“You Are Not Safe Here…”
From Asylum to City, Batman is always ready for whatever comes his way.
DC and Rocksteady give us the second installment in the never-ending saga of Batman. The bar had been set high for superhero games with Arkham Asylum. This installment attempts to raise that bar, and it succeeds on many, but not every, front.
Like its predecessor, the game’s best quality is its immersiveness. While at the Asylum, we were given an intimate, if not claustrophobic, environment to explore. Now, we have all of Arkham City at our disposal. I was concerned that this wouldn’t translate well. After all, a vast and expansive city is quite different than a medical complex. However, Batman is in his element more so than ever in Arkham City. There are enough nuances and details tucked into every pocket of the city to keep things interesting, and enough places to grapple and heights from which to glide that traversing the city never becomes unwieldy. This is Batman’s city, make no mistake.
One of my primary gripes with the Metroid Prime trilogy is that each game finds a way to strip you of your weapons and start you at square one, giving you reason to explore and power up. Arkham City, however, allows you to keep your weapons from the previous game, and instead gives you new gadgets to collect. This serves as a cohesive bridge between the two games, and allows for more interesting problem solving. Your Batclaw isn’t as useful in a city as expansive as this.
High marks must also be given to the scope of the game in general. Yes, you could play through the main campaign in an afternoon. However, there are enough side quests to complete and Riddler Trophies to collect that a determined player could log north of fifty hours into the game. It’s a great way to cater to all tastes and give everyone the Batman experience they need.
Unfortunately, much of this comes at the sacrifice of the story. Arkham Asylum had a clearly defined, albeit simple, story. Arkham City falls short in its attempt to incorporate as many new elements as possible, resulting in a disjointed narrative that bounces around in several places. Two-Face’s role in the game ends as quickly as it begins, Hugo Strange and the mysterious Protocol 10 serve as the most pressing conflict for Batman to address, but Joker’s plotline involving the mysterious disease takes up a good portion of your time as you run around the city. It almost feels as if the Joker’s storyline was shoehorned into the story simply because he’s the Joker and you can’t have a Batman story without him. Meanwhile, Catwoman’s mission is almost completely divorced from that of Batman, and her exclusion would have resulted in essentially no change to the story. Like Joker, her involvement amounts to nothing more than “Oh, and you can play as Catwoman.”
That being said, the pros outweigh the cons, and her presence in the game is ultimately rewarding. In fact, Joker, Harley, Two-Face and the rest all give more than they take, so while bogging down the narrative, they add their signature blend of humor, suspicion, and violence that made the original so endearing. It all comes down to what’s desired in a video game. Players who love the experience of sneakily disarming thugs and squaring off against iconic characters will not be bothered by the unbalanced story…the flaws may go completely unnoticed if value is sought elsewhere. Story-first gamers may have some residual questions regarding relevancy and loose ends, but even they will likely still have a net positive experience.
Like its predecessor, Arkham City does a wonderful job in catering to different methods of gameplay and visual styles. Picking off henchmen one-by-one in dark corridors remains the most rewarding and exciting experience offered by the game, and it’s certainly faithful to the hero’s source material. With a few extra methods of detection, however, forethought is more important than ever. Boss battles are equally enhanced. Arkham Asylum‘s boss battles often boiled down to a “wave of thugs, do a specific action, wave of thugs, do a specific action” pattern. Arkham City relies more on creative thinking than hardcore button mashing. So study your enemies well; its wits over brute strength. It’s a great way to challenge players and give everyone the Batman experience they deserve.
Arkham City introduces many new elements into the franchise. An open world, new gadgets, an expansive list of foes, creative combat elements…the list goes on and on. While the story didn’t quite stick the landing, every other element of the game is an improvement over its predecessor. The game leaves us satisfied, but at the same time, we’re eager for more. We’re ready to take on the Arkham Knight.
Alex Russo likes to talk. A lot. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.