The world’s greatest detective is back in Batman: Arkham City, Rocksteady’s sequel to possibly the greatest super hero game of all time. Is this game worth all the praise, or should good ol’ Bats have stayed in the cave?
A Story Too Big For A Mere Asylum!
Unable to control the over population of super criminals in Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Penitentiary, Dr Hugo Strange comes up with a plan to isolate a portion of Gotham City and surround it with high walls and armed guards. His idea is to fill it with every gang member, murderer, rapist, and crime lord in order to let Social Darwinism (only the strong survive) take its course. The newly established Arkham City has been divided my three major factions led by The Joker, Two-Face, and The Penguin. All three are fighting for title of Gotham’s greatest criminal boss.
Unhappy with what has happened to Gotham, Bruce Wayne decides he will run for Mayor in order to get Quincy Sharpe out of office. At the press conference, Bruce is taken in custody by Dr. Strange’s men, processed and thrown into Arkham City. And that is just the opening credits.
The World’s Greatest Multitasker!
Batman: Arkham City will put you into the cowl of the Dark Knight in two main story arcs. First is find out why he was “arrested” by Hugo Strange and thrown into Arkham. Second, stop The Joker, Two-Face, and The Penguin from killing each other over territories. But he needs help. He hears over the guard’s radio channel that Catwoman was captured by Two-Face and is awaiting “trial” at the old courthouse. He decides to help Catwoman because if anyone will have info, it’s her. If you think that’s enough to fill a game, you are wrong; it is only the tip of the iceberg. The Riddler will taunt you with 400 challenges while you rescue hostages from his death traps. You’ll have to stop street assaults. You’ll be asked by Bane to destroy remaining canisters of Titan. You’ll have to stop a serial killer over the phone, and find out why Deadshot is taking out political prisoners. All while being observed by a mysterious figure in the distance. And even that isn’t everything in the game without giving away spoilers. When I finished the campaign, I was only at 44% progress. You will actually feel how overwhelmed at times Batman is. And just as in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman’s costume will take a punishment as the lengthy story progresses.
The Duality Of The Caped Crusader
What made Arkham Asylum brilliant is that it was not just a beat-em-up button masher. It was a showcase of combat, forensics, and stealth. Imagine Assassin’s Creed, CSI, and Splinter Cell rolled up into one game. Arkham City takes that to the next level. Since the map is four times larger, you have free reign over the entire world. You can go anywhere and do anything at your own pace. Within the main story you’ll not only battle the Rogues Gallery of Batman villains but all their henchmen as well. Sometimes that means a straight up brawl, while other times, it means sneaking around the environment and picking off armed guards one at a time. To make it easier, you’ll are again equipped with Detective Vision, which is the handy little toy in Batman’s cowl that allows him to see through walls, conduct investigations, track samples of spilled blood and a variety of other uses. Also assisting Batman from Wayne Manor, Alfred will coordinate supply drops while Oracle will give him intel over the communicator.
Arkham City included everything in combat that made the first great and added more to it. But that is not necessarily a good thing. What was once a nice rhythmic symphony of punches, flips, and counters has turned to an frantic button masher because of the new enemy types you encounter. Now, you have guys with shields, guys with body armor, and guys with swords and bladed weapons. They all have specific ways to counteract them, but you totally lose your flow because the other 20 enemies on screen will interrupt while you are trying to dispatch the tough ones. More than often I would hit the A button to jump, followed up with an X button to strike. Just so I could get my hit count to 5 so I could do an instant knock out on the tougher guys. One thing that turned me off of Assassin’s Creed were the random fights with people in the streets as I was just trying to play the game. While at first it was great to level up and gain experience to unlock new skills and toys, towards the end I just wanted to run away while I was trying to explore. Batman shouldn’t have to run away, but the combat just started to become boring and repetitive. Throw into the mix new Riddler Thugs who glow green. These thugs take the place of the Riddler maps from the Arkham Asylum; if you want to know where the 400 challenges are, you have to save the green thugs for last in order to interrogate them. So imagine fighting ten thugs, some armed, but having to avoid the glowing green ones so you don’t miss out on riddle locations. I understand what the game was doing, but it was these additions made the fighting that much more complicated.
On the predator side of the coin, you can still hide in grates, crawl through air vents, and perch on gargoyles. Simple enough, but now enemies have heat vision, lay proximity mines, and run in packs. The environments don’t seem laid out as nice as in the first game either. You could sit on your gargoyle, survey the environment, and analyze movement patterns by the guards. But now if you take someone out everyone is alerted and immediately knows your position. I tended to drop kick one and then grapple from perch to perch to not be spotted. By adding the extras, it forced me to just swoop in an run away every time. Add to the mix the green glowing Riddler Thugs, and just like in combat, you have to save them for last.
Here Kitty, Kitty…
One major addition to the game is the ability to play as Catwoman in her own four episodes and in the combat and predator Riddler Challenges. She brings her own flair and style as well as her own motivation on being in Arkham City. She is armed with her trusty whip, bolos, and caltrops. She can also move about the city as freely as Batman can, but instead of gliding around like Batman, she leaps from building to building and grabs onto them with her whip. Catwoman can even crawl on the ceiling when she needs to be stealthy. The Catwoman episodes routinely broke into the main campaign as a fresh change of pace. But her story, other than her initial encounter with Batman, really has nothing to do with the main plot. While it takes place in the same world, will not effect the outcome for Bats that I was aware of. I highly recommend making a specific decision at the end of her 4th episode for a surprise “What if” ending to the game. But the Catwoman story arc did not compliment the main plot and even interrupted the pacing of it. It would have been better to just leave it as extra DLC.
The other problem I had with the addition of Catwoman is that both Batman and she share experience and resources. So if you are leveling up your Batman’s armor and gadgets and forget about Catwoman, you’ll tend to find a bit of a difficulty spike because you neglected your feline friend. And you can’t simply skip the missions and play them later, you have to take them on when you get them. You can always replay all four episodes from the main menu. One thing that was nice was when the campaign is finished, you can easily switch back and forth between Batman and Catwoman to finish up side quests and collect Riddler Trophies.
Holy Bad Guys, Batman!
Arkham City is filled with so many characters in the Batman mythology that it becomes both good and bad. Good for the fans to see all your favorites in one game. The character models look great and the voice acting is superb. The bad, however, is that the majority of the characters are a flash in the pan. Many have guest cameos, but then they simply disappear and are forgotten, and the focus is completely taken away from the Joker, who is questionably one of the greatest comic book villains of all time. Instead most of the attention is given to the rather boring Hugo Strange. The original Tim Burton Batman film was great in that it knew that the Joker was more interesting to watch. They even gave Jack Nicholson top billing. When the sequel was released, they thought adding another villian would make the movie better, but it didn’t. It ended up weakened the characters, both in story line and development. That is the problem I saw in Arkham City. While it was great to see just about everyone in the Rogues Gallery, I feel it would have been better to scale it down and save them for the inevitable next game.
While some complained that the Joker Titan end battle of Asylum was cheap, you still got to fight the Joker in the previous game. I am not going to ruin who you fight at the end, but like the other boss battles in the game, it was easy, quick and forgettable. The only battle that took some creativity and imagination was against Mr. Freeze.
This time around there are no Scarecrow battles that felt like you was fighting against Freddy Krueger in dreamland. Personally I loved those and was amazed how ingenious they were in getting into the psyche of Batman’s inner demons. Not to spoil anything, but the new villain that was introduced this time around was under used and could have had levels with the same brilliance.
I would say the main star of the show is the Riddler. He taunts you throughout the game, challenges your intellect, and invites you into his Saw-like death trap chambers in order to rescue hostages. But you can’t just save the hostages when you want to. You have to collect enough Riddler Trophies in order to even be invited into them. Even that can be a brain buster. While some of his trophies are easily obtainable, others require special gadgets you have to obtain a la Metroid style, while others require special timing and abilities. Some of them are downright hard, but once you figure them out, you’ll have the same joy on your face like you just figured out a puzzle room in Portal 2. Be prepared to see a lot of neon green all over the city.
But Seriously…I Love The Game!
You may have thought I hated the game by my previous paragraphs. As a guy whose oldest daughters are named Harley Quinn and Ivy, and have a complete leg tattoo that pays homage to the Rogues Gallery, Batman: Arkham City is a fantastic and wonderful game. There is a lot to explore and discover. The game will challenge you mentally and well as physically. You can also tell that in a world of craptacular superhero games such as Thor and Superman Returns, Rocksteady really loves Batman. They have given every geek in the world the biggest nerdgasm with Arkham Asylum. That love and attention to detail is the even more present in Arkham City. But I think it is impossible to top what they achieved with Asylum. I know I am going to love “The Dark Knight Rises” at the theater next summer, but how can Christopher Nolan top “The Dark Knight”? And even though Mark Hamill is the one true voice of the Joker, no one will ever match what the late Heath Ledger did for the Clown Prince of Crime. I think this was the dilemma that faced Rocksteady over the last couple years.
You should absolutely play Batman: Arkham City. The story is great, but you have to cut away from all the fluff to get to it. I would have liked to have seen either a story arc similar to No Man’s Land or Knightfall. The music is marvelous. The graphics are amazing. The scenery and locales are jaw dropping, and Kevin Conroy will always be the definite voice of Batman. If you are up for the challenge there is a ton of content in the game definitely worth the purchase. And with more to come in the form of the Nightwing DLC on November 1st, Rocksteady definitely feeds the masses wanting their Batman fix. If you don’t want to take on all the Riddler’s Challenges, tackle all the side quests, and test your skills in the combat and predator maps, you may just want to rent the game as it can be beaten in about 8-10 hours.
Make no mistake, this is not Grand Theft Gotham, but just like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, more doesn’t always mean better.