Saturday, November 26, 2011

QUICK REVIEW- Batman: Arkham City

Haven't posted in a little while, but I'm still doing better than October! And now I have plenty more things to write about, by which I actually mean I have maybe three more games to write about. So first up is Batman: Arkham City.
Arkham City is the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum, and shifts the focus of the game to a more open world. In Arkham Asylum, inmates have taken over the asylum and Batman goes in to sort things out. Arkham City takes place several months later, and Mayor Quincy Sharp has sectioned off a portion of Gotham City to become the new Arkham Asylum. Bruce Wayne is campaigning against Arkham City when he is arrested and thrown into the asylum. Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, and sets out to take out the super-villains causing trouble in Arkham City, and to stop the dastardly plans of the new warden of the asylum, Hugo Strange. The story is still linear, but now there are more sidequests, and a much wider area for collectibles to be hidden in.

The story of Arkham City is interesting, with a very large mix of Batman villains getting caught up in the mix. However, though many villains show up, a lot of the appearances are very brief, and it frequently feels like the villain was included for the sake of inclusion. In particular, I feel like Two-Face was rather heavily featured in the advertisements, but only shows up at the very beginning, after which he apparently disappears. He does return in the Catwoman content, but only once at the very end, and in an entirely unsatisfying way. As a second 'however', though, each villain's character is portrayed amazingly, even with the short screen-time given. And as a second 'in particular', Penguin very quickly left me feeling disgusted at his sadism, while the battle with Ra's al Ghul is extremely cinematic. I don't feel like the campaign is particularly long (but then, I am currently in the middle of playing Skyrim), but there is a scattering of sidequests available, many of them featuring villains from Arkham Asylum.
As for gameplay, Arkham City takes what Arkham Asylum does well and adds more to it. Fighting flows beautifully when you're in hand to hand combat, and it feels amazing to rack up immense combos while fighting off hordes of enemies. Multiple enemies can be countered simultaneously now, making larger groups of enemies more manageable. A couple new types of enemies have been added, such as ones carrying sharp weapons, ones with body armor, and ones with riot shields, to force the player to mix things up even more. Most of Batman's gadgets can now be used on the fly with a simple button combination, allowing a much greater variety in combo possibilities, which makes the overall combat system much deeper and considerably more difficult to master. It is entirely possible to get through the game by mashing mostly the attack and counter buttons, but to do it stylishly and still avoid taking lots of damage takes a lot of work and feels immensely satisfying.

The stealth sections also have added several new elements to the mix. Enemies in these sections also come in more varieties now. Infrared goggles allow thugs to scan a vantage point to see if Batman is hiding there, some thugs will place mines that only detonate when triggered by Batman, and some even have signal jammers that prevent the absolutely crucial detective vision from functioning properly. As a stealth game fan, I personally loved every single one of these segments, and honestly I think that they don't happen enough in the game. While thugs with guns do appear more frequently on the overworld near the end of the game, taking out a group of thugs with guns while outside feels significantly different from taking out a group of them while inside a building. Because of this, I feel like the focus of the game shifted more towards hand to hand combat than stealth, while I remember Arkham Asylum as a more equal blend of both.
And finally, the replay value. Arkham City is absolutely immense, and there are hundreds of Riddler challenges to complete, scattered all over the world. Riddler trophies can require quite a range of gadgets to acquire (those that Batman can't yet acquire can be tagged and marked on the map), and some are only available for Catwoman to collect. To help with obtaining every single collectible, Riddler informants are randomly thrown in with groups of thugs. If Batman can take out every other thug before the informant, he can then interrogate the informant to discover the locations of a few Riddler challenges. After beating the game, a New Game Plus mode is unlocked, which puts Batman at the start of the game with all upgrades and gadgets intact. Thugs come in larger and more complicated combinations, and the counter icon that appears over an enemy's head disappears. And finally, there are challenge maps, where the player can pick one of the characters (Batman, Catwoman, Robin, and Nightwing) to take on waves of unarmed enemies (earning points for performance and medals for reaching point thresholds), or clear a room of armed enemies (earning medals for taking out a thug in a particular way). Basically, you can play Arkham City for as long as you could possibly want.

So in case you couldn't tell yet, Batman: Arkham City is an amazing game. The story is exciting and the characters are interesting. The hand to hand fighting is fluid and the stealth gameplay makes you really feel like a predator stalking the darkness. And there is more than enough content to keep you playing for weeks. There are some flaws, but it does so much more right, which makes Arkham City possibly the greatest comic book game yet created.

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