riddler trophies in Asylum was one of my favorite parts of the game, to the point where I actively went out of my way in order to collect them. Not so in Arkham City. Sure, the new world map is larger and more open for exploration, but it’s also a lot less interesting than the Asylum was. I was skipping trophies and side missions by the dozen, as there was so much to do that I was simply overwhelmed and grew bored of trying to collect everything. The city also lacks the atmosphere of the asylum, as I could care less about one location versus any other. This may just be a matter of personal preference, but I honestly found this new open world approach to be a step back from the intensity of the closed off world of Arkham Asylum, lacking the draw of the former title’s atmosphere. Yes, Arkham City is still gritty, but it takes more than a bit of grit and some street gangs to make a truly compelling locale.
The game’s story is also a mixed bag to me, as while there are some triumphant moments scattered throughout, the whole thing seems, well, implausible. And that’s saying something for a game based around a billionaire who fights crime in a bat costume! Why did Bruce let himself get captured by Dr. Strange in order to get into Arkham City when he could’ve just have easily flown in on his freaking bat jet? How does Batman manage to take the deus ex machina potion that Ra’s al Ghul had without succumbing to its other effects? Why did *insert villain behind everything here* bother funding the secret project anyway when in the end all he wanted was Batman to take his place and didn’t actually care about the plan’s outcome? On top of these questions the sequence of events seems to be totally arbitrary, with Batman running from villain to villain more for the sake of random cameos than for any sort of story building. Despite this, the plot does have a few interesting moments, such as the dramatic ending that I cannot go into without invoking major spoilers. Suffice to say that the game’s plot is a bit convoluted, but if you can get over the ridiculousness of it all it’s a fairly amusing story.
One of the more impressive elements of this game is the sound design, as it combines an excellent soundtrack with solid ambient noises and excellent voice acting. Top notch voice talent abounds within this title, from the iconic voice of Mark Hamill’s Joker to the lovely Tara Strong voicing the always entertaining Harley Quinn. It adds a level of professionalism to the story that otherwise would probably be incredibly difficult to take seriously. The visual elements are also rather impressive, with the night time vista of Arkham City providing a gritty yet at the same time visually appealing world in which to explore, if you so desire. Zipping through the streets, you really get a sense of the scale of Arkham City and what you’re up against, seeing as how most of the city’s population is composed of criminals who are out to get you. The character models are also rather impressive, with all of key characters having their own distinct look and feel to them. It’s actually rather fun to watch the different characters in action, with the Joker and Mr. Freeze putting on particularly memorable performances.
All in all it’s a solid game, taking the core mechanics of its prequel and building upon them in order to create a brand new story and world to explore. If you enjoyed Arkham Asylum then I highly recommend this game, as if nothing else it is at least more of the same good ol’ Batman fun. But if you haven’t played Arkham Asylum and are considering picking up this title, then I would advocate picking up Asylum first. The more restricted world map actually served to keep the story tight and compelling up into the end for me, and the core mechanics are all still there. On top of that it’s actually fairly cheap now, easily obtainable for fewer than twenty dollars, making it an ideal jumping in point to the series. You can decide from there whether or not you’d think Arkham City would be worth your while.
Anyway, I hope you guys enjoyed this review and feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you think. Do you agree that Asylum is the more enjoyable of the two, or does Arkham City look more interesting to you? Until then, this is Bargain Gamer, logging off!