Wednesday, November 16

Batman Arkham City Review (PS3): Heroes deserve a city, not a sandbox

Batman: Arkham Asylum was the genuine surprise of 2009. Street Fighter IV may have reinvigorated a genre, and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves may have taken most of the gongs, but Arkham Asylum held a special place in my heart as the first game that genuinely allowed for players to walk in the boots of the Dark Knight.  Two years on, and again I’m in the cape and cowl. Will Rocksteady’s effort prove to be as successful and impressive as the first?  

The Good 
Self-contained lore – There’s no way you can honour continuity with an intellectual property as storied and as cherished as Batman. Rocksteady have built on their unique narrative and art direction in Arkham City. The important “facts” are all there in each character’s bio, but with both instalments of the Arkham franchise, the developers have forged their own, compelling version of Batman’s universe.  

 I make this look good.

Bright lights, big city – Arkham City is truly a sight to behold, with imposing architecture, blaring neon signs, and almost nothing in the way of technical hitches. I can only think of one time where the frame rate stuttered, and that just happened to be during one of the more elaborate set pieces. 

Sounds like a movie – The quality of the score in Arkham City is unmatched. I could listen to the menu theme for hours and not grow tired of the cinema-quality orchestral arrangement. The piece that plays after dispatching a whole detachment with stealth takedowns was simply hair-raising. An aural triumph!  

Signposting – With the sole exception of the epilogue, Catwoman’s part in the adventure is well worth experiencing. If you choose to buy the game used, you really should lay down the extra cash to get the full experience. Without those brief sequences, the transition between acts would be jarring to say the least.   

The Bad 
That was awkward – The player-controlled Batman is infinitely more-awkward than that of the Batman in print. The jerky camera made climbing some structures a lot harder than it ought to be. The camera, at times, switches clumsily between the tighter angle used to great effect in the predominately-indoor environments of Arkham Asylum, and a zoomed-out perspective for open world travel; the transition between the two can be disorienting at times. 

The bigger they are –Arkham Asylum’s boss fights were tough and fraught with tension. Arkham City’s offerings by comparison rarely register above manageable. The stealth battle against Mr Freeze is the exception, but the majority of these encounters are easier than a fight against a group of some of the better-equipped thugs. 

The Ugly 
How do I do that? – There are a ridiculous amount of gadgets in Arkham City and - in all honesty - not all of them are needed. I used the Line Launcher a grand total of five times; I used other tools even less than that. Then there are all the extra combos and button combinations to remember for complex combat situations as well. Next time, we need a better means of gadget selection, and maybe – gasp – fewer abilities to remember.  

Not everyone’s a winner – While Rocksteady’s team have hit the right notes with most of the Rogues Gallery, I can’t help but feel as though Two-Face and Penguin felt a bit too much like generic gangster types. One of my favourite Bat books is The Long Halloween, where Harvey Dent is this tragic, mysterious character. Arkham City’s Two-Face, however, is a Cagney-esque caricature.      

 Get into character!

Fizzer – I don’t intend to spoil anything, but the final chapters of both Batman and Catwoman's adventures are so terribly disappointing, and end so abruptly, as to almost derail the entire experience.  

The Verdict 
Despite all of the twists and thrills, I walked away from Arkham Asylum feeling deeply disappointed. The sights and sounds of the prison city were often breathtaking, but the little things did their best to detract from the experience as a whole. Sure, my graceless movement and inability to adapt to the needlessly-complex controls may not be an issue for others, but I wasn’t as taken with this second effort as I thought I would be. Bottom line: Arkham City is bigger, bolder, but not necessarily better than Arkham Asylum. Still, the game comes highly recommended.

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