Review by Eratticus
"The Dark Knight will make you Return for more!"
One of the most anticipated games of the year is finally out, Batman Arkham City. The sequel to the surprisingly fantastic Arkham Asylum. When Asylum came out in 2009, nobody thought Batman could be done so perfectly, or a superhero game done so right. It had an original story, drew inspiration from the entire Batman universe, and even had Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy as the Joker and the Bat himself. All of this from a new studio no less. Rocksteady, you will forever have my attention.
Arkham City is what a good sequel should be. It continues a little bit after where the first left off, it doesn't rehash the plot, it expands upon the gameplay without making you start off barebones again a la Metroid or a myriad of other games, and it somehow manages to be a better experience overall. Let's break the game down. Keep in mind as of this writing I have not finished the game, it's been out for less than a day.
As most of you probably know, after the events of Arkham Asylum Warden Quincy Sharp wins the election for mayor of Gotham. His radical plan for Gotham's crime is to section off a portion of Gotham and put all the criminals there. They get free roam of the city as long as they do not escape. Naturally this state of anarchy doesn't last long as Batman's most famous rogues Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face quickly climb to the top of the ladder and control the city. But above even them is the methodical Hugo Strange who manages to get Bruce Wayne brought into Arkham City. From there Batman must find out what Protocol Ten' is and fix Gotham's corruption. From there the story has a surprising number of twists and turns as we find out what Joker has been up to and meet some new faces. Overall the plot is really well written for an action game, and the dialogue is always a treat.
GAMEPLAY & CONTROLS
The core of any good game is of course, the gameplay. Anyone who has played Arkham Asylum will be instantly familiar with the combat mechanics and all of the starting gadgets. A few things have been changed, however. When you're in a fight, that heavy impact from Batman's critical strikes is lessened, a lot. The combat seems less dramatic. It's much more free and fluid, especially with Catwoman. Which brings me to her. Selina Kyle may or may not be a welcome addition to some players as you're forced to play as her for a small fraction of the game, but forced to none-the-less. As you would expect she is much faster and acrobatic than the Bat, and her special moves and gadgets are very similar to Batman's but with her own twist. Bolas are used in place of Batrangs, her Whip is used to grapple, for example. When you get to take her and move around the city you'll be surprised at how quickly and easily she can pounce and climb nearly any surface. Spiderman games could take a lesson or two from the way she moves.
Taking the Bat around Arkham City you'll surely notice his improved flight mechanics. Sure he had gliding in Asylum but the game actively promotes jumping and flying from rooftops as opposed to walking along the streets. Up above you'll find a bunch of new Riddler trophies spread around the city. Some are collected via puzzles, others are simply just hidden. In stark contrast to the Riddles in Asylum, these are everywhere. Every building, nook and cranny has something in it. This is partly because of the open world nature but it's very hard to try and tackle these Riddler challenges on their own because of the sheer number of them. The open world also allows for side missions. For example, one very early in the game involves Zsasz. You'll answer a phone and he challenges you to find another ringing phone or he kills a hostage. It sounds more difficult than it really is as your HUD will show a compass and how far you are from the phone, but it is timed.
None of the difficulty in the game is unfair, a strength in my opinion. Arkham Asylum was the same way. The almost rhythmic nature of the combat will make you pro at it in no time and the hardest thing you may encounter is the AR missions where you have to fly Batman through hoops. The new expanded upon pause screen also includes tutorials and tips on how to perform nearly anything in the game from combat, to sneaking, to gadgets. Once again, the gameplay in Arkham City improves in nearly every way on its predecessor.
I realize that graphics at this point are near life-like, but every game that looks slightly more real than the last is always a treat. Interestingly, where Arkham Asylum was dark and gritty, and the characters sort of had an unnatural highlight to them, City seems brighter, cleaner, and better textured. Pay attention to the cutscenes, and you can watch Batman's lips synching up perfectly to a line uttered through gritted teeth and furrowed eyes.
When thrown into the middle of combat the enemies, what you really need to pay attention to, stick out clearly from the environment. In the first game everything sort of blended together, even in natural areas. Not so in Arkham City. Even though the entire game is set in a crowded urban environment, obviously limiting the color palette, everything seems to have more depth. During finisher moves, punches and kicks always connect and the ragdoll physics work very realistically, though not perfectly. Batman's cape tends to phase through objects and Batman himself at times but cape physics are one of those things no game has gotten totally bug proof.
Predator mode is especially improved upon. Even though it bathes the environment in grey hues everything remains navigable and objects still stand out. Periodically a pulse wave is sent through the environment while in Detective Mode, similar to sonar or radar. It was likely just a creative touch by the designers but at the same time it makes me think, Wow I'm still in detective mode, let me turn this off and actually take in these levels they've designed. That may not have been the intention, but I constantly notice and think that whenever it happens.
SOUND & MUSIC
Two things to put here: the voice acting is top-notch, no one sounds like they're having a bad day but a few characters sound a little cartoonish. It is a comic book world, so this makes sense. The musical score is reminiscent of the Animated Series theme song and features a lot of heavy, brooding, but almost always ambient songs. They always compliment and never take away from what's going on. And at the very least that's what a game's soundtrack should do. You probably won't walk away from this game humming the theme song but you'll probably remember some of Mark Hamill's delightful and evil lines.
My only complaint: Batman listens in on different criminals with his radio, and also receives calls from Oracle, Alfred, and others. This is all fine, except that the radio will pick up common thugs walking along the streets below. It makes it so that you're always listening to some thugs regardless of whether or not you're about to go all Dark Knight on them. I will say that you almost never hear the same conversations from the thugs, though many talk about the Joker or Strange, and a few talk about how they'd like to get with Catwoman or Harley Quinn. Even if it's the same topic the dialogue is different, so I appreciate Rocksteady's effort in taking the time to record so much that may not necessarily ever be heard. That's some real dedication to the craft, something you really only see in RPGs.
CONTENT AND REPLAY VALUE
Here you have the main campaign, a new game+ mode available after you beat it once, Riddler's Challenges which are done similar to Arkham Asylum's Challenge Mode, and hundreds of collectibles to be collected with both Batman and Catwoman. I haven't finished the campaign myself, but I'm estimating it to be about 16 hours if you focus solely on the main story. Add in the collectables and sidequests, probably closer to 30. New game+ adds probably another 12 since you'll be familiar with what to do. The Challenges are a mixed bag, they can take up as much time as you're willing to spend in them. But I'd say if Arkham Asylum's challenges are any indication, Arkham City's will take almost 10 hours to perfect.
Downloadable content is already on its way, and to the lucky few that got the different preorder bonuses there's additional challenges and characters to use.
You could beat the game as a rental, lots of games can be beaten as a rental, but only new copies come with a code to download Catwoman. If you don't have the code, she's ten dollars online. This is a deceptive business model but it's a preview of what's to come, not that I approve of it.
PROS AND CONS
I don't like using numbers to represent a game because they're pretty arbitrary. So here's a quick list of pros and cons.
+ A better story
+ Terrific voice acting
+ Great graphics, very good lip-synching and animation. In-game characters really stick out from drab environments
+ A lot more to do in a big, open world
+ Everything the first game did right, this improves upon.
- The constant background dialogue gets annoying
- Enemies respawn unlike the first game, so prepare to fight a lot more
- The AR missions take place in real-time, and if you fail, you have to return to where they start. Plus they require flying through hoops. That's never very fun.
- The 360's control pad is still hard to use to select tools diagonally, though that's not the game's fault.
+/- The combat has less of that 'impact' feel than the first game. Could be a positive or negative depending on how you see it.
+/- Catwoman seems to be a love her or hate her kind of deal
I can't recommend this game enough, if you liked the first game, you'll love this one. If you're a Batman fan you'll love this. If you're a gamer period, you will enjoy what Arkham City has to offer you. It has all the production values, story, and gameplay a potential Game of the Year needs to win. And Batman, I really hope you take it again. Thumbs up to you, Rocksteady, you've outdone yourselves.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/25/11
Game Release: Batman: Arkham City (US, 10/18/11)
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