Game: Batman: Arkham City

Genre: Action/Adventure, Beat ‘em Up

Developer: Rocksteady Studios

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Platform: PS3, PC, Xbox 360

Score: You’re the Goddamn Batman… again.

A prison-island filled with criminals and mental patients is no match for The Bat. What about an entire city filled with criminals and mental patients?  Nope, Bat still wins – with some help – and what a damn good gaming experience it makes.

Rocksteady Studios attempts an interesting, explorative advance with the second Batman title, Batman: Arkham City.  The aptly named sequel tries to push the envelope while recapturing the magic of the first.  They don’t quite pull it off, but the game’s great – worth the full retail price.  Hours of fun, exploration, combat, gadgets, platform based puzzles, The God-Damn Batman.  It’s all there. It just doesn’t surpass its predecessor.  I’m impressed they tried, though.

The most immediate change noticed will occur before the game’s wrapper is even cracked.  Arkham City inexplicably earned a mature rating.  The previous title got the job done with a Teen label.  Normally I might call the ESRB rating on a video game a non-point.  However, anyone in the entertainment business knows that the less mature your rating, the broader your market, and more money you make.  PG-13 movies gross more at the Box Office than R, Teen games make more money than Mature.  Why would a company, on purpose, try to make less money?  Then I got to the Catwoman scenes. Her ass cannot be contained by a mere teen rating.  That thing is mature.  And I suppose it was possible that Paul Dini’s story became grimmer and necessarily more graphic with time.

Horrible, isn’t it?

Upon beginning the game, it became clear that the mature rating is almost exclusively due to the unfiltered profanity coming from just about every thug in the city at all times.  No seriously, these criminals swear more than a prep cook. It’s forced, tiresome, and lame. The fact that there’s violence is a convenient afterthought for censorship Nazis.  There’s certainly no blood or guts; just your standard video game fare.  I’d hear arguments for “horror themes” pushing this game closer to mature but who knows what really goes on in the minds of the folks at the ESRB (apart from a cash register noise, and near sexual gratification for imposing prudish values on art).  The very stylistic art takes well known Batman villains in an, at times, gruesome direction.  Unless it’s the awesome art making this game mature, the swearing isn’t an improvement on the first.

Arkham City itself is one of the handicaps this game has over the first.  While the environment looks duly grim, it feels cluttered – and not in a good way.  If you want to simply drop into the alley below you’ll find yourself clipping on unseen ledges or leaping to a building mere feet away.  It can be frustrating when you’re on one of the many timed side missions.  Furthermore, this game lacks one of the major necessities of an open-world platformer – a method of getting from one end of the city to the other in a more efficient way.  The Infamous series, for instance, allowed for you to surf power lines and railroad tracks to get around the city.  I can’t count the number of times I found myself wondering why Batman couldn’t just use his car.

Not a bad view

The open-world platforming is further crippled by cumbersome gliding controls.  Unless you’re dive bombing a thug in need of some chin music (done simply by holding a button), the controls for Batman to glide via his cape are just bad.  Turning Batman into Pilot Wings any time he needs to cape somewhere is not fun.  There is a special kind of hell for the man responsible for tacking hang-glider controls onto Batman.  “Here’s a puzzle: fly lower to get higher, also watch out for low hanging walls and balloons and shit.”  Burn.

My one true (non-nitpicky) gameplay complaint for Batman: Akham City is the return of the ‘hold a button to run’ control.  This is a beat ‘em up, not Mario Bros (and even Nintendo did away with that in the N64 era).  Push to run has been obsolete since the analog stick. There are bad guys and combat.  The default setting, without pushing a button, is for Batman to sluggishly John Wayne his way toward a clown with a Gatling gun?  Come on guys. Why not free up a button for another use and relieve some headache at the same time? We complained about this in the first game.  Two games, you’re being a dick on purpose now.

That’s several paragraphs of criticism for this gameplay, so what’s good?  Everything else.  The combat is as stylish as ever.  Batman has some new moves and a new arsenal (with old favorites returning) and just about every gadget received a quick control for in combat.  My personal favorite new combat trick is the “explodie gel front flip.”  There’s tons more trophies to find and Riddler has really upped his with the variance of puzzles you’ll have to solve.   The interior maps of buildings are superbly designed and lack the gameplay flaws of the open-world.  In fact, if the open-world didn’t feel so rushed most of the bad design would disappear.

That brings me to storytelling.  The main story has you pinning the mainstream villains against each other to find a cure for some TITAN related disease, while figuring out who Dr. Hugo Strange is, and how he knows the secret identity of Batman.  It’s told well and my only real criticism is that, unlike the first game, you sort of rush through most of the villains and have very little time to truly appreciate them.  The bulk of the story has to do with The Joker, and rightfully so.  Unlike the first game, Batman will encounter other heroes in cutscenes throughout the game.  The addition of a supporting cast to interact with enhances the immersion of the game.  Many of the characters such as Robin, Catwoman, and Nightwing are playable with the purchase of DLC.

I’m thankful the Scarecrow scenes from the first weren’t regurgitated for the sequel.  That style of play is replaced by several sidequest villains and an amazing Wonder City (a R’as Al Ghul) segment.

All of the negatives addressed are gripes at best.  Arkham City is a good game.  If you’re in the mood for a solid beat ‘em up with hours of exploration or just feel like playing as The Goddamn Batman, pick this one up.  (Assuming you haven’t already).

 

This game was reviewed on the PS3.