2011-10-24

Batman: Arkham City – Pretty Much The Best Game Ever

by Yo Snyder

Video games based on super heroes were flawed at best and downright
awful at worst, and then all of that changed in 2009 with a little game
called Batman: Arkham Asylum. There was no shortage of skepticism
facing this game; after all, how many times have we been promised the
“definitive” Batman experience in a video game only to be let down?
However, strangely enough, the game delivered on what it promised. In
fact, it was done so well that Arkham Asylum became not just the
definitive Batman game, but the definitive super hero game. It proved
that it was possible to make a game that made you feel like the hero,
told a great story, had smart gameplay, and was lots of fun. But how
often has that been accomplished in any game, let alone super hero ones?
A bigger question for the developers was how to create a successful
follow-up, let alone one that exceeds it? Well, Rocksteady found a way
with Batman: Arkham City, the new definitive super hero/Batman/Zelda-Metroid-esque adventure game.

From the awesome opening scenes to the closing, jaw-dropping moments, Batman: Arkham City
is a memorable adventure that tells one of the greatest Batman stories
ever told. I won’t say much lest I ruin any of the surprises, but
suffice it to say that the twists and turns come fast and furious
towards the amazing conclusion, making it flat-out one of the best story
driven games I’ve played since Mass Effect 2 (or Arkham Asylum). The main story is a joy to play, but it’s hard to get through because there’s so many distractions. Unlike Asylum,
here you have the free run of a section of Gotham City that’s been
walled-off for a new Arkham prison. It’s not a huge area compared to
some open-world games, but it’s densely packed with engaging
side-missions and tons of Riddler trophies. I’ve spent hours going
through the city just trying to collect those little green question
marks; and I’ve loved every minute of it. Arkham City does exactly what we want with a sequel by not only making everything bigger, but making it better.

Puzzles
are tougher. Gadgets are cooler. Characters are more plentiful (some
more fleshed out than others, but even the glorified cameos are fun).
And the combat is more brutal. Ah yes, the combat. Arkham City
shows just how awesome a simple combat system can be without it feeling
like simple button mashing (pay attention all you Spider-Man and Green
Lantern games). The way the combat flows in this game is a joy to
behold; it just looks so much like you always knew Batman would look in
combat. It’s fluid, it’s fast, it’s gritty, and it’s brutal. Are there
20 guys waiting to pommel you? No problem, with handy tricks like
countering up to three guys at once and being able to use all of your
gadgets in combat, no matter what the crowd size; Batman can take them
on. If you master the rhythm and flow of the combat (there is some
timing to it that can be tricky), you can pull off some truly amazing
things that will make you feel like the powerful Dark Knight.

Of
course there’s more to being Batman than just handing out beat-downs;
but this game covers those other areas as well. You can use your
detective skills and brains solving everything from Riddler challenges –
which are even tougher but more satisfying than ever to solve – to
various assassinations and unsolved murders that are taking place in
Arkham. And when you’re not doing that, you can also strike fear in the
heart of criminals as you sneak into a room and slowly take them down
one by one. This was one of my favorite elements of the last game, and
it’s made all the tougher in this game (but it’s also more fun).
Finally, there are your confrontations with the famous baddies of the
Batman universe. Unlike the boss fights in Asylum, here they are varied and interesting. What I’m really trying to say here is that everything Arkham Asylum did well, this game does bigger and better. What more do you really need to know?

Now I have to admit my rapture for this game is partly due to the
fact that I’m a huge Batman fan and I love any game that gives me the
opportunity to really feel like I’m Batman (which both Arkham games do
well, and Arkham City does better). There are a lot of reasons
why Batman is THE hero for me, but one of those key reason is on display
in particular in this game. If you thought his night in Arkham Asylum
was bad, this is worst. Batman is really put through the ringer in this
game, but no matter what happens, no matter what obstacles are put in
his way, no matter what tragedy may befall him, Batman is determined,
resolved and dedicated to doing what’s necessary to save Gotham. I
really admire that. In fact, I’d like more of that Christ-like
characteristic in my life. What’s that? Oh yeah, it’s totally a
Christ-like quality. In Luke 9:51 we’re told there came a moment when
Jesus knew the time was approaching for him to fulfill his destiny. This
meant going to Jerusalem where he would be betrayed by his friend,
falsely accused, brutally beaten and eventually killed. He knew all of
that lay before him, and yet we’re told that “he was determined to go to
Jerusalem”. Another translation says “he resolutely set out for
Jerusalem.” Why? Why did he go when he knew what he would suffer by
doing so? Because Jesus was willing to do what was necessary to save us.
He was compelled by his love for you and I to go and face death on our
behalf; and he would not be deterred. I truly admire that kind of
dedication, resolve, and commitment. I see those same characteristics in
Batman, especially in this game, and I want to have the same sense of
determination and resolve in fulfilling my own destiny. So in a way, but
trying to be more like Batman, I actually end up being more like Jesus.
Cool.

I also think, especially as a big Batman fan, that part of your
destiny should be to play this game. Even if you’re not a Batman fan, I
think you’d enjoy it. Arkham City really feels more like Zelda
game. You have an over-world area where you can do side quests and
whatnot, but then you have the main areas that contain the “dungeons”.
Toss in a little Metroid adventuring and some Splinter-Cell
stealth/action, wrap it all in the Batman universe, you have one of the
best games of the year. Not just the best Batman game, or the best super
hero game, but the best game period. It’s well structured, it’s packed
with content (I didn’t even mention the awesome challenge maps,
alternate costumes, the Catwoman levels, and all the bonus content like
profiles, concept art, 3D statues and more to go through), it tells an
amazing story, has really fun gameplay mechanics, and plays out like an
action-packed, epic film. This Fall is loaded with big releases (we’ll
be busily working on Battlefield 3 this week), but don’t let this
title fly under your radar. Like the joy you get from experiencing a
great movie, this is a gaming experience you don’t want to miss out on.
Once again, Rocksteady has raised the bar for games in general and super
hero games in particular. I’m not even sure if they could surpass
themselves again, but while I wait, I’m more than content to play
through Arkham City again; and that’s really the highest praise any game can receive.

Score out of 7:

Graphics:
6 – This game is beautiful; in a dark, gritty, grimy kind of way. There
is a little texture pop-in occasionally and the frame rate stuttered
twice during my play through, there’s also some slightly stiff character
animation and funky lip-synching at times, but those are very minor
flaws in a gorgeous looking game. The Grimy darkness can get a bit
overwhelming at time; but what can you expect, this is the worst part of
Gotham.

Sound: 6 – Amazing voice acting helps this story come
alive. Every character sounds great; even the minor ones. Toss in some
solid sound in combat (it sounds so bone-crunchingly brutal) and
wonderful sound of the wind rushing past your cape as you glide through
the city; this game just sounds great.

Gameplay: 6 – Combat is a
blast, puzzles range from easy to really challenging (but always
satisfying), the story is compelling, the side missions are equally
interesting, you have challenge maps, the Catwoman sections, there’s
lots to do and then you get the game plus mode. Keep all your gadgets
and upgrades and play through story again on (much) tougher difficulty
setting. Sweet stuff.

Controls: 6 – Fluid and responsive in
combat, easy to use when gliding and grappling across the city, and
despite how many gadgets you acquire, it’s easy to find what you need.
Just a well-made game all around.

Story: 6 – One of the best
Batman stories told in recent years with some fun and surprising twists,
although a couple emotional moments don’t really have the impact they
should have.

Content: 4 – This a dark, gritty game. There are way
too many uses of the word b***h, and there is a lot of innuendo at the
expense of the female characters as well. Also, things can get pretty
brutal; not graphic or gory, but it’s still not pleasant stuff. It may
be rated T, but really think of this as an extreme PG-13 experience
almost pushing the fringes of R.

Final: 7 – I loved this game
from beginning to end, and when it was over, I immediately started it
again. That’s not something I say often about a game. Arkham City
is fun, engaging, challenging and tells a great story. It does so many
things right it’s hard to list them all or say much without spoiling
things, so just go play it for yourself already.