Batman: Arkham City
Even Batman himself would be proud of the gameplay of Arkham City
- Good gameplay
- Great level design
- Catwoman brings more variety
- Navigation is too hard
- ...and the bosses are too easy
It’s like Arkham Asylum on steroids. Fans of the previous game will lap this up, and fans of Batman in general won't be disappointed.
I once thought I’d never live to see the release of a truly great modern Batman game. A bit pessimistic perhaps, but I just didn’t think anybody could do the Dark Knight justice. Sure, it's possible to make a game that looks good, but can it be done without completely bastardising the original Batman mythology?
Then 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum came on the scene, leaving fans awestruck and frothing from the mouth for more. A sequel was a no-brainer and Batman: Arkham City was set into motion. But how could the developers possibly improve on the formula?
The obvious answer, it would appear, was to add a touch of Catwoman. Yes, the news that Catwoman was to be a playable character in Arkham City definitely had me clawing at the walls in anticipation. But having played the game, I am happy to report Batman: Arkham City is so much more than just a playground for Catwoman. Nay, it is yet another high-quality release in the Batman series that not only avoids being overshadowed by its much-loved prequel but can also stand strong on its own.
In this sequel, we finally get to see Bruce Wayne in the [CGI-rendered] flesh. No masks, just the flirty playboy himself. He breezes into Arkahm City for a press conference, lobbying for the closure of the open-air prison which is essentially a sanctuary for baddies in Gotham. Then Wayne promptly gets knocked out and kidnapped by Hugo Strange, who runs the joint. Bruce escapes and transforms into na na na na na na na na… BATMAN! (I’ve always wanted to do that). With his wit along with a convenient array of skills and tools he takes flight into the night, to stop the evil which threatens to spill out and engulf the rest of Gotham City.
As the name would suggest, Arkham City takes place in a much bigger game than Arkham Asylum, both location- and gameplay-wise. The developers have ensured that moments of Batman gliding from one side of the city to another without having something to do are rare.
Side quests are littered across the place, along with challenges in the form of mini-games dished out by Batman’s foes. In that respect, it is easy to compare Arkham City to GTA 4, sans the carjacking and rampage.
I particularly liked a telephone game where Batman has to locate a ringing payphone within a time limit, otherwise baddie Zsasz will kill a bunch of people. The player then has to answer the phone and listen to Zsasz whine and moan about his personal issues while tracing the call. It’s a great example of a well-executed minigame with multiple layers to it to keep things interesting.
Gliding, which wasn’t a very sophisticated move in Arkham Asylum, gets used a lot in Arkham City. In fact, you’ll find most of the time you travel from one place to another will involve a lot of gliding and grappling — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Soaring like a bird is rather tranquil but there’s less of the parkour free-climbing action of Arkham Asylum.
Being stealthy, especially when Batman is ridiculously outnumbered, is a key part of the game. Arkham City is more about being patient and taking advantage of good hiding spots than doing a Rambo. Though how the enemies miss a lumbering dude swooping around in a giant cape I’ll never know… there's a bit of cinematic licence at play.
Navigation has always been my fatal weakness (both in game and in real life), so I was happy to find Arkham City's compass, which helps players navigate through the vast expanse of cityscape.
However, I still found it very hard to find my way around the place. Dark rooftops look like dark rooftops, and while there are various landmarks to help get your bearings, I went for the map button more often than a competitive gamer reloads in Counter-Strike.
In terms of gameplay, Arkham City has been given an all-round upgrade. You start the game with many of the combat moves and gadgets you would have ended up with when you finished Arkham Asylum. While the combat system doesn’t go quite as far as Bayonetta, which had a ridiculous amount of button combos, there are plenty of dodge and takedown moves to use as Batman unleashes his proverbial can of freeflow martial arts whoopass on enemies.
Then there are there the gadgets — and Batman has a lot of those. Alfred even jokes in-game about how Batman fits all his gadgets on his utility belt; It’s amazing the Dark Knight doesn’t drop like lead in water when he’s gliding about with all the stuff he carries around. Even Detective Mode, which is used for gather clues and plotting strategies to quietly take out opponents, has been given a few upgrades.
The good news is the game gives you a chance to use everything more than once. There is a nice mix of enemies and situations which requires you to vary your tactics. Being equipped with so much gives you a few more options to tackle the problem.
Are you sick of me talking about Batman yet? Because if you are, I will now proceed to gush about Catwoman. Batman’s on-and-off love interest and nemesis is a welcome addition to the series, available as a downloadable game add-on through either Xbox LIVE or PSN.
The Catwoman sections comprise of four ‘episodes’, gradually unlocked by playing the main storyline. Completing the bite-sized episodes is not crucial to the main plot, and they are all short and sweet, though players have the option to free-roam with Catwoman to collect Riddler Trophies and other achievements.
I would have preferred more Catwoman in Arkham City, especially given her combat and movement style is actually really fun. It is similar to Batman's, but different enough to keep things fresh.
As much as I enjoyed Batman: Arkham City, there is one thing I have to criticise – The boss fights were kind of a let down. While I love picking off the goons in the game, boss battles are often too easy and repetitive, leaving me with an anti-climax and an “awww, that’s it?” reaction. Take the fight with Mr. Freeze: WARNING! SPOILER ALERT! There are a number of ways to subdue him, but rather than letting players test different methods the game gives all his weaknesses away a minute into the battle.
Often the mechanics of the fights are repetitive, which can be overlooked but does bring about a twang of frustration. Even the final fight was a bit disappointing. Even so, I found the ending strangely satisfying. It might not please everybody, but it fits in well with the Batman story.
On the surface, Batman: Arkham City looks like a great game. But if you take in the intuitive combat system, the excellent voice acting, the cheese-free script and all the finer details, it is easy to see what makes Arkham City an amazing game. Even Batman himself would be proud.
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