The sequel to one of the most popular video games is here: Batman: Arkham City. Has it lived up to the hype?
Credits & Solicit Info:
**Warning this review does contain spoilers for the game.
Batman: Arkham City builds on its predecessor and aims to surpass Batman: Arkham Asylum as the greatest comic book adapted into a video game. Instead of a simple island and single structure, the game plants Batman in an entire half of Gotham City to encounter and do battle with numerous characters from the Batman world.
My first thought when jumping into this game was just how packed it is. I was surprised at how much Batman mythology Rocksteady crammed into the game. Despite all of the trailers, it still managed to surprise me with characters and elements I didn't expect at all. All VERY NICE!
The main story can be finished quite quickly; perhaps one whole day of gaming at most. But the side missions they give you, you can't help yourself but to try some or all. Thankfully the game allows you options when you do these missions, so if you're in the middle of the main plot and wish to diverge, you can. The side plots will always be there for the picking, tempting you to complete them. The main story is Batman trying to stop Hugo from unleashing Protocol Ten. It is loose in the sense it's there but not a reinforcing factor given the Joker's plot mashes into it. Then you have the side plots of Freeze, Penguin, and surprise villain mixed in as well. It feels like a blender: like all Batman-related elements were dumped in what we get here is the result.
When I got to the end of the main plot, I was slightly disappointed with it. I wanted a better fight with Hugo Strange and instead I got a cut scene. My biggest disappointment was that Hugo started strong but just fizzled in the end. There was no real plan or mind game to his dealing with Batman. Just a simple plan and one when foiled is aggravating.
However, the dialogue is so in character that it makes me overlook the string-like plot (save for the actual finale). The ending is a bit predictable, but it's done in with a nice twist. The same goes for the actual ending as well: It feels more like an opus to Mark Hamill's portrayal of the Joker more than an actual end to the game.
As for the mechanics of the game, I've never played the original Batman: Arkham Asylum so I can't compare whether they've improved or not. For a beginner to this series, the game gives you a help bar and a nice tutorial to assist you with the gameplay. The game controls are polished, but I had an issue with the targeting system. There are parts when the targeting is VERY smooth, but there are other moments when you want to grapple to one area and suddenly it will auto lock onto another. It's only a minor complaint. When this happened, it didn't lead to any mistakes (as in going onto a roof where an armed thug is at).
The fighting mechanics in the game are quite good. The random combos and tactics to take down various thugs are quite nice. There is a great variety to what you can do: be an all out fighter, use stealth, or do a mixture of the two. When it comes to the boss fights (I'm currently on the third), I have to say the first two are somewhat repetitive; the boss has a pattern and the only way to beat him is through that pattern. They are still fun as hell and the second of the two has some nice assortment before falling into that mold. The Mr. Freeze boss fight is my favorite and is what I've always imagined a fight with the frosty one is like. I was disappointed with the Mr. Freeze boss fights in Batman: Vengeance (various gaming systems) and the old Sega Genesis The Adventures of Batman and Robin. Here, this Freeze is sort of like the former: someone you cannot take on directly. The difference here is that you use your mind MUCH more to take him down than just a simple pattern. It took me ten minutes to beat him, though I've heard it's taken others forty minutes.
However, I felt there could have been one more boss fight. The developers of Rocksteady could have had an epic moment with Batman facing Ra's Al Ghul once more in a sword fight. The whole stage right before the end felt anti-climatic and unsatisfying. There is some satisfaction in the actual end, but this subplot left me hungry for a better one.
Major kudos goes to Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill for reprising their voices of Batman and the Joker. The performances they give are really are something to behold. It shows why both these actors are so iconic to the roles they've played since Batman: The Animated Series. It does feel like a grand swan song for Hamill to go out as the Joker.
Rounding out the vocal cast, everyone cast fits his or her role very well. My favorite performances were Nolan North (Penguin), Maurice LaMarche (Mr. Freeze), Peter MacNicol (Mad Hatter), Tara Strong (Harley Quinn), and Stana Katic (Talia Al Ghul). The others were good, but these five did a spectacular job with their vocal performances.
Batman: Arkham City had a lot of hype going for it after Arkham Asylum exploded onto the scene. Is this game the best comic book adapted video game I've played? Yes. The story might be a little "meh", but the gameplay, graphics, and the performances of the actors together make this game worthwhile. The environment of Arkham City is just so engrossing. One can get lost in any of the story missions, side missions, or even just roaming all of the land. The game is just that riveting. Give me more of this world Rocksteady! I want to see the Batmobile in action! I want Nightwing! Batgirl (Is it too much to ask for Cassandra Cain?)! More fights with the League of Assassins (maybe Bronze Tiger or Lady Shiva)! Scarecrow! Black Mask (not regulated to just a mere cameo)! Scarface and the Ventriloquist! Firefly! And somehow it has to top what this game brought because this game now will but the marker to what other superhero based games will be judged on.
Replay Value: 5/5
Review by: Zechs