Should I Buy? – Batman: Arkham City

Unless you’re some kind of DC hating Marvel fanboy that gets violent every time they hear the word “Kryptonite”, then yes. Arkham City is the sequel to Rocksteady’s surprise critical and commercial stunner Arkham Asylum from a few years back, and is a good example of a sequel done right. Instead of coasting by and making no real attempt to improve on things, City is bigger and better, with more stuff to do and more ways to do it.

Basically, Quincy Sharp, head of Arkham Asylum in the last game, took credit for your work stopping Joker and got himself elected Mayor of Gotham. Then he walled off an entire district of Gotham, dumped all criminals (insane or otherwise) inside, hired heavily armed mercenaries to police it and put relatively unknown psychiatrist  Hugo Strange in charge. A bit suspicious, no? Well, Batman thinks so. Unable to do anything as the Dark Knight, he tries to campaign against it as Bruce Wayne, which results in his incarceration as a political prisoner.

Inside the city, Joker, Two-Face and Penguin have carved out their own criminal empires and  there’s a host of other villains running about like Zsasz and Mister Freeze. And you’ll track them down through both the wide open cityscapes and the more familiar claustrophobic building interiors. The cityscape adds a whole new dimension to the game, and I must say is very well designed. See, in the last game you basically guided Bats from one challenge room to another. There were no alternate routes. Even when outside, the enemies were in scripted locations and the spaces too small for more than a handful of viable approaches.

But with the city full of randomly spawning enemies and with no set paths to traverse, the precision artifice of the encounters from the original isn’t present. Not that traversing the cities is a chore, the layout has obviously been carefully designed for both getting around and for you to do your Goddamn Bat-thing when push comes to punch. There’s also a host of new techniques Bats has for getting around in the big wide open, though on foot travel is pretty much irrelevant in the streets.

The interior sections aren’t as tight as the original, nor as long or prominent. With so many new additions to Batman’s arsenal, it’d be difficult to design encounters to compliment this. For example, much is made of the fact that enemies start laying mines. There’s even a short sidequest that gives you a gadget to counter them. But I can only recall one encounter where enemies will actually use them, and even then the explosions are so small and undamaging that *if* you do run over one the most it’ll do is alert the baddies and make you drop a smoke pellet.

Speaking of which! That’s a major change. Now when gun toting enemies see you, you can drop a smoke pellet to instantly become lost and untargetable. Then, you can safely grapple away or use that Bat-Grapple disarm move on all of them and be in a better position than you started in. Relying on it will make most encounters with gun thugs laughably easy.

Of course, you can choose whether or not to use these balance…unbalancers and  it’s handy to have them when things turn Bat-shaped. The only real problem with Bat’s expanded arsenal of tricks and little things that go buzz and hurt bad men is that there’s so many you’ll often forget you have them. When you’re up on that ledge, do you do an inverted takedown, Sonic Shock Batarang, sneak up on them, rig some explosive gel, attack through a crumbling wall, shock him by charging the surprisingly prevalent electromagnets, glide kick him, Batarang him, Remote Batarang him, Reverse Remote Batarang him,  use a cryo grenade, use a cluster cryo grenade, disable his gun, remote detonate his mine, remote electric shock him, use a Sonic Shockwave, Glide Boost or throw a smoke grenade at him? Your choice.  Yeah.

The main story is longer, and doesn’t get tired. It won’t (and indeed, hasn’t) win any awards but it’s solid fare for a Batman tale. It mostly takes leads from Knightfall and No Man’s Land, though isn’t afraid to mix up established continuity points when it wants to. The villains are integrated well, and the attention to detail with the Batman mythos is fantastic. The boss battles are particularly intense, especially given how lacklustre they were in the last game. Mister Freeze might qualify for both cleverest and most frustrating for years. In the best possible way.

Riddler’s challenges are back. There’s obviously a lot more of them, and now getting a lot of the trophies is a matter of solving a small puzzle. These also tie into a bigger sidequest that involves saving people from Saw-style rooms and tracking down Riddler’s goons to interrogate. It’d take ages to track it all down and complete. Even longer if for some weird reason you don’t Google the solutions.

Adding into ways to extend your playtime are New Game Plus, the additional Challenge Maps & campaigns, not to mention there’s DLC that makes Catwoman, Robin and Nightwing. I haven’t played any of it, so I can’t vouch for it.

But yes, this game is bigger and, in most ways, better than the original. Go buy it. Get hunting for those tantalising hints for a sequel.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mitch Allan
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 23:24:11

    From what I’ve seen of Arkham City, I’d agree – the combat is a good, and the sort-of-sandbox thing works quite well.
    I think my criticisms would be too many gadgets. At first it’s wonderful, but it quickly gets silly. And, whilst I hate to agree with Zero Punctuation; the opening of the plot relies too much on People Being Dumb (‘What’s that? Bruce Wayne got chucked in here? Yeah, yeah, whatever’) which felt less like corruption and more like Idiot Plot. BUT, I never played Asylum, and you sound like it segues into it quite neatly, so that might just be me.
    But the villains are fantastic, and it looks like barrels of fun.
    Only seen the Catwoman DLC, which is…passable. It’s entertaining, but not exactly stellar.


  2. jackcalico
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 23:31:58

    The kidnapping Bruce Wayne bit does make sense later on, though you might miss quite why as the game never explicitly explains it. Also, you should totally play Asylum.


  3. Trackback: Should I Buy? – Batman Arkham City DLC « buythatgame

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