Batman: Arkham City
Oh Arkham City, you were the best relationship I’ve ever had with a digital Batman. Well aside from that random comic I found years ago but that was entirely different. Also, who brought that up? That stuff is private for a reason! What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Batman. Well here’s the review. Or should I say here’s my thoughts, very spoiler heavy by the way. This isn’t my attempt to sway you to picking up this game (seriously you should just pick it up, this is one of the best games you’ll ever play) this is my reactions, thoughts, and Batman love pouring out with every word. And hey I even brought along ANO’s Aaron for his thoughts as well (his thoughts will be in bold). Collaborated!
Arkham City is the sequel to an incredible first foray into the world of Batman. Arkham Asylum was the best video game to ever include the caped crusader when it came out, it had everything about the character one might love, including his instantly memorable rogue’s gallery. I loved the first one, and it was one of the first games I picked up for my PS3 way back when, it stood to reason the sequel being more of the same I’d just HAVE to pick it up. I was not disappointed, this has become one of my favorite Batman stories ever, akin to the incredibly well written Year One or Long Halloween. I’ve played through the game fully once, and gone back to try to finish picking up all the collectibles (of which there are a generous helping this time) and I think I’m just about to the point of wrapping this up and putting it back on the shelf until the next time I get the itch to sit through the wonderful story again. Having also played Arkham Asylum but not finishing it the desire to pick up Arkham City was pretty much a guarantee. Currently on a second play through the game is still fun and I’m looking forward to the further releases of new DLC.
The gameplay – If variety is the spice of life then Arkham City is on par with the planet from Dune. It has that much to do in it. Story progression, randomly wandering around the city and fighting goons, searching for riddles/trophies/easter eggs, working on the challenge maps (of which there are 12 of each type), side missions …. the list goes on. Not only a variety of things to do but an endless way to accomplish each one. Gadgets, combat techniques, detective mode, and predator takedown moves make the game unique for everyone and adjusts the game to your personal play style. At times it can be almost overwhelming, so many options at every turn is certainly nice, and helps you feel like the ultimate crime fighting detective, but more often that not your combat will boil down to punch things in the face until they stop trying to kill you. Effective, but once you get used to thinking about your options things will get easier and feel more Batman-esque. The sheer amount of options at any time is amazing, most gamers (myself included (ditto for me)) simply won’t even think about all the things they can do at any given time.
Controls – Oh man, can we say spot on? This feels like the smoothest transition from controller to on-screen action in an action game in a good long while. I love the Uncharted series but occasionally it has some issues with hit detection and clunky controls that AC simply smirks at and performs like the well oiled machine it was meant to be. Combat is less about button mashing frantically and more about finding the right timing and buttons to flow smoothly through the waves of goons coming at you. As long as you stick to learning the timing, have some patience, and don’t just try to mash your way through it you’ll find a good groove and nothing feels more natural than when you find that free flow groove and get into it.
Graphics – While never being the reason I will or will not play a game they certainly don’t hurt when they look as good as this. The game has a very particular style to it, reminiscent of the animated series everyone remembers so fondly (as well they should!), Gotham looks like Gotham here. The last movie, while being one of the best movies I’ve ever gladly sat and watched, always looked like they just took Batman and dropped him in Chicago (to be fair that IS what they did). The people at Rocksteady responsible for building Batman’s world have done it justice, the comic pages walk off the panel and into the game flawlessly. The design of the characters in the game is also handled spectacularly, everyone is unique and instantly recognizable, even lesser known characters like Calendar Man and Deadshot. The lack of full 1080p was slightly disappointing but the game is certainly no slouch in looking good for current generation technology. The art design and look of the game is pretty great as well, love how it looks and has that same sense of design from the animated series.
Sound – The goons and their background chatter is one of the more entertaining parts of the game. The music is sweeping and epic, the effects sound great, and the voices are most of the ones I hear in my head when I read the books. Kevin Conroy reprises his role as Batman while Mark Hamill returns to the second most famous role he’s ever played (both of them veterans from the animated series).
Story – The real meat of this game, and where it truly shines. This narrative is one of my favorite Batman stories ever, beating out some others like The Long Halloween. If this were a graphic novel I’d have read it several times over by now, flipping back and forth between pages to get another look at the time when …. Perhaps I switch off the part of my brain that anticipates twists or tries to figure the story out before when I get a really good Batman story, or maybe this was just that well written. Spoiler alert again, but I didn’t see the entire part with Ra’s coming up at all, or the inclusion of so many other Batman villains in the side quests. The second I found a murder victim missing a face I KNEW who had done it and couldn’t wait to track Hush down (this one excited me quite a bit). How about the twist at the end with the Joker? When Batman and I both figured out what was REALLY going on in the same flashback moment I had a minor flip out moment. “No way!” was my immediate reaction. The Mad Hatter sequence completely caught me off guard, and seeing Robin show up out of the blue gave me pause to grin and appreciate the subtle nod to the Batman family. Being able to play as Catwoman in the main story at parts was also a good look into other aspects of the Bat-verse that might have been missed otherwise. The story was completely relatable to people not as well versed in comic knowledge as some others. The side missions and riddles through the game were a great way to keep someone not so intimately familiar with comics up to speed on the secondary characters, the history, and fill in the gaps between the games. There was something for everyone here in the story, hardcore enthusiasts and casual fans alike were well served by what they had to offer.
Batman: Arkham City, game of the year calling it right now. You can have your dragons with your Skyrim, I’ll gladly hold on to my Dark Knight. The game satisfied me in every way, and I can’t wait to check out any further DLC they toss my way. If there’s any complaints it is that the game seems a bit bare in the side missions, you get a very quick and clear-cut dozen or so but it feels a bit like there is some being held back for the purpose of DLC content. A good point, the way some side missions just seem to suddenly end either feels like its left you hanging or they’re waiting to give you more, whether for DLC or for an almost inevitable third chapter. The easter eggs in the game seem to hint at more story to tell (Scarecrow? Harley hiding a secret?) but how they’ll bring it to us seems anyone’s guess at this point.