Batman: Arkham City
It's the game we deserve, but is it the one we need?
After the success of the first game, Rocksteady knew it was in their best interest to put together something damn amazing to top it. And top it they did, for Arkham City captures the same feel of what you loved about its predecessor, Arkham Asylum, but puts it on a much grander scale. This time you’ve got more gadgets, the combat system has been refined, and exploring Arkham City is an even richer experience than exploring the Asylum.
While the story in itself is nothing really breath-taking, these games are more character driven experiences, and Arkham City pulls out all the stops. In addition to most of the villains returning from the last game, Arkham City features pretty much every other A-list member of the Dark Knight’s rogue’s gallery as well as cameos from Robin. You even have Alfred as your main radio support person. Most notably, the single player campaign features segments where you play a mission as Catwoman whenever the Caped Crusader is out of commission. As cool of a character as Catwoman is, I was a little annoyed when the game suddenly had me take control of her until I encountered a combat situation as her. While no one usually wants to play as the girl in a beat em’ up situation, that notion instantly vanished as the most famous cat burglar performed an array of visually stunning and diverse moves on the unfortunate group of thugs that surrounded her. Selina Kyle’s amazing speed, cool sound effects, and aesthetically amazing moveset definitely made her mini campaign a joy to play through, and I even felt a little sad whenever each of her segments ended.
The soundtrack of this game is phenomenal. It conveys feelings of darkness and triumph at the same time. The boss battle tracks are especially amazing and just complement the already amazing boss experiences found here. While I’m on the sound aspect, the voice acting was absolutely delightful. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill turned in exquisite performances in their respective roles as the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime. Grey DeLisle, specialist of sexy female voices was a great Catwoman, and every other voice in the game was well suited for their respective characters and well performed. Well, sans Harley Quinn because her voice just annoys me.
Basically, the Arkham games consist of two major components; the first is the beat ‘em up element. The combat system in these games uses the patented Freeflow Combat System, and it is probably the best combat system I've’seen in an adventure game yet. Especially when you get more gadgets on your belt, as you can use quickfire versions of these gadgets in combat to mix it up. Basically with this combat system, you can keep a combo going as long as you move fluidly from enemy to enemy. Sometimes, an enemy will have blue lightning shaped streaks over his head which will alert the player to perform a counter (I guess Batman has developed Spidey-sense). The combat system has been refined so that you may counter multiple enemies simultaneously if two or more both try to punch you at the same time.
Another improvement is that you get a considerably bigger window of time in between attacking enemies to maintain your combo string. Not to mention, even cooler attack and counter animations for Batman. There are also new abilities, such as they ability to disarm an enemy (and still maintain your combo string), and destroy the weapon to prevent other thugs from picking it up and using it.
And speaking of beating up enemies, this game features some of the most exciting and fun boss battles I’ve played in video games. One of the highlights of the game most players agree on is the Mr. Freeze battle. I would probably go on listing my favorites, but I don’t want to spoil some of the villain appearances for those who have not played the game yet. I will say that the overall roster of villains featured does not disappoint, nor do any of the boss battles with them. The boss battles alone probably make up the primary replay value for the main campaign (because it’s certainly not the Riddler challenges, ew!).
The other major component is the “Predator Maps”, where the game basically turns into Metal Gear Solid; the goal of these rooms is to sneak around the room and take out all the armed thugs, one by one. There are a multi-tude of ways this can be done, using the Batman gadgets, and the game rewards you by mixing it up using the gadgets to find creative ways to take out the thugs. Once all the enemies have been neutralized, you may proceed. I found this to be very enjoyable and it really makes you feel like Batman, sneaking around the shadows and silencing criminals who are foolish enough to think guns can stop the Dark Knight. I even admit to the sense of pleasure and bravado I felt as I sat posed on a gargoyle above in the shadows while the terrified thugs below were visibly trembling and expressing their terror, knowing that Batman would swoop in and take them out any second now.
In between these two major gameplay elements, there is plenty of exploration that can be done around Arkham City. Another new feature in this game is the inclusion of side-missions. I feel these add more replay value to the campaign as opposed to the collect-a-thons of the last game, and it makes it feel more like a traditional superhero game. There are even little things like “rescue the innocent person from the muggers” and things like that which gave off inFAMOUS vibes.
(Caption this one yourself)
One major flaw that must be addressed however is the notorious “Detective Mode”. Those who played Arkham Asylum (aka “Arkham Blues”), will know what I am talking about. There are times where you will need to switch the screen to “Detective Mode”, a feature in Batman’s cowl that allows him to see things in an X-ray vision of sorts in order to search for forensic evidence or isolate armed thugs from unarmed thugs. The problem is that in Arkham Asylum, you were almost always tracking forensic trails or using it to tell which thugs had weapons. Players claimed the game basically forced you to have it on almost 24/7 and it didn’t allow you to appreciate the good graphics when you constantly have to look at the game in X-ray vision. While some players do indeed just have a habit of leaving it on when it definitely is not needed, I would concur that the game did make players a bit too reliant on Detective Mode overall.
Rocksteady seemed to realize this and so they attempted to remedy this by “nerfing” Detective Mode to discourage players from switching it on when it isn’t needed. However it still feels like the game makes you just a tad too dependent on it, as trying to complete a Predator Room without Detective Mode on the whole time is next to impossible because it’s otherwise too hard to keep track of each enemy’s position in the room. Also there’s pretty much always a reason to need it, such as searching for some forensic trail or object that you need Detective Mode to find. Consequently, you simply cannot appreciate the amazing graphics as much as you should be able to because you are forced to look at the game in X-ray vision over 60% of the time. Again Rocksteady definitely tried to fix this but overall the original flaw is still there. Detective Mode itself is a cool feature, it’s just the game should not make players as reliant on it as it does.
In way of bonus features, we have combat and predator maps which as the name implies, allow you to just enjoy doing beat’ em up and Predator challenges. In way of DLC, there is the Harley Quinn’s Revenge mini campaign which you play through as Batman and Robin, and the ability to play as Catwoman, Robin, and Nightwing on the combat and predator maps. If you can, I highly recommend just paying a little extra cash and picking up the Game Of The Year Edition which comes with this content packed on the disc already, as I think each bundle itself is at least seven bucks. In this respect, the only thing Arkham Asylum has over this game is the Joker levels. I suppose they wanted to have some selling point for Asylum though so as to not discourage people from buying that one as well (the more money the better of course). While there is vast replay value via the Combat and Predator leaderboards, something that definitely could have made the game even better was online multiplayer on the Combat and Predator maps. Co-op combat maps are just so beastly to imagine, and team or competitive predator maps would probably be one of the best online experiences out there the way I imagine it. I really hope they make that a feature in the sequel.
"Holy Cameo, Batman!"
At the end of the day though, Batman: Arkham City is one of the best action/adventure outings of this generation and in my opinion, the game of the decade so far. And I’m not even talking as a Batman fan; it’s a great game rather you like Batman or just good adventure games in general; the wonderful combat system would appeal to beat ‘em up fans, and the sneaking rooms are something that stealth fans would find as a treat. As a superhero game it’s right up there with inFAMOUS, and perhaps the best game based on a liscensed property.
Overall Grade: A
+Outstanding, exciting boss fights
+Combat and Predator maps add near endless replay value
+Wonderful combat system
+Pleasing roster of featured characters
-The Detective Mode problem
GameBoy: Reviews you can trust (yes I’m bringing this tagline back, Cam.)