Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: Batman Arkham City

Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Available 11/15)
Rating: Teen (Alcohol Reference, Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence)
Reviewed on: Xbox 360

RockSteady software have built themselves a solid reputation over the years.  They basically stepped into the gaming scene with Arkham Asylum, and made a huge splash.  Two years later, they release the asylum's sequel, Batman Arkham City.  I've spent the past week in this game, and let me say that the Game of the Year options this year are going to be tough to decide.

Sadly, the caped crusader has been plagued with bad games for years.  RockSteady aimed to change that with Arkham Asylum, and passed with flying colors.  They knew that they needed to build upon what worked in the original, but still make Arkham City feel like it's on a platform all its own.  I really feel like the did that.

Arkham City starts off in a way that you certainly wouldn't expect, and rightly so.  Six months have passed since the riot at Arkham Asylum, and now it's a full city.  Dr. Hugo Strange is in charge, and, well...you'll just have to play the game yourself to get the story.  I can honestly say that I was not expecting the ending when it came up.  Wow... You are in for quite the surprise.  The story, villains, and dialogue are all very well crafted, and the side missions make you second-guess continuing the main story arc.  The completionist in me wants to get everything, even if it's not available to me yet.

Batman's not the only playable character in the city.  On again, off again lover Selena Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman, makes an appearance in four sections.  She, too, has her share of predator and combat pieces, but her fighting style is more than just a character skin change.  She uses caltrops, bolas, and her ever trusty whip to augment her scratch and pummel fighting style.  Honestly, I like Catwoman's fighting style over Batman's, and I really hope RockSteady leverages this avenue in the future.  She certainly has her own intentions in Arkham City, and it's difficult to tell what they are in this game.  I hope that a DLC mission or campaign pack will shed more light on this topic.  She really could be in her own game, and not one tied to a s***y movie.

Sing it, B!
Now, combat and gadgets are where the game really shows its changes.  You have a ton more gadgets at your disposal in this new game,  and I don't think I ever ignored one item or another.  The quick fire gadgets definitely change up the combat, and the new "beatdown" technique is awesome stuff, too.  As always, there are upgrades to all your gadgets, and they go the distance.  One thing I didn't like was separating bullet armor from combat armor.  In essence, your total health never changed, but if you didn't upgrade one part over another and find yourself in a situation where you can't get out due to quick-saves or whatever, you're basically hosed.  There's really no two ways about it.  I had quite a few of those instances.  The combat still has that rhythmic flow to it, just like Arkham Asylum.  There are new takedown techniques added to the Dark Knight's repertoire, and new ways enemies will interact with their environment when fighting you.  For example, a thug might pick up a propane tank to throw at you.  If you counter correctly, you'll catch that propane tank and throw it back at him.  Enemies will also attack you in groups now, which opens up new counter possibilities as well.  One of my favorite examples is when two thugs attack from the front.  Batman grabs them by the neck, and choke slams the both of them at the same time.  It's really cool like that.

The new gadgets definitely come in handy with the predator scenarios.  New gadgets include weapon disruptors, smoke balls, ice charges, and a remote electrical device.  This bad boy can power up electric motors, spook thugs while in predator mode (tons of fun, by the way), and even make magnets work!  There were a few moments where I was just bored, and spent ten minutes spooking thugs.  If the thug is armed with a gun, they'll jerk around and start firing indiscriminately for a few seconds.  This will spook nearby thugs, who will wonder what the heck just happened.  The reactions are good for a laugh when you need it.  The smoke balls can be used in a pinch to escape gunfire, or to create a diversion to sneak in a silent takedown.  The enemies are a lot smarter this time around, so this tech comes in handy a lot.  Some thugs carry thermal goggles, which they use to scan the gargoyles above.  This means getting away from that son of a gun and taking him out as soon as possible.  Other thugs will carry radio jammers that break your detective mode.  You have to take them out quick, or the entire mission becomes a lot harder.  Back in Arkham Asylum, the thugs weren't particularly bright.  If you downed an enemy, they'd search nearby, but that was about it.  This time around, they'll search near a fallen comrade's body, which means tossing a grenade into a vent to flush you out or checking vantage points and shooting them out so you can't use them any more.  The challenge is welcome, and appreciated.  It makes for a more realistic experience.
My reaction when I saw the thugs shoot out a gargoyle

The challenge mode makes a comeback, and includes all the staples from Arkham Asylum.  New to Arkham City, however, are campaigns.  While I have not done any of those, they are on my list of things to do.  The come after New Game Plus, combat and predator challenges, and hard mode.  Somehow, I'll get around to the campaigns...

Now that I've gushed about everything I loved about the game, and since everybody is saying this game is perfect, I'm going to talk about the things I didn't like in Arkham City.  I figure it's only fair.  Arkham city seems to have an unhealthy obsession with the word "b***h."  I don't quite know why it's used so often, especially in the Catwoman stages.  It seems like the thugs use it every at least once in each combat sequence for her.  Even outside of that, it seems like the epithet of choice for the Joker's goons when they talk about Harley Quinn, too.  I mean, here and there is okay, but it really feels like it comes up more often than it should.

 The other thing that really grinds my gears in Arkham City is the volume of fan service that Catwoman's story arc contains.  One of her silent takedown techniques basically amounts to sideways face-sitting until the thug passes out.  That's a bit much, thanks.  One of the other silent takedown moves, where she jumps on the thug's shoulders and squeezes the life out of him.  At least with that takedown, she's effectively sitting on the guy's shoulders.  It's less risque.  I understand that her crouch is designed to mimic a cat walking on all fours, but does she really need to arch her back and crawl like something out of a porno?  I mean, there will probably be at least a handful of kids playing this game.  I can understand pandering to a demographic, but there are limits to everything, people!  Yeesh...

As I close up this review, I want to state that I don't follow comic books, nor am I a die-hard fan of the caped crusader.  This game is arguably one of the best games this year.  I cannot state this highly enough.  Arkham City is a must play game.  Even if you don't follow comic books, even if you hate Batman, at least give this guy a try.  Play at least until you see "Tiny."  You'll know what I mean when you get there.  He may be a comic book cliche, he may look completely ridiculous, but you cannot deny that Batman Arkham City is a well made game.  Until next time, enjoy!

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