Dueling Reviews: Batman: Arkham City, Take 2
If the past is any indication, movies based on video games don't tend to do so well, as well as vice versa. Video games based off of superheroes also tend to suffer from this ailment, but if there’s one superhero who tends to triumph more often than others (and in this case, rather exceptionally), it’s DC Comic's Batman.
Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to the game’s previous game, Batman: Arkham Asylum. Aslyum revolutionized the adventure game genre by combining hand-to-hand combat, exploration, detective work, stealth, and story all in one package. The game had a little bit of everything. (As well as oodles and oodles of extras to find that will keep you playing for hours.)
For the most part, everything is the same in Arkham City. But that's a good thing. Batman can still navigate skyscrapers like they're his local playground and can still make criminals soil their pants as they nervously hunt him down while he silently takes them out one by one. The simple, yet unique and exceptionally well-animated combat system returns, rewarding focus and concentration instead of pure button-mashing. A lot of new tweaks have been added to the system, such as criminals with riot shields, stun sticks, and bladed weapons. (Trust me, you’ll hate the bladed weapons.)
The game could have taken considerable risks to change what worked so well the first time, and thankfully, it didn’t. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a sequel if there wasn’t at least one major new thing, and in this case, it’s the game’s pace. Arkham Asylum had Batman patrolling the dangerous halls of the criminally insane. The game met with critical acclaim, often with scores at a minimum of 90 percent.
Arkham City starts with Bruce Wayne protesting against an apportioned section of the slums, bought out by Hugo Strange, functioning as a wide open prison for Gotham's criminals. The inmates are free to roam about the slums as they please, violently or otherwise, with security concerned only of anyone escaping. Bruce claims that the prison's lackluster care should be of concern and demands a stop to it. Because of this, Bruce is arrested for his protest, and becomes an inmate himself. Of course, this only makes things easier for Bruce, and after a quick call, he dons his cape and cowl, and prepares for the longest night of his life.
Tonight's weather in Arkham: heavy chance of bat droppings. And I don't mean guano.
The game's main storyline will have you traveling all over Arkham City. The city itself isn't as large as other open-world titles, but it is nonetheless packed with things to do, see, or find. Or beat up. Or terrorize. Throughout the journey, you'll get a more personal outlook of Bruce Wayne's personality -- at least, more than the last game. Batman's personal code of conduct to never lethally harm even criminals was expressed in the last game, but this code is pushed to the very limits here, and it shows. The game's ending, while not completely jaw-dropping, may leave you with some rather particular emotions that you may not have come to expect. (Be patient during the game's credits. You'll be presented with a surprise if you wait at least halfway through.)
Arkham City takes what was good about the previous game and applies it to the open-world genre. The previous game, while having plenty of extras, was more or less very linear. In Arkham City, players finally get the chance to roam about the dark streets as the Dark Knight, either terrorizing their victims or straight up brawling. The best part is, after you finish the main quest (unlike the last game, which became very lonely with no thugs around), you'll still have criminals roaming about for you to play fisticuffs with ... or hide and seek.
Throughout the game, you'll encounter many of the characters you met in the first game, but you'll also meet some new ones, both good and bad. If you have the proper DLC, you'll also get to play as Catwoman or Robin. All of the character actors sound excellent, but of course, the real star of the show here is Mark Hamill, who once again uses his Jedi powers to deliver a terrific performance as the Joker. Both Hamill, as well as Kevin Conroy (Batman), reprise their roles as they had in Arkham Asylum and Batman: The Animated Series. However, because there's a lot of characters, some of the more prominent characters from the last game tend not to get a lot of face time this time around, which is a shame considering they're all voice-acted so well.
"Hey B-Man! Why do you always have to hog the camera, huh?!"
Despite Conroy's otherwise brilliant portrayal as the dark knight, I can't help but feel Batman's overly-serious tone falls a bit flat when it comes to taunting his opponents. Granted, Batman is a serious character, but once in a while the intonation of his voice makes me want to cringe from its lameness when he's trying to taunt someone.
The game rarely has a lack of things to do. Aside from the main quest, it also has a large variety of side missions, and none of them ever feel half-baked, although some are rather short. Still, most side missions feel more like mini-adventures in and of themselves, as they'll involve you traveling from place to place. The missions are more than just go to point A and go to point B -- the activities involved will vary.
People with the fear of question marks (there's just something creepy about them don't you think?) should stay clear of this game. If you don't know what I mean, then go ahead and play it, and you'll probably agree with me afterward. This game is riddled with question marks, literally. Arkham City has a few hundred Riddler trophies for you to find, far more than the previous game.
The Riddler is a bit more...assertive this round.
This time around however, some of the trophies are out in the open, but this is because they've been elaborately placed in complex mechanisms or contraptions, and it's up to you to figure out how to get through them. The achievement-like Riddler challenges also make a return, as well as the object-scanning riddles. (Although the riddles are more like a pun on words, and therefore, most of the challenge in the "riddles" are less figuring out the answer and more on just finding the object in question.) The previous game also prompted you whenever you enter an area that contains a Riddler answer in the vicinity, but because most of the game is in a wide open area, they're a bit more difficult to find, and even the interior prompts sometimes won't trigger at the appropriate times.
As in the previous game, you'll be able to level up Batman and choose from a wide assortment of combat skills, stealth skills, gadget upgrades, and more. My only gripe with this is, from the start, a rather large amount of combat upgrades were already in place. Not that I didn't mind having a lot to start out with, but it didn't leave much to look forward to in this category. It is possible the game could have read my previously completed Arkham Asylum save data, and this head start was a bonus because of it, but I still seemed to level up at a regular pace, as if it would of been there regardless if I had that data or not.
The ever-addictive challenge maps make a return if you're looking to beat up or scare some thugs from the shadows in a hurry. New to the mix are campaign challenges, a set of preselected maps that must be completed along with a selection of modifiers that must be used by the end of the campaign. These modifiers can range from disabling the warning prompts in combat or disabling the usage of silent takedowns from behind. You can also create your own custom challenges, allowing you to choose your own modifiers, making for even more possibilities. Also, in addition to Batman, you can play these maps with any DLC characters you have purchased, and they all include their own separate progress.
This cat has a lot more tricks up her sleeve than just having nine lives.
As with Robert, I partially agree with Catwoman's DLC content, though I feel her campaign was disjointed because there is a huge, huge time-gap in between being introduced to her and seeing her again near the end of the game. It's nice that she has her own set of Riddler trophies to collect, but I found it really strange that Batman gets shocked trying to pick up any of her trophies, yet Catwoman could pick up hers in addition to any of Batman's trophies. Her campaign aside, her DLC is still worth it (although I don't know of any way not to get a DLC code for her when purchasing the game ) because she is nonetheless fun to use. From her unique way of climbing buildings, her fighting style, to the rather ... kinky ... way she sneaks, it's a refreshing change to play as her, almost as if you were playing a new game. Plus, when you finish the main quest, you'll be able to switch to her anytime. (Just look for the kitty cats.)
Without a doubt, superhero games often struggle to become remarkable or even average. Whether it's the design, or even the hero himself, the reason can be puzzling. But be rest assured, if you've never picked up a Batman game in today's world of gaming, you're missing out on a lot. Even if you're not particularly a comic-book fan, this game is a definite must.