Batman – Arkham City
Holy video game transition, Batman. Of all the video games spawned by the brooding Dark Knight, Batman Arkham City is the best of the lot. Slink about as Catwoman, outwit Harley Quinn and explore a city gone mad…
One of the most enduring comic book superheroes of all time, the Dark Knight has been given constant makeovers in comics, TV and film, and his image now seems to be steadied as the brooding ‘Dark Knight’ he always should have been. Let’s face it, superheroes are nerd ecstasy. Where do video games fit into this rich Batman heritage? In 2009, Batman: Arkham Asylum restored faith in those waiting for a video game showing Batman as something other than a joke. Can Rocksteady Games deliver a darkly epic Batman twice in a row?
(BAM!) Batman: Arkham City‘s presentation
Arkham City is even darker, danker (if that’s a word) and altogether damned-to-the-devil dangerous than the previous Arkham Asylum game. The setting? Arkham Asylum’s former warden and now-mayor Quincy Sharp has sectioned off part of the city to become a super-ghetto for Gotham’s most dangerous criminals. In charge of this cordoned-off area of the city is Dr. Hugo Strange, a man who seems to have his own intriguing agenda…
Very early on, you’re treated to one of the finest interactive intros ever portrayed in a video game – I’m talking a cinematic gem. Picture Bruce Wayne attempting to escape from torture at the hands of Dr. Strange. Bruce’s escape is (with your help) foiled by guards who make the dishevelled Mr. Wayne walk a gauntlet of taunting, threatening ‘fellow inmates’ ending in a confrontation with a familiar face – Oswald Cobblepot (a.k.a. The Penguin). After taking out Penguin and his thugs (for now), you help Bruce Wayne make good his escape and transform into the Dark Knight – Batman.
You’ll find yourself in streets blanketed by litter, snow and darkness. Scout around and you’ll discover iconic locations like the Monarch Theatre where Bruce Wayne’s parents were shot dead before his very eyes. Once-resplendent buildings (such as the old GCPD building and a museum) are left in abandoned disarray, a broken playground for the new villainous inhabitants. The city isn’t vast but there’s defintely be more to explore in Arkham City than back at the asylum, and you may initially get lost until you get used to the map. Exploring is fun; especially with the addition of the many Riddler trophies dotted about the city, ready to be collected.
The FANTASTIC set pieces in the game allow for seamless transition from piece of narrative to another. You get to play as Catwoman in the beginning (if you have an online pass), taking out some of Two-Face’s goons before attempting to steal some schematics from a safe, only to bump into Two-Face himself at gunpoint… and then the screen fades to white for the game to really begin.
You get a few pointers along the way but the rest is up to you – so no pressure, eh? Most of Arkham City’s set pieces have you believing you’ve got a bona fide “Batman simulator” on your hands: the game looks great and it’s not all fighting. When you go up against Harley Quinn, for instance, you’ll have to ‘think like Batman’, figure out what he would do in this situation, map out a plan and implement it both quickly and flawlessly. Narration from Batman’s ‘inner voice’ is a nice touch that accentuates the feeling of ‘simulator’.
Traversing around the city is worth it just to eavesdrop in on conversations between inmates and goons, and the camerawork is great, especially during the frantic combat scenes, although it does occasionally get left behind (testament that Batman and Catwoman are on occasion too fast for the camera, maybe).
The menu interface has also been given a bit of an upgrade, though it retains the same functionality as Arkham Asylum. You now get a techy and computerised setup and typeface, but you will still get to equip yourself with whatever you need in very much the same manner and check out the once-again ever increasing character profiles in your own time.
You’ll also use the map to find your way around in case you get lost, not to mention checking out the many drool-worthy gadgets Batman carries around to help you get around and aid you in combat. The bat-claw and the batarangs come as standard; others you’ll earn by gaining experience points, completing objectives and at certain parts of the game, like the remote-controlled batarangs (extremely useful for getting at some of those hard-to-reach gate switches), the REC/electrical charge gun (really good for opening up that partly-opened electrically motored gate and even ‘shocking’ opposing inmates in more ways than one), smoke pellets (for “now you see him, now you don’t” moments) and a line-launcher. Maybe Mr. Wayne should have reconsidered a bigger belt, like Alfred suggested in the game. But… If you’re going to be Batman that means you’ll have to get to grips with his wide gadget arsenal. And I couldn’t be any happier about it!
(POW!) Batman: Arkham City’s graphics
Batman: Arkham City is rich in visual texture, with a terrific eye for detail. Each brick and grain of concrete is rendered with skill and love, and shaders are used to great effect on the shadows of Arkham’s looming building.
But the ‘colour me impressed’ graphics factor goes off the scale when it comes to the characters. As Batman zips, zooms and glides across Arkham, you’ll spot the inevitable wear and tear on his suit and flesh adding veritas. Characters display subtle nuances of expression. Varied inmates (often tagged with their allegiances, like the Joker’s boys decked out in clown face paint) look criminalised enough to seem a genuine threat. Savouring the emaciation on Two-Face’s ‘ugly side’ is an exercise in awe and disgust. Best of all is the Joker, who has the look of a man falling apart like a Jenga tower. Others, like Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Deadshot, Mr Freeze, Victor Zsasz, Killer Croc and even Batman and Robin have been faithfully recreated with a few modern twists here and there. All-in-all, there is a lot to take in by way of visuals. That is, if you’re not too busy with the actual gameplay…
(ZAP!) Batman: Arkham City’s gameplay
There’s quite a lot to get to grips with in Arkham City, but you’ll get help with on-screen hints and instructions when the situation calls for it. Before you know it, the controls will be of second nature. Much like Arkham Asylum, the control system is a healthy mix of stealth-’em-up, beat-’em-up, gadget-’em-up, shake’n’rattle-’em-up and…er, adventure-’em-up, only on a different terrain. The use of stealth is extremely enjoyable, especially when sneaking up to take out unsuspecting goons. It’s most pleasant to watch the remaining nearby inmates become increasingly nervous as they come across their unconscious comrade’s body, sometimes even shooting at each other if they are the only two left, irrationally declaring “every man for himself” under the paranoid conviction that they are next. At such moments, you can’t help but be compelled to feel that you are fear itself – you are Batman.
It’s also great to use a wide array of combat gadgets like the bat-claw and smoke pellets to evade enemies and strike from the darkness. You have batarangs (standard and remote controlled) and a disruptor to jam enemy guns and laugh at disoriented goons. I could go on about the fun to be had with the gadgets but I’ll leave the rest to you, else this article might need another website, let alone another page.
Arkham City shares the (popular) combat system with its predecessor, Arkham Asylum. Fluid and effective, the combat system consists of two buttons: one for initial attacks and another for countering. It’s mainly about timing, and enjoying the sweet combat animations. Every kick and punch flows as easily as water, and lands as brutally as hard time in jail. You won’t be faulted for thinking you are watching a professionally choreographed piece of cinematic film action up there with combat scenes from Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s big-screen Batman interpretations.
There are several combat features to unlock as you level up, including ‘Detective Mode’ to scan objects and heat signals and the ability to fling batarangs around like a crazed ninja. In fact, combat (as well as stealth) provides a massive chunk of the best parts of the game.
PLAY AS CATWOMAN…
Playing as Catwoman provides a similar experience, but she’s more akin to Spider-Man in a catsuit, being so slick, slender, and dangerously fast. With a flick of that whip she zips from building to building like a spooked cat (I should know, I have three). Because she’s at least 5% more agile than Batman, her combat skills are even more impressive during gameplay. With the addition of gadgets like caltrops (to trip enemies) and bolas (to immobilise them), playing as Catwoman adds a refreshing twist to gameplay.
In addition, there are plenty of main objectives to get through, and further opportunities to level up Batman, like AR training objectives (mainly consisting of gliding challenges where you direct Batman through markers in the correct order). Side objectives sometimes lead to other prominent villians so it’s worth following up on them. And again, you have those fantastic Riddler challenges, which make a much stronger appearance in the game than in Arkham Asylum.
Yeah, the gorgeously animated combat’s a doddle. Too much so, in some cases, whether you’re the Catwoman or Batman. Low-level goons like the packs run by Joker and Penguin respectively are understandably fairly easy to beat, though they’ll present more of a challenge when sporting high-grade guns, gadgets or body armour.
What I don’t understand is why it takes next to no effort to beat the bosses. After Batman’s initial attempt to get at Joker he runs into one-armed goliath Mister Hammer. After the initial satisfying shock of seeing Mister Hammer’s brought a sizeable number of Joker’s goons to the party, it only seems to take a couple of rounds of beatdowns before Mister Hammer’s done for. It takes longer to fend off the accompanying henchmen, for goodness’ sake! Coming across bosses Solomon Grundy and Ra’s Al Ghul presents a more meaty challenge, but only because the battles seem somewhat stretched out.
Otherwise, the AI is generally pretty impressive and keeps the game immersive and strategic.
The background scores in Arkham City are as eerily haunting as they are contrapuntally ambient during the quieter moments: a touch of genius. The tense, menacing soundtrack sets the tone for both moody anticipatory moments and lightning fast action scenes. Hair-raising stuff.
The sound effects are just as brilliant as they were on Arkham Asylum, if not better. Every punch and kick is accompanied by its bone-crunching aural partner to devastating sonic effect. Seriously, the combat sound effects are extremely brutal and realistic to the point that I found myself cringing from the realistic impact (in a good way). Additionally, every door creak is atmpospheric without the cheese and every footstep sounds right, whether you’re running or walking.
The voice acting is also fantastic, Kevin Conroy once again taking up the role of Batman, and Mark Hamill providing the voice of the Joker. And, I have to say, they do a sterling job! A lot of the inmates seem to have the same set of voices with little variety to be found, but all in all it’s a minor quibble and has no adverse effect on the game.
LONGEVITY (…ran out of appropriate onomatopoeiac words)
The core game took me roughly 12 hours to complete. Even after the game is over you’ll have unfinished side objectives to return to, like the Riddler trophies… You’ll also be bursting Joker’s balloons, breaking his wind-up joke teeth strewn across the city, finding the missing GCPD officers held hostage around the city and obtaining all those sexy gadget and weapon upgrades.
If you have an online pass, you’ll also have the Catwoman missions on offer. If that’s still not enough, you’ll enjoy the challenge rooms – mini-missions focused on specific gameplay elements (like achieving goals within time limits). Add the Batman game’s compelling narrative and you’ll most likely be hooked by your bat-claw onto Arkham City for a bit more than 12 hours.
To put it another way: You won’t stop playing even if you want to.
ANY LAST WORDS?
Well, the Playstation 3 playtest is done and now my decision is made. The only highlighted problem was not enough challenge from the level bosses but this pales in comparison to what this game gets right, which is a lot! Batman fans need to play this game, video-game fans need to play this game, comic-book fans need to play this game, even non-Batman/video game/comic book fans need to pl…in fact, even if you’re not a fan of life itself, playing Batman: Arkham City (and even Arkham Asylum before that) needs to be on your ‘Top 1000 Things To Do Before You Die’ list, pronto! Other developers need to take notes from Rocksteady because this is how superhero videogames should be made.
Is this game really ‘a Batman simulator’? You bat-ter believe it. My personal rating? A solid 9/10.
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