Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Batman Arkham City Review


Batman Arkham Asylum was a huge surprise when it was released in 2009. It looked great, and it seemed like a Batman game that actually might not suck, which was pretty rare back then. In fact, Batman Vengeance is the only game that was any good. DC had a notably poor record for developing games based on their characters, so it’s easy to see why nobody would believe, but when the truth dawns, it dawns in fire. Sorry, I had to. Anyway, Arkham Asylum was probably the first excellent Batman game ever made. And when I say excellent, I mean setting a new bar for game developers. I would never have expected to see that come from a licensed game, much less a license that has struggled as hard as Batman has to create even a decent game. If Batman Arkham Asylum set a new standard for many action adventure games to come, the question is, can they outdo themselves?

I can’t say that Batman Arkham City is better than Arkham Asylum. It’s not because it’s bad, far from it. I just can’t say that Metal Gear Solid is better than Grand Theft Auto because they are so different. Arkham City is a totally different beast when compared to Arkham Asylum. It’s bigger, bolder, and much more ambitious. Instead of moving from one section of Arkham Asylum to the next, Batman is smack dab in the middle of Gotham City, albeit a closed off section of Gotham now known as Arkham City. That’s right folks, Arkham Asylum has been moved to the center of Gotham City and serves as an enormous prison for the criminally insane. The massive city has been divided into subdivisions each controlled by one of your favorite Bat-foes, and its all-out war for control of Arkham. Meanwhile, something is fishy with the new warden of Arkham City, the not-so-widely known psychological mastermind, Dr. Hugo Strange. Strange is a unique villain in Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery, as he is one of the very few enemies that are aware of Batman’s true identity. As such, Dr. Strange makes sure that Batman makes an appearance in Arkham City by way of going after Bruce Wayne.

The story in Arkham Asylum was one of the best Batman stories ever told. Arkham City features a story that is just as compelling and engrossing, but it’s much bigger and much darker. Almost every notable Bat-villain makes an appearance from the obvious guys like Joker, to the not so widely known foes like Deadshot. Each sporting new looks, and occasionally, entirely new takes on the characterizations. This is one of the best parts of the Arkham series. Seeing Rocksteady Studios’ take on each character is often times inspiring. Even characters that are so often tossed aside for being silly, like Penguin and The Riddler, get their personalities ret-conned turning them into significant threats. Whoever thought of turning Riddler into Jigsaw from the Saw series is a certified genius!

On the topic of The Riddler, everybody remembers the surprisingly addicting collection quest from Arkham Asylum right? Hunting Riddler trophies here in BAC has gone through a massive overhaul. Instead of simply figuring out how to get the trophy from whatever room it’s in, the new Riddler quest is far more worthy of Batman’s time. Now, each trophy can only be earned of a test of wits. The Riddler challenges the Dark Knight’s mind, body and spirit for each trophy. When you need to know how to find these trophies, you can’t just find a map this time. No, sir, that’s too easy. Instead, you have to find the Riddler’s informants, henchman that spy on the other gang leaders for the master of questions. You’ll need to interrogate his troops in order to solve his dark riddles. A quest that is easier said than done. As you collect more trophies, solve riddles, and complete challenges, you will eventually have an opportunity to rescue hostages from the big green meanie’s clutches. It is in these moments where you realize just how dangerous The Riddler truly is.

The combat has been altered slightly, and not all alterations are for the best. The combat speed seems to have been slowed down slightly and there are so many combo’s and special moves that’s it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Personally, I think there is way too much crap jammed into this enhanced combat and I personally believe it has become over complicated in many ways. I suppose saying this game has too much awesome isn’t the worst criticism you can get, but I found the combat in the first game to be perfect as it was. Also, the slower combat speed was nothing short of frustrating to me. I was a master of the combat in the first game. Now, I’m getting my ass kicked all over the park because of these two relatively minor changes. Not to mention that due to the over-stuffed fighting combos, the controls always seem to be against me. Normally I would say I just suck, but like I said, I was a master ass-kicker in Asylum. The only change is the slower speed and added combos (except for quick button gadgets, but that makes combat easier). Still, some people will probably transitions easier than I did to the combat, so that won’t be a negative for some. But even with these flaws, Arkham City still has a very fun, exciting and thoroughly satisfying combat system. One that makes you feel like the Dark Knight himself.

The new gliding system was added to Arkham City out of necessity due to the much larger city. Batman can not only glide, but he can also use his grapple gun to launch him up high into the sky in order to gain momentum and speed to sore through the city streets with haste. Patrol helicopters also provide a sort of public transportation, if you will. The ability to dive bomb from the air has many advantages, from building momentum in transit, to combat maneuvers and even assisting in solving a few riddles. All of these enhancements combine to create a travel experience that is just as fun as anything you else you’d expect to find in the game. And in the vastness of Arkham City, the new travel abilities are going to put to good use.

Another new addition into Arkham City is the side quest feature, optional missions that expand not just the story of Arkham City, but also providing some closer to Arkham Asylum. For example, Bane is in Arkham City, but he is on a quest to hunt down and destroy the last remnants of Titan, the mutagenic goo from the first installment. There are other villains you’ll be battling in the side quests as well. Deadshot, Zsasz, and even the Mad Hatter are all out for Batman, and it’s up to you to stop them. The side quests are very well thought out side stories that emphasize a level of the detective play that the story campaign simply can’t provide. Most mission come to pretty satisfying conclusions and some even lay a hint or two regarding the future of the series.

The Challenge Maps make their return in Arkham City, but this time, you have the ability to play as multiple characters. Batman, Catwoman, Robin and as of just recently, Nightwing are all playable in the challenge maps (Catwoman even has her own campaign that intertwines with Batman’s story). The combat maps are just as awesome and challenging as ever, in fact more-so, with the new enemies introduced in BAC. The predator maps on the other hand, leave me a little disappointed. The best part of Arkham City is just how jammed packed it is in virtually every way. Sadly, this ends up hurting the predator maps. The maps are large and very dense, but are ultimately poorly laid out, especially in comparison to Arkham Asylum’s predator maps. The predator sections were my favorite parts of Arkham Asylum, now they are my least favorite here in the city. That is a testament to the power of level design as the predator play is almost completely unchanged.

Another thing I want to note is the fantastic voice acting. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill return as the Batman and Joker respectively, and they once again hit it out of the park. In my mind, these two are the best actors to portray these characters, and that can be said throughout the entire voice cast. The characters are absolutely flawless. I give special props to Maurice Lamarche as Mr. Freeze. His cold and almost mechanical performance give Freeze an ambience befitting to his namesake. Every time he speaks with his helmet on, I get chills. Couple that with the best boss fight and he becomes that best addition to the game. I never liked Mr. Freeze that much, not even in the 90’s toon. Now, he may have just graduated to one of favorite characters. Two-Face, who is my favorite Batman villain, finally makes an appearance, and although it is brief in comparison to Joker, Freeze, and even Penguin, it is definitely memorable, although it is also well beneath what the character deserves. Two-Face hangs out at the courthouse, reigning judgment on his foes as both the prosecution and the defense. Two-Face as he is portrayed in BAC may go down in history as the definitive characterization of the Gotham’s former white knight, which makes his small role all the more tragic.

All in all Batman Arkham City is well worth the price. Hours upon hours of entertainment can be found in this game, and its well-done entertainment at that. Like Gears of War 3, Batman Arkham City is bursting at the seams with exciting and fulfilling content that is sure to please for hours. There are so many puzzles, side stories and fan pleasing Easter Eggs that you may find yourself neglecting the main story for a while. I enjoyed every minute of this game, and when I finished it, I wanted to start it all over again. First I need to get those damn trophies. With its careful attention to detail, compelling story, faithful representation of the characters and mythos and its magnificently grim, gritty atmosphere, Batman’s Arkham series isn’t just the definitive Batman game, it is the definitive Batman story.

I give Batman Arkham City a 9.5 out of 10.

Pros

The definitive version of Batman

A powerful and gripping story with excellent voice acting

Masterful grasp of the characters, setting, and universe

Fun and exciting combat

Huge sandbox style city to explore

Side quests, Riddler Collectibles, and Challenge maps offer hours of fun entertainment

Jam packed with content

Great graphics

Excellent music

Think of a Batman character. They’re probably in this game somewhere

Cons

Combat changes sometimes serve as a liability

Many Predator challenge maps could be designed a little better

Some characters don’t get the screen time they deserve (like Two-Face)

So many actions that can be performed, sometimes controls get a little confused

2 comments:

taz alter said...

Best review out there. Like it. Thanks.

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Ryan said...

Wow, that's some very high praise! Thanks for commenting!