Friday, December 30, 2011

Batman: Arkham City

Some people didn't seem to be into this game as much as they were into Batman: Arkham Asylum a couple years ago, but I think the only real difference is that this game wasn't a surprise. People were blown away to play a super hero game that actually captured the essence of being that hero and was a fun experience to boot, and despite doing it even better this time around, a lot of Arkham City is more of the same. The biggest change is obviously in the environment. Rather than exploring the grounds of a large prison complex, you're gliding and grappling your way through a larger city area. Most of the time you end up entering various buildings that end up feeling much like the different locations in Asylum, but there's enough to do outside that the game does end up feeling different.

The main gameplay remains essentially intact, though. You will alternate between investigating crime scenes, using your gadgets to traverse obstacles, and taking on groups of thugs. Those thugs will either be armed, which means you have to use the environment to sneak up on them or take them by surprise, or not, which means you can beat the crap out of them with the game's smooth and always-interesting melee combat system. You basically start the game with all of the gear you had last time and then add even more on top of that, so while it's easy to get overwhelmed and even totally ignore certain equipment, it all ends up being pretty useful if you try it out, and it really sells the idea that you are Batman, along with your ability to instill fear in and then cripple your opponents.

While Arkham Asylum featured a wide variety of familiar faces if you're at all a fan of Batman, Arkham City almost goes too far with bringing out all the villains and allies you can think of. Basically everyone is back fro the first game with a small exception or two, and there are plenty of new ones added in. It threatens to become too much and muddle the story, but luckily enough of the characters are limited to cameos or side content that the game never loses sight of its main plot. It's actually kind of a surprisingly short game considering the scope of its world and the number of characters, especially if you don't spend a lot of time fiddling with the endless supply of Riddler challenges. The critical path probably takes less than ten hours, though it's a lot of fun while it lasts, digging deeper into Batman's character, the history of Gotham, and how exactly the people in charge agreed to section off a part of town and hand it over to Hugo Strange in the first place. It's all kind of silly, but it fits in with the game's unique combination of the sillier and grittier sides of the Batman franchise.

Though the boss fights once again often revolve around either large groups of enemies, an unreasonably huge villain, or both, this time they bothered to make each one unique and actually have their own methods to take them out, which is a big improvement. By removing the one significant flaw the original game had, you could say it's a superior product, though I didn't really feel like it was better, just tweaked and a bit more refined. They did add a new annoyance too, with having to download the Catwoman content, and if you don't have a new copy, you'll have to pay for it. You can finish the game without playing as Catwoman, but it will create gaps in the story, and you won't be able to collect certain Riddler trophies or see a couple of the villains. Actually playing as Catwoman is fine, as she has some unique abilities that make up for the other things she can't do, though I can't say I was ever particularly thrilled when one of her missions came up. The game definitely goes a bit too far with making her a sex object, too. You can make a character alluring without having every line out of her mouth be a double entendre.

The world of Arkham City itself is a somewhat interesting one, and it changes over time as things get worse off for the people inside. I can't say I liked the design of the city itself, which due to its central area being locked off except for an underground path through, takes on a horseshoe shape which is a bit annoying to navigate when you just want to get somewhere quickly. I also thought it could have been easier to locate side missions - I only finished about half of them, with no indication anywhere on how to advance the others besides just scouring the whole place. Just flying around as Batman though is fun, and it's a very well polished game for the open world genre. It's maybe a bit limited compared to other games of the same type, but it's a fair enough trade off. It seems mostly like they just wanted to make another Batman game but thought they needed something to point to so they could advertise how much bigger and better it is, and luckily the increased scope doesn't damage the main game, besides maybe cutting it a bit short. The important thing is you get to be Batman again, and that's still a lot of fun.

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