?Let me start out by saying I would infinitely prefer to be playing Batman: Arkham City instead of reviewing it. In fact, it’s almost painful to be sitting here writing about it when I could be kicking the bejeezus out of thugs, stalking the rooftops of Arkham City, and searching for those sweet, sweet Riddler trophies. But since my boss bought me the game, I guess I’d better review it.
What’s weird is that it’s hard to articulate why the game is so good. I think that’s because a large part of what it does right is by not fixing what wasn’t broken in Arkham Asylum. In AA, the fighting was smooth, simple and spectacular — in AC, it’s moreso, with more fight animations, more gadgets to use in fights, and the ability to combo counter multiple villains at once (I once picked up a thug, spun around and used him to smack three other thugs, then tossed him across the room. It was divine). The stealth missions in AA were awesome and gave you a multitude of ways to take out goons from the shadows; in AC, it’s the same thing but inside of being confined to one room, you’re doing it in the massive expanse of Arkham City. In AA, the Riddler had hidden 240 trophies for OCD gamers to find; now there are 400, but after you find them you often have to figure out how to get them, perform certain feats, and, occasionally, out-think Riddler’s death traps.
Arkham City is Arkham Asylum cranked up to 11 in every way, and it
almost entirely works. The massive city provides a much more immersive
Batman experience, because instead of going from room to room either
beating up bad guys or stealth-annihilating them, you’re in one
environment that contains probably a couple hundred bad guys at any
moment, many with guns, and it’s entirely your choice how — or if — to
take them out (while there are a few buildings to enter, a few are huge, the
rest are pretty small). The other thing that’s been massively improved
are the boss fights. In AA, there were pretty much only two — Titan
thugs and Scarecrow. In AC, almost every villain you’ve seen (and there
have been a lot), has his own unique boss battle, which makes AC a lot
more satisying than its predecessor.
Ironically, AC‘s biggest problem is actually that it’s too big. First of
all, at least on the Xbox 360 version, the game would frequently have
to stop and reload when I was racing across Arkham City (which a side
mission requires you to do a lot of) — and I had bad skipping during
some of the cutscenes for some reason; installing the game to my hard
drive fixed both those issues, though. The other aspect of AC being so
deep is that it sometimes can be really hard to figure out what to do
next in the game, a problem multiplied by there being so many gadgets to
work with. It’s more problematic at the beginning, when you see a
million different things and aren’t sure if you should be able to access
them yet. For instance, there are a few automatic sentry turrets
hanging around. Would you think to: 1) Use a freezebomb to freeze it? 2)
Use your Batclaw to pull it down? 3) Use the cryptographic sequencer to
hack it? 4) Throw a smoke pellet to hide yourself from it? 5) Stun it
with the Remote Electrical Charge Gun? 6) Decide it’s impossible and
there must be another way around it? All of those sound reasonable, but the
answer is in fact: 7) Use the Disrupter. How anyone would possibly
know that — especially before you get the Disrupter and thus know it
exists — without insane trial and error is beyond me. There are more than a few
instances where I was unsure how to progress and had to dick around
using all the gadgets in many different ways and places hoping to
stumble upon what the game was looking for.
Now, this is also true in terms of the Riddler trophies, but I think
that’s awesome because now the trophies require a lot more thinking.
Trying to figure out the right combination — heck, even the right
parameters — to get each trophy makes them a lot more fun to get. There were a few that were so baffling I needed internet help, but only 5 of 400,
which isn’t bad. The trophies that actually involve deathtraps — where
you have 30 seconds to solve it or die — were so massively satisfying I
wish there had been more. Oh! And instead of Riddler maps to find the trophies’ locations, you now have to interrogate Riddler goons, marked in green in detective mode, which are everywhere around the city. To do this, you have to leave the Riddler goon standing and dispose of the other guys first (sometimes fighting, sometimes stealth). It’s incredibly statisying to see a green thug, pick off his friends and then mercilessly stalk him for info.
I’ve beaten the main story and most of the side missions (you’d have to
work hard to avoid the side missions, so don’t sweat starting them, at
least). I haven’t played New Game Plus yet, but I have done a few of the
Challenges. Like AA, there are 6 fighting challenges (with four rounds
each), 6 stealth challenges (with three conditions each) and all 12 have
extreme modes. Arkham City includes a campaign challenge mode, which is
like the Batman triathlon: One stealth challenge, followed by one
fighting challenge — all four rounds! — followed by another stealth
challenge. You get three tries. There are 12 of these things. I’d say
the main story mode took me about 20 hours; add in the side missions, 400 Riddler trophies to find and solve,
all the challenges and New Game Plus, Arkham City does not skimp on the
One other thing I loved — the story. I’ve heard a lot of people complain about the ending, but I liked it. First of all, the entire game is very much a direct sequel to the events of Arkham Asylum, i.e., Joker’s still poisoned by the Titan formula, etc. Some crazy shit happens that does make AC essentially its own Elseworlds tale — meaning it certainly doesn’t happen in regular Bat-continuity — but it worked for me. Also, if you do some of the side missions, there is very clearly an Arkham Noun 3 coming, so let’s just say I’m pretty sure the story isn’t over.
What else can I say? If you liked Arkham Asylum, you’ll love Arkham City. If you loved Arkham Asylum, you’ll lose your shit over Arkham City. I did. I am.