Review by zyrallus
"Not the Perfect Game So Many Have Claimed, But Better Than Most"
Batman conjures images of intense combat, devious villains, and devastating gadgets, but there is so much more beneath this comic facade. There is, to be short, honor. Intense and unyielding, Batman stands as a symbol for good and righteousness in the face of seemingly insurmountable evils. In a similar vein, Batman: Arkham City finds itself cowering before a monumental task; to improve upon and outshine its predecessor. Much like Batman, Arkham City fights valiantly and utilizes ingenuity, but unfortunately for us all every hero must face mortality. Shrouded in the hype of perfection, AC simply cannot live up to these expectations under scrutiny. Still, this is the Batman. And what AC does right, it does better than most.
In terms of gameplay, Arkham City is a mixed bag of sorts. Combat resembles a free-form wave; a fluid motion of carnage. Batman dances around the field of battle, eliminating varied foes as easily as one would expect him too. This brilliant feat is a joy to watch, but not always a joy to play. Combat, from the start, is plagued by a sense of repetition, and one which no number of gadgets or finishing moves can alleviate. Each fight, whether against a plethora of similar minded enemies or a jumble of diverse foes, boils down to the simple idea of attack and counter-attack. The player can attempt to make these battles as difficult or as flashy as he deems fit, but that does not alter the fact that almost every fight can be effectively surmounted without much effort. Fortunately, a stealth oriented mode for combat greatly relieves this complaint. There is little else comparable to perching above a group of unsuspecting soldiers and knowing that soon enough each and every one of them will be dispatched; preferably, without the others having a chance to fire off so much as a warning shot. In summation, combat offers as much joy as the player is willing to extract from it.
Alas, boss fights are an almost entirely negative experience. Repetitive to the point of insult, these encounters are, except for one notable exception, entirely unoriginal and uninspired. Ninety percent of said brawls involve a beat em' up with some recently acquired gadget, a short interactive or cinematic fight, and then an identical section demanding what has already been accomplished. Two forms or sections in boss encounters are not new, but there is no excuse for their existence if nothing drastically new is altered between sections. Still, all is not lost. In light of spoilers, I will refrain from mentioning details, but let it be known that one boss in particular is extremely enjoyable and requires both thought and patience to conquer.
Another area of gameplay revolves around The Riddler. Acting as Arkham City's collection quest, this ingenious villain has hidden a plethora of trophies in devious and perplexing locations. Without a doubt, at least for this reviewer, solving these puzzles and completing the side quests associated with them was the high point of the Arkham City experience. The majority of these riddles are ingeniously crafted and many require story and gadget progression to effectively solve. Additionally, as one collects aforementioned secrets, The Riddler offers challenges to save previously kidnapped hostages. Brilliantly done, and with a design that demands to be lauded, The Riddler and his secrets are a fiendishly pleasing enigma to crack no pun intended, of course.
Other than combat and secret hunting, Arkham City boasts an impressive world to explore. From the very start, the player is let loose into the mangled and corrupted streets to adventure and explore as he sees fit. Side quests abound, and most are interesting enough to warrant completing. This open world tendency, unfortunately, seems to have been an excuse for a drastically shortened main campaign. At around ten hours, without partaking in ancillary activities, Arkham City's primary objectives feel rushed and somewhat unfulfilling. Luckily for us all, the open world and optional quests are fairly intriguing and offer an enjoyable distraction. In short, the world increases the game's longevity without hindering the primary tale being told.
Moving to graphics, the viewer will immediately be sucked into the decrepit surroundings. Bleakly frigid buildings, snowy darkness, and dank underbellies all await the player. They are expertly rendered and aid in suspending the disbelief so easily associated with a comic oriented video game. Batman looks somewhat off, but enemies and bosses more than make up for his graphical quirks. Almost perfect, the visual aspects of Arkham City are a treat for all.
Music and sound offer yet another give and take. Most of the ambient sounds and tracks are fitting, yet entirely forgettable. Sound effects are crisp and mostly satisfying. Nothing majorly impressive, but also nothing that majorly detracts. Voice acting, though, offers two hands filled with drastically differing results. In one, we find Mark Hamill and his terrifying, hilarious, and at times poignant Joker. In the other, we have a completely uninspired Penguin. One villain or hero will be voiced with enthusiasm and passion, the next with such lack of effort that it boggles the mind. Just like combat and gameplay, one must enter this world without expectation to truly enjoy the experience.
When taking inspiration from such varying source materials, Arkham City does a surprisingly adequate job of crafting an elaborate journey without resorting to cringe-worthy comic book tropes. Let's be honest, there are indeed some, but there is also a sense of maturity and darkness that pervades the story without completely overtaking it. Twists abound, some well thought out and others predictable, and the pacing ranges from breakneck to nearly perfect. Where some problems arise, though, are the myriad of villains. Put bluntly, there are simply too many for them to be adequately fleshed out. At times, they feel like simple checkpoints being presented to the player only for nostalgia or fan value. As previously stated, the story goes by too quickly to detail these villains the way they deserve. Unfortunately, some become cardboard cutouts to be mercilessly dispatched without care or realized motive.
Finally, replay value exists in full force. The open world, in and of itself, increases longevity and replay potential immensely. No route to a location is ever the same unless the player desires it to be. Cascading around the city never offers the same experience twice, and dropping into new battles and brawls rarely gets old. With hundreds upon hundreds of Riddler trophies and secrets and numerous side quests to complete, a player willing to experience the majority of content here is looking at at least twenty plus hours of entertainment value.
Overall, Batman: Arkham City offers what any true Batman fan could hope for. A massive cast of characters, a combat system that lets our hero show his stuff, and an open world to glide, trek, and grapple across. Certain aspects bring the experience down, especially boss fights and hastily detailed villains, but the sense of immersion far outweighs these downfalls. Be the Batman. This game is by no means the perfect one that so many have claimed, but it's better than most.
The Final Verdict
Weighted Average: 8.4/10 B
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/27/11
Game Release: Batman: Arkham City (US, 10/18/11)
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