Shark repellent optional
Batman: Arkham Asylum still stands as one of my favorite games this generation, primarily for its sublime mix of combat, exploration and stealth. Batman: Arkham City is able to replicate most of those strengths in ways you’d expect, but it also dilutes the overall product by trying to cram a lot of other mediocre stuff into the package. Fans of the original looking for more will find it here, but a few rough patches make Batman: Arkham City shine less brightly than it once did.
My favorite thing about Arkham Asylum was the way it balanced itself between exciting combat, engaging exploration, and tight stealth mechanics. Fortunately, Arkham City is able to pull off a lot of the same stuff, especially with regards to the combat and stealth. The precise, technical nature of its “freeflow” combat is as awesome as ever, and a handful of new gadgets and upgrades give Batman some cool new tricks. The stealth also holds its own, even if there’s less new meaningful additions here than there is to the combat. Games just rarely do stealth this well, and the way it makes you feel like a predator on the hunt is thrilling. Both combat and stealth sequences are implemented very well in the campaign, but it’s the stand alone challenge rooms that really let them shine. By stripping away everything else and boiling it down to the basics, these rooms present pure, focused challenges that bring out the best of what the combat and stealth have to offer.
Unfortunately, I found the third piece of the Arkham Asylum puzzle, the exploration and item hunting, to be much less enjoyable this time around. The biggest change to Arkham City is its “open world” structure, and it’s here that the game dumps the vast majority of its side quests and collectibles. There are literally hundreds of them, which is enough to make them feel pointless. Where Arkham Asylum cleverly hid its trophies and riddles along the primary path in a way that highlighted occasional puzzle solving, Arkham City floods the city with them, creating a dull, tiresome collectathon that you have to actively seek out on your own to complete. This significantly hurts the pacing, which is further thrown off by some terrible tutorializing and a scattered plot; particularly early on. Batman has numerous abilities that the game only briefly mentions while simultaneously overloading you with other information (if it tells you about them at all), and characters and plot threads haphazardly weave in and out with a similar lack of diligence. In fact, the way the game handles the main plot is one of the most disappointing things about it. It’s a jumbled mess with numerous holes and loose ends, and tries to cover more ground than the surprisingly short campaign can realistically handle.
In a way, Batman: Arkham City almost tries to do too much, and its pacing and focus suffer for it. The unnecessary open world, overwhelming amount of silly collectibles, and overly ambitious plot make for an experience that isn’t as tightly woven as it could have been. That being said, between the fantastic combat and stealth, not to mention the amazing visuals and audio (the soundtrack in particular is incredible), there’s enough solid content in Batman: Arkham City to make it well worth playing for anyone wanting more Batman action.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.