HOLY GAMING DREAM COME TRUE BATMAN!
If you were able to read my preview article on this game, you’ll understand I wasn’t exactly dreading Batman: Arkham City’s release unto the world. But here, right here, is an ACTUAL review, and due to me covering the premise of the game in said preview, I can take a little more time going on and on about what exactly Rocksteady have done to be able consume my life so effectively with their latest release.
So, Batman: AC takes an interesting turn straight off the bat, ‘Arkham City’, the expansion of the Asylum prison into a full, cordoned off area of Gotham, is in full effect, and all of the city’s most evil and feared are all rounded up into one, EVIL district. But Batman isn’t there out of choice, his alter ego Bruce Wayne has been incarcerated into the very facility. He comes face to face with Hugo Strange, a man who knows Batman’s true identity and the perpetrator of the building of Arkham City . He speaks of something called “Protocol 10”, throws you into the arms of Penguin’s thugs, and then you’re on your own. This was a great way to start the game off, already you’re buzzing with questions and in the deep end of the pool of jeopardy, with only the basic gadgets you had from the last game to offer buoyancy.
The gameplay itself feels almost flawless this time around; somehow improving on the near-seamless experience that was Asylum. You have so many ways to travel around the city, although the fastest way (like in most cases) is to fly. Simply use the grappling hook to scale a building in unprecedented time, take a leap of faith and let your cape and stupid gravity do the rest. To speed up, all you’ve got to do is free fall and pull up before hitting the ground. This, the first time you use it, is tricky to pull off to any impressive effect, but stay patient with it, because once you have, hot DAMN do you feel awesome, your cape begins to feel like an extension of your own body. You feel a lot less confined, and it seems easier to leave your foes wondering where you’ve scampered off to, should you realise you haven’t nearly enough health to take on their fire power. It’s the way Batman is always supposed to have been, surveying the night’s streets from the view of some ferocious looking gargoyle.
The combat has a received a jolly bit of finely tuning as well, in the last game, whilst fun it felt almost too easy. Hit x. Again. Again. Again. Now Y. This time it feels like everything is knitted together so much better. You’ll take on a group of three thugs and think, “that was pretty cool”, but when you take on 20 or so, you pull off all sorts of moves that make you shit your pants and believe in God. Apologies for the bluntness, but it feels that way. It becomes so intoxicating that you pray for a large group of henchmen to come and assault you, carrying that unholstered arrogance in knowing that not one of them is going to be walking home. Your counters are so much more impressive, nothing gives you a thrill bigger than seeing three counter indicators pop up around your head. The moves just flow from one to the other so seamlessly that you’ll run the risk of being hit simply by being mesmerised by the onscreen action. On the flip side however, you have to be very careful to watch that you don’t become too excited, because if you hit attack or counter and there is nothing to hit, you lose your entire combo, which almost takes away from the fun you were having. It’s a strategic affair, coercing you to watch what’s happening and react specifically and accordingly, which is what you have to do if you want to look like a badass. Which you do. The integration of quick triggers, shortcuts for your gadgets, feels very polished, and allows you to maintain your combo and take out a couple more of the assailants if you’re becoming overwhelmed. These combat improvements have actually made me want to do the combat challenge maps, something I veered from in Asylum. It’s an aspect of the game that really keeps you thinking, “OK, just one more hour.”
The stealth element comes into full swing here too, whereas previously the stealth levels became so repetitive you really didn’t fancy taking them on anymore. Whilst you are going up and up and up through your levels, the thugs get almost as kitted out as you to try and bring your fancy-dressed ass down. We’re talking heat vision goggles, a signal interferer to take out your detective mode, all sorts of tomfoolery. It means you have to think smarter, you can’t just sit on top of the gargoyles and do inverted take downs over and over again. This creates a much more rewarding feel to the entire stealth aspect. My only real complaint is that during the main game stealth levels, even with these suped up convicts, it can be just a bit too easy; the only times I died were when I became impatient and decided to experiment with a couple of particularly risky moves. Within the challenge maps however, you can set different hindrances to make it that much harder, such as an impenetrable attribute that moves from villain to villain. So if you feel the stealth in the game isn’t giving you the challenge you’ve been hoping for, just jump into the challenge maps for more behind the shadows fun. And I don’t mean that in a Roman Polanski kind of way. Or do I.
Arkham City really feels never ending at points, with so many high-ranking super villains wandering around, the wealth of dynamically appearing side missions and the AR training challenges, you end up doing a juggling act to try and keep on top of everything. At one point, I was heading to the museum to solve a riddle a Riddler informant mentioned to me in passing whilst we were discussing the political ramifications of the conflicting Governments of Gotham; but due to pesky phones ringing, assassinations and faceless corpses, it took me two hours. So if you just perform the main story missions, I imagine you’ll charge through the game in a handful of hours, but where’s the fun in that? I set out to try and do as much of this game as possible, and was greatly rewarded, by seeing Mr Freeze, Penguin, Deadshot, Mad Hatter, hell, I even found Scarecrow’s hide out. This is a game that rewards you in exploration, in digging a little deeper. The Catwoman levels offer up even more substance and an interesting change of pace. I enjoyed her combat and stealth levels, but if I’m being honest, I hated moving through the city as her, it seemed so much more of a pain, you can’t just whip to the top of a building, you have to whip part way up, and climb. You don’t have the ability to glide, to have to hope a building is near by to grab onto. Now this was very much accurate to how Catwoman would do things, but to me, it took away from the momentum I’d had building throughout the rest of the game prior to her levels. It was a great addition as far as adding variety, but I found the moving from one part of the city to another as her hard to gel with.
Over all, Arkham City has improved on a game that, essentially, wasn’t in desperate need of improving anyway. It’s expansive by acres and somehow more poignant. The leap to an open-world dynamic is a difficult one, and it’s easy for such a game to become diluted amongst an avalanche of disorientated options. City doesn’t do that, it keeps tight hold of its assets, assures you see it all, rewards you for your inquisitive, explorative nature and wraps the whole package up in a thrilling narrative and ‘liquid combat’ infused gameplay. It has made the combat feel so slick and fluid that you want to make it harder for yourself, the stealth are even sneakier, and the riddler trophies a damn site harder. I must say, I loved tracking down that green rat, but was disappointed that after taking out all of the riddles, trophies and breakable objects and didn’t receive an achievement, but hey, maybe I’m just being petty. Overall if you’re after batnerdgasming yourself into an early grave, this game is for you. If you like to throw yourself into a challenge when you think you’ve done it all (‘Newgame+’, the option unlocked after your first completion, lets you do just that – it hurts.) Click that “Buy Now” button on all good websites. Whatever your juxtaposition with game-related mayhem this Holiday season, Arkham City is worthy of a place in literally everyone’s game collection. Ever. Get it on your Christmas list.
Respawn in…5 Score 96%