Batman Arkham City: Dark Knight of Superhero Games or Boy Wonder?

Batman Arkham City

When “Batman:  Arkham Asylum” was released two years ago, people were blown away by this behemoth of a great game.  Between the gorgeous textures, graphics of the environment, characters and rhythm-type fights that Batman found himself in, to the gritty, disgusting underbelly of a place meant to “heal” and “reprogram” the darkest of Gotham’s criminals, people couldn’t believe a game like this could exist.

And they had good reason to.

Before then, comic book games were, let’s face it, kind of lame.  The only good ones were the Spider-Man games, Marvel Alliance (the first one) and X-Men Legends (both of them).  And even Batman himself had suffered the curse of bad comic games.  But Arkham Asylum proved that, not only could you make a good Batman game, but you could make a great one.  And, judging by recent sales reports (5 million units in one week) Rocksteady has another hit on its hands.

And I have to admit that Arkham City has a lot of great things about it but unlike the other sites and magazines who give this game a 10 out 10, I myself have to say that though this game is good it is far from perfect.

For those who have been paying attention here’s the basic rundown of the game itself.  It takes place one year after the debacle on Arkham Asylum and Mayor Sharp, former Warden of Arkham Asylum, has decided to build sections of a large part of Gotham City to house all the criminals from, not only the asylum, but Blackgate prison as well.  And as typical with supervillains they begin to almost instantly start a war with each other.

And that’s not an exaggeration.

The city is basically split into five different “regions”, if you will and each one holds one of the many crime lords that have terrorized Gotham.  In one region you’ll find Two-Face and his thugs, the other has Penguin and his cohorts, the third holds the Joker and Harley and the fourth, though not controlled by a particular crime lord, houses places where you’ll eventually meet Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze.  The fifth region, known as Wonder Square, houses both the underground caverns of Talia al Ghul and her assassins while, on the world above, sits the high Wonder Tower where Hugo Strange watches from his tower of chrome and glass.

From your first encounter with Two-Face to the shocking final boss, Batman makes his way across the sprawling city for various reasons.  And it’s those reasons that I have to say City does well.   Arkham City has an involving story that twists and turns along the way.  The journey itself has depth and sucks you into it pretty deeply.  And where Arkham Asylum had a pretty straight forward, yet good, story Arkham City is far from that.  One minute you’re on a quest for one thing and it then changes direction completely.   Even more engaging are the twists and turns the game throws out at you.  Very rarely has a video game made me literally cry out loud from its surprises and this game definitely had me doing that.

Luckily for us, Rocksteady has kept  to the mentality of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and has kept all the controls basically the same for this new release and even added on some extra things as well.  Between quick button fires for your gadgets for seamless fighting and a new grapple gun that lets you launch seamlessly back into the air, controlling the Dark Knight was easier than ever.  And of course there was the both loved and hated “detective mode” back in the game.

Many people, myself included, loved detective mode because of its functionality and great use for various segments (especially those stealth ones) but there was one down side.  Most people, especially in their hunt for Riddler statues and riddles, left it on most of the game, thus distorting the environment and not allowing you to get in full, rich detail the world in which Batman was dropped.  In this game, though Detective mode will help greatly, you are forced to turn it off if you want to go in the right direction as the compass disappears when it’s on.  It’s also not very easy to navigate the rooftops with it on either.  And, because so many of the Riddler statues in this game require solving puzzles, you don’t need the vision as much thus allowing you to take in the rich environment of the game.

So, here we have a game with a great story, great controls, beautiful graphics and an open world much richer and grander than before.  What possibly could be wrong with this game?  Well, let me tell you.

Play time, for one.  I literally beat this game in one day and in only ten hours total.  That is really not a lot of time.  True, there are all the sidequests and Riddler trophies but that only took me another day to do and the game was thus completed.  Now, if I’m going to pay 60 dollars for a game, I want it to last longer than half day.  And it’s this rushed story that sometimes hampers the storytelling itself.  There are many who are confused by the characters’ motivations and sometimes even what the story was trying to tell.  And, though the story is good, there are times where the rushed telling clunks around and you can tell they weren’t quite sure what to do.

Secondly, there’s Catwoman.  When it was revealed she was a playable character that had a large part to play in the story, many were salivating at the mouth.  But then, when you play as her, it seems almost like a waste of time.  Her parts are very small and, despite being eye candy for some, could very well not be in the game at all and it wouldn’t have mattered.  And, sadly, this goes for some of the other characters as well.  Poison Ivy had one scene and was never heard from again.  And Two-Face was only seen twice as well.  I felt there was a lot of opportunity for some of these characters and they were wasted with the traditional “Joker being the main bad guy” theme.  Don’t get me wrong, the Joker is awesome but we can try other things as well.

And third, and probably biggest thing for me, is that the game has almost no replayable value.  Once you complete the game, challenges and riddles what else is there?  True, there’s a new game plus but all that does it make the enemies harder and takes away the counter sensor.  For me, that’s not quite enough.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is this:  Arkham city is a good game.  It took what made Asylum so great and made it better.  But is it perfect?  Does it deserve a perfect score?  Not so much.  The game has noticeable flaws, in both storytelling and presentation (not the way it looked, mind you, just the way some of the things came together).  So, go out and buy it if you’re a true, hard core fan but, if not, rent it cause it’s pretty clear you’ll beat it before the week’s up.