Monday, October 24, 2011

The Best Superhero Game Gets Better... The Batman: Arkham City Review

Note: The following gameplay videos might contain spoilers, so watch at your own risk.

Batman: Arkham Asylum came out of nowhere in 2009. Yeah, it has Batman in it, but no one expected it to be that amazing considering the track record with games based on popular comic book heroes. Not only the developers Rocksteady created something special with that game, they set new standards with its combat system and nailing down how it truly feels to be the Caped Crusader. They're at it again with Arkham City to make things bigger and better. It is basically a by-the-numbers sequel with incremental improvements, but it doesn't mean it is a bad thing. Those who loved Arkham Asylum's presentation and storyline will be at love with Arkham City from beginning to end as Rocksteady does it again nailing down the important thing that matters with games like these: actually being Batman and the badass he is.

Arkham City takes place six months after the events of Arkham Asylum as the prisoners have moved to a new prison closer to Gotham, which explains the title of this sequel. Hugo Strange has big plans for this new location being the owner of it as the beginning starts off with a twist that I won't spoil. It is up to Batman to stop Strange's Protocol Ten plan from going down, but with his infamous villains such as The Joker, Penguin, and Mister Freeze still roaming around the area, he has his work cut out for him as you figure out how all these villains are connected to the main storyline. Then there's also Catwoman thrown in the mix as well as she is playable only you downloaded the online pass that comes with new copies of the game. Those without an online connection are out of luck seeing how she fits into the equation as the whole issue surrounding that can be debated in another time. Playing through the entire story is one crazy experience seeing how all these villains are thrown together into one huge game and its filled with unexpected twists and turns I didn't see coming. While some villains might not get some attention or have a bigger role as much of other villains as some of them just make a cameo appearance, its still nice to see them in some capacity in Arkham City.

The core gameplay that Arkham Asylum established is still intact in this sequel. The freeflow combat system is still as good as it was, but the little improvements are great additions to Batman's disposal. You can still mash your way through these fights, but keeping your multiplier alive still makes it deep when you mix things up. What I mean is when you use your gadgets and other special takedowns than just normal strikes. Timing critical strikes is key and quickfiring your gadgets have been improved significantly. As you progress through the game, enemies will get better with their weaponry from knives to guns as when encountering armed foes, Batman needs to be more careful as a smoke pellet can do only so much when escaping. Even though most of his gadgets are unlocked from the get go, the game does a good job of telling you when its the right time certain items are used in battle or just to transverse to the next area. Grappling and gliding from one area of the city to another is fun as well with some improvements done to those mechanics as well such as dive bombing to extend your glide. Along with the freeflow system, there's also the predator combat system as well returning from the last game. One of the flaws from Asylum was about detective mode and how it became essentially a win button of sorts when picking off enemies one by one grappling from one gargoyle to another. Detective mode is still in and the same, but you don't need it as much as you would back in the original. You can still use to plan out your attack and check how the environment can be your friend as well. Eventually enemies will become smarter in later encounters when detective mode can not be as useful and them using thermal vision to track your whereabouts. There is no other franchise than this one nailing down what it is truly like to be the Batman and with the little improvements, it just gets better.

One of the big things promised in Arkham City is supposed to be how more open-ended it was to be than the original. Asylum was also remembered for being Batman in a Metroidvania-like game (structured like Metroid Prime & Castlevania: Symphony of the Night), but in 3D. The structure still holds true here in a sense as there are side missions and collect-a-thons to distract you from continuing the main story, but turns out it wasn't as open-ended people hoped it would be tackling different areas in a different order. The main path is pretty linear if you focus just on that and beat the game in normally a dozen hours. Of course, it takes longer to 100% the game with the Riddler trophies/challenges to collect and side missions to deal with. There's also a new game plus option once you beaten the game to start off with your gadgets intact, but the counter indicators from enemies is off. As with the last game, challenge rooms are back in Arkham City for combat and predator sections. Along with that, there are campaigns that mix the two together in a string of events to add into the absurd amount of replay value.

Graphically, Arkham City looks as good if not slightly better than Asylum. The character models are great from top and bottom especially seeing Batman's status of his suit change from the beginning of the game to the end. The urban environments are a change of pace compared to the island from the last game as you can only go inside certain buildings that are significant for the main story and side missions. While the framerate is consistently smooth at 30 frames per second, I did run into numerous freezing issues during my time with the game where I had to reset the console (it even froze during the last boss fight for example). The sound is still as top-notch as it was last time from the amazing voice acting to the soundtrack. Kevin Conroy reprises his role as Batman from the animated series as well as Mark Hamill's amazing job voicing the Joker, but the rest of the voice cast is great too as fanservice. At this rate, it is never a Batman game or even the cartoon unless Conroy is voicing the Caped Crusader himself.

While Arkham City feels like a by-the-numbers sequel that kept it safe, the little improvements and change of setting still made the best superhero game better. The freeflow combat system remains unmatched by most action games in the market today as well as nailing the true essence of being a character like Batman. The replay value is just absurd with the amount of collectables, easter eggs, new game plus, and challenge rooms to complete that will keep players busy for weeks and even months with downloadable content of more playable characters. Some promises however didn't come as people expected and my personal freezing issues prevent it from pure perfection, but it is still one of the best games of the year and a masterpiece you can't miss out on.

Score = 9.5/10

  • The true feeling of being Batman gets better
  • Freeflow combat system still as good as it was and unmatched compared to most of today's games
  • Storyline full of unexpected twists and turns making it one of the best single-player experiences I played through in a while
  • Crazy amount of replay value that will keep players busy for weeks
  • Not as open-ended as some hoped it would be (still structured similarly to Asylum)
  • Game freezing issues I personally experienced
  • The Catwoman online pass debacle - if you don't have an online connection, you're out of luck.

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