Batman: Arkham City Review
(Warning – this review does contain some spoilers. The wrap-up paragraph is spoiler free, so if you really care that much about a Batman game, look away until that last paragraph)
Have you ever considered that all of this is your fault, Rocksteady?
Back in the year 2009, in the days before Matt Smith, a previously unknown developer named Rocksteady released a really good Batman game. Not just ‘good for licensed games’, I mean really damn good. Fast and fluid combat, thick and heavy atmosphere, a competent story (better than most games do these days), and stealth sections so fun I would buy a title comprised entirely of them and nothing else. There were also smaller, but nonetheless appreciated, touches like the Riddler challenges and various cameos from lesser-known members of Batman’s rogues gallery. Unfortunately, I never actually purchased and finished a copy. I did rent it twice, but I never actually finished the game; I only got to the first stealth section in Poison Ivy’s lair. (My mistake was renting Just Cause 2 at the same time) So you all should know where I’m coming from when I say Arkham City is a disappointment. It’s still good, but unfortunately never reaches the heights of the first game.
Although the setup is incredibly silly, it’s really just an excuse to give Batman a big open world to play around in while still keeping some brand recognition. However, the open world leads to various problems. Without the tight linear progression of the first game, it’s harder to get invested when you can just put off the story mission to go and pick up some Riddler trophies or pop Joker balloons. The excellent mechanic in inFamous 2 that let you know how far the Beast was before it came to break New Marais is sort of implemented in this, with Hugo Strange discussing the time before the mysterious “Protocol 10” is implemented. But the thing is, it worked in inFamous 2. The characters made it seem as if time was passing between story missions, and it seems viable that Cole would take time off to train or stop muggings. The timer that showed how far The Beast was from your location also was very large, giving you a wide berth while still giving off enough tension to keep you invested in the story. But with the story missions in Arkham City, the characters make it seem as if no time has passed, and the main story lasts around twelve hours in total. Not the playtime, the span of time in which the story unfolds. There’s a lot less tension once you figure out that the game doesn’t move in real-time, and you can just spend hours screwing around with the side missions.
But really, do you care about the flow of the story? No, you guys are here to try and recapture the magic of stealthing around on gargoyles, picking off terrified henchmen one by one. I’m sad to report those sections are unfortunately cut down and replaced with more combat sections where you have to fight obnoxiously llarge groups of enemies. This is what the developers think passes for difficulty, with the nadir of the whole game for me being an encounter with the Joker and his goons, where you have to fight a legion of vanilla thugs, Joker (who you can’t knock out), a Titan-infected thug, a one-armed hammer wielding thug from earlier in the game, all in a small room with little funhouse cars that randomly speed out of doors, knocking you down and making you vulnerable to either the hammer thug or the Titan thug. It’s a frustrating little battle that really soured my opinion on the game as a whole.
It’s hard for me to say what’s right with this game. Everybody knows what Arkham City does well because it’s everything you saw in the first game. The Riddler challenges are fun as always and the combat is fast and fluid. The stealth sections (when they decide to show up, that is) are a joy to play, there are a few neat new gadgets (only one of which I ever needed to use; the Freeze Grenade), and a few cool boss battles, but at the end of the day it’s just hard for me to praise a sequel that really doesn’t try to improve anything. You could argue that it doesn’t need improvement, but then there’s no reason I can’t just recommend you pick up the previous game and save some money. There is the new Catwoman stuff, but Catwoman controls worse than Batman and has some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever seen. If fans of the New 52 thought Catwoman was bad in that…well, she still is. Hell, this game seems to be taking a cue from that Catwoman for all their female characters. What with Poision Ivy having a man-harem, and a loading screen in the game that is literally just a certain character’s cleavage. If it seems like I’m ragging on this game, it’s just that there are parts that are really good but unfortunately what doesn't work really drags the whole thing down. It’s worth a look if you’re a huge DC fan or if you need a sequel to Arkham Asylum right now, but wait for a used discount bin if you don't fit into those cateogires. You won’t miss out on a single thing if you buy used, and you’ll probably feel a lot better about yourself. Either rent it now, or wait until it hits around $30~$40.