Review: Batman: Arkham City
By Joseph Christ on November 2nd, 2011 (16 comments)
The night is perpetual, and the soft flakes of glittering snow leave a cold dew on the black wrappings of cape which surround you. You make your way from rooftop to rooftop, your movements deliberate, fast, almost silent as you race toward the Bat Signal lancing downward from the sky. Steps away from the edge of the rooftop, you pause to survey the scene below. The wind picks up and your hulking silhouette is blacked out by the full moon bursting with light in the background. Snow continues to fall. You're Batman.
Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: October 18, 2011 (NA)
This may seem anecdotal, but it encapsulates some of the purest moments of Batman: Arkham City that Rocksteady have gotten right. The developer has done a lot of work since we last visited Arkham Asylum and it shows. Almost every facet of the game has been improved upon in both gameplay and art direction to give the entire experience a much more 'Batman-y' feel. And we're talking Tim Burton Batman...you know...the older good ones. No longer will you be walking in a posture-perfect walk from room to room. Now, thanks to a newly added open world dimension, you'll be flying from rooftop to rooftop, and gliding in-between to get to your locations. And even though you'll find yourself indoors many places in the game, the world is not just a simple hub to traverse. Instead, it's filled with all sorts of side quests, random encounters, and enemies which must be dispatched with. Arkham City is a fully realized place filled with all sorts of welcome distractions.
You'll be hunting down ringing cell phones to stop a mass murderer, scanning crime scenes to find out why bodies keep showing up with their faces missing, hunting down the locations of a mysterious sniper, and more. And this is not even counting the TON of Riddler trophies hidden throughout the world, or the Riddler hostage challenge rooms as well. Truth be told. Batman: Arkham city is a huge game and really more of a Batman playground then a simple linear narrative. Finishing the main story will only net you about 65% of the game completed. Then you can move on to everything else since, thankfully, the world opens up again after you complete the main story. Batman: Arkham City is a Batman fan's dream.
Batman has also been beefed up with more abilities, gadgets and moves than in the previous game. All encounters will earn you experience points and as you level you'll be able to choose new upgrades for both your suit and the gadgets you have. It's a well implemented system, and also gives a little more urgency to both the side quests and those random street encounters you'll have in the world. Need 100 more XP to get that final suit upgrade? Then find some bad guys in the streets and kick the snot out of them, and what might have previously been a slight nuisance, becomes a tool for progression.
The improved number of Gadgets also means a larger number of ways to solve problems in the game, and more fun ways to off the bad guys in the challenge rooms which make another appearance. Challenge room options have also been amended to incorporate the various tools you'll now have. They tend to have more side pathways, have multiple levels of verticality, and the bad guys are even better at figuring out what you may do next. For instance, if you continually grab guys from the rafters, they'll start shooting off the rafters so you can't use them. They'll also utilize night vision goggles which make it harder for you to see in the dark. This inevitably means that you'll have to hit the pavement to continue dispatching your enemies, and here you'll find one of the first problems with the game. Batman still just isn't that much fun to move around on the ground. He's not very swift on his feet and often times you'll find yourself hitting corners or making turns that you never really meant to. The one saving grace is that the enemies are, ultimately, still not very smart and also seem to have a short view distance. Unless you're right on top of a guy they generally won't see you.
Being in Arkham City, which is pretty much just part of Gotham City which has been cordoned off and turned into a massive prison, you'll encounter a lot more villains than just the Joker. Some will play an integral part of the story, and some will get not much more than a cameo. And though it's nice to see some of these villains come to life, you almost felt like many have been shoehorned in just to make an appearance and improve the Batman-Cred of the game. It's unfortunate too, since some of the more interesting parts of the game involve villains who get not much more than a cursory part, and those sections are over way too quickly.
There are some other issues with the game as well. Though the open world is a great addition, it's also not very big, and the size has been falsely inflated by putting a giant no-man's land in the center. So if you want to go from one side of the map to the other you cannot just make a straight line. Instead you have to go around the center of it. This is helped some by the fact that the city itself is full of small hidden areas and various levels of elevation. But this causes some missions to become exercises in frustration when a waypoint only hints at a general area, forcing you to search in every nook and cranny to find what you're looking for. It even took me awhile to realize that some of these waypoints were general areas since every waypoint before that took me exactly where I needed to go. I generally don't mind having to search, but consistency is important, and this just led me to believe that the waypoint was bugged. If you're going to hold my hand throughout a game, then do it and do it well. If you want to be like Dark Souls and tell me nothing, then I'll figure it out. But be consistent about it.
Fighting enemies can still be as fluid as ever, and it's always feels good to take out about 20 guys, but this time around Rocksteady has added even more enemy types that can only be defeated in certain ways. Shield carriers have been added which require you to jump over behind them before you strike, in a different fashion than those old baton carrying enemies. The game will then throw a dizzying amount of different enemies at you at once, causing you to lose the rhythm of your attacks and opening yourself up for cheap shots from surrounding foes. Unfortunately, this causes the brutal simplicity of the original combat to be replaced with a more complicated approach that really isn't any more fun, and can get downright frustrating when things really start to get crazy.
Much has also been made of the Catwoman character. Her story consists of 4 missions interwoven within the main Batman story, but though they are a good reprieve I did feel as though they seemed more 'tacked on' then a finely crafted part of the central experience. You'll also need to decide how many of Batman's leveling points you'll want to put into her upgrades since they are not separate. So you'll end up with an underpowered Catwoman, or a Batman that isn't at full power by the end of the main story. I opted with the latter, and probably found the Catwoman scenarios a little more difficult for it.
Thankfully, boss fights are much improved this time around and we don't see the continual re-use of boss tactics that plagued the first game. The final boss fight, however, is probably the weakest of the bunch and left a pronounced anticlimactic feeling when it was completed.
There are also missed opportunities. The game is an OCD's nightmare in that there are countless things you can destroy for XP and challenges. Penguin statues, Joker balloons, security cameras, chattering teeth, all of these things can be destroyed but for very little effect other than 100xp, and completing some background challenge. It would have been great if doing these tasks actually affected the world as well. For instance if destroying security cameras brought security guards to that area to investigate. Or if popping Joker balloons lowered the Jokers influence in the city and raised the influence of another criminal. Having some challenges is fine, but Arkham City is filled with so many pointless challenges that they can't really be seen as anything more than meaningless filler in an otherwise meaningful world.
Rocksteady has gone all out to make the definitive Batman game, and in many ways they mostly succeeded. The world itself, the characters, the visuals...all are dripping with Batman atmosphere to their core, and there is more than enough in the world to keep the Batman fan engrossed for upwards of 70hrs or more. But on the other hand, the world can also seem surprisingly stagnant, and it seems that so much effort was put into cramming as much Batman-y stuff into the game that they could, that the depth of the final game suffered as a result. Still, as Batman (hell Superhero) games go, Arkham City is the very best there is. It's one not to be missed, even if a few things were missed within it.
Score - 80%
(80-84%: A great game with very few major issues)
Joseph Christ is the Reviews Editor and a Podcast Personality at 4Player. Specializing in reviews, editorials, drinking, and saying inappropriate things about gaming franchises that are beloved by millions, his satirical and sometimes edgy style offsets a more serious and penetrating substance lurking below the surface. He is also the host of the Cocktail Time Podcast. You'll follow his Twitter if you know what's good for you.
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